Lortone Rock Tumblers for Polishing Polymer Clay Jewelry Beads

Lortone Rock Tumbler

Shiny Beads – Rock Polisher vs Sanding by Hand:

Lately there has been lots of talk about how to use a tumbler to sand and polish polymer clay beads. By the way, the reference to ‘Lortone’ in this article is for a company that for many years has been making a professional line of tumbler products for lapidary and jewelry artists. And below are some comments about tumblers that were originally posted on July 5 in the comments section of this buffing beads article.

I have found that I can use my tumbler to sand and buff my polymer clay beads. To buff my beads with the tumbler I have cut up a shammy that I found in the automotive section of Canadian Tire. I put the beads in the tumbler with the cut up shammy and tumble over night. In the morning I have shinny beads! I still hand sand and use my rotary tool for larger pendants and focal beads as they don’t tumble as well. ~Vanessa

This is probably a dumb question, but do you tumble dry with the shammy pieces or add water like regular tumbling? ~Karen

Do the little tumblers work well that you can buy in Hobby Lobby? ~Raye

Cindy. I am wondering if a cheap kids tumbler would work for small beads too. I see that there are some really expensive ones out there, and then there are some more inexpensive ones that are about $25.00 each. What do you think and would the cut up shammy work in one of the less expensive ones? ~Cindy Erickson

I wanted to know from Vanessa what she uses in her tumbler for the sanding and if she uses anything else with the shamies (such as another material) or just that alone? Cut up shamies don’t seem to take up as much room is why I ask. ~Lani King

Ok, so what is a rock tumbler? I had visions of beads going round & round my tumble dryer [only joking] ~Andrea

I don’t want to exhaust the subject but I do want some additional info on the tumbler use.

  • 1. What grade medium is used for sanding?
  • 2. Has anyone ever used fine sand? baking soda? salt? other_____?
  • 3. What works on beads with sharp corners without knocking them off?

I have friends that use polymer too and I ask them this question and report back what I find. ~Lani King

The reason why I haven’t put too much on this site about using rock polishers to sand and buff polymer clay beads is that I have not yet found a method that I am truly satisfied with.

I do have a Lortone Rotary Tumbler. It was my husband’s from when he was a little boy so that says something about the quality of these machines and how long they actually last.

Knowing that the sand substrates used for polishing rocks would be too harsh for using on the soft clay beads, I started doing research on what method would be best for polymer beads.

So far, this is what I have tried… with limited success.

  • Glued 2 sheets sand paper back to back and cut into 1 inch squares. Did this for each grit starting with 320, 400, 600, 800, 1200 and 1500.
  • Learned that the black rubber tumbler barrel leaves marks on the beads, so I bought 6 tubs of canned frosting in the white plastic containers. They fit nicely inside of the rubber barrel. Made cakes to go with frosting. Ate cakes. Negative result for butt and thighs! :O
  • Placed a handful of the lowest grit sandpaper with a handful of beads. Topped with water and a drop of dish soap according to the advice I read in some forums and on web sites.
  • Ran machine overnight on each grit, rinsing in between.
  • Made a small bag and some small squares out of canvas to use for the buffing step. Ran for 24 hrs.

Now maybe I’m just picky or maybe I’m doing something wrong. But the beads I put through the process outline above, did not turn out nearly as smooth as hand sanded beads. They seem fairly smooth but not glassy. Definitely not as nice in my opinion.

Someone told me that I should start with 400 grit instead of 320 and use less water. Some people suggest using denim instead of canvas. Some people use dry sand.

Frankly I think there must be a better way. Desiree from Desiree Creations uses river stones to sand her beads. That sounds promising. But I can’t honestly recommend this method until I find the right stones to test out.

I guess I see myself as a guinea pig to make sure you only receive information from me, that I’m confident is going to give you great results. That means I have to experiment first and make the mistakes…. so that you don’t have to :)

And so far I have yet to nail down a satisfying technique for using my Lortone Rock Tumbler to polish polymer clay jewelry beads. If you have had success with rock polishers, please share what you know. Myself and many others would like to save our poor little fingers from having to work so hard… meticulously sanding by hand!!

