The Best Rock Tumblers (Review) in 2020
Whether you’re looking to gain greater control over the quality of polished stones you use in your crafts, looking for a rock tumbler kit for your kids to have some fun or simply seeking a rock polisher to kick off a new hobby, you’re in the right place.
We’ve looked at the best rock tumblers on the market to find the right polishing kit for you- whatever your needs may be. Not only that but, below, we discuss what makes a truly amazing rock tumbler, as well as giving you a brief overview as what to look out for, how to use your rock polishing kit and even answered those all-important frequently asked questions. So, read on to know everything there is to know about rock tumbling.
Heavy-duty motor and tumbling machine
Automatic shut-off timer
Leak-proof, noise-reducing tumbling barrel
Includes 0.5 pounds of rough gemstones, polishing grits, learning guide, and sifter
Professional-grade, 15-lb capacity rotary tumbler
Heavy-duty 115-volt motor with overload protection
Hexagonal barrel with rubber liner
3-lb capacity rock tumbler
60 Hz, 120-volt motor
Durable and lightweight plastic base construction
Extra-quiet rubber barrel
The Best Rock Tumbler
If you’re looking for a rock tumbler for kids than where better to go than to the professionals at National Geographic. Indeed, this National Geographic rock tumbler is the perfect starter kit for anyone looking to learn more about geology or simply kick off a new hobby around rock tumbling.
This complete kit offers everything you need to get started and includes plenty of information- not just about how to use your new rock tumbler, but about everything a beginner would love to know about geology and how to use your new-found talents.
All-in-all, this is a great choice for beginners, as it’s easy to use, easy to clean, makes next to no noise and is the perfect size for those just starting out.
High-quality parts make up a durable tumbler
Complete kit for beginners
Designed for kids looking to learn more about tumbling, stones, jewelry-making and so on
Comes with jewelry fastenings
2-year guarantee included
A slightly more serious-looking option, the Single Barrel Tumbler from Lortone is a great choice because it offers all the benefits any beginner would look for in a rock tumbler. In other words, it’s quiet, affordable but perfect for bringing great results, relatively quickly.
There aren’t any particularly special features with this rock tumbler, so you’ll need to buy your grit and various accessories separately. That’s not to say that this isn’t a great investment- especially if you’re looking for a rock tumbler that can produce great looking, smooth stones that will work brilliantly as décor, or even for jewelry-making purposes.
This is described as a “workhorse” for a reason and it will keep tumbling your rocks for years to come, with a rubber barrel that ensures the decibels are kept to a reasonable level and a simple design that makes this option so easy to operate.
Great entry model for beginners
Designed to be economical
No extra features keep this rock tumbler nice and simple
Another option from National Geographic is the Professional Rock Tumbler Kit. Designed to be a little sturdier and with a larger capacity than the hobby set, this is another option that comes with a full rock polishing kit, so you can hit the ground running the second it’s delivered to your door.
This particular option is best suited to crafty types- namely, the jewelry maker- and even includes pendants and fastenings so you can really get to grips with how well this rock tumbler will work with your new profession.
Despite the professional nametag, this is still an affordable option that is somewhat negated by the smaller capacity than many other options on our list cater for. That said, if you’re after a rock tumbler kit that can help get you started with your craft, this is the best kit for you.
Uses professional features
Designed for both hobbyists and professionals
More expensive than any of our other choices, this particular option is perfect for those looking to get into the more professional side of rock polishing. It’s also perfect for those who simply require a larger barrel for all their tumbling needs, as this is the largest of our choices with an amazing 15 pounds capacity- ideal for very large batches.
The heavy-duty motor has no issues shifting such a large rotary rock tumbler, as it comes with a cooling fan to protect the system from overheating- meaning you can tumble large batches of rocks over a longer period, without ever worrying about any fire hazards or the motor giving out.
Aside from leaving you with complete peace of mind, this particular choice is also perfect for schools or craft sessions at local community centers, since kids can see the product of their own hard work over a longer period of time without making an excessive amount of mess during sessions!
