Polymer Clay Tutorial | Polished Beads | Lortone Rock Tumbler

Bead and Rock Tumbler

Vid #104: How To Get Your Beads To Shine with Less Effort and Less Sanding:

If you have a pile of beads just waiting to be sanded because you keep on putting off this tedious chore, then this weeks video [Vol-011-4] in the Polymer Clay Tutor Video Library, is for you!

We all know that sanding polymer clay beads makes for a more polished (pardon the pun) and professional look. But sometimes it can be a really big chore, especially if you are trying to sand small beads… or large batches of beads.

This is where a power tool such as a Lortone Rock Tumbler, can really come in handy. Although a rock polisher won’t completely remove the need for sanding your beads, it will significantly reduce the amount of labor required for sanding.

Up until recently, I was not quite satisfied with the results I was getting with my rock tumbler. But after doing some more experimentation, inspired by input from readers here at the blog [See comments section at this post: Using A Rock Polisher To Get Shiny Polymer Clay Beads], I am now pleased to have a tutorial video ready for you.

The full version of the video will be available in the members library tomorrow (Friday, May 1, 2009). But further down on this page is a little sneak peak clip for you to watch right now if you like.

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Here’s That “Link Below” Referred To at End of the Video
>> Polymer Clay Tutorials <<

The full version of the “Rock Tumbler” preview video shown above, is available for purchase at my Polymer Clay Bead Making Videos Library in the Volume-011 Back Issue Package.

The following topics are covered in this “Bead & Rock Tumbler” video:

  • How the Lortone Rock Tumbler works and how to use it for polishing beads.
  • How to ‘sand’ beads using unpolished river rock as the polishing substrate.
  • How to know when the your beads are finished tumbling and ready for buffing.
  • How to use your tumbler for pre-buffing beads to a nice low sheen using a felt liner.
  • Comparing examples of un-sanded, sanded and fully buffed beads.
  • Discussion of what type of beads can be polished in a rock tumbler.
  • Things that you should not expect your tumbler to do for you.

  1. Maria, 30 April, 2009

    Cindy my sore fingertips thank you for this video. I only wish I had seen it earlier before I made a bunch of pendants for our church bazaar. Oh well, there’s always next year!

  2. sally, 01 May, 2009

    Hi Cindy
    Would you know roughly how much these tumblers cost? Where do you get them from – do you know if you can get hold of them in Europe?

  3. Anna Sabina, 01 May, 2009

    Cindy- I am so happy to see you have more un-sanded beads than I do! It was nice to a get a peak at some of those beads in the tubs. Very cute picture of Doug too. The full video on how to use the rock tumbler is excellent. I am sure it took a long time experimenting to get the results you wanted to share. Thank you for all your hard work.

    SALLY- I had the same question and found a Lortone site on the internet. Maybe they have a link to all the locations world wide where they are sold. The one Cindy shows is available through Amazon for about $70.00 (US) but I do not know the cost of shipping to Europe. Might be able to find one on E-bay.

  4. Ken H., 01 May, 2009

    Could you change out the pebbles for builders sand and even possibly sand box (play) sand to mimic higher and higher grits of sandpaper, and if so would the amounts of grit to beads and water be the same?

  5. cara letho, 01 May, 2009

    Dear Cindy,
    thank you for this video- I am going to purchase a tumbler today!!! I have quite a few beads to sand and polish and had been putting off doing so because it is such a time consuming job. Good sanding and polishing is the most important stage for polymer clay beads and my fingers end up inflamed and blistered from constant sanding. I don’t mind the dremmel stage so much, because it is a quality control stage and final check- but the manual wet & dry sanding is horrible and reminds me of housework! I can now spend more time making and experimenting.
    Many thanks again-

  6. Paul, 02 May, 2009

    Hi Cindy thanks for the tumbler video, I love mine. Where can I get river rocks. When I purchased my tumbler I looked and looked and could not find any locally. I use white pelits I found at Thunderbird Supply Company and they work OK but I have to run for at least 4-5 hours. Please keep the videos coming, I’m hooked on polymer clay thanks to you and your videos.

  7. Cindy Lietz, 02 May, 2009

    @Maria: Thanks! Now, when you do beads for the next church brazaar it won’t be as much work!

    @Sally: Isn’t it nice when people like Anna can help. :-) It’s hard for me to know out of country information like that. Here they cost anywhere from $30 – $100 depending on models and sale prices.

    @Anna: You should see how many beads I still need to buff! Thanks for helping out Sally with the European info!

    @Ken: Sure give it a try. You may be able to sand out some of the more aggressive marks like fingerprints that way. Let us know what you come up with!

    @Cara: You’re welcome! I agree sanding is really important and that it can be a lot of work. It is nice when some of the work can be eliminated though, isn’t it!

    @Paul: Sorry, I realized after that I forgot to say where to get the river rock. I got mine in a little mesh bag at the dollar store, but I’ve also seen them in craft stores in the floral department, for putting in vases. Get the rougher, unpolished stones and not the polished ones. They work the best.