Cindy Lietz SignaturePolymer Clay Tutor

  1. Pamela, 18 September, 2008

    Once again Cindy you have managed to not only inform us but entertain us as well. I love your STYLE!!! Your site is one of the best Polymer Clay sites around and proves over and over again to be user friendly and informative. I am a true devotee and I personally THANK YOU for taking the time and effort to put all of this together….:0)
    Thankx Hon….

  2. Randee M Ketzel, 18 September, 2008

    For what it’s worth–and I haven’t tried this with my Lortone, only my vibrating tumbler (which takes a lot less time)–I have been sanding my beads for about 4-6 hours in the vibrating tumbler, using a 2 lb bag of polyfill–the stuff beanie babies and dolls are stuffed with, tiny plastic pellets about the size of bb’s—and 2 cups of baking soda. The beads come out beautifully sanded and require only a 5 second buff on a surface like a carpet square to achieve a perfect eggshell finish; for a higher polish, I put them through an additional 5 seconds on the buffing wheel; I can sand about 200-300 beads at a time, and it’s so easy! The polyfill acts as a distributor and separator,and the baking soda works its magic on the polymer clay.

  3. Natalie H, 18 September, 2011

    What brand of vibrating tumbler do you use…I am so confused with different types out there.

  4. EdieH, 29 December, 2013

    Hello can you post a link where to buy the poly fill.
    Thanks so much!

  5. Cindy Lietz, 29 December, 2013

    Hi EdieH,

    Randee posted this quite a few years ago, so I don’t think she’ll end up seeing your question. I myself do not know of a place to buy the polyfil. You will probably need to do a Google search to find it in your area.

    If you are not aware, I have done a new video on using a plastic substrate for your rock tumbler that gets excellent results. If you want to check that out, here’s the link:

    How To Polish Polymer Clay Beads in a Rock Tumbler

  6. Cindy Lietz, 19 September, 2008

    @Pamela: Oh my goodness you are sweet!! Was it the effects of the frosting that got to you?

    @Randee: Oh how cool!!! Are you talking about the hard plastic pellets or the squishy styrofoam ones? And are you doing this dry or with water?

  7. Pamela, 20 September, 2008

    @Cindy….it must have been the ice cream….:0)

  8. Cindy Lietz, 20 September, 2008


  9. Vanessa Betcher, 13 February, 2009

    Hi Cindy
    I was reading your post from 2008 about sanding polymer clay beads. I don’t remember if I sent you an email regarding this topic. I use a rotary tumbler (a Loretone). I cut up a plastic place mat from the dollar store just short of the height of the tumbler barrel. Then I glue sandpaper to the plastic using a water proof glue E6000 is good. These barrel liners can be made using a variety of grits. I write on the back of each piece of plastic what grit it is. I tumble my barrel 3/4 full with beads, water and a drop of liquid soap. I then leave the beads to tumble over night or longer. After the beads have tumbled I give them a quick rinse, and dry them before buffing. I got my hints on tumble sanding beads from Gera Scott Chandler in Victoria, BC.

    To buff I cut up about 1 cup of 1 inch square bits of a shammy that I bought in the automotive section. Toss that in a dry tumbler barell with your beads (nothing else), and let tumble over night. It does seem to be important that beads are dry before they are buffed. I was recently reading on a forum where some people make a small bag out of a shammy fill with beads and toss in tumbler.

    Thats my solution to sanding and buffing it seems to work really well. My beads get a nice sheen this way. I prefer not to use any future or varethane on my creations.


  10. Cindy Lietz, 14 February, 2009

    Thank you Vanessa for the detailed instructions! Gluing the sand paper to the plastic mat is an excellent idea. Makes it much stronger that way and gives you more room in the tumbler than putting in a plastic icing tub!