Fan-cooled to protect from overheating
Another option from Lortone, the double-barreled rotary rock tumbler is perfect for those who want to work on two batches at a time. With the same quality as all the Lortone rock tumbler products, with rubber barrels and a simple design that is so easy to use, this is a great option for those who want to run two different strengths of rock, without having to worry about leftover grit from a previous batch.
It also works brilliantly for those who like to keep their grit and their polishing separate, with a view to getting the best, shiniest and most colorful stones available- all from one product. Again, this option has a simple design- but the lack of additional features means the savings are passed on to you, meaning you get a great option at a fraction of the cost you’ll find with other rock tumblers.
Multiple modes for different batches
Simple to use
If you love the idea of getting the professional-grade rock tumbler from Tru-Square Metal Products but don’t need a barrel that is quite so big, or simply don’t want to spend the extra cash that comes with that option, then this is a fantastic alternative. Just be aware that the barrel on this option is considerably smaller than our previous entry from this manufacturer.
Made by the same, great company that is dedicated to providing high-quality products for a high-quality finish on your stones, this option is much cheaper and comes with much smaller dimensions. Still the large base keeps the machine nice and sturdy during use and the rubber barrel quiets the noise creating by tumbling perfectly. It also comes with a handy little starter’s guide to help you get to grips with rock polishing and all the joy that it entails.
Larger base than many competitors
Perfect for beginners
Comes with starter’s guide
Compact and simple, this rotary rock tumble from Chicago Electric Power Tools has been designed to keep everything nice and simple, while still acting somewhat as a powerhouse when it comes to polishing up your rocks. Part of this is due to the larger design and surprisingly high-quality materials that this machine is made of but it’s mostly down to the powerful motor that actually beats many of the larger options on our list.
The three-pound capacity of the barrel matches many of the competitors on our list but this is actually one of the cheapest options available, despite being a highly-rated product. Something that is possibly due to that fact that this is an imported machine and could therefore be difficult to replace or find parts for, should it break.
Leakproof and sturdy
Small but mighty
Another great option from Tru-Square Metal Products and the last on our list from this manufacturer. This is a great option for those who want to be able to have complete control over their rock tumbler- even being able to see how the machine itself works, thanks to the skeleton style design of this particular option.
It comes with everything you need to get started- from rocks to grits and with a handy guide manual to help you get to grips with this rock tumbler for beginners. It also comes with a guarantee on both the barrel itself and the liner, to ensure that nothing can stop your fun, once you get started.
Just be advised that the open style of this tumbler makes it unsuitable for younger kids- so be sure to place this out of the way of wandering hands who might end up hurting themselves if they try to play without supervision.
Complete rock tumbling kit
Very durable kit
Made in the USA
A great rock tumbling kit that comes with some really amazing features, the PRO Series Rock Tumbler from Discover with Dr. Cool offers a slightly more advanced option for kids who are looking to get into their rock polishing (or for big kids with an affinity for those shiny stones). The barrel of this tumbler isn’t huge, with a 2-pound capacity, but still has plenty to offer as it includes half a pound of semi-precious gemstones, cords for jewelry making and a small sieve that makes sorting your slurry much easier. It also comes with a 2-year warranty for peace of mind.
The big benefit to this choice, however, are the simple-but-effective features that allow your rock tumbler to be more user-friendly, as well as eco-friendly. Namely, the speed allows for a much faster tumble and you can change this depending on how you want your rocks to turn out, while the countdown timer allows the machine to shut off, as soon as your dedicated days have been completed.
Complete kit with accessories
Our final option is the vibratory tumbler from Chicago Pneumatics. This option easily has the largest capacity at 18 pounds and is great for those who are more seasoned and looking to create more interesting, finished shapes through the rock polishing process.
It is much quicker than a rotary tumbler, providing the finished product in almost half the time- but isn’t ideal for those who are new to rock tumbling and the finished product won’t be smooth and therefore not as ideal for crafters. That said, if you’re looking to produce unique semi-precious gems and are willing to learn the ins and out of this machine, then it can be worth it to those who are keen to get more serious with their craft.
Vibration creates polished rocks, faster
Rubber feet increase stability
Very large capacity
Best Rock Tumbler Buying Guide & FAQ
What to Look for in a Rock Tumbler
Given that this is an item that will be working for weeks at a time as you work on your rock polishing, it’s a given that your rock tumbler will need to be quiet enough to work without annoying you. Check out the decibels on each item to ensure that you can continue with your new hobby without causing any tinnitus.
