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.
Reviews of Our Top Picks for the Best Rock Tumbler
|Editor’s Award||Brand||Click Image to Read Review|
|Our Top Pick||Lortone 3A Single Barrel Tumbler|
|Best Large Capacity Rock Tumbler||MJR Tumblers 20 LB Rock Tumbler|
|Best Rock Tumbler Kit||Rock Tumbler Kit for Kids or Beginners by Lortone|
|Best Rock Tumbler for Kids|
(Available US & UK)
|National Geographic Professional Rock Tumbler Kit|
|Another Worthy mention||Dan&Darci Advanced Professional Rock Tumbler Kit|
Click below to jump to each topic in this guide.
- Our Top Pick
- Best Large Capacity Rock Tumbler
- Best Rock Tumbler Kit
- Best Rock Tumbler for Kids
- Another Worthy mention
- 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 has thought of that and there is a starter kit that you buy separately to get you up and running. If you’d prefer a starter kit take a look at our best kit review here.
Check the latest price of the Lortone 3A Single Barrel Tumbler on Amazon.
Best Large Capacity Rock Tumbler: MJR Tumblers 20 LB Rock Tumbler
Best Large Capacity Rock Tumbler
Rock tumbling is a lengthy process – definitely not the hobby for anyone who’s impatient.
Of course, patiences is a virtue, but what if you want a greater output of polished gemstones at the end of the process?
The only way to get more output is to get a double barrel, or a large capacity tumbler.
A double-barrel rock tumbler will do just that – double your capacity. The problem is, most double barrel ones will only take you from 3lbs to 6 lbs or 6 to 12 lbs.
MJR Tumblers are a well respected US company that has been making tumblers for over 20 years. They have a wide range of large capacity rock tumblers specifically designed to tumble larger quantities of tumbling rough over a prolonged and continuous period of time.
The one we have featured here has a 20 lbs capacity, but you could go for an extra-large, single barrel, 30lbs one if you prefer.
You may now be wondering whether it’s also possible to tumble smaller quantities of rock if you go for a large capacity machine. Well, yes, it is – provided you fill the barrel to 3/4 full (plastic pellets are perfect for the job – they’re designed to be fillers) you can still tumble smaller amounts of tumbling rough just as well with a larger capacity machine.
Another option is to go for a tumbler with multiple barrels, MJR Tumblers have great 18 lbs option, shown below.
The advantage of this 18 lbs three-barrel tumbler is that you can tumble rocks at different stages of the process at one time. That’s particularly handy if, for example, at the end of the first stage, some of your rocks need more time than others before moving on to the next stage.
Whichever size you go for, MJR Tumblers have a heavy-duty motor with automatic thermo overload protection – so you don’t have to worry about leaving your tumbler running while you’re away from it.
The frame is made from sturdy 16 gauge welded steel – powder coated for scratch and corrosion resistance and the rollers are rubber-coated steel.
What’s more, the interiors of the commercial-grade plastic barrels are finned for maximum efficiency – the fins work as lifter bars to keep the rough continually rolling.
The barrels themselves have a tapered neck design for easy loading and unloading, and a heavy-duty rubber cap keeps the water sealed tightly inside.
What We Like:
- Wide Range of Sizes Available | You’re not limited to a standard size with this brand, allowing you to tumble much larger quantities of rock at a time. You can choose between a large capacity barrel or a combination of two or more.
- Automatic Thermo Overload Protector | A good safety feature so you don’t have to worry about running your tumbler in a different location to where you are.
Buying Factors to Consider:
This is a great large-capacity range of tumblers from a well-respected company who have been making rock tumblers here in the US for over 20 years.
Check the latest price for the MJR Tumblers 20 LB Rock Tumbler on Amazon.
Best Rock Tumbler Kit: Rock Tumbler Kit for Kids or Beginners by Lortone
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 is a complete kit that will take you all the way through from beginner to serious hobbyist.
Unlike other kits out there, there’s no compromise on the quality of the tumbler that you get with the kit.
This kit comes complete with the 3A, 3 lb, single-barrel machine that we have featured above.
You also get 1 lb each of coarse 80 grit, medium 220 grit, and fine 600 grit, as well as 4 ozs of micro alumina rock polish, 4 oz of plastic pellets, and full instructions to guide you through the rock tumbling process.
What’s more, you also get a full 1lb of mixed tumbling rough – which is more generous than many kits out there.
The kit even includes some good reading material, to increase your knowledge of the subject, including Peterson First Guide to Rocks and Minerals, Amazing Agates, and the Professional Gemstone Tumbling Guide pamphlet.
Buying Factors to Consider:
All in all, this is a super kit and though it cost a little more than the kits coming up below, if you want a very good quality kit, this is definitely the one you should go for.
Check the latest price for the Rock Tumbler Kit for Kids or Beginners by Lortone on Amazon.
Best Rock Tumbler Kit for Kids: National Geographic Professional Rock Tumbler Kit
Best Rock Tumbler for Kids
This is our pick for kids. It’s a little more affordable than our previous kit – making it ideals for kids.
For the lower price point you get a 2lbs tumbler, and though that’s smaller than the Lortone one feature above, 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 and what’s more you can also set the speed. That means you can actually speed up the tumbling time – great for those who are eager to see the final result.
And, of course, the great thing about having a timer function that counts down and then switches off is that it’s 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.
Included with this kit are a very generous 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.
If you’re on a budget, you can opt for the cheaper hobby version. This kit includes the tumbler, four polishing grits, a sifter, and nine types of real rough gemstones.
What We Like:
- Great Starter Kit for Older Children | The 2lbs rubber barrel size is perfect for kids 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.
Check the latest price of the National Geographic Professional Rock Tumbler Kit (hobby kit) on Amazon UK.
Another Worthy Mention: Dan&Darci Advanced Professional Rock Tumbler Kit
Other Worthy Mention
This 1lb single barrel rock tumbler by Dan&Darci is another worty mention.
It comes with a kit that has everything you’ll need to produce beautifully polished gemstones right from your first go.
It features a (comparatively speaking) low noise leak-resistant barrel backed up by a heavy-duty motor.
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 0.5 lbs of rocks, a mesh strainer, jewelry fasteners, and a gem storage bag.
There’s even a handy detailed guide to take you through the process.
Check the latest of the Dan&Darci Advanced Professional Rock Tumbler Kit on Amazon.
Other Worthy Mention No.2: Discover with Dr. Cool Hobby Rock Tumbler
Other Worthy Mention No.2
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.
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.