One of the most common questions I’m asked about rock tumbling is about where I get my rocks. While I think the most rewarding place to get my rocks is out in nature, it is certainly easier and less time consuming to order them online. My daughter thoroughly enjoys the wide variety of colorful minerals that come in a bag of mixed tumbling rough and for most people this is the easiest way to get into the hobby and experiment with different rocks.
I have purchased rocks from several places in the past but in order to give a thorough recommendation I decided to order a batch of mixed rough from the most popular online shops and directly compare them side by side. Using a set of criteria including everything from rock quality to customer service I was able to determine the very best place from which to order tumbling rocks online.
The best place to buy tumbling rocks is The Rock Shed. Their batch of mixed tumbling rough stands out for its rock quality, mineral variety, and rock size distribution. They sell a variety of rock types, grit, and accessories. They are also the least expensive and have reasonable shipping options.
The process I went through to make this determination was fairly involved, and several other shops also performed very well. Depending on exactly what is most important to you you may find that you’d prefer to order from one of these other shops. I’ll dive deeper into the pros and cons of each online retailer and the rocks I received from them so that you know what to expect.
Tumbling Rocks Quality Comparison
When comparing the batches of rocks I received from each company there were four key attributes that I was looking for. The overall rock quality, the diversity of rocks and minerals in the batch, the size distribution of the rocks, and the relative hardness of the rocks to one another. The ideal batch of rocks would be ready to throw into the tumbler with little to no changes to the mixture and the expectation of achieving great results.
The online shops that I ordered from are some of the most popular in the industry. In order to prevent any possible bias, when reviewing the quality of the rocks I had my wife open the bags for me and lay the rocks out so that I wouldn’t know where each batch came from. Here are the shops I ordered rocks from:
In my opinion, this is by far the most important piece of criteria for this comparison. No matter how skilled you are with your rock tumbling process the end results are still predominantly dependent upon the material you start with. When judging the overall rock quality of each batch I was looking for the following characteristics:
- Aesthetic, identifiable minerals – For most people, the whole point of tumbling rocks is to reveal the beauty within. While this is a bit subjective, some rocks and minerals are more visibly appealing than others. Colorful, unique, and interesting looking rocks are generally more appealing to rock tumbling enthusiasts.
- Lack of fracturing and porosity – Fractures and tiny pores in your rocks will trap grit between tumbling stages and potentially cause your rock to break in the middle of a tumbling cycle, ruining the batch.
- Well consolidated, microcrystalline minerals – Any rocks with a gritty or flaky texture will break apart in the tumbling barrel and ruin the batch. Rocks should generally have a microcrystalline texture.
- Relatively hard minerals – Rocks that are too soft will quickly disintegrate in the tumbling barrel. Most batches, especially those for beginners, will consist of rocks and minerals with hardnesses between 6 and 8 on Mohs hardness scale.
After taking all of these factors into consideration, for each batch I gave each of them a score. I should note that I was pleasantly surprised with nearly all of the rocks I ordered. My scores here are a bit subjective, and while I definitely think some batches were better than others I ended up with good impressions of all of them.
|Rock Shed||9||A few pitted rocks, some twigs & debris in bag, very nice quartz crystals, rocks in good shape|
|Kingsley North||10||Every rock is nice and worth tumbling, rocks in good shape, no broken pieces in bag|
|Gems By Mail||9||Overall very nice, colorful rocks. A couple flaky textures, not ideal for tumbling|
|Rocktumbler||8||Nice looking rocks but lots of very thin chips and some rocks with pits|
|Amazon||9||Nice looking rocks, some damage and flaking in the transport|
For purposes of this comparison I ordered each shops “beginner’s mix” or as close to that idea as possible. These mixes were generally advertised as being good for beginners and containing a wide variety of rocks and minerals to be tumbled together. As such, I was looking for a large number of different rocks in each batch so that people have a better chance of finding the types of rocks they might enjoy tumbling in the future.
Unfortunately, none of the batches that I ordered came with a list of rocks that should or could be included (it wasn’t advertised that a list would be included but it would have been nice). I did my best to identify as many of the rocks and minerals in each batch as possible. Pictures of each batch are also included in this article.
|Rock Shed||10||Quartz crystals, Jasper, Agate, Rose quartz, Aventurine, Sodalite, Petrified Wood, etc.|
|Kingsley North||10||Snowflake Obsidian, Quartz, Tiger’s Eye, Jasper, Amethyst, Aventurine, Flint, Sodalite, etc.|
|Gems By Mail||9||Jasper, Quartz, Dalmation Stone, Smoky Quartz, Amethyst, Petrified Wood, etc|
|Rocktumbler||7||Agate, Jasper, Quartz, etc.|
|Amazon||9||Sodalite, Quartz, Jasper, Green Quartz, Tiger’s Eye, Obsidian, Citrine, Amethyst, etc.|
Rock Size & Distribution
Tumbling rough should usually consist of rocks that are between 1/2″ and 1-1/2″ in size. An ideal batch of rocks will have a nice size distribution, with a variety of rock sizes all mixed together. This helps the tumbling action in the barrel and tends to produce better results. While the need for a nice distribution of sizes can be largely negated with the use of tumbling media I still like to see a variety of rock sizes in a beginner’s mix.
|Rock Shed||8||Good general size, few very large or small rocks|
|Kingsley North||8||Good general size, few very large or small rocks|
|Gems By Mail||9||Good general size, few very small rocks|
|Rocktumbler||9||Good general size, few very large rocks|
|Amazon||9||Good general size, few very small rocks|
Rock Hardness Similarity
One often overlooked but critically important characteristic of a good batch of tumbling rocks is the similarity of the hardnesses of each rock. If the disparity between rocks is too big then the softer rocks will be completely pulverized and destroyed in the tumbling process. Every seller I bought from is, of course, aware of this and the rocks they shipped were advertised as being able to be tumbled together.
