Last Updated: Sep 10, 2020 @ 3:41 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.

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 heal, 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, and eventually- experimenting with my own DIY method for generating “real” sea glass at home. Read on to learn more.

Turn broken glass into sea glass with this easy tutorial

So, Can you DIY Real Sea Glass?

Disappointed with the spray-on version of DIY’ing a sea glass finish, I wondered, could I make my own frost glass baubles 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 ‘mermaid tears” 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 beach glass and also gave me more control over how round and frosty these gems turned out- just like my childhood memory of “mermaid tears.”

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.

First, a Simple Overview:

Keep reading for a full explaination of each step!

how to make sea glass

Find or Make Broken Glass

A broken vase about to be sorted and tumbled into sea glass

Source glass from thrift stores, recycling, or garage sales. Read my tips for sourcing colored glass.

Tumble

Use the instructions below for replicating the ocean’s sea-glass making environment in a rock tumbler

Sift and Clean

homemade sea glass made from reclaimed recycling

Separate glass from grit using a water and a colander

Create or Display

With your finished sea glass, you can create artful beachglass crafts and creations, like this beach house inspired sea glass pendant light.

 

Detailed Tutorial:

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.

Recycling Center – this is by far my best source for good glass pieces to turn into glass gems. 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 colored 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 beach 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 gems.

Step 4: Cleaning and Finishing Homemade Sea Glass

After a few days, your glass will be ready. To finish each round of tumbled glass, I hold my fry basket/colander over a bucket and gently pour the newly made frosted glass baubles from the tumbler’s chamber into the basket, allowing the water and grit to drip through leaving only 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 tumbled 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 glass gems 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
homemade sea glass made from glass sourced from recycling bins and a rock tumbler

 

Tumbling colored glass: some tips on sourcing:


Red, purple, orange, and aqua sea glass are all very rare to find on beaches as real sea glass. It turns out, manufacturing these colors in a rock tumbler is difficult as well! During the height of my sea glass making phase, I scoured thrift stores, recycling centers, and garage sales for colored glass. Red, purple, yellow, green, and all other colors of decorative glass were easy to find and I was excited to turn them into colored sea glass – but that’s when I got my surprise…


It turns out, much of the “colored glass” that is used in decorative vases, drinkware, and figurines is given its color by a pigmented coating on the outside of the glass. As soon as these colored glasses are broken, you can see the color variation from the surface to the inside of the glass. Once placed in a tumbler, the carbide grit quickly scours all the pigment off the surface of the glass, leaving plain white sea glass behind in the tumbler.


How to tell if a colored piece of glass is coated or actually pigmented glass? Check the bottom of the piece- usually, if the surface treatment has been applied there will be evidence on the bottom. Look for a clear mark where the pigment ends, drips, or varies in color. The vast majority of colored glass I found via garage sales and thrifting was, in fact, not colored glass.

You may have to look much harder to find authentic colored glass that you can put in your tumbler to get rare colors of sea glass. I had success with antique insulators, and to get that elusive red glass you may even have success going to auto salvage yards to score old warning lights and turn signals. You can also buy chunks of pigmented glass (including ultra-rare black glass), made for fire tables, which you can make into sea glass.

 

Conclusion

Homemade sea glass is beautiful for home decor, jewelry, fused glass art, dramatic light fixtures, 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!

 

Pin it now to find it later:

Make your own sea glass for art or decoration with this easy tutorial that uses glass reclaimed from recycling binsstep by step instructions for making your own sea glass from recycled glass

 

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

 

 

Can I use broken glass to make sea 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 make sea glass with a kid’s rock tumbler? 

YES. This method works by harnessing time and 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 time to wait, you’ll still be able to create finished sea glass by running the tumbler for much longer (7-10 days).

How can you tell the difference between real sea glass and tumbled sea glass?

When done well, you can’t tell the difference! The tumbling method is literally using the exact same physics to create an identical effect on glass.

However, In my experience, both as someone who has tumbled many bathes of glass and someone who enjoys a lot of beachcombing in the Pacific Northwest, “real” sea glass often has pits and uneven spots that generally are not present in tumbler-manufactured sea glass. This isn’t necessarily a good indicator, though, because even this is very dependent upon the body of water that produced the sea glass. For example, in areas of the world with roaring, churning seas, and soft sandy ocean bottoms, very round, evenly worn sea glass could certainly wash up on the beach.

Can you drill holes in sea glass?

You can, but you’ll need a special drill bit that is diamond coated (don’t worry- they aren’t a fraction as expensive as they sound!). This ultra-hard drill bit is capable of drilling through glass. You’ll want to use medium to light pressure, to prevent breaking glass, and I personally have had better luck with a higher speed drill, like a dremel tool. You’ll need to keep the drill bit and your piece of sea glass from overheating. Follow the instructions that came with your glass cutting drill bit, as you may need to work under running water to prevent overheating and glass shards from going airborne.

Can you make a sea glass without a tumbler?

Traditionally, beach glass is made with naturally tumbling – the natural motion of the ocean and the friction where water meets sand naturally churns broken glass into sea glass over time. Without a rock tumbler to replicate this process, there really aren’t any effective ways to make real beach glass. What you can do instead, is used sea glass spray paint to create a similar, though not quite the same, finish.

