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Is Rock Tumbling Expensive? Complete Cost Breakdown

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Tumblers suitable for use by the hobbyist aren’t cheap, but they vary in price depending on whether you use a rotary or vibratory tumbler and the tumbler’s durability and capacity. Aside from the machine’s cost, there are running and maintenance costs to consider that depend on how often you use it, the motor and barrel size, and the tumbling time.

Rock tumbling can be expensive. Electricity costs are significant, and you need to buy various-sized grits, pellets and polishers to use in the tumbler. Parts such as belts, bearings, barrels, and barrel lids wear out, so replacement parts add to the costs. If you buy rocks to tumble, this is extra.

The information supplied below has been gleaned from several suppliers and is only intended to give some idea of the cost breakdown. You should always contact the relevant supplier to get an exact quote because prices vary between suppliers and change over time.

Tumblers Vary in Cost Depending On Capacity

Is Rock Tumbling Expensive? Complete Cost Breakdown
Is Rock Tumbling Expensive? Complete Cost Breakdown

If you are a rockhound keen to take your hobby to the next level, you should be selective about the tumbler you buy. These machines have to run continuously for weeks or months to do their job, so their motors work very hard and have to be durable.

You should buy a tumbler from a reputable manufacturer whose replacement parts such as drive belts, bearings, and barrels are readily available.

The barrel takes a pounding and must be made of a tough material that doesn’t wear out too quickly. The pellets, grits, and powders it comes with are not always re-usable and have to be replaced periodically.

Before buying a tumbler, you should decide how many rocks you will be tumbling regularly and the average size of those rocks to estimate the size of the tumbler you should get.

Tumblers with larger capacity cost more, but they can be more economical in running costs than smaller ones.

The International Gem Society recommends using two different barrels, one for grinding and one for polishing because it is difficult to get all of the abrasives out of the grinding one. This is particularly true of rubber barrels.

Some tumblers are double-barrelled so that you can use one for grinding and one for polishing.

Different Types of Tumblers Have Different Running Costs

Rock tumbler prices vary significantly, depending on the type and brand of tumbler you buy and how serious you are about rock tumbling.

Thumler’s is a reputable brand that offers a range of rotary tumblers suitable for rockhounds, ranging in price from around $100 for the smallest to about $500 for the biggest. You may be able to get them for less, depending on where you buy them. 

Thumler’s Ultra-Vibe UV-10 model is a vibratory tumbler suitable for hobbyists. Vibratory tumblers work faster and are therefore more economical to operate than rotary tumblers, but they are more expensive to buy. They also use less grit and polishing material as a similarly sized rotary tumbler. 

Most vibratory tumblers are not sold as toys as they are built to cater to the hobbyist and are of higher quality. They can last for many decades, and the smallest ones usually have a three-pound capacity.

However, they also come with barrels that can process six, twelve, or fifteen pounds of rocks. A disadvantage of some vibratory tumblers is that their barrels wear out faster because the tumbling process is rougher.

Heavy users may be interested in Thumler’s U-V18 model, but vibratory tumblers in this size range can be very expensive, costing between $500 to over $1000, depending on which brand and model you buy. People who purchase tumblers in this range are usually getting into it for commercial reasons. 

The weight of the stones in a large tumbler speeds up the grinding process meaning that they become smooth at a faster rate. This affects the running costs, and larger tumblers are generally more economical than smaller ones. 

Generally speaking, tumblers that cost less than $100 are strictly for beginners. Those between $100 and $200 are for people with a bit of rockhounding knowledge and experience who want to try rock tumbling for the first time, while those over $200 are for the serious hobbyist or those wanting to get into the rock trade.

Lortone is a leading tumbler manufacturer that supplies various lapidary tools, including tumblers and packaged abrasives. They also sell equipment configured for other countries that require different electrical cords and voltage configurations which are not available from US suppliers.

They make rubber tumbler barrels to reduce the noise factor, but they still make noise. Steel barrel tumblers are even noisier

A small Lortone rotary tumbler (model 3A) that can hold up to three pounds of rock at a time sells for around $127, while one that can process six pounds of rocks (model 33B) costs in the region of $200, depending on where you buy it. 

Lortone’s 45C model has a four-pound capacity and is probably the smallest that a rockhound wanting to get into tumbling should buy. It costs around $145.00. There is also a bigger one with a twelve-pound capacity (Model QT12) and one with two barrels.

TIP: If you would like to know more about rock tumblers and how they work, check out this ultimate guide and find out more:


GUIDE: What is Rock Tumbler & How Do Rock Tumblers Work?


Things You Need For Tumbling Rocks

There are various makes of tumbler available apart from Lortone and Thumler’s. Another brand you can explore that is relatively cost-effective is the vibratory, Lot-O-Tumbler.

