Last Updated: Jun 13, 2020 @ 10:45 pm

I’ve always been enamored by sea glass. When I was eleven, growing up in Kansas, I vividly remember opening an envelope from a pen pal on the coast that contained the beautiful soft frosted glass pearls she said were known as “mermaid tears” in her family.

homemade sea glass made from reclaimed recycling
homemade sea glass made from glass sourced from recycling bins and a rock tumbler

As I’ve become, in my professional life, a person who helps people cope with trauma in their story, I’ve come to see sea glass as an amazing media that represents the process of healing trauma: Humans are like vessels that contain stories that churn and rub up against each other. Traumatic stories enter as shattered shards- and when we allow ourselves to be present in relationships instead of turning inward and isolating, we create in our lives the movement that leads to a softening and transforming of the sharp shards of trauma. I love how seaglass captures in a very physical way this reminder that painful stories don’t have to remain painful forever.

Because this image meant so much to me, my artist-self began to develop lots of ideas for incorporating sea glass into my art.

One of my first batches of homemade sea glass

So, Can you DIY Real Sea Glass?

Disappointed with the spray-on version of sea glass finish, I wondered, could I make my own sea glass using broken bottles and a rock tumbler? Spoiler: YES. Keep reading to learn my method for making your own sea glass.

As you can see in the image below, the finish on the finished glass is frosty and matte- in every way just like Sea Glass. With this method you aren’t creating a faux sea glass finish- but actually creating the environment that forms real sea glass in the same way the sea does!

step by step instructions for making your own sea glass from recycled glass
step by step instructions for making your own sea glass from recycled glass

Making Sea Glass in a Rock Tumbler

It turns out, making sea glass in a rock tumbler was way easier than I expected. For my first batch, I simply used a few tablespoons of play-sand to sand down my glass, but then I purchased a pack of carbo grit and I found that harder, coarser grit helped speed the process of making glass shards into sea glass and also gave me more control over how round and frosty the sea glass ended up.

What You’ll Need:

  • Motorized Rock Tumbler – I use a $100 Lortone 3lb Capacity Tumbler for fast, professional results but this not-quite-so-well-reviewed $50 rock tumbler should work if you are patient.
  • GLASS (see below for tips on recycling glass. For hard-to-find colors, you can buy the colored glass chunks made for high end firepits in red, black, and colbalt blue, )
  • 5 gallon bucket
  • 2 large thick plastic bags (clothing storage bags work great)
  • a fry basket or a colander with big holes (turns out, fry baskets are perfect for sorting and shaking tiny glass fragments out from usable sea glass pieces)
  • cut-resistant work gloves
  • safety glasses (seriously, do NOT do this project without safety equipment)
  • hammer
  • shallow cardboard box (to contain small shards of glass)
  • grit (you can use sand, but a coarser grit gets the job done with less time and less electricity used. If you think you might also tumble rocks, try a variety pack of abrasive media, but for just turning a few loads of broken glass into sea glass, you can buy coarse abrasive media in 1lb packs.
This Lortone 3lb  Tumbler has worked great for me, processing larger batches of sea glass.

FAQ’s:

Can I use Broken Glass?

YES. You can use broken glass from just about any source for this project. If you found this article while teary-eyed over a sentimental glass vase or even a ceramic plate you just broke, this is a beautiful way to repurpose the broken pieces of glass in a way that you can enjoy and appreciate for many more years. Even if you aren’t an artist, sea glass can make an elegant display dropped into the bottom of a clear glass vase. And broken plates with sharp edges removed make beautiful mosaics or stepping stones.

Can I use a cheaper kid’s rock tumbler? 

YES. This method works via time + friction. Professional tumblers and carbide grit offer lots of friction and can finish sea glass in as little as 48 hours. If you use a cheaper kid’s tumbler and/or sand, you’ll get a lot less friction- but if you have lots of time to wait, you’ll still be able to create finished sea glass by running the tumbler for much longer (7-10 days).


To create my sea glass, I followed the following steps

Step 1: Find Glass

Depending on how picky you are about color and thickness, acquiring the glass to make into sea glass can be the easiest or the hardest part.

    Sources for colored glass:

  • your own recycling
  • yard sales and recycling centers
  • thrift stores and garage sales

Wine bottles and liquor bottles can be used for making sea glass, although in my experience only the glass at the upper rim of the neck and the bottom of the bottle is thick enough to make pieces of sea glass that are substantial in size.

A broken vase about to be sorted and tumbled into sea glass
Wine bottles like this one tend to make thin, more fragile sea glass except for the glass at the base and the rim.

IMPORTANT: For colored  sea glass: if you are shooting to create sea glass in many colors you’ll find a challenge: most colored glass in retail shops and thrift stores is given a colored appearance by a post-production coating of colorant- this color will be rubbed off immediately when the tumbler starts running. Spot the difference between colored glass and glass with a coating by turning the piece upside down and looking for telltale marks where the colorant isn’t even, has dripped,  or overlaps.