  8. Anna Sabina, 02 May, 2009

    Well I got my vibratory tumbler last night and polished some beads today with great results !!! I used 1/4 inch river rock purchased from the dollar store; in some parts of the U.S. we call it Pea Gravel because it is about the size of peas-makes sense huh!
    I used about 1/3 rock to 2/3 beads (no water) and ran it for an hour. The beads were noticeable improved. I ran it for a second hour and they were even better and ready to be polished. In fact they became pretty shinny when rubbed with my fingers.
    Two important point here:
    1) I smooth my beads with corn starch and remove fingerprints before baking. So if your beads are rough you will probably need to tumble them longer. Rock polishers and vibratory tumblers will not remove fingerprints.
    2) The vibratory tumbler directions and box emphasize-NO WATER or LIQUIDS. I think it would be a safety hazard because the tumbling bowl sits above the motor.

  9. Melody K, 17 January, 2010

    @Anna Sabina: Thanks for posting that, Anna. I just bought a vibrating tumbler and all I’ve seen online has referred to putting in water, which the directions say is strictly verboten I was getting worried that I had one that wouldn’t work!

  10. Melody K, 11 August, 2012

    Anna, did you continue succeed with this method? I had mediocre results dry tumbling, and the tumbler died almost immediately. They replaced it with a second one, but I think the spindle is just too flimsy for the pebbles.

  11. Anna Sabina, 11 August, 2012

    The vibrating tumbler continues to work great. But I now use more rock than beads, add 1/3 cup of water and one drop of dishwashing liquid. I also tumble them 4 hours. Never had trouble with the water leaking and beads come out much better.

  12. Donna, 03 May, 2009

    Thanks so much for the Tutorial on the Rock Tumbler, My hubby got me a double one for Christmas and I am getting ready to use it so do you think they can both be used like this at the same time? Just wondering.

  13. Cindy Lietz, 04 May, 2009

    @Anna: That is Awesome! Good to know about the water issue! Had no idea. Thanks for passing that info along! Glad to hear it works so well!

    @Donna: Yes you can, Donna. That is what they are designed to do. You could have one set up for the sanding stage and one for the buffing stage. That would be handy!

  14. Donna, 06 May, 2009

    Thank You , I was hoping that I could use it that way, one for sanding and one for buffing, just watching your tutorial answered the questions I had.

  15. Sue F, 08 May, 2009

    Don’t you just love gadgets that save you from the un-fun, tedious bits?

    I don’t have a rotary tumbler (yet!), but I thought I’d share what I’ve found with my vibratory tumbler since this is an area where I’ve experimented a fair bit.

    I’ve actually had great success in having it remove fingerprints and run-of-the-mill imperfections in the process of sanding beads up ready for buffing. It doesn’t remove REALLY big imperfections, but I tend to just chuck all the beads in, tumble them as described below, and then look them over at the end when I’m doing final buffing. I spot-sand any imperfections that didn’t get tumbled out by hand at that stage: going through the grades from coarse to ultra-fine only takes a short time when there’s just a little area to do. It’s much less work than the alternative of hand-sanding everything with coarse-grade sandpaper first before tumbling, since only the really bad imperfections need it.

    I use rocks as a tumbling medium too, which I first saw suggested by Desiree McCrorey. They’re 9mm tumbled mini pebbles which I bought from the local hardware megastore. Like Desiree, I picked mine over carefully first, so I’m basically only tumbling with perfectly smooth oval rocks. It was very interesting to see the irregularly-shaped rocks in Cindy’s tumbler… I’ll have to give my “reject rocks” a try some time!

    Anyway, I use enough rocks to half-fill my tumbler. It’s quite large; I had to pick through 10kg of river rocks to get enough perfect rocks for that, which is a bit over 3kg worth. If a vibratory tumbler isn’t full enough it doesn’t work properly… the recommendation for mine is that it be at least two-thirds full but I do see the proper tumbling action when it’s half full, so if I have enough rocks for that starting point it doesn’t matter whether I have only a few beads to sand or a whole bunch. I usually run it with about one-quarter to one-third the volume of beads as there are rocks (i.e. from 1/5 beads and 4/5 rocks, to 1/4 beads and 3/4 rocks), although it probably doesn’t make too much difference; those proportions are largely dictated by the minimum rock volume I need in my tumbler balanced against my impatience to see how my latest beads turned out.

    My vibratory tumbler is OK with liquids (unlike Anna’s, above), but I get best results with only a small amount of liquid. I trickle a bit of water in when it’s running until I see that all rocks and beads are dampened, and then I add just a little bit more. If I stop the tumbler and push the rocks and beads aside I see just a little bit of water in the bottom of the tumbler. If there’s too much water it makes a frothy mess, but more importantly it doesn’t work nearly as well (e.g. it doesn’t remove fingerprints when there’s too much liquid). I don’t bother with any detergent.

    I run it for about 4 hours, usually. The tumbler only has an on/off switch so I use a timer that plugs into a powerpoint, and plug the tumbler into that. It makes an AWFUL racket… putting its lid on doesn’t really help with the noise, but I have a large cardboard box that I’ve lined with thick foam that I put over it; it totally encloses the tumbler and helps a lot, although I still don’t run it when my neighbours are sleeping!

