I got my first rock tumbler when I was only eight years old. My first machine was a National Geographic machine, and it did a beautiful job polishing my rocks and minerals! I remember the beautiful red and black colors of the machine and barrel and my mother’s cheerful smile as I opened it on Christmas.
One of the first aspects to look for in your first rock tumbler is capacity and capability. You’ll want a machine that’s easy to use, sturdy, and worth the price. Avoid machines that are too cheap and have plastic barrels.
What is the best rock tumbler?
Should you purchase a professional-grade tumbler for a child?
Keep reading to answer these questions and more!
What to Look for in the Best Rock Tumbler?
The best rock tumblers are sturdy, affordable, and versatile. Ideally, find the machine that matches your needs, including capacity and polish medium. Some rock tumblers include beginners’ kits, making learning to use your rock tumbler easier.
Heavy-duty tumblers are usually better than toy or plastic machines. These machines endure long periods of operation and do a better job at polishing a variety of rocks, minerals, and crystals. The last thing you want is a container full of slightly polished and tumbled stones. You put in all of the time and effort but received a sub-par finished rock.
The type of tumbler is only one part of the process. The medium you use to polish your stones is another critical factor.
Some grits and polishes are suitable for specific types of machines so you’ll want to ensure you purchase the right type of polish for the correct tumbler.
Rock tumblers come in a variety of sizes and capacities. Rock tumblers for beginners are typically considered hobbyist tumblers and these are best for people who only use their tumblers a few times per year.
Hobbyist tumblers are also better for rocks ranked between 5-8 on Moh’s Scale of Hardness. Therefore, a beginner’s tumbler is sufficient if you want to polish crystals such as Quartz, Agate, and Jasper.
A professional tumbler is better if you’re looking for a tumbler to tumble large quantities of rocks and minerals. We’ll dive deep into what specifics to look for when selecting your next or first tumbler!
What Materials Do You Want to Tumble?
When choosing your rock tumbler, you’ll want to consider the type of material you wish to polish. As we briefly mentioned above, soft stones and crystals can be tricky to polish properly in a tumbler.
Some difficult items to polish in a tumbler include:
- Opalized Petrified Wood
Any crystal ranked below a five on Moh’s hardness scale is hard to polish. However, Selenite, Calcite, and Fluorite are particularly popular.
If you’re searching to polish such softer stones, you should invest in a more expensive, expert machine. These are typically vibrating rock tumblers, which we’ll delve into later.
Some of the best brands for polishing soft materials include:
- Thumler’s Ultra-Vibe UV-10 Industrial Rock Tumbler
- Leegol Electric 18 Lbs Vibratory Tumbler Bowl
- Lyman Pro Magnum Tumbler (115-Volt)
The ratings and specifics of vibration tumblers vary more than traditional rotary polishers. However, they’re more gentle and precise than other machines. I believe the best vibrating rock tumbler is the Lyman Pro Magnum because of its diversity.
Some, such as the Lyman Pro, are not designed for rocks. These machines are made to polish pieces of metal, but this is the perfect tool to polish your gentler crystals. Their precision and delicate nature will keep the crystal’s natural shape without damaging it.
How Much Material Do You Want to Tumble?
Generally speaking, most people will use their tumbler as a hobby. Small to medium-sized machines should be more than sufficient in most cases.
For those looking to polish a pound or two of crystals, the one-pound barrel should be more than sufficient. Most hobbyist machines have this or a slightly larger barrel and thus should be adequate.
Some of the best small to medium-sized rock tumblers include:
- NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC Hobby Rock Tumbler Kit
- Professional Advanced Rock Tumbler Kit
- VIYUKI Kids’ Rock Tumblers Kit
Many of these machines are either hobbyist or professional quality. They range between $40-$70.00 and include the polish medium and some sample crystals.
However, if you’re hoping to polish a large number of crystals, you’ll want a large barrel. The barrels should be able to hold at least 2.5 pounds or higher.
Some of the best medium to large-sized rock tumblers include:
- VIYUKI Rock Stone Tumbler Machine- Double Drum 6LB Lapidary Polisher for Kids Adults (Double Barrel)
- Leegol Electric Rock Tumbler Machine
- NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC Professional Rock Tumbling Kit
Some of these rock tumblers are better for trained individuals or experts than beginners. The larger barrel helps ensure that all the rocks get equal amounts of refinement than they would in a small barrel.
Professional machines and vibrational machines are typically faster than beginner rotary machines. Some of the more expensive machines also have a timer to track how long it’s been tumbling the crystals.
This is ideal if you plan to run your machine while at work or are afraid you’ll lose track of time. Although you don’t have to worry too much about over-tumbling hard rocks, soft rocks could break apart.
Last, you need to use several different types of polish when tumbling your rocks. These other polishes include coarse, semi-coarse, and polish. These different levels of polish must be switched out on time.
What Are the Best Rock Tumblers for Adults and Professionals?
Vibrational rock tumblers are a better choice for adults and professionals due to their speed. These machines are typically faster at polishing crystals and can properly polish different varieties. There’s more variety of polish and settings you can utilize as well.
Standing or vibrating tumblers are usually better for the busy professional. They can be as much as 30% faster than rotary tumblers and are less likely to spill.
They’re also more diverse and can tumble soft and hard crystals equally well.
However, don’t write off rotary tumblers entirely. Professional-grade rotary tumblers usually include a timer and alarm, making them ideal for the busy individual.
What Are the Best Rock Tumblers for Beginners and Kids?
Rotary tumblers are a much better choice for beginners and children. These rock tumblers are more straightforward and typically have a beginner’s starting kit. Last, they require more hands-on experience to help beginners learn how to handle the machine.
Rotary rock tumblers lay on their side and utilize a belt to roll the barrel slowly. This process tumbles the rocks in a mixture of coarse polish and water.
This process is similar to how the ocean polishes rocks. In the sea, rocks are tossed continuously in salt water and sand. This chips away at the coarse exterior, leaving a smooth polished surface.
These machines are usually cheaper than other professional quality machines. They may not have all these unique features or capabilities, but they’re great for learning!
When choosing your rock tumbler, the most important factors to consider are your expertise and expectations. If you’re looking to get your child excited about geology, then spending between $35-$50 should suffice!
However, I don’t recommend purchasing any very cheap plastic varieties. These are typically marketed as “toys” or “beginner” tumblers. They don’t work and will break easily, so they’re not a great teaching tool!