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Ceramic Tumbling Media Usage

January 24, 2021 Brian Dais

Ceramic tumbling media is useful in rock tumbling to add to your barrel to provide several benefits.  You will get better results due to filling a partial empty barrel and cushioning your stones, improving tumbling action and carrying grit to hard-to-reach places.  Let’s go over the benefits and how to properly use to get the best results.

ceramic rock tumbler media

Ceramic Tumbling Media Benefits

Filler

Ceramic media is commonly used to fill a barrel that remains too empty, even after you have put your rocks and grit in the barrel.  Typically, it is recommended that the tumbler barrel be filled to 2/3 to ¾ full.  After you have your rocks and grit in the barrel, use ceramic tumbling media to fill it up to the recommended fill level of 2/3 to ¾.  Then add your water to cover all of it.

Cushioning

Even though the ceramic is hard, it will help minimize the brute force of rocks smashing into each other if your barrel is too empty.  It is analogous to putting a pair of tennis shoes in an empty dryer.  You’ll get the same thrashing and noise in a half empty tumbler.  Ceramic tumbling media will cushion the blows and also help quiet your tumbler.

Improved Tumbling Action

It is recommended to fill your tumbler with a variety or sizes of stone.  Ceramic media will be smaller than most stones you tumble so you will have a good mixture of size to polish the contents.  This intermingling of different sizes will improve your tumbling action.  The round cylinder shape of the ceramic will help rocks tumble instead of sliding along the surface of the barrel interior.  This is particularly true for rocks with flat faces and edges.

Transporting Grit

Since the ceramic media is smaller, it can carry grit to cover all the surfaces of your rocks including nooks and crannies.  For this reason, better results will be achieved if you use tumbling media along with your grit.  The more points of contact you can have between the grit and your rocks will help.

Proper Usage of Ceramic Media

Stages to use

Ceramic tumbling media can be used in all your stages of tumbling.  You will have to do a good job of rinsing it off so you don’t carry previous stage grit to the next stage.  If you have any remnants of coarse grit present in a polishing stage, the coarse grit can scratch your stones.  Use a colander to strain and wash the grit away from your rocks and ceramic media.

You may have to add more ceramic after Stages 1 and 2, due to the large amount of material that is wore away during those steps.  You can use fresh ceramic during the first 2 stages, since the grit is coarse enough to burnish the sharp edges.

Soften sharp edges

Ceramic media may have sharp edges when you first purchase it.  Before you use it in the final polishing Stages 3 and 4, make sure it has already been pre-tumbled to knock off the sharp edges.  You can use it in Stages 1 or 2 so that will take care of it.  But if you haven’t used it in those stages, put some in your tumbler with some coarse grit and tumble until the edges are rounded.

Re-use

The beauty of ceramic media is that it can be washed and used in any stage.  You will see gradual wear over time so you’ll have to add new ceramic to get the right amount of fill as the older ceramic wears down. 

Storage

No special storage methods are needed for ceramic media.  Allow it to air dry and then seal it up in a bag or container.

Ceramic Tumbling Media Shapes

Ceramic media comes in some cool shapes.  They can be triangles, stars, cones, pyramids or cylinders.  For rock tumbling, we recommend cylinders that are angled at the sides – angle cut cylinders (ACC).  These work well for carrying grit into hard-to-reach places among the rocks and also bringing grit to the crevices of your rocks.

Ceramic Media Sizes to Use

Small Cylinder Sizes

Small cylinders are nice because they get into the nooks and crannies of your rocks.  They will carry grit to all the crevices in the rocks.  A common size and the one we sell is 3/16” diameter by 3/8” long.

Large Cylinder Sizes

Large ceramic cylinders are good to fill the big empty spaces in your tumblers.  Their large volume will quickly take up the volume in order to get your tumbler up to the right level.  We carry large ceramic sized at 3/8” diameter by 5/8” long.