    At the end of that time the beads and rocks are in kind of a sludge. I leave the tumbler running and pick the beads out as they cycle to the top, dropping them into a tub of water (the sludge is a nuisance if you let it dry, but the results are much better than when I tumble with more liquid) before swirling them in the water thoroughly to wash the sludge off, then tipping them into a colander for a final rinse under running water. [I do the same thing with the rocks afterwards, using a separate colander which I also use for storing the rocks once they’ve dried.]

    When they’re rinsed and dried they buff up to a beautiful glassy shine. As noted above, if I do find any imperfections at this stage that haven’t been tumbled out, I spot-sand them by hand using 240, 400, 800 and then 1200 grit wet/dry sandpaper, and then re-buff.

    The results are almost indistinguishable from hand-sanded beads, at least in my controlled testing so far (batches of different types of beads with different finishes, some of each type hand-sanded, others tumbled using different media for different durations). Visibly they’re the same. They don’t feel quite as sensual — the hand-sanded beads feel almost like there’s a cushion of air between them and your fingertips — but if you use a varnish after buffing that difference is pretty well negated anyway (all the varnishes and final finishes I’ve tried remove the lovely feel that hand-sanded beads have).

    I’ve tested tumbling with rocks for 1, 2, 4, 6 and 8 hours. I wasn’t fully satisfied with the results of 1 and 2 hours; 4 hours is good for me unless I’ve been really careless when making the beads. More than 4 can be too much too, e.g. if you’ve got thin layers of clay that you don’t want totally sanded off!

    Tumbling duration might depend a bit on the brand of clay too, although I haven’t tested that aspect. I only use Kato (except for translucent where I also use Premo Frost because it’s clearer), and it’s somewhat harder than the other brands I’ve played with. I got rid of all those other brands before I got my tumbler though.

    I’ve tried additional tumbling runs of various durations with bicarb soda (baking soda), but even 6 hours of that doesn’t make any noticeable difference to the end results of a good rock tumbling stage. Tumbling just with bicarb soda to start with (no rock tumbling stage) gave me beads with all their surface imperfections still present. They did buff to a nice shine, but obviously needed something else to get rid of fingerprints etc., so all in all I’m not using bicarb soda at all any more.

    I haven’t tried the rocks without any liquid at all. I also haven’t tried tumbling with sandpaper squares, but that wouldn’t be practical anyway because of the size of my tumbler (I’d need at least a whole pack of sandpaper).

    And finally, I haven’t had any luck with tumble-buffing yet, but I’ve only used the technique of putting pieces of various buffing media in with the sanded beads; they have all been so much lighter and less dense than the beads that in the vibratory tumbler they separate out completely and barely rub against the beads at all. But I’m going to adapt Cindy’s suggestion from the video and make myself a heavy felt “inner-tube” of the right size for my tumbler, put my beads inside that, and see how it goes.

  16. Jocelyn, 08 May, 2009

    “Ken H. @ 7:43 pm

    Could you change out the pebbles for builders sand and even possibly sand box (play) sand to mimic higher and higher grits of sandpaper, and if so would the amounts of grit to beads and water be the same?”

    Yes, yes and yes…..started out using beach sand, then my Dad, the engineer, told me to go to the local building supply store to look at the grades of builders sand to try to speed things up. So long as you can dispose of the residue safely, NOT down your sink drains,(it builds up and hardens like concrete), and use a mask because it’s mostly silica dust, I loved it. Used portions of 1/3 product to 2/3 sand, covering with distilled water to the 3/4 mark, then added a drop of Dawn dish detergent.

    The large grade gets out a lot of the fingerprints, but, also can remove cane designs, so check it frequently.

    The best thing to “fine polish” were the micro glass no hole beads. Very expensive in small amounts, so would check with a local sandblasting firm, as they usually purchase it in huge bags.

    Ken, your beads are gorgeous….love your designs and color combos!

  17. Cindy Lietz, 08 May, 2009

    @Sue: Holy cow Sue!!! WOW! What a comment! Thank you so, so much for all the fantastic info!!

    Do you know if Desiree was the first to think of the river rock idea? I actually first found out about it from Rob K. (you may remember his comments in the other tumbler post). He said he read about it somewhere. Maybe he read it at her site? Gosh it sure is hard to keep up with who does what, isn’t it!

    I too prefer the feel of the sanded and buffed beads with no varnish. If you do it right, there is rarely a need for any extra finish.

    Good to know about the vibrating polishers. Maybe I try one someday. Sounds like it handles the fingerprints better.

    As far as the tumble buffing, it only will take it as far as a medium sheen. The real glassy finish comes for a high speed buffer like a Dremel.

    Thanks again for the amazing comment! I’m sure everyone here really appreciates it!

    @Jocelyn: Thank you too for your amazing comment! (I’m amazed at everyone’s generosity with their ideas!) I will have to hunt down some of that builder’s sand and try this out for myself! I saw some of those hole-less beads at the dollar store. Better rush back and buy a few packs before they’re gone! Thanks for helping out Ken with his question. You are a huge part of making this a supportive polymer clay community!

  18. Melody, 11 August, 2012

    I believe that it was Desiree’s idea, yes.

