Daily Wire Tip Aug. 25: Rotary Tumblers vs. Vibratory Tumblers

By on August 24, 2010
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Daily Wire Jewelry Making Tip
August 25, 2010


What’s the difference between a rotary tumbler and vibration one? Which is the best to buy?

-Maria in Toronto, Canada


A rotary tumbler is barrel-shaped, and rolls around simulating the work of ocean waves, usually using a combination of grits/polish and liquid. It is perfect for quickly grinding and rounding down sharp edges from rocks, and then to polish them. Please know that it can take a month or more to go from rough to finished polish, depending on the hardness of the selected rocks used.

A vibratory tumbler is generally run dry, using grit/polish and possibly an extending medium such as plastic pellets, and is great for pre-polish and polishing stages for water-smoothed rocks or slabs. A vibratory will polish quickly! However, it is not productive to use a vibratory tumbler for rough rocks, as it does not perform the grinding process.

Which one to purchase? Well, it depends on what you are going to use it for. Personally, I like to use a rotary tumbler to pre-form my rocks and then a vibratory to pre-polish and for the final polish.

Answer contributed by Dale “Cougar” Armstrong

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  1. avatar


    August 25, 2010 at 9:34 am

    Wire-Sculpture used to sell gold filled and silver wire by the ounce. You now sell it by the foot, which makes it difficult to compare apples with apples. Is there any reason you don’t sell it by the ounce any longer?

    • avatar


      August 30, 2010 at 12:46 pm

      Paul, the measuring system used in our warehouse is more accurate when measuring by the foot. If you compare the lengths of wire to ounces, you can easily purchase by the foot and get close to ounce weights. We have also found that most folks prefer to order their wire by the foot as they plan projects. http://www.wire-sculpture.com/pages/wire_footage_charts.html

  2. avatar


    August 25, 2010 at 6:10 pm

    I use the vibratory tumbler with shot, a 1/2 tsp dishwashing liquid & water to cover the shot, for cleaning/polishing my silver pieces before setting stones.

  3. avatar

    Carol Roskey

    August 27, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    I have a rotary tumbler with three barrels that I use to do the early stages of rock polishing. I cut and shape the rocks first. I also use one of the barrels with steel shoot to clean/polish jewelry pieces. I didn’t clean one of the rock barrels enough the first time and had to clean the jewelry over and over because it turned black. Now I keep one barrel just for metal jewelry pieces.
    I use a vibratory tumbler at the lapidary club and it cleans metal well. We aren’t allowed to put rocks in it.