Mixed Cylinder Sizes

It is best to use a mixture of small and large stones when you tumble, and it can be also advantageous to use a mixture of small and large ceramic in your barrel.  We sell a 50/50 mixture (by weight) of our small and large cylinders so you get a nice ceramic mix.

Ceramic Tumbling Media Surface Finish

Ceramic media can be purchased with all types of surface finish.  Rougher surfaces are abrasive and are used to sand metal parts, for example.  The abrasive types are designed to wear away and must be selected properly to do a proper job.

For rock tumbling, we use non-abrasive ceramic media.  The purpose of the ceramic is to fill, cushion and protect.  It is not meant to do any abrasion.  You use the 4 stages of grit to do that.  The grit allows a controlled method of progressing finishing your stones – from rounding rough images through final polishing.  All we want the ceramic filler media to do is to fill, cushion and protect.

Ceramic Hardness

The ceramic you use for tumbling should be very hard – at least as hard, as rocks you are tumbling.  This is typically around 7 Mohs (the 1-10 scale used to rate hardness).  If the ceramic media is soft, it will abrade quickly.  Just as the rock tumbling grit abrades stones, it will wear down your ceramic.

How Long will Ceramic Tumbling media last?

Unfortunately, the ceramic will not last forever.  You should be able to see at least a few complete rounds of tumbling.  It will not vanish immediately but rather gradually wear down and get smaller.  Just keep adding fresh, larger cylinders to the mix to get the right fill.  Many seasoned tumblers like a mix of large and small ceramic so the combination of fresh and worn ceramic will work for that.

Other Frequently Asked Questions

Does it work in all type tumblers?

Yes, any ceramic tumbling media should be used in any tumbler.  Our Polly Plastics ceramic media will certainly work with any tumbler.  One of the benefits of ceramic media is that it can be used in both rotary and vibratory tumblers.  The other common type of filler, plastic pellets for rock tumbling, can only be used in rotary tumblers.

Can I use it with all Types of Rocks?

Yes, you can use it with all types of rocks.  Our ceramic is of a proper hardness so it can stand up to the harsh environment inside a tumbler.  But as mentioned earlier, make sure to wear off all the rough edges so you don’t scratch your stones, particularly the softer types.

Can you use it with any brand grit?

Yes, you can use ceramic tumbling media with any brand grit.  Of course, we recommend our grit since we know it is of the highest quality.  Meaning you get quality-controlled grit that is guaranteed to give you a beautiful polish.  Our proprietary, Stage 4 polishing grit is designed at the proper micron size and volume to give proven results.

Why aren’t my finished rocks shiny?

If you use our 4-Step Kits with fillers and follow the included instructions, you should get great results.  Some things to consider if they aren’t shiny:

  • Don’t overfill your tumbler with rocks and media. You should not fill it over 2/3 to ¾ once everything is in there.  If you do, your rocks won’t slosh around and get abraded by the grit.
  • Use rocks with varying hardness. If you use a combination of hard and soft stones, the hard stones will abrade the soft stones.  Even in the polishing stage, the harder stones will dull the surface of the softer stones.  Consult a rock identification guide to learn the type and hardness of the rocks you are tumbling.
  • Tumbling pitted rocks. You can tumble rocks with indentations, but it is hard to get polishing action in deep recesses, so the rocks will be duller there.
  • Using the improper amount of grit. Many people use too much grit, thinking that more is better for shinier rocks.  We recommend 1-2 TBS, depending on the Step.  Follow our instructions for good results.
  • If all else fails, burnish your stones by adding a few slivers of Ivory soap with the rocks. Wash everything off after Step 4, add just the soap, rocks and water together and tumble a day or so.  The soap will add gloss to the surface of your stones.

Polly Plastics Ceramic Tumbling Media

Our ceramic tumbling media has been proved to work great for all types of rock tumblers.  We offer small, large and mixed cylinder ceramic media to improve your tumbling.  It is available in 1.5 lb. jars and 2 packs of 1.5 lb. jars.  We also sell a popular kit that contains the 4 stages of grit you need plus ceramic media.




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