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 History of Rock Tumbling 

rocks for tumbling

When you think about it, the first rock tumbler was the ocean. The sea is filled with coarse abrasives that round corners of stones. It is also filled with softer, smaller particles like sand that can smooth and polish over time. Although no one knows for sure who first started using a mechanical tumbling device for rock polishing, the early models did not even approach industrial sophistication. Most were machines put together by those interested in agate tumbling rocks and served only to provide a clean surface, making inspection easier before the stones were cut and polished by some other method.

In the 1950s, a typical early tumbler consisted of a barrel made from a paint can or similar container riding on two lengths of pipe— one of which was fitted with a pulley— driven by an electric motor. The speed of tumbler rotation was controlled by varying the size of the pulley. All degrees of sophistication except for a rubber lining were built into these early machines, but the basic principle remained a constantly rotating can, about half full of stones, water, abrasive, and assorted exotic ingredients. The main improvement since then has been the rubber liner that provides durability and better tumbling action.

In the beginning, tumbling was an artform only a few understood. Old-timers who somehow achieved consistently good polishes on their stones kept carefully guarded secrets as the combination of items they used as rock tumbling grit— crushed walnut husks, sugar, corncobs and chopped banana peels. Their secrets also included the amount and type of abrasive, the time spent in each polishing step, and the speed of the tumbler. Aren't you glad times have changed and that how-to information, tips, tricks, and techniques are freely shared via the Internet?

In time, tumbling was reduced to a more scientific level as tumbling grit and additives were no longer home-made recipes, but instead manufactured specifically for use in a growing hobby. Compact, inexpensive rotary rock tumblers were marketed nationwide in a variety of sizes and shapes as interest in rock polishing increased. Lortone is one such manufacturer. For over 50 years, serious lapidaries and beginners alike have considered Lortone rock tumblers the standard for performance and durability. Located in Mukilteo, Washington, their tradition of using superior materials and workmanship continues, using proven designs, premium steel and quality construction. Thanks to Lortone and other manufacturers, tumbling rocks can now be found in homes across America. In fact, rock tumblers for kids have become very popular, making it a fun activity for the entire family!