Sunday, 8 October 2017

How Can I Make My Rocks Look Beautiful?

I am a member of the Nova Scotia Rockhounds Facebook group and this morning someone asked about cutting and polishing rocks. I gave the short answer then and will give the long answer now.

"How can I get my rocks to look as beautiful as yours?" That's a question I often get asked by visitors to my shop.
The sad answer is that you probably can't- not because I'm better than you but because I probably have better equipment. To duplicate my shop with new machines would set you back over $10,000! So it is rare that Lapidary is a money making hobby.
My rock shop
That being said, there are some things you can do to make your finds more beautiful- especially if you stay small, and you can at least get started for a reasonable outlay.
The smallest saw I own is a Rock Rascal with a 6 inch diamond blade. With it, I can cut rock up to about 2 inches thick. I can also grind a face if I want.
A new Rock Rascal will set you back over $500

 But you don't need a rock saw to cut rock. You can get by in most cases with a tile saw. Home Depot has a beauty- the QEP 22650 which you can buy with a 7 inch diamond blade for $129. I've seen it in action and was pretty impressed.
This saw has a bridge to help position the rock and can cut faces on an angle if you want. Is the tile saw as good as the Rock Rascal? It depends on the blade you use. It has a 3/4 HP motor so it has the power you need.
So now you've cut a face but it has ugly blade marks on it and isn't shiny. No problem. Buy a rock tumbler! But not just any tumbler. There are two basic types of rock tumblers- those which have drums that rotate and those that have drums that vibrate. The rotating type tends to make the rocks round, which is a problem when tumbling vein rock like agate or jasper and they take a long time- several weeks!
I recently started using a vibrating tumbler called the Lot-O-Tumbler. It has a rubber bowl so it is much less noisy and you can tumble 4 pounds (8 if you buy the double) from rough to finished in less than a week! If you are in Nova Scotia, you may be able to get one from George Johnston who has set up a supply business called Scotia Prospecting Supplies in Chester and if you buy one, get an extra bowl for the polishing stage to avoid grit contamination. Believe me- it is worth it and so is the tumbler! It just might be the best piece of lapidary equipment I've ever used.
I give you the Lot-O-Tumbler.
You should be able to put any of your cut rock in here and tumble it to a high shine IF THE ORIGINAL MATERIAL IS A SILICATE or MICROCRYSTALLINE! You can't get a shine on rocks like sandstone (unless there is a lot of silica) or limestone. All you need is some grit and polishing material that George can probably sell you as well.

So that's all for this week. next week, I'll do another blog on taking it to the next level. And if you have questions, I'd be happy to try my best to answer them.
One last thought. If you have friends who also enjoy the hobby, form a club and pool your money to buy equipment you can share. As a last resort, I charge $30 an hour to work on other people's material.


  1. Hi Peter. Have you tried any of the Thumler products? From online research, I've asked my daughters for one for Christmas. Maybe I should ask for a Lot-o-Tumbler instead? I hope to come to your shop either Monday or Tuesday, if either is convenient I'm coming from the French Shore, so would like to be sure you'll be there. Thanks! Happy Thanksgiving.

  2. I prefer the Lot-O to the Thumbler because of the rubber barrel. Thumbler has rubber on its rotating tumblers but not on the vibrating models. I am convinced I get a better polish with the rubber- and a LOT less noise!

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks for your comment Anna.What you need in a tumbler is dependent, to a great extent, on what you are trying to achieve.For instance, if you want to tumble large rocks or actually want to make them round or curved, the Lot-O-Tumbler is probably not your best option. But I have been tumbling silicates (agates, jasper etc) for many years and have used several of the options in your top 10 list and for me, the Lot-O-Tumbler is far and away the best option.