  19. Sue, 09 May, 2009

    Hi Cindy,

    I thought there were enough differences between the vibratory tumbler and the rotary tumbler that what I’d found in my testing might be interesting, particularly when the amount of water used can significantly change how effective the vibratory tumbler is. It was a happy surprise about how well it removed fingerprints; I didn’t expect it to from what I’d read beforehand, and I was literally stunned when I rinsed off my first test batch. I’m still going to get myself a rotary tumbler too one of these days, however, as there are things you can do with a rotary tumbler that aren’t possible with a vibratory tumbler.

    As to your question, it wouldn’t surprise me if Desiree was the first to think of river rocks — her page on it was last updated in October 2007 and it clearly includes updates — but I don’t know for sure. The nice thing for people like me is that people like you and Desiree are happy to share your knowledge.

    I’ll post here again once I’ve been able to try a vibratory tumbler adaptation of the buffing suggestion from your video. Even getting them to a medium sheen would still be a big help, particularly with the fiddly little beads which often end up flying around my workspace when I buff them with my Dremel. If they need less Dremel time I’ll be less likely to have that problem. (I have tried putting them on a baking pin or skewer to buff, but I just ended up with a pile of bent baking pins and wonky skewers. ;D)


  20. Jocelyn, 09 May, 2009


    Wow! Please tell me the brand name of the brand new vibrating tumbler I have sitting in my storage facility for the last couple of year still in the box is the same as yours. Could you share the brand name?

    Learned so much from your post, thank you for so much for the expicit details and clarity!!!!


  21. Sue, 09 May, 2009

    Hi Jocelyn,

    I have a Hornady Case Tumbler (model 050201; I believe the US/110V version is model 050200), which is normally used by shooting enthusiasts for cleaning used ammunition cases prior to reloading them. It’s not suitable for lapidary uses such as producing tumbled rocks from rough in the first place, but it works beautifully for tumble-sanding polymer clay.

    And hopefully it is the same as the one you have sitting in storage! :)


  22. Sherry L, 10 May, 2009

    Hi, Cindy — Based on your video, I am now eagerly awaiting receipt of the Lortone 3a rock tumbler I just ordered on line. While I’m waiting, can you tell me where to get the river rocks you mentioned? Do you know if Michael’s sells them?



  23. Sherry, 10 May, 2009

    Hi, everyone — Oops! Sorry, I asked my question about river rocks without realizing that you had all made such helpful comments and answered my question (and more) already.


  24. Cindy Lietz, 12 May, 2009

    I’m so glad to see you all helping each other like that! Thank you for making this a great blog!

  25. Mary, 17 June, 2009

    Hi Cindy,

    Wow, has this rock tumbler project been a learning experience! In order to save a little money I checked craigslist.com for a used tumbler, and was fortunate to find a Lortone for $15. I thought that the gods were with me on that one, and was SURE I was tantilizingly close to beads so shiny I could see myself! Not so much. I found the plastic filler beads at Joanne’s and added them to the tumbler along with water and my polymer beads. Nothing happened. After two days of tumbling I added some cheap faux pearls from the craft store (I thought there may not be enough volume in the tumbler). Nothing. Taking a cue from your thoughtful members, I added a bit of super fine sand for some grit. Huge mistake. What I got was a black slush that stained the beads! Lots of washing and burnishing diminished the stain, but the beads were still darker than they should be. Next I dumped all the slushy sand and went back to plastic beads, pearls, polymer beads, and a very small amount of dishwashing soap. The beads were cleaned up, but certainly not shiny. I’m going to the craft store today to buy some rough decorative rocks and will add that to the tumbler. After all these days of tumbling my kids are convinced I’m nuts, and spending way too much time on polymer beads!

    I’ll post further if I am finally satisfied with my beads.

  26. Cindy Lietz, 17 June, 2009

    Spending too much time making polymer clay beads? That’s impossible Mary! :-)

    Did you get a chance to see the tutorial video that is previewed in this post? I have found that using the river rocks really is the best method I’ve found, out of all of them, for polishing your beads.

    It is fun to try the others as well, but as you can see, some don’t work as well. That is why I don’t make a video on something until I find a method that works easily and well.

    Definitely let us know how the river rocks work for you. I think you will be pleased. But even if you’re not, all of us here will be happy to help!

  27. Cheryl, 26 June, 2009

    I bought a rotary tumbler from Michael’s some years ago for my daughter. Can I use that? The barrel seems kind of small?

  28. Cindy Lietz, 29 June, 2009

    Sure you can Cheryl. It won’t hold as much and will wear out quicker, but it still has the tumbling action that makes the technique work.

  29. 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 “Polymer Clay Rock Tumbler” link by my name above to have a look.

  30. Tiffany, 19 January, 2010

    Well, another lesson learned the hard way! I put all the torn watercolor beads I made for the bead challenge in the rock tumbler, and left to do my errands. When I got home and rinsed off the beads, most of the color was gone from them! Now they look like plain white beads with black streaks on them. I’m so bummed!! At least I still have some clay made for them. I will have to start over. Should I even sand these beads, or just polish them? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

  31. Cindy Lietz, 19 January, 2010

    @Melody: Isn’t it so nice to get help for the others here at the blog? It really is making this place quite the valuable resource. I am so grateful to everyone!