Can you DIY beach glass by shaking a jar?

When I saw a pinterest pin encouraging viewers to make their own sea glass by shaking a mason jar filled with water, sand, and broken glass, I couldn’t help but laugh. This method will NOT work. Using carbide grit (an abrasive material with hard, sharp edges) and a motorized tumbler (which spins 24/7) it takes a minimum of 48 hours to make sea glass. Tumbling sea glass by hand, with sand (which is a softer material with rounded edges) is likely to produce a sore arm, and nothing more.

Can Sea Glass be manufactured in bulk?

Yes! While this tutorial covers a simple process for making a small batch of sea glass, the same process can be replicated inside of a cement mixer! The cement mixers’ high-capacity makes it possible to create a massive amount of faux sea glass in one batch- although it may be more difficult to preserve large pieces of glass, due to the pressure generated inside the mixing drum

With this higher capacity and manufacturing, you can create large quantities of tumbled glass which can enable a much wider variety of craft projects. While small-batch glass is perfect for making jewelry, home decor, or beach-inspired lighting, with a cement mixer you can create buckets of sea glass at a time, which you can then use for outdoor garden projects, setting into cement for dramatic sidewalks and walkways, and even using a binder to create dramatic sea glass embedded furniture or tables.

37 thoughts on “4 Easy Steps 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!!!

  11. So your original question was what are we going to make with our sea glass. I am going to add it to a mirror frame for my son. He just moved to the adjunct apartment on our property and goes to school full time. The apartment needed updating and had an older dresser which is a wonderful oak piece but the mirror — ee gads! So I am going to make a nice art piece for him. I am really excited since I have an overflowing bottle collection that will now become sea glass. Thanks so much for your very detailed and exacting tutorial. I’m thrilled to have something to do with all this glass I have collected!

  12. Have tried this with stained glass scraps and using sand and poultry grit initially. Not much difference after about 5 days in Lortone tumbler.

    Recently tried again.. this time bought coarse tumbling grit (carbide) and ceramic pieces (for tumbling) and used those instead. Ran tumbler for a week and once more, disappointed with results, barely a change…. this time the barrel did swell and I got some leakage…

    Any further advice is greatly appreciated. Very frustrated… Also my Lortone tumbler gets quite HOT while running…. hopefully not a fire hazard.

    1. Hi Fiona, thanks for your question! I’m sure that’s disappointing to invest the time and not see the results.

      Here’s my guess: I’m thinking your tumbler barrel may be overloaded. When there is too much water/grit/media in the barrel, the whole unit has to work harder to turn (resulting in a motor running hotter), the contents of the barrel “slosh” instead of tumble (resulting in a disappointing outcome), and there’s less room for any gasses to collect (resulting in bulges and leaks).

      You are using all the right supplies and should be seeing results, so I think if you tinker with how much you put int the barrel you’ll start seeing faster results. I usually aim for the barrel to be 1/2-2/3 full, after all the elements are added to the barrel.

  13. I didn’t know anything about “sea glass “ however I have saved many wine and whiskey bottles to try to make a concrete table top with glass pushed in top. I have a working tumbler that I use on gemstones or minerals. I’m gonna try the sea glass, but one question, is it the frosted look that’s desirable or can you go through the steps to have highly polished glass?

    1. Hi Johnny, that sounds like a really cool project! I think most people like the frosted look that is distinctive to sea glass, but if you want to experiment with the finish, do a final tumble with a very fine grit media (like crushed walnut shells) and/or experiment with specialized polishing media. When tumbling rocks, tumbling for an hour or so with a tablespoon of grated ivory soap can help create a high-shine finish- although I have not tried this with glass.

      After I typed all of that up, I realized epoxy resin might be perfect for this! I’ll go ahead and leave that text in case another reader might find it helpful, but I think I’d advise making your table with sea glass and then coating the finished tabletop- with seaglass embedded- with a layer of epoxy resin. The resin protects a surface and will restore a glossy finish to the tumbled glass.

      TIP: be sure your resin is warm when applied, This way, the resin is fluid enough to fill all the tiny scratches that create the frosty appearance, and the final product will be free of bubbles.

  14. thank you so much for this informative tutorial. i have opened up many of your links and might purchase some supplies. I have a couple questions before I get started
    have you ever tried Perrier bottles and if i use them do i need to clean the paper off first or will the lortone just dissolve that?
    also i understand the capacity but is it around two bottle a spin you would say?

    any response is appreciate and I would love to follow your art if you have an instagram to provide.

    1. Hi Grace- I have not tried Perrier bottles but they should work! It’s good to peel the label if it’s easy to do so. The grit will remove the paper and adhesive, but can also create a “sludge” in the tumbling barrel which may reduce efficiency.

      How quickly you’ll be able to finish sea glass depends on the type of glass you are looking for (i.e broken glass with blunt edges vs very round gems) as well as the hardness of the grit you choose (carbide grit, for example, will make sea glass much much faster than using play sand). It’s all a lot of experimentation! Good luck!

      1. thank you so much and I was just gifted a rock tumbler but I am going to buy my other supplies, thank you so much for writing back!

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