The 10 Best Rock Tumblers
This wiki has been updated 36 times since it was first published in February of 2015. Whether you're a professional jewelry maker or just looking for a new hobby, these tumblers can help you polish up rocks for all kinds of applications. Some are effective on other materials, too, like metal and sea glass. We've included models ideal for kids as well as options that are sturdy enough to handle regular industrial use, so everyone can find the perfect machine. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
October 08, 2020:
While you would think that a rock tumbler would be unbreakable and virtually foolproof — they're strong enough to work with hard rocks, after all — these are still pieces of machinery that require correct usage for a long lifespan. You should carefully read all instructions included with the unit before you start, paying attention to capacity and other specs. This can help you avoid costly breakages, such as occur when you forget to seal something correctly or overload the machine. The manual will also provide crucial safety information. Rock tumblers can run hot, for instance, so you need to be careful about where you keep one while it's running.
With that said, models from top names Thumler's, Lortone, and National Geographic still make great choices. Beginners, especially, might consider the National Geographic Starter Kit or the National Geographic Hobby Kit. Although the machine each comes with has a relatively small capacity, these kits provide an easy entrance into the hobby, and even arrive complete with tumbler grit. The Dan & Darci Advanced is also a full-featured kit, but its unit has occasional belt issues, so true newbies might find it frustrating.
As for machines sold without accessories, it's hard to go wrong with the Lortone 3A, for a single-barrel choice, or the Lortone 33B, for a double barrel. The Thumler's A-R2 is another double-barrel option that's fairly popular, but not everyone finds it perfectly intuitive to use. We also decided to add a vibratory model at this time, the Raytech TV-5. These types are better for polishing than for shaping, and are generally recommended for those who have experience, rather than novices. Note that this model wasn't made to be used with either steel or ceramic media.
June 06, 2019:
Rock tumbling is a simple activity, but it requires reliable machinery and the right supplies. These tumblers range in capacity from one to 15 pounds, so whether you process gemstones professionally or just for fun, you'll be able to locate a fitting machine here. There are kits geared towards kids that provide education and entertainment at the same time, as well as no-frills, heavy-duty models for adults. Virtually all of the products chosen come with grit packets to facilitate the tumbling process.
The Discover with Dr. Cool Hobby has been removed, as it appears to be identical (except for its color) to the National Geographic model. The MJR Tumblers Dual Barrel and Dan & Darci Advanced have been added, the former because of its large capacity and the latter for its dependable build and extensive list of included accessories. The National Geographic Starter Kit was moved to the number one spot because of its simple, intuitive design and popularity among beginners and experts alike.
Diamond Pacific 65T When they call the Diamond Pacific 65T heavy duty, they aren't kidding. The barrel is crafted from industrial-grade materials, and the machine boasts strong bronze bearings, rather than plastic. It's quite heavy at around 70 pounds, but it has a load capacity of 90 pounds for those big jobs. stoneageindustries.com
The Tumbling is Inevitable
Have you ever tried to put your hand through a moving ceiling fan and had it painfully rejected by the fast moving blades?
Make me a T-shirt that says, "Erosion Happens," and I'll buy it from you.
Truisms make good T-shirts, and few scientific phenomena are more consistent or on more ready display than erosion.
Erosion is more or less the gradual process by which wind, water, or fine particles can wear and shape what seem to be among the sturdier substances on the planet. It's also the main principal in rock tumbling.
Keep in mind that even the hardest stones are made up of moving parts, atoms traveling at such a rate of speed or in such specific formations that they appear as a solid mass to our senses. Have you ever tried to put your hand through a moving ceiling fan and had it painfully rejected by the fast moving blades? It's kind of like that.
In an interesting way, when you put small stones into a rock tumbler, along with water and grit, you're creating a closed environment in which a kind of concentrated erosion takes place, essentially altering the atomic state of the stones in question. Pretty cool, huh?
"His Eyes Were Bigger Than His Rock Tumbler"
Trust me: You do not need a rock tumbler of this magnitude. You are not engaged in mountain top removal, nor are you a raw earth industrialist. This is simply too much tumbler for any one person to handle.
The good news is that of all the tumblers we've gone over here one of them is sure to be just the right fit for your needs.
Trust me: You do not need a rock tumbler of this magnitude.
If you're engaged in research, the chances are that you're on your way to a more capable rock tumbler than the simpler plastic models with which most folks start out. They're all pretty much the same quality unit for pretty much the same price.
The tumblers you're interested in are probably at least one step up from these starter units.
The smaller capacity models might be a good place to start if your foray into professional tumbling is more curious. If you have a plan of action that includes the refinement and even the sale of your tumbled stones, especially if you're looking to make jewelry on a consistent basis, I'd recommend a dual barrel model.
These dual barrel units are good not only for doubling the capacity of their single barrel cousins, but they can also be cross purposed to work through batches of stones that are at different points in the process, meaning you can work your tumbler like a little assembly line. This ought to increase your overall productivity if productivity is a concern.
Manhattan For a Handful of Tumbled Rocks
There's a little bit of fun to be had connecting rock tumblers with the notion of American economics, but that fun is grounded in some pretty real history. Let's not forget that when European explorers first encountered American Indian tribes they traded many items, including beads, which are essentially weathered stones.
To connect with that source material is, in a way, to connect with the origins of today's America as we know it.
And that great city, Manhattan–the city that never sleeps, wherein if you can make it, you'll make it anywhere–was bought for a handful of these beads. Or so the story goes.
There's something uniquely American about the hobby itself, and even more so about the business of stone craft and jewelry making. Manifest Destiny took us farther and farther west, into lands with an ever increasing abundance of natural resources, new kinds of rock and stone among them. To connect with that source material is, in a way, to connect with the origins of today's America as we know it.
Which is to say nothing of the business angle. When a hobbyist rock tumbler sells his or her first piece, or fashions and sells that first necklace or pair of earrings, that hobbyist is making the smooth transition into the very core of American values. Specifically, this is the idea that anyone with a modicum of skill or knowledge, however acquired, can turn that ability into a means by which their life can be supported or enhanced.