Rock tumbling is one of those hobbies that all ages and skill levels can enjoy and although you can buy polished gemstones, it’s so much more fun to make your own. It’s easy too and doesn’t require a ton of expensive accessories to keep the hobby going.
You’ll just need a good quality rock tumbler to start off with, some grits, polish, and water to transform a rough rock into beautifully polished gemstones. Each with their own unique patterning and color variation.
The process isn’t quick, it can take around 4 weeks to complete but you will get to see the transformation at each stage.
But I’m getting ahead of myself now, first, you need your tumbler. We’ve done our research and picked the best ones out for you.
Our Top Picks for the Best Rock Tumbler
|Our Top Pick||Lortone 3A Single Barrel Tumbler|
|Best Rock Tumbler Kit||Tru-square Metal Products Single Barrel Rock Polishing Tumbler and Geology Kit|
|Best Rock Tumbler for Kids||Discover with Dr. Cool Hobby Rock Tumbler|
|Best Rock Tumbler for Kids Alternative Pick||National Geographic Professional Rock Tumbler Kit|
Click below to jump to each topic in this guide.
- Our Top Pick
- Best Rock Tumbler Kit
- Best Rock Tumbler for Kids
- Best Rock Tumbler for Kids Alternative Pick
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Other Rock Tumblers We’ve Reviewed
Our Top Pick: Lortone 3A Single Barrel Tumbler
Our Top Pick
Lortone are a well-respected company that have been producing lapidary machines here in the US since 1978.
The A3 single barrel tumbler is an example of fine craftsmanship and durability and is ideal for beginners and experienced rock tumblers alike.
This one is a 3 lb, single-barrel machine. It’s ideal for tumbling stones up to 1 1/4 inches but it’s also perfect for jewelry tumbling too.
The hard rubber barrel is designed to reduce noise levels increase durability and it has a ribbed interior to enhance the tumbling action of the machine. Unlike our next choice below, it also comes with a steel, rather than a plastic lid which means it won’t wear out.
The tumbler simple to operate and the motor is maintenance-free, designed for continuous use and is UL approved.
What We Like:
- High-quality Machine | This isn’t a cheap Chinese import it’s a high-quality durable machine made here in the US and backed up by a 1-Year manufacturer’s warranty.
- Range of Different Barrel Capacity Options | We have featured the 3lbs version in this guide but Lortone Rock Tumblers come in a range of different capacity sizes. You can choose the size most suitable for your needs by clicking the Amazon link at the end of this section.
Buying Factors to Consider:
There’s no downside to buying this machine. Even if you’re a beginner the nature of rock tumbling means you’ll need a durable machine capable of continuous use over many weeks so you should choose a good quality machine that won’t let you down.
It’s a stand-alone machine that doesn’t come with any extras though, and for a beginner knowing what accessories you need can be a little daunting.
Fortunately, Lortone have thought of that and there is a starter kit that you buy separately to get you up and running. Alternatively, you can opt for the kit we’ll be looking at next which is more economically priced.
Check the latest price of the Lortone 3A Single Barrel Tumbler on Amazon.
Best Rock Tumbler Kit: Tru-square Metal Products Single Barrel Rock Polishing Tumbler and Geology Kit
Best Rock Tumbler Kit
If you are new to lapidary and rock tumbling, knowing which rocks, minerals and other accessories you’ll need to get yourself started can be a little daunting.
Choosing a good starter kit is the best way to get familiar with the craft and the quickest way to learn.
This 3lb single barrel rock tumbler by Tru-square Metal Products comes with a kit that has everything you’ll need to produce beautifully polished gemstones right from your first go.
The tumbler itself is US made and has a 115V continuous overload protector motor, so it’s designed to keep going year after year.
Included in the kit is a tumbling grit pack consisting of one coarse and one fine, one pack of pre-polish and a polish pack. You also get 4 lbs of rocks and a jewelry making kit.
