Rock Tumbler Buying Guide

Which Tumbler is Right for You!

The 'right' rock tumbler for you depends on its intended use. If buying for a child just starting out, National Geographic has a great kit that comes with the rocks and grit you need for your first tumble. If, on the other hand, you are a serious hobbyist looking to process 15 lb barrels at a time, you would be choosing from a larger model made by Thumler or Lortone, both great brands that use high quality parts designed for continuous use.
Generally speaking, the more expensive the tumblers are, the higher their capacity and the more durable the machine is for long-term use. Here at Rock and Tumble Co. we've put together our thoughts and recommendations for tumblers at each level. We hope you enjoy our top picks and feel confident in your choice of tumbler as you explore this hobby we've come to love!
Rock & Tumbler's Top Picks!
'Starter' Tumblers
Recreational Hobbyist Tumblers
Serious Hobbyist Tumblers
Do you know a child who might be interested in rock tumbling but are not sure of their interest in the hobby?
We recommend the National Geographic Rock Tumbler Starter Kit. This kit provides everything you need to produce your first batch of tumbled stones and is the cheapest and simplest way of getting into the hobby without worrying about buying separate grit and materials. Keep in mind though that this tumbler only has a half pound barrel capacity. You will only be able to tumble a few small stones along with the rocks provided with the kit.
If interested in a slightly better build and an automated tumbler shutoff timer, National Geographic also provides a slightly more expensive model with the National Geographic Rock Tumbler Hobby Edition for consideration.
  • Value-picks for the lower cost
  • Comes with a handful of rocks and grit to get you started
  • Accessible to beginners and kids alike
  • Smaller 1lb barrel supports tumbles of 1/2 to 2/3 lb of smaller rocks per batch
  • Not ideal for continuous operation or prolonged use (value of the auto-shutoff)
Two US manufacturers, namely Lortone and Thumler, have been making hobbyist rock tumblers since the 1950s.
These machines have components that are primarily made of metal instead of plastic, with barrels made of thick, industrial grade rubber. The rubber has the benefit of being quieter in its operation compared to the cheaper plastic barrels of typical toy tumblers. And with higher quality motors, these tumblers are designed for continuous operation, 24/7. They are simply built to last, and you will find used versions of these machines that are decades old still sold today at an affordable price range.
In this category we recommend the Lortone 3A if a single barrel is all you need, or the Lortone 33B if you need two barrels working at once. Considering the time investment tumbling can require, a second barrel option can be quite nice!
Alternatively you can purchase a Chicago Electric tumbler. While these machines are not made in America and are not known for the same level of reliability as the Lortone and Thumler tumblers, many users are quite satisfied with the product given its cheaper price point.
  • Great value for the price
  • Used options worth consideration
  • Rocks and grit must be bought separately
  • Larger barrel is more appropriate for hobbyists
  • Parts are designed for 24/7 use over multiple years.
Unlike the smaller barrel models, tumblers in this category are built to handle a larger capacity of rocks, grit, and media, making them perfect for serious hobbyists who are tumbling for themselves, friends, or as part of a small business. Equipped with heavy-duty motors, these tumblers can also run for over a decade without failure given proper care.
The most popular and well-made tumblers in this category are the Thumler's Model B, with a 15 lb barrel, and the Lortone QT12, with a 12 lb barrel. Having this size of a barrel means you can process a lot more rocks at once, and the larger barrels have the added benefit of being able to tumble stones faster (we estimate around 30% faster) than the smaller 3 lb barrels. However, you also need to have at least 10 lb of material to tumble in the barrel, making their size too large for many in the hobby. These tumblers are also noticeably louder than our recreational picks, though we find the noise is still quieter than your standard washing machine.
Durable, reliable, faster, and easy to use, these tumblers are the perfect pick if you are a hobbyist looking to process anywhere from 8-10 lb of rocks at a time. The cost is higher, but the value is well worth the investment.
  • Larger 12-15 lb barrels
  • Around 30% faster than smaller models
  • Slightly louder than smaller models
  • Ideal for group work or a small businesses
  • Parts are designed for 24/7 use for as much as a decade
Rock tumbling is such a rewarding experience at every level. What is important is to match your tumbler with your needs. For reputable brands, take some time to shop around second-hand marketplaces before buying direct. And if you are gifting a new tumbler, don't feel pressured to make a big investment. With patience, all of our tumbler picks will get the job done. Good quality grit and rocks can go a long way in this hobby, so be sure to check out our Rough Rocks to Pick & Mix and Grit & Media guides for help. Best of luck with your tumbling, rock hounds!