    Will give your’s (and Gera’s) method a try. In most cases, I too prefer the look of a properly sanded and buffed bead over ones covered with a gloss coating. An effective tumbling method would really cut down on the amount of time required to get a good quality finish.

    **There is more discussion on some other ways to use a tumbler in the post I have linked beside my name. Check it out if you haven’t already.

  11. Jocelyn, 18 April, 2009

    Did my stuff in a Lortone, both polymer pieces and lots of beach shells/glass, until it got packed away in storage.

    Found that just using the “grit” in a slurry with some weight was the way to go. I had the best luck with two products….the German glass ball beading shot and increasing grades of finer white building sand (ran three, coarse, med, very fine….use a mask). Do not put too much product in there, use a good amount of the glass/sand and add distilled water to the 3/4 mark, and a tiny bit of detergent (Dawn). Let her rip. Have to clean out the bead hole well and quickly…stuff dries in there like concrete, lol.

    Very important not to mix the grit. Found that could use old pillow cases to dump the old load, it would drain (outside) then when rinsed clear it could be used over and over. Just need to wait for the grit to dry before removing from case by shaking it.

    Sound is not soothing. Found using a pack of magazines/newspapers with a rubber gripping mat on top worked to deaden the sound, as well as covering the unit with a double lined cardboard box (leave room for air) and a beach towel. Looked like chaos on a stick but it worked.


  12. Cindy Lietz, 20 April, 2009

    Excellent information Jocelyn! Thank you, thank you for sharing it!! It is really helpful!Where did you purchase the grit?

    Like the pillow case idea and the sound deadening tactics! Anything to make it a little quieter! Not sure what chaos on a stick is was it sounds like it describes it pretty good! :-)

  13. Jocelyn, 24 April, 2009

    The grit was three grades of white builders sand I found at the local hardware store. The glass beads I found in my German grandmother’s craft supplies.

    If you google glass micro beads you can find a number of sources, but they come in small packages if they are sources for use as sprinkle on glitter. A better source would be to find a local sand blasting shop that uses the glass beads, and purchase a small amount from them, since they get it in 50 lb bags.

    Best of luck to you who try this, I hope you have the same results I did.

    A caution, keep a close eye on polymer beads made from “fabric” or slices of mokume gane. These are thin, and the design can wear away quickly.

  14. Cindy Lietz, 25 April, 2009

    Fantastic Jocelyn! I will take a look for those materials and try them out myself! I have had some great success with the river rock as long as the beads are quite smooth going into the tumbler. The rocks don’t take off fingerprints and creases though. Does the grit remove small defects?

    You’re right about being careful with the fabric sheet beads like the pillow beads. You wouldn’t want to wear away any of that beautiful design!

  15. Linda Pollack, 20 June, 2009

    Hi Randee,

    I plan to try your method of sanding polymer clay beads using the poly pellets. Is water added with the beads and soda like with other methods. Or is this way done with out water.

    Thank you in advance for your help.

    Linda Pollack

  16. Cindy Lietz, 25 June, 2009

    Linda, the plastic pellets would be great to try if you have them already, but the method I have found to work the best so far is the River Rock Method.

    Click the link by my name for an article on this method.

  17. Cathy, 15 July, 2009

    Instead of river rock gravel, try plain aquarium gravel from a pet shop. A small bag is all you need. The weight of the small rocks keep the beads in constant motion.

  18. Cindy Lietz, 18 July, 2009

    Excellent advice Cathy! Thanks!

  19. Ritzs, 15 August, 2009

    I am fairly new to this chat thing but i love your site it has given me so much help like all of you i am polyclay mad, made tons of beads and sold some in the local craft shop, but i live in the u k or at least wales my children say out in the middle of nowere my question is i have just ordered a beach tumbler as the postage for the lorton was to expensive. It has a plastic barrel is that o k and what would be river rock in the uk is it the same as in the U S I have never seen any to no what it looks like. i am trying to help my pore arthritic fingers with the small beads

  20. Cindy Lietz, 15 August, 2009

    Welcome Ritzs – It’s great to have you here. The plastic tumbler on your beach tumbler should be fine.

