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One of the most common questions I get is “what kind of rock tumbler should I get?” My answer is almost always going to be the National Geographic 3 lb Professional Rock Tumbler (link to Amazon). It’s the rock tumbler that I use all the time with my daughter and is a great piece of equipment for anyone looking to get into the hobby. It comes with almost everything you need to get started and is built to last, all for a surprisingly low price.
Why I Recommend the Nat Geo Pro Tumbler
There are a lot of options out there when it comes to rock tumblers. For your first rock tumbler, however, I would really recommend getting one that has a 3 lb barrel size and is built to last. Avoid the smaller, low-quality ‘toy’ rock tumblers that are marketed towards children. After a lot of research and testing it for myself I am confident in recommending the Nat Geo 3 lb Pro Tumbler (link to Amazon).
A 3 lb barrel capacity is just right, in my opinion. It’s large enough to tumble a decent sized load of rocks, but not so large that you have to break the bank to fill it up with rocks and tumbling media. Rock tumblers don’t perform well if they aren’t filled to ~3/4 full, so operating a larger tumbler can be daunting and cost prohibitive. At the same time, I wouldn’t want to use a smaller tumbler because if I’m going to invest all that time into tumbling a batch of rocks I want to have more than a handful of rocks to show for it at the end of the process.
Time & Speed Settings
I really like the time and speed settings on the front of the Nat Geo tumbler. They are easy to read and use, and make it easy to ‘set and forget’ the tumbler. If we go out of town or I don’t have time to check on the rocks for a few days, the tumbler will shut off on its own without me having to worry about it. My daughter also really liked pushing the buttons and checking the readouts for how many days we had left on each step.
The Nat Geo Pro Tumbler seems to be very well built. After several batches of rocks it’s showing no signs of wear. The seals on the barrel are tight and I expect that they will remain that way as long as I continue to clean the surfaces thoroughly. The kit also came with an extra rubber belt. I expect that if and when anything finally gives out on this tumbler it will be the belt, so it’s nice to not have to worry about needing to order a new one.
I’m one of those people who is pretty stingy with my money, so I make sure to do plenty of research about the things I buy and make sure I’m getting the most bang for my buck. I looked at a lot of different tumblers and everything else I found that was comparable to the Nat Geo tumbler was significantly more expensive. Cheaper rock tumblers were either too small or were poorly built. I am very satisfied with the value of the Nat Geo Pro Tumbler.
One of the biggest concerns people have about purchasing any tumbler is the noise it produces. The Nat Geo isn’t ‘quiet’ by any means, but it’s also not particularly loud. The barrel is made of rubber, so it is significantly quieter than any tumblers that use a plastic barrel. I keep my tumbler in a back closet of the guest bedroom, and with the doors shut I can’t hear it running in the main part of the house.
One of the most compelling reasons to buy the Nat Geo Pro Tumbler is all of the accessories it comes with. The kit contains almost everything you need to tumble your first batch of rocks. In addition to the tumbler, the kit comes with:
- 3 pounds of assorted rocks
- Tumbling grit & polish
- ‘Gem foam’ for the burnishing step
- Jewelry attachments
- Bag for the rocks
- Plastic strainer
- Book with instructions & information about the rocks
It was really nice not to have to purchase all of those things separately. We didn’t use the included plastic strainer because we opted to use a larger one we already had in our kitchen. My daughter thoroughly enjoyed using the jewelry findings to make her own earrings, rings, and necklaces.
Drawbacks of the Nat Geo Pro Tumbler
While I am very satisfied with the Nat Geo 3 lb Pro Tumbler, it isn’t perfect. Here are a couple of things that you should know if you plan on purchasing this product for yourself.
No Tumbling Media Included
The one thing that wasn’t included in the kit that absolutely should have been is tumbling media. The rocks gradually get smaller and smaller with each step, and after Step 1 they don’t sufficiently fill up the barrel. In order to get the best tumbling action, you need to top off the barrel to ~3/4 full with ceramic or plastic media. I bought (and personally recommend) a couple of bags of Polly Plastics Ceramic Tumbling Media (link to Amazon). It will drastically improve your tumbling results and is well worth the money.
Suboptimal Tumbling Instructions
The instructions that came with the kit are good enough for your first tumble but, in my opinion, aren’t going to give you the best results. I would recommend largely ignoring those instructions and finding a more thorough process to follow like this step-by-step rock tumbling guide I wrote.