Additional features such as a rubber barrel can massively reduce the noise level as you work on polishing your new rocks, no matter what part of the process you are currently undertaking. Naturally, those with metal barrels will be louder and, although they are equally proficient, might be best kept away from busier parts of the house.
Naturally, the larger the overall capacity of the barrel, the more rocks you’ll be able to fit in, therefore cutting down the overall time spent tumbling your rocks. Those rock tumblers with a larger capacity are likely to have a louder motor to compensate for the extra power required, however.
Thus, depending on how seriously you want to take your new hobby, you might decide to compromise on the capacity in order to lower the overall noise and make the tumbler a little more friendly for smaller households.
There are two main types of rock tumblers that come with their own sub-types which sit under both the rotary and vibrating. There’s some huge pros and cons to both, so we’ve set up a whole section, below, for you to check out and decide on which rock tumbler type is the best for your needs.
The right materials affect the quality of the machine, altering the overall longevity, as well as the durability and the noise that your rock polishing kit is likely to create. While the base is usually made of a solid plastic or metal material, it’s the barrel that really holds the main differences in how the tumbler will operate and how durable the machine is to constant use that it will need to undergo.
The most common materials you will find for your barrels are plastic and rubber. Plastic is cheaper and therefore the cost of your tumbler will likely be reduced to reflect this. Meanwhile, rubber is likely to be more expensive but also lead to greater durability and, of course, reduce that all important noise factor.
- Number of barrels
If you think you’ll be keen on working through different types of rocks at the same time but don’t want to risk your rocks disintegrating against each other, it can be worth getting a rock tumbler with a multiple-barrel configuration.
Since each batch can take weeks at a time to sort and polish, investing in a rock tumbler with multiple barrels will also significantly reduce the time it takes to get two different sets polished at the same time, since you can use both barrels concurrently.
A hobby shouldn’t cause any inconvenience, so checking a few of the basics out before purchasing can make your life a lot easier when it comes to picking the right rock tumbler for your needs. For example, since you’ll need to be changing out the grit in your tumbler on a regular basis, you should search for a machine that has an easy-to-remove barrel, which you can then quickly clean before beginning the next step.
Likewise, the rock tumbler shouldn’t take up too much space- look into the dimensions of each product before purchasing and decide where you’ll be placing it in your home. If you have a garage or shed available, it can be worth investing a larger product. However, if you’re looking into a product that can fit on a worktop or any counterspace you might have available, it’s worth purchasing a small rock tumbler that won’t get in your way during the procedure.
By far the most telling aspect of how well your new rock polishing kit will fit into your life is the reviews of the product you’re looking into. These can give you a solid idea of the quality of the machine, as well as the value for money, how easy they are to use and even how durable your new item is- all from tried-and-tested users who are all keen to share their experiences. Use these to your advantage and find out which polisher is best for you.
Types of Rock Tumblers
Easily the most common type, these are the best option for those who are new to polishing rocks- they are usually the cheaper option, although they usually take significantly longer than vibrating tumblers. They’re also the better option for children, as their cheaper price and simpler design make it much easier to use and therefore more child friendly.
Rocks that are put through a rotary tumbler will eventually become rounded out and leave smooth, polished rocks that are ideal for jewelry and more refined work that require smaller pieces as the end result.
These work by rapidly shaking the rocks against each other. By doing this, the rocks keep a similar shape as to what they were, when first placed inside the tumbler. Using a vibratory tumbler is therefore perfect for polishing rocks without losing their shape.
The main advantage to the vibrating polisher is that they can effectively halve the time it takes to polish your rocks. Unfortunately, they can be harder to come by, a little more expensive and often a little more difficult to use. That said, if you’re looking to get serious about rock tumbling, this could be the better option for you and can result in some very unique designs.
How to Use a Rock Tumbler
There are four steps to using your rock tumbler, and if you find yourself querying how and when to use each stage, there should always be a user manual with your purchase that can provide more specific instructions as to how to use your rock polishing kit. That said, these instructions should cover most tumblers to provide you with gleaming stones that are perfect to admire or show off:
- The coarse grind is the first step and requires you to pop your rough rocks in your barrel until it is around 2/3 full.
