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HOW TO - Make faux sea glass

Hulbert, OK(Zone 7a)

Please pardon my presumptuous thought process. ;-)

I thought it might be a good idea to start a few 'how to' posts, as we all seem
to enjoy knowing how things are created even if we don't plan to make the

Is this a good idea?

Here is my first addition for the Trash To Treasure Library. Hopefully
others will come forward and do the same with tutorials. If we try to keep the
subject lines about the same, with HOW TO in caps, they might be easier to find
for newbies or others looking for such information.

Using a rock tumbler for glass, tile and Karen Manasco

(Instructions based on a small, inexpensive tumbler brand. Directions can also be used for larger tumblers. Simply adjust the contents of the barrel based on your tumbler size and barrel content limit. I am not an expert, just obsessed with tumbling things. Please feel free to alter the instructions to fit your needs)

Surely you've seen, or perhaps had one of your own. A rock tumbler. Many a youth owned the typical tumbler with a red barrel sold under the name brand of ROLLING STONES ROCK TUMBLER. Back then, the length of time it took to tumble and polish rocks seemed like eons, your tumbler ended up in the attic, the garage or a yard sale, seldom having completed the full cycles to produce beautiful rocks as shown on the packaging.

And yet today I find myself searching for these very same tumblers for use in glass and mosaic craft. Wait, don't go. It's easy! Fun, inexpensive, and best of all, you're recycling! No longer must you wait weeks on end to see results. Come on, join me, it's fun!

You will need:

A rock tumbler
Common play sand (need not sift unless you have cats. Ahem.)
Vaseline or other lubricant
Broken glass, cut glass, tile, broken plates, cups, etc.

Once you've acquired a rock tumbler, the next step is to decide what you would like to tumble. Small rocks, broken or nipped pieces of tile, bits of glass, chunks of dishes, many items can go into a rock tumbler, as long as the barrel is not too full, you can tumble just about anything. I even tumbled sticks for a week one time and they turned out very smooth.

TIP: Overloading a rock tumbler can and likely will cause it's early demise. Do not fill your tumbler more than the required quantity, which is typically 2/3's full.

You may wish to use tile nippers or wheeled cutters to get a more precise shape, though it doesn't matter with regard to the edges, as even the roughest cuts or breaks will be smoothed in the tumbling process. Fill the barrel 2/3's full of material. It is advised not to mix opposing materials, such as glass with rocks with tiles, as you may not achieve the results you seek on all the items. It is better to tumble glass alone, tiles alone, rocks alone, etc.

Fill the barrel with water so the level of water is just barely above your materials. Add three to four spoonfuls of common sand. Smooth a small amount of Vaseline on the outside of the barrel, then put the lid on securely and let 'er rip. If you simply want to knock the edges from the glass for handling, you don't have to run the machine for days on end. In fact, several hours will do a good job. You can take the tumblers off at any time and check for smoothness. The longer you leave the tumblers running, the smoother and rounder the pieces will become. Alter the time according to what you would like the finished product to look like. Remember, this will likely be a noisy process. If you have a garage or a covered area outdoors, it would be best to run your tumbler(s) where they may run continuously for days without causing anyone a headache.

If you must stop the tumbling process after it has tumbled for a few days, rinse the items off and drain the water. Depending on what you choose to tumble, the mixing action can actually produce a gunk very similar to concrete, which is a pain in the butt to get clean. When tumbling broken pottery, dishes, dinnerware and other items, it is a good idea to check the tumbler after two days, sometimes rinsing and adding more sand if the mixture is too thick and producing the concrete-like gunk.

Have fun, experiment, don't be afraid to try different materials. Keep in mind that some broken dishes may lose their patterns. Designs on dinnerware in gold will rub off, as will most hand painted items. The way I figure it, if the design is still on the pieces after four days of tumbling in sand, it should be able to handle being a part of a stepping stone, mosaic item, etc.