    @Tiffany: I am sorry to hear that happened. The colored layer was most likely too thin to handle being tumbled in your rock polisher. Go ahead and make them again, but this time try to remove any fingerprints with cornstarch before baking so heavy sanding isn’t necessary. Then you can do a light hand sand with 600 grit, only if necessary and then buff them with your Dremel or a piece of felt. I am really looking forward to seeing your entry to the contest. It will be so much fun to see what everyone comes up with. Good luck!

  32. Tiffany, 19 January, 2010

    Thanks for the advice, I will try again tomorrow. The jupiter beads I made came out very well, though the color is a little more muted than I like. I will just have to see how they look after polishing.

  33. Carrie, 14 May, 2010

    Got my tumbler! I have a huge bracelet order coming up (about 100 of em) and they are all really small beads. No way my fingers would hold up to sand all of them!! However, I got some river rock at my dollar store and filled the barrel 1/3 full and then filled it to the 2/3 mark with some jupiter beads. I ran it for 2 hours and I saw NO difference. The rocks aren’t the polished ones. What is wrong???

  34. Phaedrakat, 14 May, 2010

    @Carrie: I haven’t tried this yet, Carrie, but I was wondering what kind of tumbler you bought? I want to buy one, but I’m trying to get the best deal I can. Did you follow the directions in the video? Perhaps you need more rock — I might need to watch again, but I thought the proportions were 1/2 rock, then add the beads. I’ll double check… Also, do you have a vibratory or rotory tumbler? There’s lots of variations in the ratio of beads to medium, but most of the posts I’ve read have quite a bit more medium to beads. Meaning, you should have a lot more rock and less beads. (I’m going on what I’ve read, and what the video said — although now, I’m confused and need to watch it again! LOL) Also, if it’s a rotary tumbler, I think it might need to go longer.

    Hopefully someone with more experience can help here, but in the meantime, let us know what kind of tumbler (vib. or rotary) and if you’ve seen the video or not. That will probably help in finding an answer for you. Good luck (I hope to be joining you soon in getting lots of smooth beads!)

  35. Cindy Lietz, 17 May, 2010

    @Carrie: Sorry to take so long Carrie to pop in here myself. Thank God for Phaedrakat, coming to the rescue! I know the sandpaper thing works but it is a pain in the long run since they so quickly wear out. Trust me I have tumbled hundreds of beads. Since the river rock you used did not work, I am thinking it was too smooth. Maybe even polished rock? If the river rock is too smooth it won’t have enough grit to ‘sand’ the beads properly. You may want to keep an eye out for other rocks that will work for you since they pretty much have an unlimited lifespan and are less hassle in the long run.

  36. Tiffany, 14 May, 2010

    Hi Ladies,

    I got my Lorton tumbler on ebay. I paid $50.00 for a used one, and it came with 2 tumblers. I have one for use with the rocks, and the other for use with the felt for polishing. It is great! I have Rhuemetoid Arthritis, and it sure has cut down on my sore hands.

  37. Phaedrakat, 15 May, 2010

    @Tiffany: What a great deal! I’ll check there and see if I get lucky, too! I’m so glad tumble sanding is working out for you. That’s pretty exciting, right? I can only imagine how hard it was before — sanding would be awful with arthritis!

    @Carrie: Where did you buy your tumbler? (I’m looking for a good deal.) I’m so happy that you’re seeing some progress now! I can’t wait to be able to just throw in my beads and have them smoothed, as if by magic! I gotta admit, I hate sanding… (Buffing isn’t bad, in fact it’s fun to see the shine come up…)

    Does anyone know about the quality of Harbor Freight’s 3 lb. Rotary Tumbler? It looks quite similar to the Lortone, but it’s $32.99. Quite a discount, but I know how the Lortone lasts “forever” (just look at Cindy’s tumbler — used to be Doug’s when he was a kid!) I don’t want to sacrifice the quality for a discounted machine that’s gonna fall apart on me in a few months. H.F. also has the double barrel rotary tumbler (about $45) and a vibratory tumbler ($54.xx.)

    Anyway, if you’ve tried these or heard anything about the quality of Harbor Freight’s tumblers, could you please let me know? Thanks!

  38. Carrie, 15 May, 2010

    I have a Lortone rotary tumbler. I tried the sandpaper squares last night and after 2 hours of tumbling at 400 grit I saw a very noticable difference! I still have a few grits to go. I think this method is going to work best for me! I’ll let everyone know how it works after the other grits!

  39. Carrie, 15 May, 2010

    I got mine at hobbywarehouse.com and it was $68.99. It is magic! And I’m totally the same way with buffing! Love to see that shine come on!

  40. Rada, 23 September, 2010

    So as I am new to this, I’m just testing things out to see what works best. I got one of the kiddie tumblers at Michael’s. I think I ran the beads for way too long because after 4-6 hours they still had the white stuff on them. Instead of trying to buff it out, I put them back in there and ran them over night. Some beads had a stamped print on them, the imprint kind of worn off, not all the way, but it’s not as visible. So I learned not to leave my beads in there for too long haha. Some beads had little cracks, which either means that I didn’t condition the clay long enough or maybe they got cracked during tumbling (I haven’t read anyone else having this problem, so I probably need to condition my clay better.. lesson learned :) ) So after two days of tumbling, I still had white stuff – I used light color river rock with water and a little bit of soap. Went back to reading the forum and saw that some people tried to buff it out. I buffed some beads and the shine came through. I will try to do the dry rice next and see if that works.

