When I make beads I use a tumbler to sand the smaller ones. I love my tumbler, particularly since I upgraded to a nice, quiet Lortone last summer (from Green’s Lapidary, the source of many temptations and wonders). With it I can sand hundreds of small beads in a few days with a little sandpaper, water and the tiniest dab of dish soap.
I started reading on the forums and hobby groups that people had begun using rocks or other grit to tumble their clay beads – faster and less wasteful than sandpaper – so I picked up a few bags of stones here and there to try out and tossed a load of scrappy beads in with the first bag.
The result was sweetly smooth beads but the end appearance was like a sandblast, mottled and pitted appearing (they are smooth to the touch though). For most of the beads in the load, this was not good as they had bright shading and clear, specific lines and detail. However, one of the sets in the tumbler actually looks better – or at least more interesting – after a sandblasting go. You can compare it to the originals in this picture which were nice but a little ho hum.
I think a very gentle buffing and I will leave them matte and ancient looking. And, update, the ones that were damaged perked back up after a couple rounds back in the tumbler with regular conditions.