Another fun thing to do with rock tumblers is to make cubes. If you happen to have a tile saw, try cutting plates into evenly sized squares, then tumble them. They come out a fantastic cube shape with nice soft edges, perfect for mosaics.

Remember, glass will take on a frosty look if left in the tumbler long. While I do like the frosted look, others might prefer a clear yet safe to handle glass, which can be achieved by reducing the tumbling time.

Please feel free to ask any questions, and again, remember, I'm not a professional tumbler, I just play one on the internet.

:-) Karen Marie

Thumbnail by WUVIE
Hulbert, OK(Zone 7a)

A row of tumblers going at it in the garage:

Thumbnail by WUVIE
Pleasureville, KY(Zone 6a)

Just where do you find the tumblers? This sounds interesting, and it may be a way to keep the dogs out of the garage in this heat!!

Hulbert, OK(Zone 7a)

Hi Def,

Yard, garage and estate sales, rummage sales, thrift shops,
Goodwill stores, Ebay, they are all over.

I'm a bit cheap when it comes to the tumblers, so I don't spend much
for them. Out of seven tumblers rolling all the time, only two have died.
They aren't designed for professional tumbling or as much work as I
demand from them, but if I can have that much fun with five to ten bucks,
I'll be rolling for a while.


Pleasureville, KY(Zone 6a)

Thanks, I have probably seen them and didn't have a clue what they were. I will be looking from now on.

hayward, CA

wuvie, that pic of the blue glass is beautiful what is that glass from?thats alot of tumblers no wonder you have so many fun projects going on at once.

Hulbert, OK(Zone 7a)

Hi Liz,

After tumbling broken wine bottles and such, it didn't take
long to begin finding things at yard sales and flea markets.
Reduced glass items which were chipped or cracked are
plentiful. :-)

Last year, the most beautiful rooster popped up at a yard sale, costing
fifty cents or a dollar or so, as his head was broken. When he arrived
home, he met the fate of a sledgehammer. The rooster became the
most beautiful tumbled rocks in varied shades of orange, red and yellow.

The blue glass in the last post was a big vase which was pretty banged
up and scratched. Very thick glass, it required quite a smack with the hammer.

Once you begin examining the glass, it won't take long to figure out which
glass is made of color and which has been tinted or coated. One time a pink
bunny was sent through the tumbler only to come out clear. :-(

You will be surprised what you can find to smash once you begin looking around.
Broken candle holders, plates, etc. though milk glass takes a long time to tumble.


Hulbert, OK(Zone 7a)

Forgot to mention, while they are frosty after tumbling, they
gain most of their beautiful colors back when wet.

Below is an image of what once was a giant oval sheet of
glass that was more than 1/2" thick. It weighed a ton! While
moving it, an armadillo ran between my feet, which ended as
you could likely guess.

After moving the larger pieces to the garage, they became the
next project. It takes quite a smack to break these up as well, so
they are placed into a deep dish pan on top of a rock, then smacked.
With safety glasses, of course.

They look absolutely beautiful in a lotus bowl with a candle in the
middle, especially at night.

Thumbnail by WUVIE
Desoto, TX(Zone 8a)

Karen, I would wager that you are never, ever still.....and if you are your brain is going like mad inventing the next goodie. I would looove to see pictures of lots of your items. Everytime I catch up with you there something more wonderful than before.

Topsham, ME(Zone 5a)

Do you remember about how long it took to tumble that very thick glass?

Hulbert, OK(Zone 7a)

Lou, since I was a child, you never know what I will do, say, think next. Ha ha!
You should see what some of my childhood teachers had to say on the
back of my report cards. Too funny to look back at them.

Brender, with three to four spoonfuls of sand and water just above the
level of glass, four days is all it takes for most glass to get that nice
frosty soft edge. You can actually see a difference in just one day, but
I like the rocks to be super smooth. The longer you leave them in, the
better they are, but I'm often unwilling to wait an entire week, the anticipation
kills me.