    I would love to experiment more with this stuff, but I am two weeks away from labor, so the baby will probably take all of my time at first. Really wish I’ve found Cindy’s website a long time ago as I’ve been reading about polymer clay for over a year, but was always scared to jump into it. Cindy’s videos really made polymer clay a “user friendly” hobby :)

  41. Phaedrakat, 23 September, 2010

    Hi Rada, how exciting you’ve got a little one on the way! Making polymer clay beads is a great way to reduce any stress you might be having…too bad you’re having tumbler issues. You do have to tumble a little longer with the “kiddie” tumblers, but two days is quite a long time! Are your beads baked thoroughly? You need to bake them for at least an hour…so they’re nice, hard, and strong. (If they’re not completely cured, the plasticizers inside will cause cracking.) Baking longer will make them easier to sand/tumble, too. When you put your beads back in after 4-6 hrs, did you rinse out the tumbler and start w/fresh soap & water?

    I’m sure your problem will get sorted out…there are lots of members here that use this method (and kiddie tumblers.) Hopefully they’ll pop in and leave you more ideas to try! I couldn’t agree more about Cindy’s videos…makes you want to grab the clay and go. There are many tutes that make you WANT to clay, but the difference with Cindy’s videos is that you really DO grab that clay…she gives you the confidence to start the projects. I’ve read so many other people say the same thing. Something about her teaching style gives you that boost, knowing you’ll be able to do it if you just try. That’s just one of many reasons I’m a devoted Cindy fan… ;D

    Best of luck…for your clay AND the baby on the way!!! ~Kat

  42. Maria, 23 September, 2010

    Well, I FINALLY purchased a rotary tumbler from Harbor Freight. (see very first comment in this blog made well over a year ago!) Wanted to share an amusing experience – I innocently thought I could purchase stainless steel shot for doing wire work at the the local gun shop. Well, they don’t carry separate pellets anymore – they’re all encased in shells. I have visions of exploding jewelry in my studio :) I’m going to get some pellets from a jewelry supply store tomorrow – phew!

  43. Tiffany, 23 September, 2010

    Rada, first and most important, CONRATULATIONS!! Children are such a blessing, I pray you will have a fast and uneventful labor and delivery. Please let us know when he or she is born. I had a similar experience with my rock tumbler. I made some beautiful torn water color beads, put them in the tumbler and went to bed. In the morning I was so anxious to see the beautiful shine on my pretty beads, only to find that they no longer had any color! I had tumbled them so long all of the water color clay was tumbled right off! Oh I was just crushed, but lesson learned. Beads with a thin layer of color on them do not need to be tumbled quite so long. What is the white rice technique you spoke of? I would love to know about it. Welcome to the group, Cindy is an amazing teacher!

  44. Rada, 23 September, 2010

    Thank you all for the comments. :) Kat, now that I think about it, I just added more water and didn’t really rinse out the tumbler. Hmm good point. I do bake my beads for an hour, but I think some which cracked were from when I first started and had no clue what I was doing (pre-Cindy time haha).

    Tiffany, thank you, I can’t wait until I see my baby’s little face :). It’s my first, so I’m not really sure what to expect, I guess take it one day at a time. I read about the rice technique in another tumbler forum. Cindy said to use dry rice, no water. I added the link next to my name.

  45. Rada, 23 September, 2010

    Hmm… I dont think the link worked… here it is:
    Using Dry Rice In Your Rock Tumbler

  46. Phaedrakat, 24 September, 2010

    @Maria: OMG, love your story, Maria! That sounds incredibly scary (and funny…after the fact!) Did you happen to get the salesperson involved? I can only imagine your thoughts when you saw those shells…explosions, shots, oh my! Yep, I think sticking with jeweler’s shot is a little safer, LOL.

    Actually, the white rice method that Rada spoke of was originally mentioned by Cindy to stiffen wire…the way it cleans up polymer clay was discovered later (from what I remember.) I’ll have to follow her link to check for sure. Thanks for the laugh…seems we run into trouble looking for supplies in all aspects of our craft! ;D

    @Rada: Hi Rada, I’m even more excited knowing this is your first baby. Children really are a blessing…I’m thrilled for you, and I’ll be doing the same as Tiffany…hoping you have a safe delivery and a healthy baby! As for your beads, sounds like you’re on the right track to finding an answer. Do let us know if you run into any other problems…so much experience here, and so many people willing to help! ~Kat

    FYI — Leaving links: When you want to add the URL/address for another post or comment here at the blog, just leave the link in or at the bottom of your comment (minus the “http…” & “www.“) Doug turns the address you provided into a “proper” hyperlink later…it’s not an automatic process.
    Hope that helps…

  47. Maria, 24 September, 2010

    @ Phaedrakat – actually all my interactions were done safely over the telephone – no actual shots were involved… but the visions are certainly explosive : ) Soooo… do you mean to tell me that instead of paying 23 + USD per lb of shot, I can get away with using rice???!!!!!! Hooray!!!

