Friday, May 4, 2012

Tumble Etching

You see a lot of etched glass in the bead world and most of the time these pieces are etched with a something called etch all.  Etch all is a chemical etching agent that comes in a paste form or a liquid.  For beads a liquid is much easier to use and for years I used this chemical to etch my glass beads.  About two years ago I read that you could tumble etch beads and other glass goodies.  To do this you simply need a tumbler, some sort of heavy grit material I use little glass pony beads that  I got from a hobby store and a tablespoon of fine carbide grit (600) along with a spoon full of sand from the beach.  The sand from the beach is my addition and you don't have to use it but it's a nice in between grit.  I throw everything into my little dedicated tumbler barrel fill it with water and tumble over night.

Tumble Etched Beads

Little Glass Pony Beads, any size would do.
I am sure you are asking why I would bother when simply putting the beads in Etch All for 10 minuets would have etched them just fine but this is where you would be wrong.  See when you tumble etch the surface is so much smoother and doesn't have the bite that chemical etching does.  I like to compare it to the difference between wearing silk next to your skin or cotton.  The other reason for tumble etching is that I am not a huge fan of using chemicals when they are unnecessary. This is my small way to cut back and it's cheaper in the long run and I don't have to purchase or have the chemical shipped.

BTW this works best on smooth beads, things that are raised will leave a background that is unetched or unevenly etched.  This could be a great look so you may want to try it.
Carbide Grit 600,  you only need a tablespoon of this stuff not 5 pounds.


  1. Oh Man, Thank you for posting this. I have been looking for clear directions on tumble etching. ~ Tami

  2. I've used both etchall and tumbler to get a frosted finish on glass and stone and for me both have their pros and cons (blogged about it once). For relief surfaces, it's hard to use a tumbler IMO as it mostly tumbles high areas, leaving recesses shiny. But one great thing about a tumbler finish is that you can choose how smooth or coarse you want the surface to be. As you say, you can make the glass smooth as silk -- or go the other way and make a rough texture, all depending on what look (and feel) you're after. Can't do that with a bottle of chemicals!

  3. AWESOME! Thanks so much for posting this -- going to bookmark it for future use.

  4. You are so right about tumble etching giving different effects. I would suggest a trial run this on unknown surfaces.

  5. Very interesting to learn about the various methods of etching lampwork! Thank you!