Just yesterday I put another five barrels on to roll with that very same glass,
the super thick stuff. The next time I put in a batch, I'll pick a particular shape
and post a photo of day one, day two, etc. so you can see the difference in
each day's tumbling.

:-) KM


Desoto, TX(Zone 8a)

I hope the teachers recognized they had a genius in their midst. I really, really appreciate your work.

Oakwood (Butler,TX), TX(Zone 8b)

save some of that glass for your kiln .. glass that thick will make a great ice bowl..

Hulbert, OK(Zone 7a)

Hi Lou,

I think they thought I needed counseling to be honest with you. Enough
of them tried to put me there. ;-)

Cheryl, oh boy, would it ever! So glad you said that, thanks a million!


Topsham, ME(Zone 5a)

Thanks, Karen. Four days is quite reasonable! Man, I love and rocks..can't get enough of them. I'm like Lucille Ball in the "Long, Long, Trailer" (did you see that movie?) When I go anywhere, I bring back rocks.

Hulbert, OK(Zone 7a)


Didn't see that one, but I'm right there with you on the glass and rock passion.


Desoto, TX(Zone 8a)

Oh've got to rent it. A classic if ever there was one.

There is more than meets the eye in my nomenclature......LouC.....always have an Ethel and Fred at hand. Ricky is in the kitchen just now.

North West, OH(Zone 5b)

Thanks Wuvie. I've had a rock tumbler in the back of my mind for awhile (clear in the verrrry back of my mind), but after reading your little tutorial last night I got so excited I made a pit stop at Ebay on my way to bed. True, I woke up $45 poorer this morning, LOL, but I'm excited to give this a try. I will definitely keep my eye out for used tumblers in the future, but in the meantime I'm the proud owner of a brand-spankin' new "Lapidary Rotary Rock Glass Metal Tumbler Poslisher Tool". Wow that sounds impressive.


Topsham, ME(Zone 5a)

I think I am developing a tool addiction ....

Hulbert, OK(Zone 7a)


Close your eyes and don't read the following:
(wait, I see you are still looking)

On sale for 19.99. Lala, you didn't see that, did you? In the
event yours breaks down, or you want to tumble twice as much.

Topsham, ME(Zone 5a)

yup... that's the one I have.

Hulbert, OK(Zone 7a)

Shh. Don't tell Lala.

Brender, do you like it? I thought about getting one of the
double barrel models when they were on sale, but I didn't like
the looks or the fit of the lid. Any input you care to offer?


Topsham, ME(Zone 5a)

I confess to not having used it..yet! I got it to tumble silver clay jewelry and then spent some time trying to find steel shot. Meanwhile I got the shot but the spirit had moved me to make jewelry with stones so it couldn't tumble with the stones..OY! I drive myself nuts!!! So... I'm going to try some glass now. I found some plate glass in my "collection" but not as thick as that yummy stuff you have.

Hulbert, OK(Zone 7a)

Hi Brender,

Steel shot, is that sort of like bb's you would use to tumble the clay?

The super thick stuff might be easier to come by than you think. :-)
I've often thought about giving a letter to local antique stores and
flea markets, basically stating I would buy, at low cost of course, any
broken glass items of color. Otherwise you get twenty calls a day to
say someone broke an ordinary drinking glass.

Also try Goodwill stores for drinking glasses which often have super
thick bottoms, in both clear and colored. On a lucky day, you may get
them for a song, ten cents a glass, etc.


North West, OH(Zone 5b)

Great. I spent 10 bucks more than I needed to.

Impulse shopping

Topsham, ME(Zone 5a)


Yes, its sort of like bbs but some are flying saucer shaped and/or rods to get into the nooks and crannies.