  48. Phaedrakat, 26 September, 2010

    @Maria: Haha!..It sure looks like it…I haven’t tried it myself, but there are several comments about this. Lisa W. is one of the members who’s tried using rice. You can see her comments about it on the other thread…or you could try asking about her experiences — like if she’s still using it, and if she’s tried it on the metal. Apparently (from the other thread,) Cindy read the tip elsewhere. I really hope it DOES work…I would prefer to buy some rice at the grocery store than having to mail order a lb. of steel shot at $20-something plus shipping! :D
    Anyway, good luck with your new tumbler, and ‘whichever’ tumbling medium you choose! ~Kat

    @Anna: Very true…talking about rice, cornstarch, and other things here at the blog IS like on a cooking show. And there’s Recipes, too, which could certainly help Rada with inspiration for the baby’s name. Great idea! Especially for a girl…there’s Misty, Sapphire, Sunny, Lily, Iris, Poppy, & many others…that’s just after taking a quick look! ;D

    I had a bit more trouble finding boy’s names, but there’s River, Bud, Thorn, Marsh(all), Reed(s) — well, OK, I had to play with the names a bit, LOL! And is it just me, or do those names sound like character’s from soap operas…or romance novels? Just kidding. Cindy’s Palettes and colors DO have beautiful names, usually based on nature. That’s a great way to name a child, although I’m sure Rada will choose a wonderful name for her baby, without having to “make it fit” like I was trying to do. I hope she and her baby are doing really well! :D ~Kat

  49. Anna Sabina, 25 September, 2010

    I had a problem with a film on the first beads I tumbled. the only thing I could think of was the rocks I used had some sort of coating on them. I now do use a little water and a drop of dish soap in my vibrating tumbler-even though it says do not use liquids. I have been doing that over a year and no problems. Good luck with the birth of you Babe. Wishing you a quick and pain free delivery. If you are undecided on a name you can always use one of Cindy’s recipe color names for inspiration.

    Anna, Des Moines Iowa

  50. Anna Sabina, 25 September, 2010

    I forgot one more thing. it has been a while since cornstarch has been mentioned. Rice and Corn Starch…. sounds like a cooking show. I use a tad bit of cornstarch on my finger tips to reduce fingerprints. I also do a final roll of the beads in the middle of the palm of my hands or with a piece of paper. the fewer imperfection in the beads before baking, the less need to sand. I wash of any cornstarch residue before putting them in the tumbler.

  51. Rada, 26 September, 2010

    Lol! Kat you’re funny. We did pick out a name for our baby a while ago.. Aurora Padme. Aurora because we are in Alaska and Padme because it means Lotus in Sanscrit language and it’s my favorite flower. So I guess without even knowing the flower part of it played a big roll hehe. Haven’t really been on here in a little bit, just feels like there are so many things to do before the due date.

    I am going to try the river rocks more and make sure I rinse everything in between tumblings. But first I have to make more beads =o).

  52. Cindy Lietz, 27 September, 2010

    @Rada: My goodness Rada that is such a gorgeous name! I love nature based names so much I named my children Willow and Fisher. My heart is with you during this last part of your pregnancy and the beginning of your new life with your baby. I wish you a quick and easy birth. Do keep us updated and take care of yourself.

  53. Laura Z, 26 December, 2010

    So excited, got a 2 barrel Lortone Rock Tumbler for Christmas! Can’t wait to get started – more tumbling, less sanding!! WOOT!!

  54. Laura Z, 09 January, 2011

    Okay, so I’ve been using my tumbler (Lortone 2 barrel). I’m not sure if I’m doing something wrong or what. I can’t seem to get the white powder to go away. I’ve tumbled my smaller beads ranging from prolly 8mm to 20mm with a few lentils thrown in. I made half of them with the bead roller and half with plastic gloves on. Minimal fingerprints going on. Tossed them in the tumbler with 8mm (or less) river rock pebbles and water just over the top and a drop or two of dish detergent. Let them run from about 7:00pm last night till about 9:00am this morning. Got up thinking woohoo these are gonna be great! Well, got them out, rinsed them off and let them dry. White powder! Ugh…okay put them back in with clean water (rinsed the stones till water was clear) and dish detergent. Let them run for about an hour and a half. Took them out and more white powder! What the heck! More rock rinsing, clear water, dish soap and let them run again for about 3 hours and find I have less powder but still powder nonetheless. Did another complete rinse and they are in again, but I’m getting really frustrated. I didn’t think it was supposed to take this long. If it is and I’m being impatient please let me know, otherwise, can someone tell me what I’m doing wrong?

