Make Your Own Sea glass! (And other tumbled lovelies!)
First step down a slippery slope: entering a hardware store. My mission was to buy a new rotary tumbler for an un-traditional reason. Most bead stores I know are tumbling their jump rings, jewelry and metal components to harden the soft metals into a longer lasting and sturdier existence… or they’re tumbling and polishing the surface of finished jewelry to make it shiny vs. the darkened areas full of liver of sulfur-ed patina. I may do some of that with this rotary tumbler. But I have a better idea.
The light bulb goes on!
If you’ve never browsed through The Beadin’ Path’s Facebook page, well… you should. There’s fun stuff going on there. You get to learn about the adventures of Heather (co-owner of the Beadin’ Path) and her vintage finds, tips and more. So there I was, browsing dreamily through the pictures of Bead & Button show (where the booth looked fabulous!) and I came across this picture: Its from Harold Cooney’s booth at Bead & Button. Pretty stuff, hm? YES! And I noticed that tray in the front at the bottom.
Then the fire works went off behind my eyes!
Brilliant! This is what I’m already doing, in a slightly different way. I’m taking pieces of glass and drilling them exactly this way. And you can too, if you visit my blog called Sea Glass Jewelry: Get Out the Drill! I’ve been drilling my little heart out and at the same time kicking myself in the caboose for not knowing when I lived in Maine for 34 years that I should have been shoveling sea glass from Reid State Park and Peaks Island into my car trunk for this very moment in time! But wait! That’s not necessary.
The goodness of the real stuff
You know that old adage… Real is real and anything else is but not. Well, real sea glass is the bomb. No arguing that. But what if I wanted to make my own varied version of sea glass that was equally as beautiful? I could do it! But how. Well, begin with a rotary tumbler.
Break a few rules
All you need to make your own sea glass is a simple single barrel rotary tumbler from a hard ware store. Its meant for polishing stones and such, but you’re going to let it make a different kind of magic. Here’s how to prepare the tumbler:
1. Get some granular sand. I say granular because I don’t want you to put that kind of chalky, powdery dirt from your driveway into it. That will just make mud. You need grainy, gritty sand. Like beach sand. If you don’t have access to sand, then go back to the hardware store and buy a $10 bag of grit. And the next time you’re at the beach, get yourself a bucket of grainy goodness to keep at the house. Add 1/2 to 3/4 cups of sand into your tumbler.
2. Now add a cup of water into the mix. If you have a couple of marble sized pointy rocks you can toss those in there, too.
3. Add enough glass in the tumbler until its about half way full. If you make it too full then the glass won’t roll around and bounce and fall in there, and you need that kind of motion to let it work properly.
4. Find an area where your rotary tumbler can sit for literally two days without being bothered by children or small animals or curious husbands, and then simply turn it on. You can check it as often as you wish, but it needs to tumble for at least two days for you to get the effect you want.
Where do you get the glass from? Well, you’ve got it at home. Save up your wine bottles, glass jars, beer bottles and any other interesting glass you have. Milk of Magnesia comes in gorgeous blue. You’ll notice that some really fun glass comes from liquor bottles. Visit a pub and ask if they’ll save the bottles for you. Or visit your local thrift shop and ask them if they’ll save broken glass stuff in a box for you to come get once a month. Or… pass the word along to your friends and family that you’re in need of glass.
I went to my local stained glass store and learned that they have boxes of mixed scrap that they’re willing to sell. They’ll also give you some glass for free, especially the clear stuff. It’s really cool because its got texture on it. The box I picked up had one pane with a leaf pattern, one that looked like small raised bubbles in erratic patterns, and another had tons of bubbles trapped in the glass. Very cool! Or you can buy pieces of the gorgeous textured colored stuff that comes in panes. You can break this glass by hand, or you can make your own shaped broken pieces with a glass cutter that you can buy at the same store. Don’t be tricked into buying one with the oil built into the handle of the glass cutter. That’s for more professional use. If you buy one for around $6 or $7 then you can buy a small bottle of oil to lubricate the blade on the cutter. With the cap on, tip the bottle to get some oil on the inside of the cap, then remove the cap and touch the blade on it. There’s enough oil on there for a couple of small cuts. Voila! You’ve got glass to tumble.
Breaking found glass
Found glass is household glass. Bottles, jars, dishes… stuff that you can literally take a hammer to. I have to admit, I went to a thrift store in search of colored glass to break up, thinking I’d find some red or blue or a cool color, and when I found it I decided to put it back and walk away. I just couldn’t bring myself to bash up something colorful that was pretty and perfectly good. So I’m resorting to found glass. I got pretty green with empty Perrier water bottles, and dark brown from my neighbors empty wine bottle. I accidently (hooray!) broke my glass butter dish, so I put that in the pile. To break this stuff, simply put it in a double paper grocery bag and then insert the ends of the bag into another double paper grocery bag. Lay it down on a hard surface, like your driveway (I vote for outside) and then smack it with a hammer. You can’t really check it as you’re bashing it, so I say smack it really good, then tear open only the top of the bag to see what you have. If you want smaller pieces then you must take the glass out and put it into a new bag set up. The reason being that all the slivers go to the bottom of the bag, and you’re going to toss the bag into your trash, slivers and all. Our hands want to remain sliver free.
Don’t be tempted to bash any glass without it being in a paper bag first. For even more safety, you can wet some paper towels and put them into the bag for the slivers to stick to. Wear goggles and gloves when picking up and sorting the glass.
Tumbling the glass will let you smooth out the edges and turn the shiny surface of the glass into a pitted frosty surface. Beautiful! There’s another way you can make a pitted frosty surface...with an etching solution, which is basically acid. Giving your glass an acid bath will make any glass frosted. Etch All is my favorite one. But be careful. Way back in my bead store days, Alice Mayberry came into shop and told us that while etching some beads she had the bottle back-splash onto her face! But she was almost done so she finished her work, and then washed her face. Guess what happened? Her face was pitted! She actually had small, acid-eaten areas across her face. Poor Alice. If you decide to use Etch All, just dilute some in water and then soak your piece and monitor it every few minutes. Or, you can dip it directly into the bottle for a quicker etch. Make sure you do this in a well ventilated place. Clean up your area when you’re done, too.
This is such a fun, creative way to make new and unique jewelry components for your designs. Have fun with it, be safe, and happy designing!
“The most rewarding part of the beach, aside from the water, the sand, the surf and the sun...is my beloved beach glass.” ~ Roxanne Wagner, beach lover