Collecting rocks is a great way to build a sense of exploration in your kids. Just give them a small bag, let them loose in the backyard or park and see what they return with. If they develop an interest in geology, or if they enjoy making art from their findings, it’s probably time to buy a rock tumbler. The perfect rock tumbler for kids inspires curiosity, teaches patience and creates beautiful polished stones. The National Geographic Hobby Rock Tumbler Kit has everything you need to get started.
Rock tumblers are small appliances consisting of a barrel on a chassis powered by a motor. You load rocks, water and an abrasive powder grit material into the barrel, which constantly turns or vibrates to mimic the effects of nature. The result is gorgeous polished stones created in days instead of centuries.
Rock tumbler barrels come in a variety of sizes. Most rock tumblers can accommodate 3 to 6 pounds of rocks. If you’ve got a particularly enthusiastic child, opt for a larger barrel.
Rotary rock tumblers rotate the barrel like a clothes dryer. The constant motion of the rocks falling over themselves creates a round, polished look. Vibratory rock tumblers rattle the barrel like a cocktail shaker. The constant agitation polishes the rocks, but doesn’t round them off the way a rotary tumbler would.
The other major difference is time. Rotary tumblers can take up to one month before kids can see the final product. Vibratory tumblers typically take seven to 10 days. If these sound way too long for your child, keep an eye out for models that come with special, smaller rocks that can be polished in one to three days.
Rock tumblers need to run constantly for several days. This makes choosing the right barrel material very important. Some tumblers are made of plastic while others are made of rubber. A rubber barrel greatly reduces the noise you’ll experience during use. Plastic barrels are cheaper, but the added noise is very annoying.
Either way, you’ll probably want to run your rock tumbler in a place far from your bedroom without a lot of foot traffic. A basement or garage will do just fine.
Be sure to check the recommended age of your prospective model. Many rock tumblers for kids are meant for ages 8 and up. Pretty much every model will require adult supervision while using.
If possible, read the instruction manual of your potential tumbler online before you buy. Some models have a more complicated process than others. You may be able to set it and forget it or you may have to change out the water and grit material every week. The latter will become a chore.
Most rock tumblers will come with a complete kit to get started. This usually includes one or more bags of rocks, one or more packets of abrasive grit material and perhaps a sifter or other tool to make the process easier. Many kits also contain cords to turn your finished rocks into jewelry like necklaces or bracelets.
If you’ve got a budding scientist, look for a kit containing an educational pamphlet about the rocks they’ll uncover. This is a great way to get them more interested in the science behind what they’re doing.
Some tumblers are meant as toys while others are sophisticated enough to be used after the rocks that come with the kit run out. If your child is old enough and interested enough, a more adult model meant for collectors may be a better choice if you’re seeking a tumbler with an extended life.
Adult tumblers are more expensive and usually don’t come with any extras or frills, but their motors are much more powerful than models intended for kids. The barrel capacity is often higher as well.
The majority of rock tumblers for kids fall between $30-$60. The more expensive the tumbler, the better the construction materials or the more extensive the accessories will be. Rock tumblers for adults or kids with a serious interest will run $60-$130.
A. If you can’t wait for the normal cycle of your machine to complete, consider a model with dual barrels for increased capacity. You can also buy a second tumbler. For best results, be sure to rinse your rocks every time you change the water or grit material.
A. You can buy replacement grit material at most hobby stores, hardware stores or online. Grit material comes in a variety of consistencies for different uses. Check manufacturer instructions to be sure you don’t purchase a consistency that might damage your machine.
What you need to know: This is the perfect first set for a child interested in rocks.
What you’ll love: This kit has a great construction at a fair price point and comes with an informative educational booklet. It’s also from a trusted brand, so you can ensure quality.
What you should consider: You need to read the instructions very carefully to make sure you get the desired results.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
What you need to know: This is a good choice for anyone who isn’t sure about purchasing a more expensive machine.
What you’ll love: This kit is simple to use and contains everything you need to make beautiful, shiny rocks over the course of a month.
What you should consider: This tumbler is noisier than some others. Some users report problems with the plastic warping over time.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
What you need to know: This tumbler kit features smaller rocks that polish faster than most other sets.
What you’ll love: It comes with three different types of unpolished gemstones. The no-leak tumbler prevents accidental messes during operation.
What you should consider: This tumbler is meant for true beginners and the barrel is on the smaller side. If you’re looking for something more advanced, this kit isn’t for you.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Want to shop the best products at the best prices? Check out Daily Deals from BestReviews.
Sign up here to receive the BestReviews weekly newsletter for useful advice on new products and noteworthy deals.
Frank Paiva writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.