    There is actually a ton of information that has accumulated here at the blog about rock tumblers. There is a search box at the top of every page to make it easy to find stuff. Use the following keywords:

    kiddie tumbler
    river rocks

    If you still have questions after reading through the articles and comments that have already been posted, then by all means post specific questions and some will be glad to help you further.

  21. Cindy Lietz, 21 August, 2009

    **PHOTOS ADDED: Some project pictures have just been added to a Spotlight Feature showcasing Rob Kerfoot, a member who is very much appreciated here at this supportive polymer clay community. Click on the “Rock Tumbler Polymer Clay Beads” link by my name above to have a look.

  22. Marion R, 13 January, 2011

    Hi Cindy,

    I wanted to buy some micro mesh polishing pads as shown in your video. One of the search engine results offered a video showing how these are used, imagine my surprise to find myself back on your website! As I already have this video I was able to watch it again, but this time noticed your comment about looking into a rock tumbler for polishing beads.

    An article by Lisa Haney covered this topic in ‘Polymer Cafe’ magazine, Vol.5 No. 1 (Winter 2006/7). I decided to try this at the time but found cost of most tumblers out of my range. Then I discovered a ‘kid’s tumbler’ and thought it might be robust enough for polymer clay. It worked beautifully, only problems – 1. took rather a long time; approx 1 day for each grit, with 3 or 4 grits recommended. 2. Rather noisy, but if you have an outhouse or garage you won’t be disturbed. The result was fantastic and I can thoroughly recommend it.

    You can find this kid’s rock tumbler here at this UK-based web site: brightminds.co.uk/offers/best-sellers/rock-tumbler-deluxe.htm – I recommend it as something inexpensive for people to try first before investing large sums of money.

    Enjoying your tutorials Cindy, I’m wondering how long you can keep this up, coming up with new ideas every week. Amazing stuff, well done!

    Best wishes – Marion

  23. Anna Garner, 02 August, 2013

    I just took out my first necklace worth of beads from a tumbler that is much like your Lortone. I had polished my own river pebbles for the purpose of tumbling my hand rolled and not always perfect beads. It was one of the first big batches I had made. They were all powdery looking because I had baked them in a bed of baking powder to keep the Fimo Soft white from scorching. These were soft pastels in rose, silver, white and lavender, made from a slab of folded mokume gane. Very simple round beads.

    Coming from the oven they had a grainy feel. So I waited for my tumbler to be ready and this morning at 11:00 I put them in with the smooth river stones and the prescribed amount of water and let it run until 6:00 this evening without stopping.

    The tumbling had produced its own slurry in that amount of tumbling, so the beads came out feeling as if they had been sanded with 1000 grit paper and when I hand buffed them with a lightweight duck cotton rag, they gave off a soft glow.

    They are now very pleasant to the touch and I will not have to sand, wax, or buff any more than just the brief wiping with the cotton cloth. I will string them with rose quartz and small silver beads into a simple pastel necklace.

    Yayyy for your video on the old Lortone tumbler.

  24. Cindy Lietz, 03 August, 2013

    Wow Anna that is awesome! I love to hear stories like this where your quality has improved through a method that made it easier. Glad you are enjoying the videos. Thanks for commenting!

  25. Tracey Jones, 31 January, 2015

    I am seriously considering getting a tumbling machine to polish my beads but, can you please recommend a tumbler and what do I use as the medium to polish the beads with.

    Many Thanks in advance.

  26. Cindy Lietz, 10 March, 2015

    Hi Tracey, sorry for the long delay. For questions like this, the answers are all here on the blog. Just use the search box to find them quickly on your own. As I wrote about in this article, the tumbler I recommend is the Lortone (in whatever size you need). And I use plastic tumbler substrate from Otto Frei. (Just do a search on that to find the article and the name of the products I used.

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