How To Polish Rocks By Hand

Collecting rocks is something that is fun and that the whole family can do. If you like that sort of thing. For some people, collecting rocks probably seems like a waste of time. But, for others, like me, we collect rocks almost everywhere we go. It gets to be a bit of an obsession because sometimes it's hard to pull away from rock hunting.

Once you have all those rocks at your house, the question becomes what to do with all of these rocks. If you have a lot of jagged rocks, maybe getting a rock tumbler to tumble those rocks would be something you would like to do. If you have a lot of rocks that are pretty smooth, they just don't look like they do when they are wet, you could consider polishing them by hand. It may sound like it's a lot of work, but it really isn't. Especially if the rocks are fairly smooth already. If they're rough, it takes a bit more effort.

This lens is about something I really enjoy doing, polishing rocks by hand. It is a fun hobby and it doesn't cost much money at all. Of course, if you are interested in a rock tumbler, you can get a small one for under $100.00 online. But, the great thing about polishing rocks by hand is that all you need is some elbow grease, your time, sandpaper and a few other supplies and you're on your way to transforming an ordinary rocks into an extraordinary item you can proudly display. Have fun!

Why Hand Polish

Rocks that are already smooth are fun to polish. Why hand polish your rocks?

It’s a great hobby!
It’s fun!
It’s relaxing!
It keeps your hands exercised!
It keeps your arm muscles more toned!
Getting out and collecting rocks is really fun!
Having a beautiful collection of rocks to display is something to be proud of.
You can give them as gifts to your friends and family for holidays and birthdays.

Some of My Hand Polished Rocks

The Best Types Of Rocks To Use

  • The best rocks to use for hand polishing are those that are already rounded and somewhat smooth. These can usually be found near rivers, creeks, or the ocean.
  • It should be fine grained, the opposite of granite which is coarse grained.
  • Your rocks should be as free of pits and cracks as possible.
  • It doesn't matter what shape it is, as long as it is smooth and looks like it will be easy to sand.

Things You Will Need

  • The perfect rock.
  • Dust mask(s).
  • Safety glasses.
  • Dishsoap and an old toothbrush or scrub brush.
  • Multi-grit WET-DRY sandpaper. I use 80, 120 or 150, 220 or 240, 300, 400, 600, 1200 or 1500. But different grades can be used, as long as they go from coarse to fine. You will find that some rocks do better with certain grits.
  • Denim or leather scraps.
  • Polishing compound. You can use clear paint for a high gloss shine if so desired.

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Step-By-Step Instructions

Hand Polishing in 10 Steps

  • 1
    Put on your safety equipment prior to doing any sanding. This is necessary because you don't want to breathe the rock dust. Eyewear is important because sometimes little tiny pieces can fly off, especially if you decide to use a Dremel on your rocks. Wash rock thoroughly with soap and water. Use an old toothbrush or something like that to scrub the rock well as there are pits and grooves that can't be seen by the naked eye where dirt and grit can get trapped. You don't necessarily need to use soap in between each step, but be sure to scrub and not just rinse off as you want to make sure there is no grit left over as this can make little holes larger.
  • 2
    Take the lowest number grit sandpaper and start sanding. Keep water handy to maintain the dampness of the rock. This will cut down on the rock dust in the air. Sand the rock until that you can tell it is well-scratched from the sandpaper. The idea is to scratch the surface, then with the next grade, you scratch the surface and it keeps going until eventually it is smooth and looks really nice. After sanding, scrub and rinse thoroughly.
  • 3
    Now, move on to the next number (120 or so) grit sandpaper and begin sanding. Sand until you can see that it has scratched the surface. Scrub and rinse thoroughly.
  • 4
    Next, use the 220 or 240 grit sandpaper. Follow the same instructions as above.
  • 5
    After the 150 grit, you can move onto a 300 or 320 grit sandpaper. Follow the same instructions: sand until the surface is scratched. Scrub and rinse thoroughly.
  • 6
    Next comes the 400 grit. Sand until the surface is scratched. Scrub and rinse thoroughly.
  • 7
    Now it's time for the 800 grit. Follow the same instructions. It can be tedious, but you only have to sand for a couple minutes on each grit.
  • 8
    After the 500, you can either use a1200 or 1500 grit. You should be able to judge which one to use at this point as the rock should be really smooth. This is the final sanding you will do. Sand for a few minutes, scrub and wash with soap and water. Rinse thoroughly. You are done with sanding! Now your rock should look noticeably different and should feel smooth and soft.
  • 9
    You are ready to start polishing your rock. Get your piece of denim or leather and put some polish on the rock. Begin rubbing on the outside of the material and then finish with the inside. You should see the rock begin to shine. It won't become a high gloss shine like when tumbled in a tumbler, but they do look pretty. Just keep rubbing it and it will get more and more shiny.
  • 10
    The 10th Step isn't necessary unless you prefer your rocks to be polished to a shiny shine. Yes, I said shiny shine! : ) This effect can be achieved with high gloss clear paint that can be purchased at your local hardware store in the paint section for less than $10.00 for a quart. It can be applied with a smaller sized paintbrush in even strokes. Once you have hand-polished a few times, you will become familiar with it and you will find that certain types of rocks work better with specific sandpaper grits and sometimes you can skip steps. These sandpaper grits aren't set in stone, as long as you have variations in the grades of grit similar to what I suggested.

