Caring for a Rock Tumbler To Make it Last Longer

Taking Good Care of Your Rock Tumbler and Associated Equipment.

We’ve learned a lot over the last 20 years when it comes to looking after a rock tumbler to help it last longer. Here are a few pointers to help you keep an eye on things as batches progress and new ones begin, this will hopefully keep your machine running longer and therefore providing more enjoyment over time you indulge in the hobby!

Position the Rock Tumbler on a Level Surface

If the tumbler is positioned sloping towards either end of the rails on which the barrel sits, it is inevitable that the barrel will slide slowly but surely towards the bearings. It barely even matters if the slope is undetectable without the aid of a spirit level, because it has all the time in the world to slide when you’re not there watching. If it ends up at either end of the drive rails, then depending on the angle of the slope, an amount of friction will occur between the edge and the barrel lid.

This can drag on the motor, wearing it out faster, and cause wear and tear on the barrel lid and bearings.

Use a spirit level to ensure the rock tumbler itself is level from left to right in particular. If it isn’t 100% level, say only 99% – then that is better than 80% as there will be less friction on the points of contact.

Oil as Per the Instructions

We can’t stress enough how important this is. It could be said that some manufacturer’s do not emphasize this enough in order that they can make sales on replacement parts, however all good quality machines should have lubrication instructions and these should definitely be adhered to. This generally means a periodic oiling of the plastic bearings on either side of the tumbler. There are normally four – 2 for the drive shaft and 2 for the rotating balancing shaft which turns by virtue of its contact with the heavy barrel. Over time you will see an accumulation of debris gathering on the bearings and progressing along the metal bars. Wipe this off before applying the oil as it will prevent most of the oil getting through to the moving parts. Wear on the bushes is bad news and once it starts it just keeps getting worse – eventually leading to a very uneven and sometimes bumpy ride for the tumbling stones.

Keep the Rock Tumbler Warm and Dry

Use the manual for your individual machine to find out the correct ideal operating temperatures. This is normally around room temperature. The motors on a rock tumbler do not like it too cold, or too warm – and they certainly cannot be expected to last long in a damp environment – which will lead to rust building on the internal components. Rock tumblers will fail miserably if they are allowed to freeze, this does happen if it is situated in a garden shed or even a garage if the winter is cold enough. A barrel loaded with frozen ice will be unbalanced on the tumbler aswell – putting stress on the motor as it has to lift the ice all the way up and over instead of having it slide along the bottom of the barrel as it rotates. This can be a major problem, especially on large load tumblers which are full of water and rocks.

Wipe it Clean if there is a Spillage

Rock tumbling barrels can and do wear through – typically they get thinner and thinner (mostly with 80 grit) until they are thin enough to crack. They crack because the plastic is worn and a rock will hit in just the right place causing a crack/split to appear. The machine will keep on turning – and the spillage will consist of a rapid dripping through the crack until there is nothing remaining to escape – and still it will carry on turning! By the time you become aware of the problem the slurry may have even dried and gone hard. In this case – chip it off the tumbler and clean the area with a damp cloth. There is nothing worse than placing a pristine new batch of rocks on a filthy dirty tumbler! Pay attention the rails if you do get a spillage, often the slurry will run along them and get into the bearings – along with its grit – this is devastating. The best bet it to press the sides of the tumblers each time you start to use them – or are about to use them. You will notice that they become easy to squeeze as they wear thin – at this point it could be time to change rather than risk a spill.

Do Not Overload the Tumblers Motor

Various sized barrels are available and temptation is there if you get hold of one which is too large for your rock tumbler. If you overload it, two problems can occur (at least). The first is the barrel will stall when you are not present because the motor becomes too tired to turn a load for which it is not rated. If this happens and the motor sticks, a fire is the worse scenario. Do not ever overload your motor. Another thing which can happen is that the barrel will remain still, but the drive will spin rapidly beneath it and not “catch” and rotate it. In this case, damage to the drive shaft and any rubber on it (depending on the design) will be incurred. Overloading a rock tumbler is simply not a good idea. If you need to polish more rock – buy a larger machine.

Do Not Pour Waste Down the Sink

Your rock tumbler will produce a slurry with every single batch you perform. This is essentially composed of the material which constitutes the rocks themselves. Whilst it will never be as hard as the original pieces, it will settle in the u-bend of the plumbing and water will be squeezed out as the sediment sinks. Once this happens the microscopic particles will set together and form a solid blockage – and the only remedy will be to replace the pipework, you will very unlikely be able to remove it.

Remember – take care of your rock tumbler – and it will take care of you!

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