How to Polish Stones for Jewelry

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Practically any semi-precious stone can be polished with a rock tumbler.
Practically any semi-precious stone can be polished with a rock tumbler. (Image: Zedcor Wholly Owned/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images)

In order to polish stones that you can use for jewelry, you'll have to use a rock tumbler. While this might sound like an antiquated children's toy, it is, in fact, useful for preparing rough stones used in jewelry-making; it's also extremely easy to operate. All you have to do is place the rough stones in the tumbler, add special polishing sand and a bit of water, and leave the tumbler alone as it polishes the stones.

Things You'll Need

  • Electric rock tumbler
  • Rock tumbling sand
  • Water

Open the rock tumbler's drum by unscrewing the top from the base.

Insert the stones you want to polish into the drum; add the appropriate grit of polishing sand and water. If the stone is extremely coarse, start with 60-grit or lower sand and tumble the stone until the rough edges are smoothed away. This process will take approximately one week.

Empty the drum of its 60-grit polishing sand and filter out the stones you've begun polishing. Place them back into the drum with the next grit of sand, usually 120-grit, and water. Place the drum back into the tumbler and polish the stones for another week until you can use the next finer grit of sand. Retain the 60-grit polishing sand in a bag; you'll be able to reuse it several times before it's no longer any good.

Polish the stones with progressively finer grits of sand and water until you've reached the luster you wanted. The final grit is usually an extremely fine polishing dust that will bring out a clear, shiny gloss on the stone. Each stage of the polishing process takes approximately one week to complete.

Tips & Warnings

  • The stones will grow progressively smaller as you work through the polishing process, so avoid attempting to fit them into a setting before they've been completely polished.
  • Use a ceramic or masonry drill bit rather than a standard metal drill bit to drill mounting holes into the stones.

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References

  • "How to Tumble Polish Gemstones"; Jerom Wexler; 1977
  • "The Art of Gem Cutting: Including Cabochons, Faceting, Spheres, Tumbling, and Special Techniques"; H.C. Dake; 2009
  • "Introduction to Lapidary"; Pansy Kraus; 1987
  • Geology.com: Let's Make Some Tumbled Gemstones!
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