Eye Protection


Learn About Lapidary Art

A lapidary is a person who works with rocks, minerals, and gems and crafts them into different types of decorative items or jewelry. Lapidary art includes tumbling (using a rock tumbler), polishing (transforming from dull to polished), faceting (shaping a rough stone into a faceted gem – usually for transparent stones), and cabochon cutting (shaping and polishing opaque stones into smooth, rounded, oval shapes, with flat bottoms). But of course it begins with collecting nice samples.

According to the long-time owner of the local lapidary store, until recently, lapidary art had been a “dying art”, at least as far as she could tell. But, she said, for the past few months there has been a steady increase in customers and it is beginning to look like people may be taking an interest in it again.

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Comments, Suggestions? Want To Say Hello?

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  • alemac5 Jan 29, 2013 @ 6:35 pm
    Hi there... i'm a complete beginner at this... i've collected rocks for years but have only now thought of polishing them.... can you tell me what kind of polishing compound i should use? i actually live in europe, so not sure if i'll be able to find the same products.... i've seen some sites mention using aluminum oxide, but that's a powder? what do you use?
  • LindaJM Dec 14, 2012 @ 1:10 am
    Rock collecting is a cool hobby... thanks for telling us how to polish rocks.
  • Jack2205 Dec 12, 2012 @ 5:58 pm
    When I was a kid, I had a box full of polished rocks and a collection of regular rocks.
  • Steve_Kaye Oct 10, 2012 @ 5:17 pm
    I've polished wood, just like you describe here. And I agree that it's relaxing. Thank you for publishing this lens.
  • EbooksFreeWeekly Sep 15, 2012 @ 9:31 am
    I had forgotten that I used to like and collect rocks. In an Earth Science Class I found sediments to be very interesting. Thanks for sharing. Nice lens! :)
  • crstnblue Sep 02, 2012 @ 2:25 am
    Very nice lens!
    I'm passionate about rocks and they are my favorite souvenir from any trip and I may consider polishing some of them...
  • iijuan12 Sep 01, 2012 @ 10:51 pm
    Beautiful! This sounds like a great activity to use when my kids get restless but have to sit still.
  • favored1 Aug 30, 2012 @ 11:22 am
    Many years ago I bought a rock tumbler for my husband. He only used it a few times because it was so loud. But he still collects rocks like a kid.
  • olmpal Aug 16, 2012 @ 8:03 am
    Beautiful rocks you have here! Great work with polishing them! This is the first time I have heard the term Lapidary art. Thanks for sharing!
  • ionee_25 Aug 06, 2012 @ 12:58 am
    I would like to try this after cleaning the house. They all look great, and I'm getting so excited!
  • Jul 06, 2012 @ 6:02 pm
    I know where you're coming from. I'm an ancient rockhound myself, though I don't collect like I once did when I lived in the mountains of Colorado. I couldn't go for a hike without weighing myself down with 'interesting' finds. My tumbler was always going. Not so anymore since I moved to Florida a few years back, but I still have a few really nice pieces. Thanks for your lens.
  • ErinElise Jul 09, 2012 @ 12:49 am
    Hi dewittsenior,
    Thank you for reading my lens on rocks and rockhounding, I appreciate your visit and for your feedback. Aww you should start collecting and tumbling again if it's something you liked. How are the rocks in Florida; are there good ones?
  • WriterJanis Jun 30, 2012 @ 3:19 am
    This was really interesting to me as my Mom always used a tumbler.
  • RockinPicks Jun 05, 2012 @ 5:07 pm
    I love polished stones but use a vib polisher and a genie to do it. I can't wait for a rotary. I want it done fast! I have been collecting rocks since I was five. We just moved my collection outside because they were everywhere in the house. I agree with not loving the color of the text. It's a bit washed out but I like vibrant colors.
  • ErinElise Jun 07, 2012 @ 12:22 pm
    Hi RockinPicks,

    I agree, I want them done fast too! It's hard to wait for the tumbler, it takes too long. I think my next one will be a vib polisher. That's why I started doing them by hand, but I also have the tumbler going. Don't you just love rocks and how amazing it is that they change from beginning to end when they get polished?

    You must really have a lot of rocks having been collecting since you were five!
    I've got part of my collection (the really nice ones) inside of my house and then the rest are all outside in various places throughout my front and back yards.

    Thanks for visiting my lens. Take care and happy polishing!
  • ErinElise May 12, 2012 @ 11:13 pm
    Hi Kiwinana71,

    Thanks for stopping by my lens. I appreciate your input. I am going to go ahead and change it. Although I love pink and using color, sometimes it can be too much if not used correctly.

    Again, thank you and I hope you have a great weekend and Happy Mother's Day.
  • kiwinana71 May 12, 2012 @ 5:47 pm
    Yes I collect rocks, nice lens. The question on the colour of the text, it looks nice, but very hard to read with my old eyes, but it may be okay with younger eyes.
    Thanks for sharing.
  • ErinElise May 13, 2012 @ 6:37 pm
    Hi kiwinana71,
    Okay all fixed. Does it look better now? I hope so. Thank you again!
  • ErinElise May 02, 2012 @ 3:58 pm
    Hi Anna, thanks for commenting on my lens. Hope you're having a good day!
  • Annamadagan May 01, 2012 @ 9:54 pm
    Rocks are fun to collect!

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