I've got quite a bit of scrap art glass to tumble along with some plate glass and some drinking glasses with chips. Might be going to the beach Monday if I can clear my work up so hoping to get some sea glass the tourists missed! Sometimes it gets thrown back it if is too "new" so might get some to finish in the tumbler.

Did you used to be over at Garden Junk?

Topsham, ME(Zone 5a)

On the surface this is true, Lala.. however, your tumbler may very well be far superior to my 19.99, yet-to-be-tried model!

Fredericksburg, TX(Zone 8a)

I knew there was some reason I didn't get rid of that tumbler I gave DD for Xmas 12 years ago when she was 10.:) Thought she would be really excited about it, but it's still in the box.

Hulbert, OK(Zone 7a)

Aha, silver, now see, aren't you glad you did?

Question now is, what are you going to break to tumble? ;-)

Hulbert, OK(Zone 7a)


For those lucky enough to find bottles of unique shape, they
can be cut on the tile saw as well. Some may be tricky, but
remember, where there's a will, there's a way. ;-)

Olive oil often comes packaged in bottles of beautiful, well, olive
colored glass. Many times the bottles are square in
shape, and thus lend a bit of variety to projects other than the
typical round shapes of a wine bottle.

To cut such bottles on a saw, you might eye the bottle, or if you
feel your eye is a bit crooked, you can either draw a cutting line
on the bottle, or use masking tape to mark off the sections you wish
to cut. Using tape also helps to reduce the chance of your slice
breaking, as the tape acts as a sort of vibratory insulation of sorts.

Let's say you are cutting an olive oil bottle with a side wall width
of 3". Place the bottle on it's side, then gently push the bottle until
the saw penetrates the bottle. You should be able to see the wheel
through the glass. Continue cutting, moving the bottle forward only,
do not twist or turn the bottle. Complete the cut of one side wall. Once
you have sliced one side, the saw and the bottle will no longer be in touch.

Turn the bottle 1/4 turn, move the bottle towards the cutting wheel. All
too often, square bottles are of thinner glass, so cut slowly and steadily,
or the glass will easily break and / or splinter.

Remember, if you are going to melt the slices in a kiln, the squares don't
have to be exact. Work carefully, but don't be too hard on yourself about

Also, try not to work with bottle remnants of small size. It is easier to find
another bottle than trying to hold on to small sections while cutting.


Topsham, ME(Zone 5a)

Okay. So the tumbler is finally loaded and running! Whoopdeeedooo! Here's a before photo of the contents. It used to be my lasagna pan. It exploded when a bottle of karo syrup fell off the shelf and of course hit it "just right." The syrup bottle didn't break, thankfully. Have been saving the glass for who knows what. Thought I'd try it in the tumbler. Had to take the hammer to it after trying various methods to make smaller pieces (new respect for karo syrup ;-0)

Wuvie, you were asking about the Harbor Freight rock tumbler. It is very quiet. I have it going in the basement and so far cannot hear it upstairs. Might be a different story when I am trying to go to sleep tonight! The barrel is rubber so I think that makes a difference. Thanks again for the instructions.


This message was edited Sep 1, 2007 6:40 PM

Thumbnail by Brender
Florence, KY

Brender, I just ordered the tumbler from Harbor Freight...cost including postage was $29...I was wondering about the rubber tumbler, won't all the glass tumbling around tear/cut up the rubber???
I have been saving broken glass forever thinking I would do some mosaic birdbaths and I can't wait to start tumbling~

Topsham, ME(Zone 5a)

Just emptied the tumbler today and checked the inside - no cuts or anything. I am pleased with my first result. I used play sand that was really fine but want to try something a little more coarse to see what that looks like. Not sure what the next load will be but going to dig around and see what I've got. No lack of glass here, that's for sure! I'm doing a mosaic table top now, just a small one. Here's a photo of the first tumbling result. Happy tumbling!

Thumbnail by Brender
Beaumont, TX(Zone 8b)

That's beautiful!!! Can't wait to see your table when you get it done. Take photos as you go along and share them with us here.

