Tumbling rocks is fun to see all the shiny end results of a polished stone. But, have you ever run a batch of rocks through the final polish, and they did not take a good polish? The result is likely due to the type of stones you used. So what are the best rocks to tumble in your rock tumbler? It depends on your skill level…
Best rocks to beginners
Rocks for beginners exist? While most people may not think of beginner rocks in these terms, the characteristics and properties of certain rocks make for great beginner rocks to learn with to tumble. You will have a higher success rate than most other rocks. These rocks will almost always give you a fabulous polish when they are completed, as long as you follow standard tumbling directions.
The overall best rocks for tumbling beginners are:
- Agates – colorful, and pretty patterns, easily found, and cost varies widely
- Jaspers – usually bright colors, and can have interesting patterns, easily found
- Chalcedony – can have patterns, usually translucent, and is generally low cost
- Flint – very high polish, can have vibrant colors and patterns, can be easily found
- Chert–like flint can have nice colors, easily found.
However, not any old piece of agate or jasper will do when you’re beginning. Starting out, rocks should be avoided if they are highly pitted throughout the entire body of the rock. Also, you want to be sure you remove any softer material that’s surrounding the harder material. All your rocks should be of high silica content, which is noted by the conchoidal or bowl-shaped fracture pattern. This is especially important when looking for jasper as some jaspers are quartz-based while others are chalcedony-based. Size doesn’t matter when you’re obtaining the rocks.
Rocks for intermediate and advanced users
Once you’ve gotten a handle on tumbling beginner stage rocks and think you’re ready to try something harder; you can get some of these more Intermediate user rocks:
- Quartz – Easily found, has various color array, can contain ore, usually doesn’t cost much
- Quartzy Jasper – easily found, has various color patterns with quarts lines throughout
- Obsidian – varying price range, easy to make smaller as it’s like glass, has multiple colors
- Feldspars – has a range of colors, Labradorite and moonstone being most valued and fun to tumble
- Serpentine – green stone that is soft and rounds well with metallic specs in it, usually inexpensive
- Sodalite – blue rock, rounds well quickly
Intermediate user rocks have a consistent hardness but are slightly more challenging to tumble and get a nice polish afterward. These rocks need to be separated by type for final polish; otherwise, they will not get a nice polish.
Rocks for advanced users
- Puddingstone – consists of various rocks within like concrete, interesting designs
- Breccia – consists of similar materials usually laced with agate or quartz
- Fluorite – very soft and easy to get. very colorful, almost always translucent
- Amber – extremely soft, can contain organic things, price varies, many people love amber
- Malachite – usually bright green, polish looks nice, usually has banding, can contain azurite
- Ore – although difficult to tumble, it makes for some interesting tumbles if done correctly
Other rock types of advanced users would include types that vary in hardness in different areas of the same rock. Pitted rocks can also fit into this category as they can be tumbled, but it isn’t easy. Other rocks that are for advanced tumblers would be those that are soft and fragile. Metallic ore rocks can polish and come out interesting.
Here are some FAQs I see when talking about selecting rocks to tumble.
How to prepare rocks for tumbling?
Getting you’re your rocks ready for tumbling is key. Depending on your tumbler, barrel size determines how large of rocks you can tumble (see my guide to the best rock tumblers). An average barrel can tumble rocks 1 to 2 inches are smaller. If you have any rocks larger than this, you will want to break them down to size. Rocks can have fractures but no cracks. Fractures are visible hairline cracks but do not have any chipping around the edges, and you can’t feel it with your fingernail. Sometimes fractures can develop into cracks when tumbling on the first stage and need to be broken for best results. Cracks with chips and you can feel with your fingernail should be broken right away as they will only worsen through tumbling. Most rocks can be tumbled together for stages 1 and 2; however, for stages 3 to 4, you will want to separate the stones by hardness for best results.
Where to find or buy rocks?
Knowing where to find rocks can be important. If you like adventure and finding your own in the field, you will do a lot of research. But fear not, many rivers have gravel bars where you can usually find rocks to tumble. Ocean beaches are another great source to find rocks. I particularly like ocean beaches as you can usually skip stage 1 of rock tumbling, saving one week minimum on your tumble time. Unfortunately, finding good rocks for beginners like agates can take a long time, so buying rocks might be a better option for you. See my article on how to find agates.
Buying rocks can be easy, and it’s worth shopping around. I avoid all metaphysical rock shops as you are generally paying a lot more for the rock as they are claimed to have special powers. You can usually google to see if there’s a rock shop or shops in your area. Shops are usually nice because they can guide you to your needs, answer questions you may have, and usually have knowledge of the rocks of the local area. You can also hand sort through bins of rough rock and select the rocks that you would like. If you’re willing to spend a little bit on travel costs, the Tuscon and Quartzite rock shows every year are amazing places to visit and buy rocks. If these big shows aren’t for you, local rock clubs usually have some rock shows. You heard correct; rock clubs are a thing, and joining them through one of their shows can lead to more rocks to be found and bought.
The last places to look and the easiest place to get rocks are online. You can find all sorts of different websites selling rocks. Unfortunately, some website’s prices for rocks range widely, and you can’t always get helpful assistance. The best websites to look for will have a rock shop or Facebook page. With online purchases of bulk rocks, you can’t hand-select the rocks you want, but if you tell them what you’re looking for and want to do with them, many website owners will try their best to get rocks for your needs. Specific requests from bulk lots might cost more than advertised at bulk price to make up their time difference. They usually have a note on the sale page if this is the case or a grade-based price.
What to do with your tumbled rocks?
There are many things to do with your tumbled rocks. Many people use these rocks to make jewelry by drilling holes in them or wire wrapping. People also use them in fish tanks and flower pots. Some people love to fill jars with rocks and place them in the window and around the house. They can also add a lot of color to cement walkways. A new hobby people have to take tumbled rocks and plant them on beaches, rivers, and other areas people frequently explore and find things. Note that planting rocks is a geologist’s nightmare as they are not usually sourced in those areas.
We all love tumbled rocks; knowing almost all rock types can tumble and get a polish if done right is helpful. The adventure of finding rocks to tumble or seeing the transformation from start to finish is a great lure to satisfy your passion for rocks. Just note, if you ever plan to move, having thousands of pounds of rocks to move takes some really good friends!