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.
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.