Hobby or Case Tumbler




About: I am a photographer, a tinker, an electronics technology engineer, and author; I write short stories and poetry for the love of writing. I started writing poetry in high school over thirty years ago where I ...

My inspiration for building this tumbler was to build a brass casing cleaner; however it can be used to clean and polish everything from brass to sparkplugs and stones. I built it out of easy to get materials and parts that satisfy the three R’s of environmentalism, reduce, reuse and recycle. The two 1 kilogram coffee cans came from my own recycling bin, the two-speed motor, power cord and the switch came from an old electric heater. The nuts and bolts came from my local hardware store and three internal parts I made from a plastic-cooking spoon. Almost all of the parts came from the garbage except the nuts bolts and washers. The total cost to me was under five dollars and one day to build. Tumblers the size of this one can cost up to three hundred dollars to buy in stores, so the tumbler is not only environmentally friendly it is also economically friendly as long as you can afford a day to build.

Step 1: Materials

I started with two coffee cans of the same size I retrieved from my recycling bin. Any container that is solid and has a lid can be used to make the tumbling chamber or the base. Tin or thick plastic will do best for mounting screws and bolts.

Step 2: Tumbler Chamber

One can I drilled five holes (the tumbler chamber). I saved the plastic lids of the coffee cans to use later as a protective base and as the lid of the tumbler chamber. Three of the holes I drilled ½ inch in from the outer edge to mount the suppression mounts. The two holes I drilled for the motor mounts were strategically located by placing the motor on the bottom of the tumbler chamber locating the shaft of the motor in the center of the chamber. Then I marked the hole placement with an ice pick.

Step 3: Base

For the base I cut the bottom out of this coffee container with a can opener. Weather tin or plastic be sure the base is solid enough to support the finished product. This can be done by placing a five-pound weight on the top of the base and gently shaking, if it collapses it is not strong enough.

Step 4: Motor Mount

I made the spacers to mount the motor out of an old plastic-cooking spoon. Just about any thing can be used as spacers as long as they are square at the ends with a hole in the center and fit the available space for mounting the motor.

Step 5: Borring the Mount

I mounted the cooking spoon in the chuck of my drill press and the drill bit in the vice mounted to the base of the drill press. This acted as if the drill press was a lath, boring through the center of the plastic perfectly. I cut off the desired length of the motor mount with a hacksaw blade while the drill chuck was spinning. This made the cutoffs square for a tight mount to the tumbler chamber.

Step 6: Mounting the Motor & Counter Weight

Then it was a simple mater of bolting the motor and mounts with two bolts, washers and two nuts. When the motor is mounted to the tumbler chamber the next step is to attach and adjust the counterweight. The counterweight is made the same manner as the motor mounts after the center of the counter weight is drilled out for a bolt you drill at one end a 90% angle a hole the same size as the motor shaft. In one end there is a screw to hold the counterweight tight to the shaft at the other there is the bolt. The amount of vibration can be adjusted by moving the counterweight along the motor shaft or unscrewing the bolt to expand the center of gravity of the counterweight.

Step 7: Mounting the Base

When the counterweight is complete the tumbler chamber can be connected to the base. The connection between the two needs to be flexible I did this with springs to create the suppression mounts. The suppression mounts allow the tumbler chamber to vibrate without transferring the energy from the tumbler chamber to the base. To do this I mounted three L. brackets on the base with rivets. The L. brackets were located with the holes in the brackets in corresponding locations with the holes in the tumbling chamber. After the L. brackets are in place I put a washer on a long bolt and put the bolt in one of the holes ½ inch from the rim. With the bolt passing through the bottom of the tumbling chamber I added a washer to the outside of the chamber. On top of the washer I added two nuts to the bolt and tightened them, the second of the two nuts act as a locking nut stopping the nuts from undoing from the vibration. I repeated this for the other two holes.

When all three bolts are in place I add a washer and a spring to each bolt and placed the base on top of the springs by holes in the L. brackets. With the base in place I added a spring, washer and two nuts. The two nuts are tightened against each other to lock them so that the vibration will not cause the nuts to loosen. As shown in the color-coded diagram above there isn’t a solid connection between the tumbler chamber and the base. Without a solid connection all the energy created by the motor is transferred to the tumbler chamber.

Step 8: Wiring

With the two halves joined the next thing to do is mount the switch to the side of the base, this is done by drilling a hole in the side of the base and screwing the switch to the side of the base. Once the switch is installed you drill a hole in the other side of the base for the power cord. You put the power cord through the hole and connect the wires. The green wire from the power cord is connected to the base, the white and the black wire is connected to the switch. Since the motor I used is a two-speed motor, all three wires from the motor are connected to the switch. If you were to use a single speed motor the motor would only have two wires, one would go to the switch and one would go to the white wire on the power cord depending on the switch. With the wires connected you tie the wires down to the inside of the base to keep them from getting tangled in the counter weight with that done you secure the power cord with a collar or a grommet.

