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Tool Talk Thursday: Tumbling Ceramic Beads

Stoneware stained beads and fired to Cone5 before tumbling

I like to tumble some of my stoneware beads that have been stained and fired to cone 5.  Tumbling gives the beads a soft satiny feel and removes any extra stain that was not absorbed into the clay when it was originally fired. I tumble the beads between 30 and 60 minutes. In my trials recently, I have found that some stains stay on better than others. Teal, Purple, Copper Carbonate, Ferrous Oxide stay on well. Some of the lighter color stains like crimson and light brown become very pale after being tumbled.

I recently purchases the clear plastic tumbler barrel seen on the left.  The one on the right is made of rubber and can be a problem if you are tumbling ceramic beads.  The inside black rubber rubs off on the beads giving them a slightly gray color.  Rubber tumbler barrels are also noted for getting the black sludgies--a  term I have for when the fluid turns pitch black.  Not such a problem for metal findings but can be, as i said for tumbling beads.

Here is a picture of the tumbler filled with stainless steel shot.  Stainless steel is great since it never rusts.  I always store my shot in the tumbler barrel in fluid.

Here is a picture of my new tumbler barrel with burnishing fluid.  You can purchase this kind of fluid from a number of places.  Mine came from Rio Grande as did the tumbler itself.  Luckily I was able to find a plastic clear barrel that fits my tumbler and didn't need to purchase a new machine. 

Here is a picture of the tumbler in action.  I did this outside, luckily, since I had some problems fitting the new lid on and it leaked quite a bit at first.

If you are interested in trying tumbling your beads, you can purchase tumblers in many on line jewelry supply stores now such as Rio Grande, Ring and Things, and Fire Mountain.   I recommend that you invest in a quality tumbler since the very cheap ones, I have heard,  burn out quickly.  Make sure that the way the top is attached works for you.  Some are more difficult to tighten and take apart than others.  Both of mine are kind of difficult.  I like mine because it is a workhorse and because it has the interchangeable barrels.  I don't really like the way the lid goes on.  Most vendors will sell you the shot you need to smooth out your product on the same page as the tumbler.  I recommend using the stainless steel shot.  The burnishing fluid is important for polishing metal.  I have use a drop or two of Dawn for the beads and it works well with them--helps them slide smoothly through the shot.

Stoneware Beads Fired to Cone5   after being tumbled. 

You can see that the dark crimson stain mostly washed off.  The purple came out really great.  Others are about the same as before.

Posted by Mary Harding


  1. Mary,

    I have been told that I can "tumble" my smooth bisqued beads instead of wet sanding them as greenware....Have you ever tried that? Thanks for another great tip!

  2. I've tumbled bisque beads. It works great. Gives them a VERY smooth finish.

  3. I do wipe my beads before I bisque fire them to get any major clumps of clay off, but I also tumble them after the firing as well. Can't believe I didn't do it sooner. I just use an old kiddie rock tumbler.

  4. Thanks for the hint about the clear tumbler and what to put into it. I bought a tumbler over a year ago then put it up on a shelf because I just didn't really know what to do with it.

  5. Great...thanks! I am going to invest in one as soon as I have a little more in my paypal! Definitely sounds like a time saver...but I was told to only use it on smooth beads, not textured. I think one of the things I hate most is wet sanding them. I actually procrastinating about doing that while I write! Makes my fingers hurt :O(

  6. The tumbler is my best friend! Mary, can you put just a wee bit of frit into the colours that don't stick? I think I read somewhere about someone famous doing that when they wanted an unglazed surface with colour.

  7. very nice ! Do you mind telling the brand of tumbler and aprox. price?


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