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Saturday, 22 January 2011

Tumbling Polymer Clay Beads

I've been thinking for some time about getting a tumbler to sand and polish my polymer clay beads.  I've done some sanding by hand but soon realised that the amount of work involved to get good results is just too much for me.  So I've been varnishing beads without much, if any, sanding and I'm not entirely happy with the results.  The beads still look good but I know they could be better.
I did some research, and started a thread on the Folksy forum.  No one who answered me had a tumbler but it definitely confirmed that there is nothing better than thorough sanding to get a good finish.
I had a good look on the internet, some sites I already had bookmarked and some that were recommended by Folksy polyclayers.
I then searched for UK suppliers for tumblers.  There are several sites that sell tumblers for rock polishing, and a couple that sell them with a view to polishing and hardening metal jewellery.  I decided that the Lortane which was recommended by polymer clay users, though more expensive than others, was the best for my use.
I found one on Palmer Metals. It's tricky to find as putting 'tumbler' into their search function doesn't bring it up. You have to look in their precious metal clay tools section.
It is designed to hold up to 3lbs weight. It's certainly big enough for me.  If you use it for tumbling silver or copper jewellery components (which I intend to at some point) you use it with stainless steel shot which is quite heavy.  I've bought 500g, which sounds like a lot but it's heavy so isn't very much! It's expensive though so I didn't want to buy 1kg.   I'll only be tumbling small amounts of metal so I hope the 500g will be plenty.
The barrel is made of thick rubber which will muffle the noise when it's tumbling metal.  The motor is pretty quiet but I wouldn't want it in the room with me, it would get annoying.  I used it in my hallway and with the living room door shut I couldn't hear it.
  Here is the barrel filled with my beads and chopped up pieces of sandpaper.  I only had 3 grades prepared,  600, 800  and 1000 grade.  The lower the number the coarser the grade.  I have now got some 400 grade as well which I'll use next time.
I had to glue sheets of wet and dry sandpaper back to back then when dry cut it into small pieces. I'm not sure if the size matters, I'll have to go back to my research and check what was recommended! I'm also not sure if I had enough sandpaper in there.  To sand, you add water and a drop of washing up liquid and tumble starting with the coarser grade, working up to the very fine grade.  I tumbled for about 3 hours with each grade but I think it  needs as long as 6 or more hours for each grade to get a really good surface. I will be less impatient in future!  I was thinking of adding a sandpaper liner to the barrel as well but when I opened the barrel, most of the sandpaper was stuck round the edges of the barrel, so it maybe isn't worth bothering with that.  It's a very long winded process so would take a couple of days for me to get beads properly sanded but should be worth it.  I was pretty happy with the results. Here is one of the tutorials that I found really helpful - http://www.desiredcreations.com/howTo_TLTumbleSandPaper.htm

So the next phase is buffing.  Many people recommend buffing with a dremel or similar power tool, using a special buffing wheel made with fabric (I think calico or muslin is generally used). I don't have a dremel, and people did admit it's fiddly and can result sometimes in beads shooting across the room! It does however give stunning results.
I decided to try one method recommended for the tumbler which is using chamois leather.  I bought a chamois from Wilco for about 99p and cut it up into pieces to go into the barrel with the beads.  The other recommended material is denim and I saw on one website that someone had made a liner for the barrel from denim (they used white denim so as not to risk dye getting onto the beads)  I made a liner with the chamois, sewing it to some polyester wadding to give it body. It was easy to make, a strip sewn into a cylinder, and two circles for top and bottom.
I tumbled the beads all day and I'm pretty pleased with the results.  I plan to get some denim (maybe some old jeans from the charity shop) and try using that as well, to see if the results are any different.)
I've finished the beads off with a light coating of Renaissance wax to seal them and here they are.  Sorry the photos aren't better quality, they are a little blurry!

 Now to decide what to do with the beads!  The top beads will make a necklace and hopefully there will be enough to do a bracelet and/or earrings too.
The bottom beads were made to be spacers and I need to make some focals/pendants to go with them.
I'm glad I made the investment in the tumbler, though very time consuming it only takes a minute or two to set up and the tumbler is designed to work non stop so I can run it overnight, or while I'm out.


Bedecked Beads said...

I am hopeless at sanding polymer clay. I hope that this works out for you! I have been using a Renaissance wax which gives a lovely satin sheen

Teresa Kintner Gunderson said...

Go to the thrift stores and ask if they have jeans they can't sell because of holes, or busted zippers or what have you. Mine has sold me huge boxes (I wanted that much for sewing) for next to nothing - that way you aren't cutting up perfectly useful clothes!

I tumble a bit in a kid's tumbler and I love doing it, and I also buff with denim squares in it. Very handy. If you do want to try a dremel for buffing bigger pieces, or drilling holes, try the Dremel Stylus. It's handheld, looks a bit like a Star Trek phaser. ;-) I lovelovelove mine!

A Deegan said...

a great read, thank you.

Shoogly Beads said...

Mike hasn't read this yet but I'm sure he'll be as impressed as I am!!! Thank you for the lovely comment about his heart beads...I think, without giving away his trade secrets!! He picks the very, very best of what he makes then makes perfectly engineered moulds...I'd never have the patience but he was an engineer in a previous life..and a perfectionist...wish he was also tidy!!!

Anonymous said...

Great read, thanks so much! I have a small tumbler on its way to me for use with silver and copper jewellery but after reading this I will also be using it for some polymer clay sanding as I haven't got the patience for sanding by hand, it takes soooo long!
Your beads have come up great, they're really lovely!
Love Kitty x

BeaderBubbe said...

Love your beads. I dabble a little in polymer but not as good as you....love colorful beads....found you through Flickr....look me up..


Lace hearts said...

What lovely beads. My children had a tumbler once, but a very basic one, obviously. But they had a lot of fun with it.

Anonymous said...

Such gorgeous beads! The tumbler will clearly save you lots of time and I'm thrilled that you are so pleased with the results. Looking forward to seeing what new treasures you will create with them.
Hugs xxxx

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