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4 Easy Steps to Make Your Own Sea Glass

Making real rea glass at home is easy using hobby supplies you may already have on hand. While it takes a bit of patience, in this article I’ll show you how to make stunning sea glass gems using recycled glass. Here’s what you can expect:

Turn broken glass into sea glass with this easy tutorial

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Testing Methods for Making Sea Glass: My Experience

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 medium 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 sea glass 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- experimented with my own DIY method for generating “real” sea glass at home.

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.

So, Can you DIY Real Sea Glass?

As you can see in the image below, the finish on the finished glass is frosty and matte. In every way it’s just like sea glass picked up on a beach. With this method you aren’t creating a faux sea glass finish- you’l be making the real thing! A rock tumbler prepared with these instructions creates an environment that forms real sea glass gems in the same way the ocean 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 soften the edges of my glass, but then I purchased a pack of carbide grit and I found that the harder, coarser grit helped speed the process of making glass shards into beach glass. Carbide grit, I learned, also gave me more control over how round and frosty these gems turned out- just like my childhood memory of “mermaid tears.”

Supplies You’ll Need:

This Lortone 3lb  Tumbler has worked great for me, processing larger batches of sea glass.

First, a Simple Walkthrough of How I Make Sea Glass:

(or click here to jump to the detailed guide)

How to make sea glass

Total Time: 3 days

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.

Supply:

  • Protective Gloves
  • Safety Goggles

Tools:

  • Rock Tumbler
  • Colander

Materials: Broken Glass Carbide grit or sand

Detailed Tutorial: How to Make Sea Glass

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
  • recycling centers (although unusual, some will allow you to pick from donated glass)
  • thrift stores
  • 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.

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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 colored 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’d love to hear your questions, comments, or stories about how this technique worked for you!

Pin it now to find it later:

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

Frequently Asked Questions about DIY Sea Glass

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. It is not posible to make sea glass by shaking a jar of glass and sand (Running a tumbler that spins 24 hours a day, it takes a minimum of 48 hours to make sea glass- imagine shaking a jar that long!) Tumbling sea glass by hand 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.

 

Thia

Sunday 25th of September 2022

Thanks for the info/instructions! I hit "save" as soon as I read the tip that old insulators are perfect for this ~ I was hoping to find a purpose for the chipped & broken ones I've found!!! Collected them from an old (pre 1965) dump site. FYI: also a great source for cobalt (think Noxema), milk glass, and others as well.

Asonya

Monday 19th of September 2022

Can you use shattered tempered glass to make sea glass?

Lindsayanne Brenner

Friday 23rd of September 2022

Great question! I have not experimented with tumbling tempered glass.

Jody Zumwalt

Sunday 18th of September 2022

Great tutorial! I’m brand new to this and am trying to get it right the first time without waste money! I believe your time and experience just saved me a bunch of time and money! Thank you, Jody

Peggy

Sunday 6th of March 2022

This was very helpful. Thank you. I have a question. After you break the glass you remove the small pieces , why can’t they be added to the tumbler. I have some small pieces of glass found in a beach that the edges are not smooth and thought I could put them in the rock tumbler.

Lindsayanne Brenner

Sunday 6th of March 2022

Hi Peggy- great question! The reason my tutorial includes instructions to pick out small pieces of glass is because, if you run the tumbler long enough to get the sharp edges of the large pieces nicely worn down, pebble-sized pieces of glass disintegrate into nothing! Well, actually they form a sort of sludge that requires a clean-out and restart of the tumbler chamber. You CAN tumble small pieces of glass, but for best results use a very fine grit and don't run the tumbler for too long!

Julia

Friday 12th of November 2021

As a sea glass collector I can tell you that manufactured sea glass looks absolutely nothing like genuine sea glass and nothing like as fascinating to look at.

Lindsayanne Brenner

Friday 12th of November 2021

How lucky you are to have access to the beach and the opportunity to develop your eye for sea glass! I'll keep your comments in mind!