Tumbling Lampwork

by Laurie VanDomelen
(Forest Grove, Oregon)

I find myself reading your website and realizing I really have no idea what I am doing. Your thoughts on jewelry tumbling are unique in that I have pored over every article on wire working, jewelry making and lampwork beads (which is really what started this whole thing) and I don't believe I have heard of anyone else that tumbles like you do. Your reasons for tumbling sound valid all the way around except for the inclusion of lampwork glass. Does it not break? It seems to me that annealing is one thing but I am sorry, I just can't see it. Please enlighten me. I know it is my ignorance on the subject. I admire your work and would love to be able to emulate it. With admiration, Laurie

One more thing, my husband would like to know how you get your round disks soooo seemingly perfectly round on your bracelet with the copper, sterling and red brass disks. Thanks.

Stacy's Answer:

Hi Laurie!

Thanks for your questions! Tumbling is one of those necessary little evils and I think more artisan jewelers than not do, even the ones with best-selling books...they just don't mention it. It's one of those things that many artists just 'do' without really thinking about how important it is to the overall look and quality of their work. While tumbling is a very simple process, it does have a bit of a learning curve to understand what may be going on when the results are not what you were expecting. It is not an end all/catch all and is not appropriate for some types of wire and metal work.

I share my knowledge of tumbling with folks like yourself so that you can learn from the experiences of others. MOST lampwork tumbles beautifully, but here's what to avoid. As always, if in doubt don't tumble it!!!!

Lampwork that has not been properly kiln annealed will most likely break during tumbling. You've got to know and trust the artisan you get your beads from. With their good names on the line, I don't believe that an artisan is going to tell you his or her beads are annealed if they're not. Beware of sellers who sell multiple sets of identical lampwork! (Same photos, same description, over and over again.) That's a clue that a single lampwork artist is probably not sitting there at the torch! My experience is that this type of lampwork is typically not annealed.

Etched lampwork can only be tumbled for short periods of time, no more than a couple of hours. Sometimes the stainless steel shot will transfer itself onto the slightly rough glass surface, leaving silvery streaks on the lampwork. You can scrub some of it off, but then the glass is smoother where you rubbed. Can you re-etch it? Sure, but not after the beads are on your finished jewelry.

Lampwork that has those little round balls of glass dots on the surface that appear to be just barely melted onto the surface can sometimes break off in a tumbler. Fine silver balls that have been torched into the glass that look so nice.....well, those balls can come out when tumbling. I ruined a $75 bead after coring it with Sterling silver and my own handmade beadcaps. It was supposed to be the focal of a necklace, but with about 25% of its silver missing the bead could no longer be used.

I have never once had an annealed artisan lampwork bead break in the tumbler! I tumble my personal jewelry often to keep it looking its best and I tumble all the pieces I make before they're ready to sell. A tumbler will clean all the tiny nooks and crannies. Polishing by hand with special attachments for your flexshaft, using a polishing cloth or using a buffing machine can be a time consuming process. I do still use those methods and almost always lightly buff my pieces with a polishing cloth like the Sunshine cloths from Rio Grande after the item comes out of the tumbler. But tons of time is saved by not having to do the entire process by hand.

And as to the discs...I use a disc cutter to punch perfectly round discs from sheet metal.

Comments for Tumbling Lampwork

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May 19, 2010
tumbling with dish soap vs burnishing compound
by: Paulette

Hi Stacy,
Just thought I'd add a little thing I learned along the way. I have always tumbled with water and Dawn detergent. I thought I'd purchase some of Rio's burnishing compound to see if there was a difference. WOW! Big difference! My metal is so much more cleaned and polished...I am amazed.

As always, thank you, Stacy, for sharing and offering so much information on your website and in your classes.


May 19, 2010
Tumbling with burnishing compound
by: Stacy

Hi Paulette!

I agree that the burnishing compound used as per the directions (more is NOT better) gives you awesome results on naked metal. I use it when tumbling items like jumprings and components and even large metal cuffs. Smoothes things right! As you said...much more polished and in a shorter amount of time too! However, it is not good to use on items that you've added a patina to.

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