You should find one that suits your pocket, the size and nature of the rocks you have, and how often you intend to use it. The tumbler’s size and the hardness of the rocks you will be tumbling also determines how much electricity you will be using.

Things you need for tumbling rocks:

  • Tumbler
  • Electricity
  • Plastic pellets that protect the rocks
  • Grit in various sizes
  • Ceramic media
  • Pre-polish
  • Polish
  • Light motor oil for keeping the tumbler lubricated
  • A spare for each consumable part used by the tumbler
  • Water

TIP: Do you know how much grit and rocks you should put into the rock tumbler? Knowing the right amount of grit and rocks can save you money and reduce wear on your rock tumbler. Find out more in the article below:


Rock Tumbler Loading: How Much Grit & Rocks Do You Put In?


The table below lists the costs of various items you will use in rock tumbling and some popular tumblers.

Bear in mind that you will eventually end up spending more on tumbling media such as grit and polish than you will on the tumbler itself, even if you don’t buy rocks for tumbling. 

If you value your time, note that rock tumbling is time-consuming because you have to clean the barrel thoroughly, wash and sort the rocks into uniform sizes, and the tumbling process is done in stages that can take months.

You have to check the tumbler periodically, and in the case of a vibratory tumbler, it may be two or three times a day.

Regarding the electricity costs in the table below, it was assumed that each batch would be tumbled in the rotary tumblers for thirty-five days and seven days in the vibratory tumbler. 

Note that the quantity of plastic or ceramic pellets you use depends on the size of the barrel. They are sold in various weights and pellet sizes.

Large ceramic tumbling media costs $14.99 for two pounds and $76.00 for twenty pounds from one supplier, while small ceramic tumbling media costs $15.99 for two pounds and $86.99 for twenty pounds.

TumblerTumbler Type & CapacityPriceReplacement
Parts
Abrasives
per Rock Batch
Electricity Cost
per Rock Batch
Lortone QT66Rotary;
Two barrels;
Serious hobbyist;
6 pounds each
$249.50Belt $8.10
Shaft bearing $7.50
$27.19$5.15
Lortone 3ARotary;
Beginner;
3 pounds
$108.95Belt $2.95
Bearing $2.99
Inner lid $7.99
Outer lid $7.99
Barrel $44.99
$6.80$2.64
Lortone 33BRotary;
Two barrels;
Hobbyist;
6 pounds
$163.95Belt $3.49
Bearings $9.99
Inner lid $7.99
Outer lid $7.99
Barrel $44.99
$13.60$2.64
Lortone QT12Rotary;
Mid-size;
Hobbyist;
12 pounds
$234.95Belt $8.10
Shaft bearing $7.50
$27.19$5.15
Thumler’s A-R1Rotary;
Beginner;
3 pounds
$169.99Belt $6.99
Bearings $7.99
Barrel lid $5.99
Barrel $37.99
$6.80$3.77
Thumler’s MP-1Rotary;
Beginner;
2 pounds
$79.99Belt $5.99
Bearings $6.99
Barrel lid $5.99
Barrel $24.99
$3.40$2.14
Thumler’s A-R2Rotary;
Two barrels;
Hobbyist;
6 pounds
$154.99Belt $6.99
Bearings $7.99
Barrel lid $5.99
Barrel $37.99
$13.60$3.77
Thumler’s Model BRotary;
Heavy duty;
Serious hobbyist;
15 pounds
$299.99Belt $6.99
Bearings $7.99
Barrel lid $15.99
Barrel $179.99
$23.69$4.98
Thumler’s UV-10Vibratory;
Serious hobbyist;
10 pounds
$319.95Bowl $99.90
Rubber Feet $6.99
$7.05$1.45
Lot-O-TumblerVibratory;
Single barrel;
Hobbyist;
4 pounds
$269.99Barrel $59.99
Barrel lid $8.99
Motor $189.99
$3.52$1.98
Lot-O-TumblerVibratory;
Double barrel;
Serious hobbyist
$359.99Barrel $59.99
Barrel lid $8.99
Motor $189.99
$7.05$1.98
Complete Costs Breakdown by Different Rock Tumbler Types & Sizes

Conclusion

Rock tumbling can be expensive, especially when you consider the costs of electricity. However, it depends on the scale of your operation and your reasons for doing it. It is possible to purchase equipment that won’t cost an arm and a leg and is relatively cost-effective to run.

TIP: If you want to start tumbling rocks, check out this article with reviews for the best rock tumblers for beginners and hobbyists too.


Best Rock Tumblers in 2021: Beginner and Hobbyist Options