- You should then top-up the rest of your barrel with coarse grit- roughly two tablespoons for every pound of rock used.
- Add in some water, until you can see a water line that roughly reaches around the top of your rocks and grit.
- Seal the barrel and run your tumbler- be prepared to let this run for around a week.
- After seven days, turn off your tumbler and open up your barrel- you should see very muddy water with some rocks hidden inside the gunge.
The next step should be performed outside, since the grit and debris from rock tumbling can cause blockages in your pipes.
- Using a colander to separate the slurry from the rocks, tip your barrel upside down over a bucket or similar.
- Wash your rocks, that should now be in your colander and use the time to wash out your barrel while you’re working, too.
- You should be able to see, at this point, whether the rocks are worth another week going through the first step again or if they’re ready to move on to the next step- the medium grind.
- For the medium grind, you’ll need to repeat steps 1-8 again. The only difference is that, this time, you’ll be using your medium grit.
Make sure that, before starting each new step, you thoroughly wash your rocks and ensure that there is no grit from the previous tumbling process left over in the barrel or around the rocks.
- Once again, you’ll be repeating steps 1-8. This time, however, you will need to use your fine grit. At this point, you should really be able to see the colors and shape of your polished rocks coming to life.
- The final step requires- you guessed it- a repeat of steps 1-8 with the addition of the rock polish. Once this has been completed- over roughly 4 weeks in total- you should have lovely, bright, colorful rocks that are perfect for décor, jewelry or simply having around the home.
According to the experts at RockTumbler, there are only three rules to follow when it comes to tumbling, no matter type of machine you’re looking to use. The first is that you should aim to use higher quality rocks from the start, because using rocks that are cracked, have huge voids in the surface area or extensive protrusions can cause your rocks to break apart and create poor quality, polished stones.
The second rule is to avoid contamination, whereby the barrel is not thoroughly cleaned out between each process. Having a mixture of grit in your next step can cause your finished product to be scratched and unappealing- not ideal if you’re looking to sell on your products or use them as decorations.
The final rule is that great results take time. This one is fairly self-explanatory, but to be clear; it takes a long time to get good results- even from decent, high-quality starting rocks. If you feel you need to go over a stage again, then you should absolutely do it. The end product will only be of a higher quality- and therefore higher value both to you and your business, if you have one.
Best Rock Tumbler FAQ:
Q: What is a rock tumbler and how does it work?
A: Rock tumblers are used to turn rough rocks into sparkling stones that can be used as decorations, either as ornaments or within jewelry. By using a constant motion to rub away the rougher edges of the rocks, you are left with only the nicest part of the stones which you can use for whatever you wish.
Q: Can I reuse grit from a rock tumbler?
A: While the polish can be reused multiple times in a rock tumbler the grit, unfortunately, can’t be. This is because the grit wears down during use, making it ineffective by the time you look to run your next batch through the machine.
That said, the slurry from the machine can sometimes be used during the next stage of the tumbling process to help break down the rough edges of the rock, faster. Just check with your user manual before use, to ensure that you won’t cause any damage to your rock polishing kit.
Q: Should I get myself a rock tumbler kit?
A: Absolutely! If you’re looking to have greater control over the quality of gems you use in your crafts, you’re a keen geologist who wants to have some fun making their own, polished gems or simply have a kid in your life who loves to create, while learning about the science behind rock tumbling then getting yourself a rock polishing kit is an absolute must.
Our Top Pick
We love the rock polishing kit from National Geographic because it’s perfect for those new to rock tumbling. Being so easy to use and so easy to keep on top of, in terms of cleaning and its interface, it’s hard not to choose the Hobby Rock Tumbler Kit as our top pick.
It’s also very affordable and comes with everything you could possibly need to get started, as it includes everything from the different grit grades to a full color, illustrated set of guides that can help pique the interest of children and give gentle reminders as to appropriate use. Overall, this is a great option for those who want to test the waters when it comes to starting a rock polishing hobby and we think this will work perfectly no matter what your anticipated outcome will be.