There’s even a handy detailed guide to take you through the process.
What We Like:
- Good Kit | 4lbs of rough gemstones is a generous amount for any starter kit. It’s ideal for a beginner and the included accessories make it easy to learn to craft. The full 3lb rubber barrel capacity sets this kit apart from a kid’s toy.
Buying Factors to Consider:
The only drawback and the reason it missed our top pick spot is the plastic lid which means it will eventually wear out. However, lids are very cheap to replace and easy to find. So all in all, it’s a great hobby starter kit, suitable for older kids, teens, and adults alike.
If you are considering choosing a kit for young children you might want to consider one of our two kid’s choices below.
Check the latest of the Tru-square Metal Products Single Barrel on Amazon.
Best Rock Tumbler for Kids: Discover with Dr. Cool Hobby Rock Tumbler
Best Rock Tumbler for Kids
This is kit would make an ideal gift for kids. It’s very affordable and comes with everything you need to get started.
What we like about this kit is the set and forget feature which is ideal for kids. The machine has a programmable timer that will automatically count down the days for you and switch itself off when the cycle is complete. This saves on power if your kids forget to turn it off and it also prevents the gemstones from becoming over tumbled.
The kit comes 1/2 lbs of good quality gemstones including rose quartz, amethyst, sodalite, tiger’s eye, jasper, agate, and more.
It also includes 4 grades of polishing grit, jewelry fastenings, a guide with instructions for polishing and educational information written by teachers along with an activity book with 10 puzzles and games.
It’s a great little starter kit and the higher quality rubber barrel makes it quieter than cheap plastic on would. It only has a 1lb barrel capacity which would account for the lower price point than our top choice but it’s a more manageable size for children to handle, filling and emptying the barrel.
What We Like:
- Affordable Kit Designed for Younger Children | It’s a great budget option for kids and would make a nice gift. It’s a small kit making it ideal for younger kids to handle the barrel while filling it with rough gemstones or emptying it between tumbling cycles.
- Programmable Timer | It’s a really useful feature for forgetful kids. Not only does it save on power but it will prevent the gemstones from becoming over tumbled and smaller than they should be as a result.
Buying Factors to Consider:
It’s a great kit for children but if rock tumbling is something you’d like to try yourself or at least have a go as a joint project with your kids, the barrel capacity is very small so you’d probably want to give this one a miss and either go for our alt choice, next or go for the larger, 3lb capacity ones at the beginning of this guide.
Check the latest price of the Discover with Dr. Cool Hobby Rock Tumbler on Amazon.
Best Rock Tumbler for Kids AlternativePick: National Geographic Professional Rock Tumbler Kit
Best Rock Tumbler for Kids Alternative Pick
This is our alternative pick for kids and though it costs a few dollars extra, it’s a step up from the Dr Cool Hobby Rock Tumbler we have just looked at.
This kit has a larger barrel capacity for a start. At 2lbs it’s still on the small side, but this is reflected in the price tag and 2lbs is a more manageable size for kids.
The machine gives you more control over the tumbling process than our last pick too. You can set the programable timer to count down the days but you can also set the speed. With this feature, you can speed up the tumbling time, great for those who are eager to see the final result.
Included with this kit are 2 lbs of rough gemstones, including dalmatian jasper, red jasper, tiger’s eye, aventurine, amethyst and more. Eight polishing grit packs, jewelry fastenings, and an information guide, with instructions.
What We Like:
- Great Starter Kit for Older Children | The 2lbs rubber barrel size is larger than our last choice and the kit comes with a generous 2 lbs of rough gemstones.
- Programmable Timer with Speed Control | Having a timer that counts down and then switches off is great for forgetful kids. It saves on power and it will prevent the gemstones from becoming over tumbled and therefore smaller than they should be as a result. This Machine also has the added feature of being able to adjust the tumbling speed.