Since the vast majority of the rocks in these orders are some variation of quartz and they were advertised as being good for beginners, I used a baseline of quartz’s hardness of 7. I decided to only deduct points here if I could identify any rocks that are outside the range of 6 to 8 on the Mohs hardness scale.
|Rock Shed||10||All rocks I could identify fell within the 6-8 range|
|Kingsley North||9||Snowflake Obsidian & Sodalite (5.5-6) are borderline. Everything else in 6-8 range.|
|Gems By Mail||10||All rocks I could identify fell within the 6-8 range|
|Rocktumbler||10||All rocks I could identify fell within the 6-8 range|
|Amazon||9||Sodalite (5.5-6) is borderline. Everything else I could identify was in 6-8 range.|
Tumbling Rough Pictures
I figure many of you would like to see for yourselves just what came in each batch of rocks that I ordered. I photographed each one of them as they came out of the box and also while wet in order to accentuate their colors and textures.
Company and Website Comparisons
Aside from the quality of the batches of the tumbling rough I received, I wanted to review the ordering process, shipping options, and rock tumbling inventory for each retailer. While I think that these issues are secondary to the quality of the rocks they provide I do know that they are important to many people. I hope to give you some idea of what to expect when ordering from and dealing with each of these online shops.
Price of Rocks
One of the first things people want to know when buying any product is how much it costs. Rock tumbling can get to be a fairly expensive hobby if you choose to buy your rocks instead of collecting them yourself. I have compiled this table of what each of these (very similar) products costs at each of the online retailers, as well as the cost including shipping. All prices are before tax.
|Shop||Price for 2 Pounds||Price w/ Base Shipping||Price Score|
|Gems By Mail||$17.98||$30.93||6|
*I ordered 1 pound each from two Amazon sellers
I should also note that I weighed each bag of rocks to make sure they were sold to me as advertised (2 pounds). In almost every case each bag contained a little more than 2 pounds worth of rocks, and no seller shorted me on quantity.
Sometimes it’s important to get your tumbling rocks in a hurry. Some of these online retailers had a wide range of shipping options (and corresponding pricing) while others were very limited and even vague about how long shipping would take.
|Rock Shed||8||Website didn’t specify expected shipping time before completing order. USPS Priority Mail (1-3 days) cheapest|
|Kingsley North||10||8 options including overnight. USPS, FedEx, UPS available. USPS Priority Mail (1-3 days) cheapest.|
|Gems By Mail||8||1 option, USPS Priority Mail (1-3 days)|
|Rocktumbler||6||2 options, USPS Standard (2-6 days) is cheapest or USPS Express (1-3 days) for $69.99!|
|Amazon||10||2-day shipping with Amazon Prime|
Rocks & Accessories Inventory
Every one of these online shops has a wide variety of tumbling rough. They sell mixtures, like the ones reviewed in this article, as well as individual rock types by the pound. Some people like to tumble just one type of rock because they can customize their tumbling recipe for that specific rock. These shops also sell all the requisite materials you need like rock tumblers, grit, polish, and spare parts.
|Rock Shed||10||Everything you need including many rock types, rock tumblers, grit, jewelry findings, etc.|
|Kingsley North||10||Wide variety of tumbling rough, tumblers, lapidary equipment, jewelry findings, etc.|
|Gems By Mail||7||Plenty of rocks and minerals for sale, but no rock tumblers or parts.|
|Rocktumbler||10||Everything you need including many rock types, rock tumblers, grit, jewelry findings, etc.|
|Amazon||10||Has just about anything you can think of available, but less specific to rock tumbling|
Best Place to Order Tumbling Rocks: The Final Verdict
I have to say that I was satisfied with every one of my purchases. I would recommend any one of these sites and I can’t wait to throw these rocks into my tumbler over the coming months. I was very happy not to find any duds in this group, and I feel confident that anyone ordering from these sites will be satisfied with both the quality of their rocks and their experience with the company.
I did want to throw a special shoutout to rockshed.com which included a very nice handwritten “thank you” note and a little bag of Tootsie Rolls which my daughter was thrilled about. Their grit and polish which you can find on Amazon also come highly recommended – I’m looking forward to using it on all of these rocks I ordered.
That being said, (in my best Highlander impression) there can be only one. Here are all of the scores from the article combined into a few charts to determine the best place to order tumbling rocks.
|Shop||Total Avg.||Rock Batch Avg.||Store & Shipping Avg.|
|Gems By Mail||8.13||9.25||7|
The dreaded tie! Based on my scores it is a dead heat between the Rock Shed and Kingsley North. I am very impressed with both the quality of their products and their online shops as a whole. Going forward, I plan to buy from The Rock Shed because of their personal touch, but depending on exactly what rocks or equipment I’m looking for I will certainly keep Kingsley North in mind.
For additional reading, I would recommend checking out my Step-by-Step Guide to Rock Tumbling which will ensure you get the best results possible.