If you’re a lampworker, you know that etching beads makes them have a smooth, matte finish. Many people like this surface technique. I am going to tell you about a technique to tumble etch your lampwork beads!
In 2012, I purchased a baroque-shaped beadroller from CG Beads, and started making this style of bead – I first offered them at Bead Fest, and then offered them in my etsy shop. And then I moved on, to different shapes with this finish, on and off for two years now. These beads are etched with Etch-All, and acid-based etch solution. While it works fine, it’s…well…acid, and I wanted to get away from that. Enter Soda Lime Times – a great digital magazine pubished monthly by subscription or single issues for lampworkers by lampworkers (in particular, Diane Woodall). Jim Smirsich’s technique for tumble etching beads was published in 2013. Diane is kindly allowing me to share the information with you.
Using a dedicated tumbler (which you can purchase at Harbor Freight and use their 20% off coupon to save some money), add a couple of packages of glass seed beads (size 5/0 or 6/0) – they don’t have to be expensive, because they are going to be doing a lot of work (I purchased mine at JoAnn’s). Also add about a tablespoon of grit – Jim teaches using silicon carbide grit size 1000; I tried using beach sand and it did not work for me. Kingsley North sells silicon carbide.
Add your beads to the tumbler, and add some water, to just cover the beads. You can tumble for as long as you want – I would recommend experimenting on tumbling time, because there are different finishes you can achieve – a luster appearance all the way to a full etch.
Here are the results of my experimentation with this method. This first bead photo is to show you how etching with acid looks – it etches the whole bead, including the nooks and crannies.
Here are beads I made in the baroque style I made in 2012 unetched.
Here is a photo of the beads etched in the tumbler, for about 4 hours.
You can see the wonderful satin-smooth finish they get. The only thing about tumble etching is that it doesn’t get into the nooks and crannies of beads; you may or may not like that.
More beads etched with tumbler:
The last set in the photo (green) was made with enamel powder – notice that it etches the enamel powder as well.
I decided to try and etch some of my round swirl beads, as well as some smooth focals.
The finish on these beads is so smooth and satiny – it’s a little bit different than using the etch acid liquid – it feels much smoother to the touch. An added bonus is that you don’t have to scrub these beads with a toothbrush and water to get the white schmutz (technical term) off the bead that the acid etch sometimes leaves behind.
I have to mention that the beads in the top two collages are amazingly smooth to the touch – I feel the tumble etching makes the beads just a bit more elegant than not tumbling or using acid etch. The black southwest style bead in the third photo is just amazing! I did not care very much for how the beads in the last photo turned out – I think that the beads that are opaque look better. If you notice in the last photo, the goldstone band on the top did not etch – these beads were in the tumbler for 2 hours – I’m not sure if it would etch if I left the beads in overnight.
So there you have it – tumble etching beads provides a beautiful finish to your beads, and I really like the fact that I don’t have to use chemicals to get the effect. If you had a bead that had a lot of texture or dots, you would probably still want to use the acid etch, but if not, this is a great technique.
Diane Woodall also told me that if you would like, you can get a sample issue of Soda Lime Times, to check out and see if you would like to subscribe. I highly recommend it!