Recycling Center – this is by far my best source for good glass pieces to turn into sea glass. In Joplin, the main recycling center features huge open bins where glass is collected until it is hauled away once a week. Since repurposing is the lowest-impact form of recycling, ask your recycling center if you can take glass for free. Joplin’s recycling employees were happy to provide bags for me to take all the bottles and jugs I wanted.

The recycling center gives me access to lots of different types of bottles. High-end liquor bottles and vintage glass pieces tend to be made from thicker glass and make great sea glass.

My BEST sea glass results were achieved using old telephone insulators. When I decided to smash an already-cracked aqua colored glass insulator, the resulting sea glass was a gorgeous blue-green color that created beautiful, thick stones of manufactured sea glass. (I’ve since discovered you can get the same result by tumbling the coarse stones of colored glass made for decorative firepits, they even have glass stones in this vintage turquoise shade)

 

A broken vase about to be sorted and tumbled into sea glass
These thick chunks of aqua glass came from crushing vintage telephone insulators

Step 2: Break Glass

This is by far the most dangerous part. Please be smart, safe, and glass savvy. Glass is pointy and dangerous, handle with extreme caution and with all appropriate safety equipment. And for the love of your eyeballs, do not skip protective eyewear.

A. Have the barrel of your tumbler open and nearby. Place the unbroken glass in a heavy plastic bag, then place that bag into another heavy plastic bag. Put on goggles and gloves and place the bagged object inside a cardboard box.

B. With goggles on, use the flat side of the hammer to strike the object until it breaks. Continue striking the large pieces until the pieces are somewhat uniform in the size range you desire for your sea glass products (remember, tumbling will make pieces a bit smaller!).

C. Carefully, with hands protected by cut-resistant gloves, dump the contents of the plastic bags into your colander or egg basket (over a safe receptacle). Tiny shards of glass will fall through the basket leaving the big chunks behind. (When I do this part, I work over a double-bagged trash can, to minimize cleanup) Gently shake the basket of glass till the small shards are removed, then with gloved hands manually move the larger chunks of glass into the barrel of the rock tumbler.

A broken vase about to be sorted and tumbled into sea glass
You’ll need to separate the large chunks from the tiny shards before tumbling.

Step 3: Turn Broken Glass into Sea Glass!

Now is the fun part!

A. Add glass until the barrel of your tumbler is about 1/2 to 2/3 full of glass (I usually fill to 2/3rd of the way full) If you don’t have enough glass shards, you can add a few clean rocks. IMPORTANT: The 1/2 – 2/3 fullness is required for the contents to tumble instead of slosh.

B. Check the manual for your tumbler, but for my 3lb capacity tumbler, I used about 3-4 tablespoons of grit. The coarse silicon carbide grit I linked earlier makes the process go about twice as fast.

C. Add enough water to cover the glass and abrasive but DO NOT OVERFILL. (You want a sludgy tumble with each barrel turn, not a constant slosh)

D. Run for 3-5 days. After 48 hours you can pop the barrel open and take a look if you are impatient like me. At this point, you should notice some frosting on the glass and significant dulling of sharp corners. Continue tumbling until the pieces are evenly frosted with rounded edges. The longer you tumble, the more the final glass pieces will have the appearance of being very, very old sea glass.

Step 3: Cleaning and Finishing Homemade Sea Glass

After a few days, your glass will be ready. To finish each round of sea glass, I hold my egg basket/colander over a bucket and gently pour the newly made sea glass into the basket, allowing the water and grit to drip through leaving the glass behind in the basket.

Take your egg basket, glass, and bucket to an outdoor area with a hose and hose down the sea glass, washing away all remaining grit and any grime picked up in the polishing process. (Do not wash the grit down your drains!)

The final step of making your own sea glass is dumping the sludge from the barrel into a colander with large holes and rinsing until only the clean, large pieces of sea glass remain in the colander.
The final step of making your own sea glass is dumping the sludge from the barrel into a colander with large holes and rinsing until only the clean, large pieces of sea glass remain in the colander.

TIP: Reuse the (kinda expensive!) carbide grit by leaving the bucket of rinse water to sit for a few hours. Once the grit settles at the bottom of the bucket, you can carefully dump off the water and save your grit for reuse.

Spread your homemade sea glass on a clean, dry surface to dry (a towel or a cooling rack from your kitchen works great). Once completely dry, your sea glass is ready for any project you have planned for it!

homemade sea glass made from reclaimed recycling
sea glass made from a wine bottle, a liquor bottle, and an insulator, all sourced from public recycling bins.

Homemade sea glass is beautiful for home decor, jewelry, fused glass art, and I’ve even used it in mixed media epoxy resin pieces with a lot of success.

What will you do with your sea glass? I’ve love to hear your questions, comments, or stories about how this technique worked for you!

If you enjoyed reading about how to make your own sea glass- you might be interested in my article on digging your own quartz crystals

How to dig your own quartz crystal on public land

 

 

 

 

Make your own sea glass for art or decoration with this easy tutorial that uses glass reclaimed from recycling bins

step by step instructions for making your own sea glass from recycled glass

28 thoughts on “DIY: How to Make Your Own Sea Glass at Home”

  1. This is the exact model of Lortone I have been using for years, and have always been pleased with the results. I, too, initially used sand, and then later, realized I could simply scoop larger grit from a creek that flows behind our house. It seems my rock tumbler is rolling all the time.

