Buying Guide for Rock Tumbler Kits
Why buy a rock tumbler kit?
Rock tumblers use sand (or other grit) and water to smooth out and polish rocks and stones. You may not think of a device or kit that polishes and smooths out rocks and stones as a particularly useful or versatile investment. Still, you’ll be surprised at all the possible uses for a rock tumbler and the kit that accompanies it. If you go treasure hunting with metal detectors with regularity, you can use the rock tumbler to clean and polish some of the materials you find; many of them can be used on certain metals, like brass.
If you make your jewelry or other crafts that involve rocks or precious stones, a rock tumbler kit will be invaluable to your process. You may even be able to use a rock tumbler to polish your jewelry, depending on the tumbler in question and the metal that makes up the jewelry. If you own a rock and mineral collection, want to start building one, or have any interest in geology, you’ll get plenty of mileage from a rock tumbler kit. They’re perfect for beautifying your rock collection to ensure it looks as shiny, polished, and attractive as possible for display.
What should you look for in a rock tumbler kit?
- Barrel Size: The size and capacity of the rock tumbler will determine how many rocks it can hold at a time and how large those rocks and stones can be. The barrel size will usually be listed in pounds, so a rock tumbler listed with a three-pound barrel means that it can hold up to three pounds worth of rocks and stones or metal at once. On average, a home rock tumbler will have a one-pound barrel though there are plenty of larger options. Anything above six pounds or so will be harder to find for home use but not impossible.
- Type: Most home rock tumbler kits will feature one of two types of tumblers, a rotary or vibratory tumbler. Rotary models are the traditional type, comprising a barrel and motor. These are the best choice for beginners, as they’re straightforward to use and less expensive. They also round out rocks and smooth them and are far more commonly available to buy. Vibratory rock tumblers use vibrations rather than tumbling to smooth out the rocks, and the stones and rocks go into a bowl instead of a barrel to be shaken rather than tumbled. This type of tumbler will also allow the rocks and stones to hold their original shape better rather than rounding them out. Remember that rotary models are better for smoothing while vibratory tumblers are better for polishing.
- Components: Beyond the tumbler itself, you’ll want to consider the rest of the kit and the parts and components. Many will include a complimentary set of gemstones or tumbling grit, so you won’t need to supply your own to get started. Others have strainers, bags to hold your rocks or stones, or a learning guide or booklet with more detailed instructions or extra information about the gemstones in question. A model with a built-in timer and screen and different speed settings will make the tumbling process much easier and smoother. If you’re interested in using your smoothed-out gemstones in jewelry-making, quite a few home rock tumbler kits will also come with jewelry fasteners or necklace or earring mountings to help get you started.
What are the best rocks and stones for rock tumbler kits?
When it comes to home rock tumbler kits, harder and denser rocks and stones generally work the best. Common, popular choices that are especially easy and effective to polish inside rock tumblers are quartz, jasper, agate, tiger’s eye, moonstone, obsidian, amethyst, and feldspar. You can also use it to smooth and polish other materials, like petrified wood and most non-plated, non-mixed metals.
You’ll want rocks that rate between a six and eight on the Mohs hardness scale, at least to start; rocks and stones that are softer will become rounder and smoother but likely won’t appear polished or shiny. Too-hard rocks, like diamonds or rubies, may cause issues if you don’t have much prior rock tumbling experience. You can use a steel knife or file to test a rock’s hardness if you’re not very familiar with the Mohs hardness scale. Rub the rock or stone in question across the steel and see if it leaves a streak or mark behind. If it doesn’t, that means the rock is harder than the steel, and you should be able to tumble it without issue.
Our Picks for the Best Rock Tumbler Kits
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC Hobby Rock Tumbler Kit
The classic rock tumbler kit is known for its reliability, quality, durability, and power.
Pros: This kit is known for its durability, between the strong tumbling belt that rotates the barrel and the stainless steel lid. The lid is also leakproof to ensure no water or grit can sneak out during the tumbling process, and it’s also naturally rustproof by being made out of stainless steel. The keypad allows you to control how many days the tumbling lasts and has an automatic shutoff feature for safety and power-saving purposes. A handy, highly detailed learning guide comes with your purchase, as do two pounds of gemstones ready for tumbling, four pouches of grit, a mesh strainer, and four different jewelry settings. All you’ll have to supply is the water.
Cons: Though well-equipped in most areas, the tumbler of this kit doesn’t have any different speed-control options or settings to speed up or slow down the tumbler to better suit other rocks, stones, or metals.
Bottom Line: This is a quintessential rock tumbler kit, one of the most popular and well-known for a good reason. It has all the features needed to smooth and polish all sorts of rocks and stones and comes with plenty of useful accessories.