Check the latest price of the National Geographic Professional Rock Tumbler Kit on Amazon.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are rock tumblers loud?
While all rock tumblers do make some noise, there is a noticeable difference in the noise level between a plastic barrel rock tumbler and a hard rubber barrel tumbler.
Rock tumblers that have a rubber barrel do tend to cost more but are definitely worth the investment considering the length of time it takes to produce polished gemstones.
Rock tumbling is a lengthy process and can take up to a month. For that reason, you are best to find somewhere to place your rotary rock tumbler away from your main living spaces such as a garage or basement.
If your tumbler is excessively noisy, check that it is filled to the correct level. It should be 2/3 to 3/4 full of tumbling rough. If you don’t have enough rocks you can add tumbling media such as plastic pellets or a ceramic filler to make up the volume. This will reduce the noise level as well as improve the quality of your polished gemstones.
Can you put any rocks in a rock tumbler?
Not all rocks will tumble well, those that are too hard or too soft, for example, do not polish well and are best avoided if you’re a beginner.
Mixing different hardnesses will result in chips, breakage or crumbling. So although you can mix different rocks, for best results they should be in the same hardness range.
Rough gemstones that tumble well for a beginner are usually in the range of 7 on the Mohs hardness scale. The scale is a measure of rock hardness and resistance to scratch, from 1, which is soft like talc, to 10, which is hard. Diamonds are a 10.
Examples of gemstones that are in the same range and so tumble well together include amethyst, sodalite, aventurine, quartz, tiger’s eye, jasper, and agate. Petrified wood is also a popular choice.
How Long Does Rock Tumbling Take?
Rock tumbling is a lengthy process and it will take roughly around four weeks to produce a smooth glossy gemstone from rough rock.
However, that doesn’t mean you have no part in the process and it’s not fun. Rock tumbling in a rotary tumbler is done in 4 stages, each stage taking around one week to complete.
At the end of each stage, you will need to prepare your rocks for the next stage by washing them and changing the water. You will also need to change the tumbling grit coarseness or add pre-polish or polish so you will get to see the process of your gemstones transformation at each stage.
What do you need to add to a rock tumbler?
You will need to fill your barrel 2/3 to 3/4 full of mixed sizes of tumbling rough from 1/4″ up to 1 1/2″. If you don’t have enough rocks to tumble, you can add fillers such as plastic pellets or ceramic media to make up the volume. You will also need to add water to cover the rocks.
For each stage of the tumbling process, you will need a different grit size of tumbling grit. Stage 1 requires a coarse silicon carbide grit. You will need to add approximately 2 tablespoons for a 3lbs barrel size. For your next two stages, you should first add a medium and then a fine grit followed by approximately 2 tablespoons of aluminum oxide polish.
Other Rock Tumblers We’ve Reviewed:
These are the products that didn’t quite make our top picks, but they’re still pretty good so you might like to take a look:
Large Capacity Rock Tumbler
This 4lbs capacity rubber barrel rock tumbler is ideal for tumbling larger quantities of gemstones.
- Powerful 115V fan-cooled AC motor.
- The kit comes with rough gemstones for tumbling, 3 grades of silicon carbide grit and one bag o aluminum oxide polish.
- Includes visual instructions.
Double Barrel Rock Tumbler
This one is the same make as our top choice but worth pointing out because it has two barrels. That means you can easily work with rocks at different stages in the tumbling process.
- It has a total of 6lbs capacity.
- Double barrel, handy for stones at different stages in the tumbling process.
This 3lb capacity rubber barrel one is great value for money.
- Powerful 120 Volt Motor for 24/7 use.
- The kit comes with 3 lbs of mixed rough Madagascar stone, grits, and polishes. It even includes plastic filler pellets.
This is the budget option we looked at. But it comes with 6 replacement belts so that’s pretty much a red flag in terms of how long it will last.
- 3 lb capacity.
- Rubber barrel for quieter operation.