Glass Tumble Beach
Beach Glass, or just about any manufactured glass, may be successfully tumbled to a high gloss in a rotary or vibratory tumbler. It has an advantage over most tumbling rough in that it already has many smooth surfaces which once took a fine shine. It just needs a little refining to get it back to where it once was, minus the sharp edges.
If you are starting with Beach Glass which has been rounded and sanded by wave action, only a short amount of time is needed in Stage 1. See below for the grit sequence for the two types of tumblers:
Rotary Tumblers Vibratory Tumblers
Stage 1 80-Grit 220-Grit
Stage 2 220-Grit 600-Grit
Stage 3 600 Grit 1000-Grit
Stage 4 1000-Grit Polish Stage
Stage 5 Polish Stage
Making effective slurries is a major key to your success in tumbling. Please read the two articles, "Making Perfect Slurries" and "How to Tumble Obsidian and Apache Tears" under the heading "Technical Tips" on our website, www.littleredstore.com. This important information is also available in the book, Modern Rock Tumbling, by
In loading your tumbler, you should have about 1/3 volume of Ceramic Shapes to carry your slurry to all the “nooks and crannies” and to cushion the glass to prevent cracking and spalling (chipping).
Inspect your rotary-processed glass after two days in Stage 1 (if a Vibratory process, after just 4 hours). The procedure is to remove a few pieces from the slurry, rinse them off outside (over a paint bucket—see Caution note below) and take them inside to dry--check to see if the sharp edges have disappeared. If the edges are still too sharp, continue Stage 1 (called the “shaping” stage) for 2 more days or 4 more hours as above, depending on the type of tumbler you have. There is no need to wash up until Stage 1 has been completed successfully. When the edges are smooth enough, wash up and reload your tumbler, making up for lost volume with more ceramic shapes. Now proceed to Stage 2 for a like amount of time. Because glass is so soft, you want to keep checking at these short intervals so you don't sand away too much of the glass.
In the grit stages after Stage 1, you are checking to see that the scratch marks left by the previous stage have been removed. Thus, when you inspect a few pieces of your glass after 2 days (or 4 hours) in Stage 2, check to see if the 80-Grit scratches have all been turned into 220-Grit scratches (or if using Vibratory--when the 220-Grit scratches have all been turned into 600-Grit scratches). When they have, it's time to wash up and proceed to Stage 3. Keep proceeding through this tumble-and-check process until you reach the polish stage.
Do a real good cleanup prior to polish. Your goal is to make sure not a single piece of Silicon Carbide grit goes into the polish stage. Load your tumbler carefully and proceed to make a perfect slurry—I strongly advise that you use Cerium Oxide polish to start. It brings out a dynamite polish in all types of glass.
Start your tumbler rolling and let it run for a full week (if Vibratory, for a full 12 hours). At the end of this time, pick out two pieces of glass and wash it over the paint bucket. Then take it inside and dry it thoroughly with a towel. Both pieces should be shining brightly. However, to make sure they are shining as brightly as possible, you need to perform the Polish Stick test. Moisten the leather on a Polish Stick and sprinkle Cerium Oxide on it. Now take one of the glass pieces and rub one area vigorously on the Polish Stick—rub for about a minute. Now look at the polish on that area and compare it to the other piece of glass. If the area which was rubbed on the stick has a better polish, that means that the whole batch needs another week (or 12 hours). When the polish on the rubbed area is no better than the polish on the un-rubbed glass, that means that the polish cannot be improved, and that further tumbling would not improve the polish. You have completed the polish stage successfully. Congratulations!
Now it’s time to wash up the whole batch and start displaying your Beach Glass for all to see. Also, be sure and send us an E-Mail at
Caution: In my book, I explain how the tumbling dust can often be very harmful to your lungs, so it is important that you get the slurry captured in a paint bucket. When the water evaporates from the bucket, you can remove the dried “slurry-cake” and dispose of it safely in a garbage bag. When tumbling glass and leaded glass, there is a lot of fine Silica and Lead in the slurry-cake, both of which can make you very sick after prolonged breathing of the dust.
The above procedure is recommended when you desire a high gloss product to display. Many individuals want to duplicate the natural beach process and end up with grainy, frosted glass. Try this—run your glass for 2-3 days in 80-grit (or coarser), (4-6 hours in a vibratory tumbler with 220-grit) then go straight to polish. Play with these procedures until you get what you desire.
Good luck with your Beach Glass!