Step 9: Polishing

Different materials will require different polishing media.
The last thing to do is to put one plastic lid on the bottom to protect your table or work bench, load your tumbling media into the tumbler chamber put the lid on the tumbler chamber, plug in the tumbler, turn it on and start tumbling. Depending on the material to be tumbled the media can consist of crushed nuts to crushed glass with polishing compound. Brass products are polished with crushed corncob and polishing compound. Steel products are polished with crushed glass and a coarse polishing compound. The different materials are tumbled for different time periods. So have fun with your new environmentally friendly tumbler.

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    18 Discussions


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Can you tell me what I use to polish rocks or where I would look online to find out? Please. Thank you.

    1 reply

    OK you got to promise not to laugh.

    I used car wax.

    You want rock tumbler polishing compound.

    Just Google "rock tumbler polishing compound"


    5 years ago on Introduction

    It's a great idea, but where did you get the springs? Can you give me a little more idea about the length and strength of the springs?

    1 reply

    I got the springs from printers and other things I tear apart.

    So in my bucket of springs I picked some stiff springs large enough to pass the bolt through but small enough they would not over whelm the washer.

    You really don't want to heavy of a spring they should compress about 25% under the weight of the drum loaded and use the same spring for both top and bottom.

    It really depends on the weight of your drum loaded, these springs are 3/4 by 1/4 and quite strong but the strength varies by how much you compress them.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Please have a look at my tumbling set up.

    If I understand your set_up, 
    it is the offset counterweight that causes the vibratory tumbling action ?


    1 reply
    Josehf Murchisoniceng

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Yes it’s modeled after a Hornby case tumbler; barrel tumblers are too rough on brass.

    Nice tumblers.

    I have a friend that uses a cement mixer and tumbles stones in bulk, but I wouldn’t eat his home made horseradish, he uses it to make that also.

    He just puts a couple big stones in the mixer and adds all the ingredients for the horseradish, after a couple hours it’s ready to bottle.


    7 years ago on Step 9

    this is an awesome project that i will complete. thank you so much for this little gem of a project .

    1 reply

    7 years ago on Introduction

    great instructables, i have been saving some baby milk cans, to build a stove, maybe i could use them for this project, i still have a recycled microwave cooling fan unit, i could use it as the vibration motor..

    thanks for sharing!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Great project! My kids want a tumbler. Based on the photos, I assume the tumbler sits vertical? If so, did you add any ribs, fins, etc inside the tumbler to increase mixing? I've got an old ceiling fan and was thinking of a system like yours but the tumbler would be mounted below the motor, using the screws that held the fans in place. My main concern is whether or not a vertical tumbler will actually work. I keep thinking the rocks will end up the side walls and not polish.

    1 reply
    Josehf Murchisonjdiff

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    I modeled it after a case tumbler for polishing bullet cases for reloading bullets.
    I reload my own ammunition and a case tumbler is $300 dollars, this cost pocket change.
    The good thing is this tumbler will polish anything as long as you use the right media.
    There are no ribs inside the chamber; the motor is three speed the higher the speed the harder it vibrates, this causes the media to move polishing whatever you have inside.
    I described how to build a large one in a reply to canusksgirl; simply put you just need a suspended container and something to make it vibrate.
    I should add a video, the media climbs the sides and sinks in the center, the chamber does not spin it just vibrates.
    To use a ceiling fan you could mount the fan solid by its normal mount to the container and put the motor out of balance so it vibrates as it spins. A ceiling fan is a good multi speed motor and they are easy to put out of balance.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Ok, let me get this straight. I could use this as a rock tumbler? and polish stones?

    The really, strange and ironic part is I was looking for one to make a couple hours ago and then finally gave up as I couldn't find one.... *creepy*

    Please clarify, and thanks for sharing!

    2 replies

    Yes it works great just buy the right media and polish this one wont do a lot of stones at a time, just a hand full.

    I built this one to polish the brass for reloading ammunition.

    I built one for a friend of mine out of a washtub with a 1/3 horse power motor attached to the tub and to make it vibrate I just cut a chunk out of a 4 inch pulley wheel putting it out of balance and attached it to the motor shaft. I suspended the washtub from the ceiling with budgie cords. This one could polish over a hundred pounds of stones at a time.


    Wow, that is one heavy duty setup!

    If you don't mind the suggestions, perhaps you could clarify your introduction about the uses for this Tumbler. (I know you have the rocks photo, but I missed it when I first looked).

    Also, edit your keywords by adding: rocks, polish, smooth - and anything else related to your project. When I tried to search for a rock tumbler, I used those words and because you don't have "rock" as a keyword, your project doesn't show up on the first page. (It was your PM that led me to look at your instructables).

    The keywords are pretty important, as they are the search words to find you!

    Thanks for responding. You have a great project. :D