My wife and I joined the club about 2 years ago, but our "addiction" to rockhounding dates way back. On every trip we would pick up a few interesting rocks, bring them home and try to figure out what they were. Over time we accumulated several jars and buckets of rocks, but didn't really know what to do with them. One day a coworker [Doug] brought in a few rocks he just polished using his rock tumbler. Weeks later I came across an classified ad for a used rock tumbler, and a phone call later we were on our way to take a look at it. When the seller [Craig] discovered that we were complete newbies, he spent almost two hours explaining the “hows” and the “whys” or rock cutting, polishing and tumbling, and even gave us a rock identification book. The next day Doug brought in some grit to get us started, a rock tumbling booklet and a hand-written “recipe” for loading the barrels. I didn't know it at that time, but both Doug and Craig belonged to the Clackamette Gem and Mineral Club, and this brings us to the question of "why join the club".
There are many aspects to "rockhounding". Some people enjoy cutting, shaping and polishing rocks in their workshops; others would rather spend their free time digging up tons of dirt looking for minerals; yet others prefer collecting rare specimens from around the world. No matter what strikes your fancy, chances are that other people in the club share your interests and can share a tip or two. This, in my opinion is the foremost benefit of belonging to an active lapidary club. As a complete newbie, I had a lot of questions, ranging from rock identification, equipment advice to specific techniques. Frankly, I haven't met one single club member who wasn't willing to readily share their knowledge and experience. No matter how simple or complicates those questions were, there was always someone willing to help with tips, advice or demonstration. Some of those people have been in the hobby for longer than I've been alive and have amassed amazing knowledge base. No amount of “googling” can replace this depth of experience. There have been more than one occasion when our saw wasn't cutting right etc. and I’d spend hours in futile internet searches and forum postings only to next day have Doug answer my question in the middle of the first sentence.
If your primary interest is in working with the rocks, rockhounding can be an expensive hobby. The costs of equipment and materials can quickly add up to five digit numbers. This is where joining the club can save you from mortgaging out your house or forgoing your kid’s college fund. Besides sharing valuable advice on purchasing new or used equipment, many club members might share the equipment itself. When our slab saw isn't large enough to cut a specimen, fellow club members cut it for me, and more that a few specimens in our collection were polished on Doug’s high-speed sander. Additionally, often rockhounds have old equipment they don't use an can either sell “for a song” or lend it to you till you get something better. Furthermore, even if they themselves don't have anything for sale, they might know of someone else who might. Every once in awhile a club member might retire and offer the equipment to other club members at a steep discount. Finally, they might simply help you make something yourself of adopt a piece or readily available equipment for lapidary use.
When it comes to finding rock to tumble, cut or simply collect, a club can turn out to be an invaluable resource. You might be able to find some information on the internet or in a book, but that information is either outdated or inaccurate. Active club members will likely point you to a good collection spot and give tips on timing and acces. Many of the prime digging spots are on private claims belonging to the club or to a club member. For example, many good sites in Central Oregon are on private land, and the landowners have arrangements with several clubs, allowing access only to club-organized trips. Finally, if digging in the middle of the desert isn't your thing, you can often purchase rough material from the club or one of the club members for a fraction of the retail price, or at no cost at all.
Those are only a few of the benefits of joining a club. Besides saving you a lot of money and frustration, a good club can make your experience in the hobby much more enjoyable. Even in the “digital age” the internet can’t match the resources offered by an active club. From equipment tips, how-tos, field trips to used tools and free materials, you would be hard pressed to underestimate the perks of belonging to a club.