rock tumbling wooden parts

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Forum topic by HokieMojo posted 08-24-2009 09:04 PM 25409 views 4 times favorited 41 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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2104 posts in 5217 days

08-24-2009 09:04 PM

I know this may sound ridiculous, but hear me out. Has anyone ever tried putting small wooden parts in a rock tumbler? I know that the tumblers normally require water to work on rocks, but I’m thinking this could really work well without the water to soften edges on very small parts that would be difficult to work on by hand. I don’t have a tumbler and at about $50 for the inital supplies, I’d love to check here before investing in this, but I’d love to hear if anyone has tried this or would be willing to try it. Thanks!

41 replies so far

View Dkol's profile


72 posts in 4851 days

#1 posted 08-24-2009 09:48 PM

Absolutely that will work. I would even try an alternative abrasives such as steel shot, ceramic cones even crushed walnut shells.

The tumbler can also be used to restore screws and fixtures.

View HokieMojo's profile


2104 posts in 5217 days

#2 posted 08-24-2009 10:53 PM

Thanks so much for the post Dkol. Have you by any chance tried it yourself? I’m looking for anyadvice I can get on what to expect in terms of how long I’ll need to run it, any cleaning I may need to do on the parts afterwards, etc. Not to push my luck, but any photos would also be really cool.

Any input from others would be GREATLY appreciated as well!

View John Stegall's profile

John Stegall

558 posts in 5006 days

#3 posted 08-24-2009 11:01 PM

Years ago I saw some root nodules that a guy had done, this was in Uvalde, Tx and I do not remember the species but it was very hard and looked terrific. He only told me that he had used his rock tumbler.

-- jstegall

View reggiek's profile


2240 posts in 4759 days

#4 posted 08-24-2009 11:11 PM

I’ve used my brass tumbler (for reloading – with walnut shells and polish) to tumble some small metal parts that needed rust removal…and it worked quite well…never thought to try wooden parts….of course this is not a rock tumbler – which turns 360 degrees…I’ve been watching this thread as I am curious of the outcome also…Interesting idea….I enjoy experimentation..

-- Woodworking.....My small slice of heaven!

View a1Jim's profile


118333 posts in 5066 days

#5 posted 08-24-2009 11:29 PM

sounds like a interesting Idea


View Dan Lyke's profile

Dan Lyke

1533 posts in 5614 days

#6 posted 08-25-2009 03:03 AM

Seems like a tumbler would be pretty easy to make: A motor of some sort, direct drive a dowel, put another dowel on bearings parallel to the first dowel an inch or two apart. Take a short (less than the length of your dowels) big (4” or more) PVC or ABS pipe with caps, and an end (one of which should have a screw insert), contact cement some innertube on the inside (so that it doesn’t make an unholy noise), fill the PVC or ABS pipe with your parts and abrasive, set it down on the dowel rollers, turn on the motor, come back in a few hours/days.

Might need to slap a belt (maybe a broccoli strap?) around both dowels to make sure they both turn, and put some bike inner tube on the dowels to make sure that they get a good drive connection on the bigger piece of capped pipe.

Or keep an eye on your local Craigslist or Freecycle, someone’s gotta have a tumbler in the attic they’re not using…

-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California,

View JayPique's profile


61 posts in 4777 days

#7 posted 08-25-2009 03:23 AM

Some of the big boys have machines that sand entire chairs at once. They stick the chair inside a big concrete mixer type thing that’s full of abrasive balls, which spins around and sands the chair. I’ve never seen one except at auction.


View Mike's profile


391 posts in 5106 days

#8 posted 08-25-2009 04:52 AM

A lot of parts are tumbled sans water. They use ceramic cones, little steel shapes that look like UFO’s. Polished rocks.

Most of the Aluminum parts I’ve seen are done dry. And brass. It takes off the rough edges.

It should work with wood, I would try using something like silica as a sandblaster does. Finer grains first then go bigger if need be.

You could actually do it in an old dryer. Not the best but seen one used for a guys car parts. Makes a mess. Just don’t use the wifes.

-- Measure once cut twice....oh wait....ooops.

View Gary Fixler's profile

Gary Fixler

1001 posts in 4871 days

#9 posted 08-25-2009 05:27 AM

I have a vibratory tumbler, 2 bowls, and 3 media: crushed walnut shells mixed with rouge (red polishing compound), green resin pyramids impregnated with a very fine silica grit, and steel shot that my friends got me, as they used it to polish their homemade wedding rings in my tumbler, and left me the two jars of shot pellets.

I wouldn’t mind running some experiments for you. You know how I am about that juicy empirical data :)

I have some video floating around, but I’m not sure where I put it at the moment (not online yet, I guess), but here's how they look in action.

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

View Dkol's profile


72 posts in 4851 days

#10 posted 08-25-2009 05:32 PM

It has been years since I have owned or used a tumbler. The last time I used one was a friends vibratory tumbler to smooth a carved piece of vegetable ivory. It worked great. I would think that if trying to keep a specific shape the vibratory would be the way to go. The true rotary tumbler would probably do more rounding and smoothing in a freeform (driftwood) sort of way. This could be controlled by the the amount of empty space in the drum. More space equals more movement and more aggressive the abrasion.

View AaronK's profile


1512 posts in 4954 days

#11 posted 08-25-2009 06:53 PM

i was actually pondering this the other day when noticing my wife’s necklace of randomly shaped wooden beads. i figured that tumbling was how they did it. i would also use sand or shells, and dry.

View HokieMojo's profile


2104 posts in 5217 days

#12 posted 08-25-2009 11:01 PM

Thanks again for all the great posts. I was afraid this thread would die an early death, but I’ve gotten some pretty good feedback.

I may take you up on the offer. I’ve got a friend that has a small rotary style one (he thinks) but if that takes too long to work out, I may follow up with you. I’m kind of on a deadline. I’m hoping to have some Christmas presents that will use this technique, but I need to make sure it works before I start making all these little objects.

View Gary Fixler's profile

Gary Fixler

1001 posts in 4871 days

#13 posted 08-25-2009 11:43 PM

Just let me know, Hokie.

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

View mtnwild's profile


4865 posts in 5017 days

#14 posted 08-26-2009 12:40 AM

I would think you’ve opened a world of possibilities.

Size of pieces.
Size of grit.
Type of grit.
Size of tumbler.
Speed of tumbler.
Time for each project.
And many more variables.

Looks like a whole field to explore.

Keep in touch, let us know what you learn…...............

-- mtnwild (Jack), It's not what you see, it's how you see it.

View Gene Howe's profile

Gene Howe

12644 posts in 4918 days

#15 posted 08-26-2009 01:46 AM

Got a stationary belt sander? Even a hand held will work for this if you can clamp it upside down.

Build a frame sized to the exposed part of the belt and as deep as necessary.
Add 4 legs on the outside, long enough to set the frame about 1/4” above the exposed belt.
Might add a “foot” to one leg for a clamp. I don’t.
Turn on the sander, drop in the cubes. Keep an eye on them. Doesn’t take long.
I’ve made beads this way.

-- Gene 'The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.' G. K. Chesterton

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