  2. As an avid seaglasser, the beaty of seaglass comes from the hunt for it on shorelines. The hunt, for these naturally tumbled treasures, is the best.

    1. But isn’t it fun to make your own when you live in the Midwest and have never been to the ocean?

  3. I have tried to use the children’s $65.00 tumbler and was able to make one batch. The tumbler broke after that. Irreparable. I loved the post easy and informative. I will purchase the better tumbler. Thanks for your post!

  4. So I bought a tumbler from harbor freight 3lb.. And to start i have course sand.. I am home 1 day a week so my tumbler ran all week.. I got home Saturday and checked my tumbler sunday.. And nothing the glass looked the same.. I have a large piece of bottom glass green from a broken bottle i found and a 10 oz broken brown bottle.. So i think i might be using to much sand or water ??? Suggestions

  5. Is there a way to keep the glass from getting dull I would like to have it look like the bottle does before you start turning it

    1. The same action that dulls the sharp edges down to soft contours leaves tiny scratches on the glass surface, which is what creates the clouded appearance. I’ve actually played around with coating sea glass with epoxy resin, and one of the effects I noticed is that once coated with a thin layer of resin, sea glass becomes bright and translucent again. Epoxy resin has a bit of a learning curve to use, but might be worth trying for your project!

      1. Stainless steel shot in the tumbler is used for polishing metal in jewelry making. I imagine it would also polish glass. (Make sure it’s stainless steel so it doesn’t rust)

  6. Thank you for your instructions! I’m excited to see how my glass comes out! All of the glass I am tumbling is real sea glass that needs either another 50 years in the sea or 3 days in the tumbler! Since we are confined to home now, it’s a great time to dive into this project!

  7. It was suggested on another site that when tumbling glass, (as opposed to rocks), gasses form, so it’s better to add baking soda to mitigate the swelling of the chamber. We did that and it leaked out of the chamber anyway. Do you have gasses form in your chamber?

    1. Interesting! No, I’ve never had issues with gas building up or leaking (except when I didn’t close my chamber well!). I have a few thoughts though: 1. The tumbler I use and have linked above has rubber chambers, it’s very possible that the rubber may actually be slightly stretching to accommodate any gases that might be released. 2. I tumble with a pretty low fill in my tumbling chamber (see above). To get a tumble instead of a “slosh,” I find that it works best to have a lot of empty space inside the chamber, which may have also helped with preventing overfill if gases are released.

      1. Thank you! You’re awesome! It worked great! No gasses! Funny thing, though: My black grit and sand mixture was completely pulverized by the end of three days…no sand, no black grit…just black water. (Did not let go down the sink.)

        1. Thanks for the update! That’s great! And so interesting about the grit! Next time, try dumping off the sludge into a jar and letting it sit for a day or two- it would be interesting to see if what settled to the bottom is different from the grinding materials you started with.

  8. I already have chunky pieces of glass that I don’t necessarily need to be shaped I just need to put a frosty finish on them. Should I use a coarse grit or a medium grit? I also learned about a vibrating tumbler as opposed to a rotary tumbler and wonder if that would work faster for me. Any insight?

    1. Fine grit is perfect for clouding the surface without any reshaping, but if you only have medium or coarse grit, just tumble the glass for a few hours in the medium grit.

      The only vibrating tumblers I’m familiar with are the commercial type. They work fast but are expensive and gallons worth of medium, if there is a home version sized for rock tumbler, though, that should worlk.

    1. It can be! It’s loud enough that you probably wouldn’t want to run it in your living room while you are at home, but when I ran Imine I put it in my (attached) garage and then the sound was only a faint hum in the house. If you are in a tiny house or urban living, you can try running the tumbler only when you are out of the house and/or insulating a big cardboard box to drop over the top of the tumbler to muffle sound.

  9. I have been doing this for 25 years, in a Lortone tumbler. Breaking the glass is the most difficult part. I put glass in a 13 gallon plastic trash bin, cover with trash bags to contain “blow back” and drop/smash with a sledge hammer. The glass gets embedded in the plastic, so I only use for this. Sometimes I score the glass to get better shapes and fewer odd long pieces from wine bottles.
    Also, I recommend splurging on grit versus free sand. Consider the cost of the tumbler. Grit will turn it to sea glass in a day or two. I reuse my grit forever.

  10. Thank you for sharing this absolutely FUNtastical and utterly PERFECT tutorial!! It is so thorough, I feel like I know exactly where to start and how to proceed, so A MILLION THANKS!! I’ve been wanting to do Sea Glass projects but haven’t been able to find an affordable resource and don’t live near the beach anymore, so your blog post hit me right in the middle of my SWEET SPOT!! I am so excited to get started and just ordered a rock tumbler. The one you recommended was sold out with no date listed for restocking, so I did some other research and hope to have it ready to go this week. As someone who writes craft tutorials and teaches workshops in various other mediums, i give you a WHOLEHEARTED BRAVO!! Seriously, this is one of the best and most easy to follow tutorials I have ever seen!! Thank you again!!!

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