Saturday, 25 June 2011

Adventure #3: The Taming of the Tumbler

Well, finally this post sees the light of day! After three weeks at our house with no internet, we are reconnected at last. For my third adventure as a noob beader, I'd like to talk about my taming of the rotary tumbler. I bought my tumbler a little over a month ago and spent a few weeks with my first few batches of beads perfecting my sanding and buffing techniques using the tumbler.

So why the tumbler? The classic method for sanding cured polymer clay beads is using wet/dry sandpaper of different grits and sanding each bead by hand. To me, this sounded tedious and likely to take some of the enjoyment out of creating beautiful beads. Reading further, I saw that some people were using rock tumblers to sand and/or buff their beads. The wet/dry sandpaper technique can be used in a rotary or vibrating tumbler by cutting up small squares of sandpaper and combining these with your beads and some soapy water in your tumbling chamber. Each grit would take about six hours to tumble.

Another technique I came across was outlined in Desiree's tutorial and involves using river rocks. I got my hands on some river rocks that were quite a bit larger than the ones in the tutorial and, having a strange aversion to putting water in my tumbler, I tried it dry (and yes,I know they're made to take water but...I'm a noob!). Tumbling my first batch for four hours, I was pretty happy with the result after buffing the beads by hand on a piece of calico. But I still wanted to perfect my technique.

I bought some aquarium gravel from BigW next. Then I set about the painstaking process of sorting through the tiny bits of gravel to select the smoothest stones with the least jaggy-bits! At least it gave me something to do, seeing I was web-less ;) I sanded my next batch of beads with the tumbling chamber a little over half full of gravel, for four hours. I then washed the beads, dried them and buffed them with small squares of calico, tumbling for eight hours. Each bead was then hand buffed with a piece of calico for mere seconds to really bring up the shine. Image 1 shows the results, with the tumble-sanded and buffed bead on the left and the unsanded, unbuffed bead on the right.

Since then, I have stuck with this technique for the most part. I have tried varying the amount of time I tumble for and have found that 6-8 hours seems the best. Here are some of the other observations I have made using this technique:
  • There is a fine balance in the number of beads you can sand at once. The guidelines on my tumbler suggest the tumbling chamber should be no more or less than ¾ full. I use a little over half the chamber full of gravel and then fill to ¾ full with beads.
  • Sanding using this method gives your beads a beautiful, polished finish, but it does not remove prominent irregularities or fingerprints. For these, you will still need to sand any problem areas by hand using wet/dry sandpaper before tumbling for the overall smooth.
  • Similarly, the tumbler is not as effective with strange-shaped beads, pendants or beads with protrusions/sharp edges. These will also need to be sanded by hand using the wet/dry sandpaper technique. It has worked well for me for tubular, round, square, bicone, lentil and oval-shaped beads.
I am extremely happy with the lovely smoothness and shiny finish on my beads since I've been using the tumbler for sanding and buffing. I did a lot of reading and trolling through various forums to get to a method that works best for me and my beads, so I wanted to share this with everyone in case you find it works for you too! I finally feel like I've tamed the beast and the method I'm using seems fairly "noob"-proof!

Here are links to some of the sites that helped me along the way:
Desiree takes a very comprehensive look at various sanding and buffing methods in her how-to's -
On Cindy Lietz's site, there is a lot of info in the comments on this page, if you have the patience to read through them all, people have tried many different things in their tumblers -

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