Dan&Darci Professional Rock Tumbler Kit
A more-advanced, high-end rock tumbler kit with a handy built-in timer and multiple speed settings.
Pros: This rock tumbler kit boasts the most advanced features, settings, and control than most comparable models do, earning it its premium status. There are three possible speed settings and a timer that can be set anywhere between one and nine days, which are displayed by an easy-to-read LCD screen so you can keep track of the process. There’s also a pause/resume button to halt the tumbling at any time without stopping the device altogether. The watertight, well-sealed barrel has a sturdy stainless-steel lid and makes less noise even with the high-powered, heavy-duty motor. Despite its advanced features, this rock tumbler is easy to set up, start, and operate, and the compact size means it can fit just about anywhere.
Cons: As this is a premium rock tumbler kit, it does come with the usual premium price tag that higher-end products tend to have. Also, be careful about operating this tumbler at higher speeds, as the barrel may slip off its rollers when running at high speed for an extended time.
Bottom Line: This premium kit is the perfect choice if you want greater control and customization over the rock tumbling process. The LCD screen and advanced settings make it easier to adjust the process to your exact liking.
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC Starter Rock Tumbler Kit
Whether you're just starting on your rock tumbling journey or you have a little one interested in learning, this is an ideal kit.
Pros: This particular rock tumbler kit was designed to be beginner-friendly, making it easy for first-time rock tumblers, even young children, to learn and get started. The tumbler is simple, with few extra settings to confuse an inexperienced user. While most rock tumbler kits come with an instructional booklet, the learning guide that comes with this particular set is especially educational and detailed. It provides easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions and information and facts about the nine different types of gemstones. Four packs of grit, a mesh strainer, and several jewelry settings are part of this kit. Since it’s a beginner-friendly, less advanced rock tumbler kit, it’s less expensive than many models.
Cons: The tumbler’s barrel isn’t completely leakproof. The tumbling process also takes a bit longer to complete with this model than most.
Bottom Line: Though rock tumbling is a fairly simple process, it can still be intimidating to get started if you don’t have any prior experience. While designed and aimed mainly at children, this rock tumbler kit is ideal for beginners of all ages.
Leegol Electric Double-Drum Rock Tumbler
The double-drum barrel of this rock tumbler allows you to smooth and polish up to six pounds of rocks or stones at a time.
Pros: Most notable about this rock tumbler kit is its larger-than-average capacity. It’s equipped with two barrels instead of the usual one, allowing you to tumble up to six pounds of rocks or stones (three pounds per barrel) at a time. You can run one large set of stones or two different loads at a time; for instance, you might load three pounds of jasper into one barrel and three pounds of brass. The motor is strong, the frame is solid, and the locking pin helps to keep everything firmly in place. Several extra drive belts are included with your purchase, as are two packets of the ground walnut shell that serve as a tumbling grit in place of the usual sand.
Cons: This isn’t the most extensive kit on the market, as aside from the walnut grit, you don’t receive any extra accessories. Some assembly will also be required, unlike most tumblers already set up. And even with the included instructions, you may find the assembly a bit tricky to get right.
Bottom Line: If you want a rock tumbler kit capable of handling more than the standard one-pound load of most home tumblers, this double-barreled model is well worth a look. With two barrels capable of supporting three pounds of stones or metal each, you’ll be able to churn out more smooth, polished rocks at once than most home models allow.
AliKids Advanced Rock Tumbler Kit
A well-stocked rock tumbler kit with advanced settings without the usual premium price tag.
Pros: If you want to ensure you’re getting a good bang for your buck when investing in a rock tumbler kit, this is the perfect set. Not only is the price lower than average, but you’ll receive an extensive selection and settings for your money. The tumbler features advanced controls—multiple speed settings, a nine-day timer, start/pause buttons, a rotation direction switch, and a reset button, all displayed on a handy, easy-to-read LCD screen. You also receive plenty of extra accessories, a mesh strainer, half a pound of rough gemstones, four packings of tumbling grit, and several jewelry settings. As a bonus, the newer version of this tumbler is less noisy than the previous one; not completely noise-free, of course, but the noise level has been noticeably reduced.
Cons: The rubber belt of this tumbler isn’t particularly strong or sturdy and is prone to breaking rather easily. Several extra belts come included with the kit to have spare on hand, but you’ll likely have to replace the belt more than once.
Bottom Line: Affordable yet well-stocked, this rock tumbler kit is an excellent option for beginners and experienced hobbyists alike. You’ll receive all the accessories and extras you need, and better control over the speed and settings than most tumblers, without paying the usual premium price for such features.
There are many uses for a rock tumbler kit, even if you’re someone who isn’t particularly interested in rocks or geology. Whether you’re looking for a new hobby or want to bring a unique component to a current one, a rock tumbler kit is a worthwhile addition to your home-crafting set.