Hulbert, OK(Zone 7a)

Ooh, Brenda, nice looking lasagna pan you've got there, LOL.

There are times I tumble for four days, rinse the glass off well,
replace fresh water and fresh sand and then tumble for three
more days. You would not believe how rounded and beautiful
the glass becomes with each passing day.

Oh, and that dish your glass is in, I'll bet that would be gorgeous
in a tumbler. Heh heh. Just kidding.

The local Goodwill or Salvation Army stores are great sources
of chipped dishes willing to sacrifice their lives for a rock tumbler.
I tumbled a big cracked casserole dish from the Goodwill, seems
like it ran .50 cents. It was one of those Corning Ware type dishes,
only it was in a purple hue. Nowadays they even have blue and
green. Very nice glass for tumbling.

One of these days I'll take a picture of the results from a
large multi-colored glass rooster. His life ended with a sledgehammer.


Olympia, WA

Ordered mine.....and when I kiss the rest of my life goodbye - it WILL be all your fault, you do understand, don't you??? I am cringing over all the red glass (broken) that I finally dumped last year. sheeeshhhhhhhh I will try posting on Freecycle .........that should keep the "cost" down, as everything has to be "free".

Topsham, ME(Zone 5a)

Thanks UniqueT!

Although I only paid .25 at a yardsale for that red dish, I just can't smash it....yet... no telling what happens if'n I get in a tumbling frenzy though ;-). DH came home with some thick glass items from the transfer station yesterday but all clear glass. Have you drilled glass before tumbling ? Big debate at the supper table tonight - drill the hole before or after tumbling... some of these pieces will be good pendants. Thinking of drilling a divot and gluing in a gem of some sort.

Can't wait to see your fowl that ran afoul of the sledge!! I'm punchy...

Will definitely be looking in the thrift stores differently now.


Hulbert, OK(Zone 7a)

Oh, Danc,

Welcome to the wonderful world of tumbling! Whoo hooo!
Here, put on this membership T-shirt and grab a hammer. :-)

I do understand the importance of the free (or dirt cheap) thing,
so here are a few more tips for colored glass.

Olive oil bottles, local restaurants serving wine, thrift stores,
bars, cocktail lounges, recycling centers, yard sales. You might
even check antique stores for cracked or broken items.

I haven't yet scoured the dump, but have been tempted.


Hulbert, OK(Zone 7a)

Hi Brenda,

Funny you should mention that about the hole drilling. The
drawbacks, if you could call them that, to drilling after the tumble
is that you have to work very slowly but surely. I have broken
some very beautiful, fantastic shapes after tumbling by trying
to drill a hole for pendant use. *pout*

The thing about drilling before tumbling is that you can't put the hole
too close to the edge or it may tumble out, putting you back where
you started - without a hole. Thin sections are also buggers because
if they survive the drilling, they often do not survive the tumble.

It really depends on your piece. If you feel the piece is fractured so
unique that you don't want to chance it, I would say drill first, leave plenty
of glass room, then tumble with similar glass.

I've also discovered the rule of glass pretty much applies as it does
with rocks and gems, some tumble well together and some do not.

I'm trying some more milk glass tomorrow. The last tumble took forever!

Olympia, WA

Well, I HAVE "done the dump" .... for other things at another phase of my life - OMG - what have I become???? In fact, today I drove past the old dump my gal pal and I used to haunt - how funny is that???

My friends who have seen me through so many things will just roll their eyes, muttering "there she goes, again", when I ask them to save any broken colored glass.

Doing concrete work - it is a classy glassy act to get shattered windshield chunks from places that replace windshields - and then use the tumbled chunks to make faux geodes. I haven't done it yet - but, Katie, bar the door, cuz here I come!!!! I have done a LOT of concrete art - I just haven't done the geode thing. I have LOTS of glass globes which get sacrificed in the orb construction.

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