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How to Polish Rocks with Hand


Knowing how to polish rocks by hand is handy after you’ve spent a day finding some nice specimens. Yes, you could use a rock tumbler for your rock tumbling. Or, you can learn the art of hand-polishing rocks. Hand polishing is a great way to transform dull stones into beautiful ones, but it does take some elbow grease and time. Here’s how…

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Why Hand Polish?

Hand polishing can be done by even the novice or youngest rockhound. It requires only a few materials, doesn’t cost much and results in beautifully polished stones. The rhythmic motions of hand polishing can be soothing and relaxing for some people, almost like a Zen experience. Mohs Scale of Hardness says that stones with a lower hardness like amber and turquoise are the best to hand polish. These stones often don’t fare well in a tumbler anyway, which is one more reason to polish them by hand. 

How to Polish Rocks

After polishing, check the progress with 500-grit or 1200-grit paper. The shine has really started to show.

Step 1

Clean the rocks by hand. Fill a small bucket up with hot, soapy lukewarm water to wash off dirt. A toothbrush will work wonders if the stone is full of crevices, or has stubborn residue. After the stone is cleaned thoroughly, throw away the soapy water, and fill the bucket up with fresh water.

Step 2

Use sandpaper with a 220-grit to round corners and rough shape. Start by wetting the sandpaper, then placing it with its grit side up on a hard surface such as a cuttingboard or another flat surface. Then, hold the rock with your dominant arm and start rubbing the sandpaper along it to remove any hard edges. Continue to wet the rock until all fine particles are removed. Then, continue sanding the rock until you reach the desired shape or the edges are smoothed and rounded.

If you want to shape or polish harder materials, use something coarser. Some people begin with an 80-grit, but sandpaper this coarse shouldn’t be used on softer stones because it could add more scratches than remove. The lower the number is, the coarser sandpaper.

Step 3

With 500-grit, refine the shape by removing heavy scratches. By using finer sandpaper, you can remove more significant scratches. This will also help refine the shape. For best results, keep the rock moist during the entire sanding procedure.

Step 4

Use 1200-grit paper to polish the stone. Using extra-fine sandpaper buffs out tiny scratches on the stone’s surface. This is when the shine begins to form. Make sure to keep the rock wet, rinsing it often to expose anything that’s been missed. 

The smoothing and polishing of a piece amber using sandpaper with grit 220-

Step 5

Apply toothpaste generously to a square piece of cloth. The stone should be worked through the paste and onto the fabric in order to achieve a lovely luster. If necessary, you can add toothpaste to the stone several times before the desired shine is reached.

“There are lots of polishing compounds out there,” said Allen McGhee, long-time rockhound and hand polisher. “But I’ve found that toothpaste works just as well, and it’s cheaper. Pretty much any toothpaste works, so don’t buy the high-priced ones.”

Step 6

After rinsing off the toothpaste, coat the stone in mineral oil or a commercial polish to bring it out. Once the rock dries, it’s ready to show off.

After polishing, check the progress with 500-grit or 1200-grit paper. The shine has really started to show.

Dremel Augmentation

A Dremel is a popular motorized rotary tool that’s handy for grinding and smoothing sharp edges and completing extensive shaping of hard stones, especially those with lots of crevices.

“You can shape and polish rocks and gems faster with a Dremel if you want,” said McGhee. “They make heads for them with all three levels of grit you need.”

Wearing protective eyewear when using a Dremel is essential. Even small chips may cause damage to an eye. Hands should be protected with gloves. The Dremel tip and sharp edges of the rock can cut the skin. A mask will prevent inhalation of the small particles that are released from the rock when it is being ground. 

It’s all about personal choice. Some people prefer a natural shape and do little shaping, but still want their rocks to shine. A Dremel is also useful for rocks that are perfectly round or smooth, as well as for those harder stones that would take too long to smooth out by hand. 

The dull stone has become shiny after four rounds of shaping.

Tumbling or hand polishing

Unintentionally, many people think that rock tumblers provide the fastest method to polish rocks. In reality, the process of rock tumbling takes several days up to several weeks. The more difficult and larger the rock, the longer the process will take. For softer stones, hand polishing can be a quicker solution. 

The rock tumbler is less labour-intensive because the machine does most of the work.

Benefits of Polishing Stones by Hand

The process of hand polishing may be lengthy depending on the stone’s hardness. However, the end result is more controlled. This can be important, especially if your final product will affect the quality, price and/or the overall appearance of an expensive or rare gem or rock. A hand-polished stone can give you a sense of accomplishment. 

This story about how to polish rocks previously appeared in Rock & Gem magazine. Subscribe by clicking here. Click here to subscribe.

The post How to Polish Rocks by Hand first appeared on Rock & Gem Magazine.

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