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Making Tumbled Glass Jewelry

The term trash to treasure is getting old but this article is litterally about using empty glass bottles you would throw in the trash to make jewelry. No! I’m not kidding!


Making Tumbled Glass JewelryDo you know how you get an idea and then it leads to another and then another? Well, this is part of that evolution that started with Making Sea Glass Jewelry. When I discovered that sea glass was not too easy to find anymore and pricey to buy, I started to explore other options and came upon making my own “sea glass” with a rock tumbler.

Now, you’re asking, “What’s a Rock Tumbler?” Well, it’s a cool invention for smoothing the edges of rocks. It has a cylinder that can be filled with rocks, water and grit or sand. Then the cylinder sits on a couple of rods that rotate it and tumble the rocks with the grit. The grit smooths the rock so it can be displayed or used for jewelry.

Now, a Rock Tumbler is about $50 (starting at $35.00 and up to a couple of hundred but the $50 one is good). Plus you’ll need the different levels of grit (coarse grit, fine grit and polish) which are about $30.00. Each batch produces a large supply of stuff for jewelry making. You can find rock tumblers and grit at Amazon.

Typically, smoothing rocks may take several weeks or a week per grit or polish. Don’t panic! Glass doesn’t take that long because it’s not as dense as rocks so I found that it takes anywhere from a few days to a week depending on the outcome you are looking for. If you want the glass to have a courser opaque or milky look less time is required and you may be able to get what you want with one run of coarse grit. But if you want a very smooth polished look it will be a little longer using only the fine grit and maybe a couple days in polish.

Making Tumbled Glass JewelryI wish I could be more scientific and specific about the grit to use and the time it takes but it depends very much on the thickness of glass you are tumbling and what end result you are looking for. So, just check every day until you get the hang of it.

Once your gems come from the tumbler and meet or exceed your expectations, wrap them in wire (which can be purchased at a craft or hardware store) around all the sides so that it won’t slip through any gaps and is safely secured. You may notice that I always overextend the wire at the bottom and twist it near the tumbled glass while leaving a loop to dangle crystals or some other embellishment.

The top picture is just a plain sliver of clear glass wrapped in a fine silver wire. While wrapping the wire I slid on a filigree butterfly as if he is alighted on the side and some colorful crystals as if they are flowers in his garden paradise. The wire extends up to a bail connector which hangs the pendant from the necklace (scroll down to find out what I use as necklace material…you’ll be amazed!!!)

I do recommend using thick glass such as along the neck and bottom of bottles. I wrap bottles in an old towel and whack it with a hammer very carefully (great stress release). Pick through the pieces (again, very carefully) and pull out the thickest pieces for tumbling. Try to match thickness in each cylinder because by the time thick glass is where you want it the thinner pieces have disintegrated.

Making Tumbled Glass JewelryAlso, I found sea glass came in very few colors. By making tumbled glass jewelry you have more control over the colors of glass. I made this celestial dream pendant from the blue glass of an empty bottle of Riesling Wine.

In case you are wondering what I used to make the necklace; it’s cheese cloth! I cut the length of cheese cloth in 18” sections and dye them different colors. Then I cut the dyed sections into long strips, slide on a pendant and tie the ends. It’s easy, makes a nice casual lacy finish and best of all it’s soft around your neck. Don’t fret about the width to cut each strip. Make them different widths and you’ll find each lends a unique look. Pull the strips through your fingers to tame the loose ends for a clean look or pull the strip wide to fluff the edges for an airy wispy look.

Red glass is very unique and hard to find yet I managed to get this beauty from a glass found at a local thrift store. I decided to wrap it with a thin silver wire that would fade in and not take away from the rich color of the glass. Embellished with a couple of crystals, a faux pearl and a lucky dragonfly it hangs from another bail connector.

Making Notice the wire is wrapped in a way to cradle this rounded tumbled glass securely so it will not slide out of any gaps. I found this silver tree played well on the green tumbled glass background (from a wine bottle). I twisted the wire at the bottom a couple of times, pulled it straight to slide on a box crystal and then made a loop ring to hang the golden ball crystal. The ring at the top for the necklace was made by looping the wire three times with three crystals slid on and located where the front middle loop will be located. Then I used the left over wire to wrap between each crystal to secure them in place.

OK! I started this article about building on ideas so I need to tell you that from Making Tumbled Glass Jewelry I moved to Making Stained Glass Jewelry. You may not be into Stained Glass Art (yet) but you can buy the glass from a stained glass studio or on-line and you’ll get to select from countless colors and patterns of glass. Check it out!