  55. Phaedrakat, 11 January, 2011

    @Laura Z: Hi Laura, you said your beads were fairly smooth going in anyway, so 14 plus really DOES sound like they were tumbled too long. Still, I can’t afford my Lortone yet, so….I can only help by replying (which should “bump” your question to the recent comments list.) Hopefully it will attract some attention & get you some help! ;)

    You said the beads are powdery…are they super-smooth? If so, have you tried buffing one on your jeans or something to see if the powder comes off? What does happen? Or, if your beads aren’t smooth after all that tumbling…perhaps your rocks are not as smooth and rounded as they should be? Did you sort them, choosing only the nice, rounded ones? Maybe the rocks have some kind of weird coating on them (the other thread mentioned a glaze that caused problems…a “Comet slurry” did the trick.) One last question…are your beads baked thoroughly? Properly cured beads come out nice & hard, and are easier to sand…

    A couple people had questions similar to yours on the other thread; it was before Cindy’s video tute came out. It might still be helpful, though. There are some good tips and rather funny comments on the other thread, too…people were experimenting with all kinds of stuff in their tumblers. Here’s Cindy’s reply about the white powder on beads.

    Good luck with this, Laura! I can’t wait to hear everything’s working great for you, and that you have a beautiful batch of perfectly tumbled & buffed beads! :D

  56. Cindy Lietz, 15 January, 2011

    @Laura Z: Phaedrakat did such a great and thorough job helping you with this problem Laura. Did you try those things she suggested? Did the articles help? I hope so. Usually I just tumble a couple of hours then rinse and repeat until the residue is gone. (Or at least close to it.) It is one of those things that have so many different variables, that you will just have to experiment until your get something that works for you. Tumbling polymer clay beads is not a miracle cure (at least not until we find an even better way of doing it). It is just a helpful tool to cut down on the tedious labour of sanding. DO let us know how it goes.

  57. Laura Z, 16 January, 2011

    Thanks Kat and Cindy! Wow, what a thorough response Kat! Thanks so much! I’ve been baking my beads at 265 for 1 hour. I initially started them at 265 for 1/2 hour but then after lots of reading on the blog increased the time. Some of those beads were baked at a lesser time so that may have been the issue. That search button has become my best friend! LOL!!

    Well, I finally stopped tumbling and tried buffing the beads with my dremel and the attachment that Cindy told us about in one of her tutorials. Most of the beads came out just gorgeous and had a finish like glass. Some of the smaller beads that I rolled with plastic gloves turned out well, but had a slight cast to them. I have since tried using wet/dry sandpaper glued back to back in with the stones with a 600 grit in one tumbler and an 800 grit in the other and am doing them in stages. The batch that I did yesterday came out beautifully. I tumbled for about 2 hours at each level and they came out powder free! I am so excited! What a feeling when you open your barrel and rinse out your treasures and find they are just what you wanted. I have to buff tomorrow and will let you know the final results. I am confident they will be just what I am looking for.

    Now if I can get my mischievous cat to stop stealing my beads! My husband found a bead in the basement today, little stinker ;D

  58. Kelsey Q, 18 June, 2012

    The first sentence of this article, “If you have a pile of beads just waiting to be sanded because you keep on putting off this tedious chore” made me laugh in recognition. I have about 9 egg cartons full of beads marked “to sand.” I just got an old rotary tumbler from a friend and I’ve been reading these comments as well as other advice on the web, and I’m overwhelmed because it seems like there are a hundred different ways to do it! It’s wonderful to get advice from so many different people.

  59. Karen Field, 20 July, 2016

    Hi Cindy!

    I just purchased the video on using a Rock Tumbler to polish beads. While I was watching it and you were saying to use river rock, I had light bulb moment! They are very few and far between so I am rejoicing as we speak! lol I have the Lortone Tumbler and I use it for shining up my metal jewelry and with that I use steel shot. Would I be able to use the steel shot with my beads? I would think I could as rocks are very hard and the steel shot comes in all these neat little shapes for getting in to the nooks and crannies. What do you think?


  60. Cindy Lietz, 21 July, 2016

    Hi Karen, unfortunately the steel shot is not going to work to polish your polymer clay. What you need is something with a very fine abrasive surface. That is why the rocks works so well. Another option is to by a plastic substrate, like the ones in this video…

    How To Polish Polymer Clay Beads In A Rock Tumbler

  61. Sally Hobson, 19 August, 2020

    Hi, I’m about to buy a stone tumbler for my ceramics and I saw you use it on your polymore clay. I was going to buy some plastic pellets And cones and some silicon carbide – have you tried that at all? Thought I’d ask as I wasn’t sure if it would be ok and what size grit to get. Though obviously ceramics will be different to the clay you use. Anyway let me know what you think; I’ll let you know how I go with it!

  62. Sally Hobson, 23 August, 2020

    i ended up getting the 400 silicon carbide so ill let you know how it goes.

  63. Cindy Lietz, 24 August, 2020

    Hi Sally, sorry about the slow response. The first video you should watch is this one… How To Polish Polymer Clay Beads In A Rock Tumbler … It explains the substrate I used in my tumbler more for polishing polymer clay beads.

    As far as using grits there has been some experimenting done by a couple other polymer clay artists, named Ken Epperly and Bella Giovanni. Here is the link to the paper they wrote if you want to check that out as well. I haven’t tried the grits they have suggested myself yet, so you will need to decide whether the info is helpful for you or not.

    Hopefully that will help get you pointed in the right direction. Let me know how it goes!

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