How Many Beads in a Tumbler?

Last year I invested in a double barrel Lortone tumbler – this model. I love it. It’s blessedly quiet compared to the little kiddie one and best of all it lets me tumble a whole lot of beads in one go. You can go one barrel at a time and place the other barrel on the rack with water in it to balance it (though the sales rep told me this was unnecessary, these machines are built to last). The specs say up to 3 pounds per barrel but you have to remember that 3 pounds of clay beads takes a lot more volume than 3 pounds of rocks and sanding grit.

What I usually do is get my bi-weekly load of beads going in the one barrel, then finish off the other barrel full while the first goes through the first two grits. That way I’m not faced with 400 beads needing varnishing at once.

Most of what is in this pan will fit in the tumbler for a run. I find that I get the best results if I pack without too much extra space left – that way everything is grinding together. There isn’t very much left after i fill up and layer with sandpaper, see? That’s about 150 small beads – I usually have more variety in sizes but this week the orders were for mostly the same shape of bead.

The stuff I bake One Barrel of Beads...

I start with 400 grit sandpaper for my first tumble and go for 18 hours or so. The next grits go for 8 or 10 hours. For beads that I intend to varnish, I go up to 800 or 1000 grit and a final spin in the tumbler with lots of white felt to shine ’em up.


  1. Mopsy says:

    How large do you cut your pieces of sandpaper? Do you glue them back to back? If so, what kind of glue? I’ve got a tumbler, but haven’t gotten anywhere with it. Love your work!

  2. Elaine says:

    Hey Mopsy!

    I don’t glue my sandpaper and the squares are around 1/2 -3/4 ” square ish pieces. I use about a sheet of paper for each grit (so not a specific amount in relation to the beads).

    Thanks Vicky!

  3. Maria says:

    I’m confused. The description for the Lortone tumbler says polymer clay is one of the things that cannot be used in it. Yet you say you use this model. Are they wrong in saying this?

  4. Elaine says:

    Hi Maria! I do, indeed, use this specific model of Lortone and I know several dozen other clay or mixed media artists who use Lortone (and other brands with rubber barrels) to tumble their beads and metal work.

    I’ve now been using this tumbler at least several days a week for a year and it’s fine – quality piece of machinery. Compared to rocks or metal, clay is a very light material.

  5. alice says:

    hi elaine

    do you line your Lortone barrels with sandpaper, too? I consider investing in a Lortone tumbler, but I have read somewhere that the black rubber barrels do no good to the polymer clay beads (yellowing)?

    do you add water too or is it just beads and sandpaper chips?

    thank you and regards, alice

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