Barrels for Vibratory Rock Tumblers
How to get maximum life out of your vibratory barrel.
Barrels for Thumler's Ultra-Vibe 10 Industrial tumbler and a Lot-o-Tumbler. Lot-o-Tumbler barrels are made from high density rubber and with proper care can last for many years. Note the cylindrical well on the bottom of the Lot-O barrel. Ultra-Vibe barrels are made of heavy polyethylene, which wears very slowly and with many types of use can last for several years.
They Usually Last for Years
Most vibratory tumbler barrels will last a long time - usually a few years or longer - if they are used according to instructions and treated with care. However, the barrels are not indestructible, and you may need to occasionally replace a barrel if you use the tumbler a lot or if you tumble certain types of material.
Below we will describe what we have learned about the useful life of vibratory tumbler barrels from personal use and communication with our customers, tumbler manufacturers, vendors of rock tumbler merchandise and visitors to our website. We have owned several types of vibratory tumblers. We limit the discussion below to the tumblers that we have used personally, currently offer for sale, and would recommend to friends and customers.
The most important place to clean a rotary tumbler barrel is the rim where the lid seats
Thumler's - Model U-V10 and U-V18
Thumlers Tumblers makes three vibratory tumblers for rock tumbling use. They are the U-V10, U-V18 and U-V45. These three machines have working capacities of 10, 18 and 45 pounds respectively. The U-V stands for "Ultra-Vibe".
All three of these machines are available in an "industrial" model and a "hobbyist" model. The "industrial" model has a heavy polyethylene bowl and a powerful motor. It is specially built for rock tumbling. The "hobbyist" model is intended for light-duty polishing and mass finishing and should not be used as a rock tumbler. Why? The barrel is very thin and the motor is light duty. Make sure you purchase the industrial model if you plan to tumble rocks because the hobbyist bowls will have a very short life if used for rock tumbling. We only sell the industrial model on this website.
Barrels for the Thumler's UV tumblers lose a tiny amount of thickness with each batch of rocks. After you run the tumbler with some rocks, dump them straight from the barrel into a small container of water, swish them around and wait a few moments... you will see tiny black particles float to the top of the water. These are tiny pieces of the barrel. We see tiny barrel particles in the white mud of our polishing and the soap suds of our burnishing step - so some loss of barrel thickness occurs even then.
A person tumbling small rocks or stream-rounded rocks in a UV tumbler might be able to use the same barrel for years without wearing a hole in it. This is because small rocks don't exert much pressure on the walls of the barrel and rounded rocks don't gouge material from the barrel walls as they are tumbling.
We have a UV 10 barrel that we used a few times a month for five years without it wearing through. During that time almost every rock that we tumbled spent its medium, fine, polishing and burnishing step in that barrel. It is the barrel in the photo with a translucent ring in the bottom.
Here's how you can tell when your U-V10 barrel is getting close to "end of life". The bottom of the barrel starts getting so thin that you can almost see through it. Replace your barrel at this point because if that barrel wears through in the middle of a tumble you are probably going to have a mess to clean up!
We treated that barrel well. Most of the rough rocks that we processed in it were tumbled through the coarse grit step in a rotary tumbler (which removed sharp edges) or have been tumbled stones from one of our suppliers that needed a better finish.
The greatest wear on an Ultra-Vibe barrel occurs when large angular rocks are tumbled. If a person is tumbling crushed agates or jasper or petrified woods in angular 2- or 3-inch pieces, the sharp edges of those big pieces will put some major wear on the barrel! Those large sharp rocks can also rip holes in the foam pad that covers the bottom of the li
There is one other situation that can result in a barrel wearing through much more quickly than expected. That is when small pieces of rock become embedded in the foam pad below the barrel. When a loaded tumbler barrel is shaken on top of a sharp piece of rock in the pad, that can quickly wear a thin spot in the barrel, which can eventually develop into a hole or a crack.
It is very important to keep the pad clean and free of debris. Placing the barrel on a work bench or floor where grit or debris can stick to it might transfer those sharp particles to the pad. Best practice is to keep the workplace clean and wipe any debris from a dirty pad or barrel before running the tumbler.
Accidents probably account for a lot of the replacement Ultra-Vibe barrels that we sell. If you drop an Ultra-Vibe barrel that is loaded with rocks, there is a good chance that it will break or crack.
Our top tips for extending the life of your Ultra-Vibe barrel are: 1) keep the pad below the barrel clean; 2) run angular rocks through their first tumbling step in a rotary tumbler; and, 3) handle the barrel with care and never place it on a dirty floor or workbench where it might pick up grit.
And, here's our top tip for avoiding a huge mess. Check the bottom of your Ultra-Vibe barrel before you load it with rocks. Gentle finger pressure with cause it to flex if it is wearing thin. Or, you can hold it up to a window or a bright light to see if the bottom is becomming translucent. If your barrel deflects to finger pressure or has a translucent ring in the bottom, then it is time for a new barrel.
We almost always tumble angular or broken rocks in a rotary tumbler for their first step and then do all sanding and polishing steps in a vibratory tumbler - usually a U-V10 or a U-V18. We don't use a U-V45 because they are monster size and we are not weight lifters. :-)
Photo of the Lot-o-Tumbler single vibratory tumbler with a hard rubber barrel.
Photo looking down into the barrel of a Lot-o-Tumbler. In the bottom you can see how a few pellets and other debris is stuck in the well. Don't feel that you must pry this material out of the well with a screwdriver. That is one of the most common causes of barrel damage. Allow that material to remain in the well. Just rinse the barrel thoroughly and it will not cause a problem.
Lot-o-Tumbler Single and Lot-o-Tumbler Twin
The Lot-o-Tumbler Single and the Lot-o-Tumbler Twin both use the same four-pound capacity barrels. They are made from thick rubber - much like the rubber that is used to make tires. We have a Lot-o-Tumbler that has been used frequently over the past ten years and the barrel shows no signs of wear. These barrels are extremely durable and we have never heard of one wearing thin.
We sell very few replacement barrels for the Lot-o-Tumbler. If Lot-o-Tumbler barrels have any vulnerability it is the small cylindrical well in the bottom of the barrel. Small pieces of rock and ceramic media tend to get stuck in that well and some people have a need to get a big screwdriver and pry that stuff out. Please resist the urge to do that. Prying in that well can cause the barrel to leak where the cylindrical well meets the curvature of the barrel. Just rinse the barrel thoroughly and allow that stuff to remain in the well. It's not going to cause a problem.
The only other vulnerabilities that Lot-o-Tumbler barrels might face is the same as other rubber products. If they are stored in cold or hot areas - or exposed to prolonged direct sunlight - the rubber can harden and crack. Another thing to keep in mind is to not expose them to grease, oil or other solvent that might attack the rubber. All of these vulnerabilities are easy to avoid.
I believe that my Lot-o-Tumbler barrels will be enjoyed by someone long after my funeral. :-)