Introduction: Making Fake Sea Glass at Home

Picture of Making Fake Sea Glass at Home
Sea glass or beach glass is the pretty, worn down, rounded, matted glass you can sometimes find at the beach. It is pretty rare, especially in other colours than green, brown or white. It's also beautiful. People love to use it for all kinds of decorative purposes: making jewelry, adorning vases or chandeliers, the possibilities are endless.
So, wouldn't it be nice if you could make it at home, or at least something that looks similar?

This Instructable shows you how to do that, using a cement mixer. It seems that some of us do not own one... maybe it's possible for you to borrow one, or rent one? If you rent one by the week for building purposes, and only need it for six days, well, now you know how to spend the remaining day.

What you'll need:
  • glass
  • dish soap
  • a rag and white spirit
  • a hammer
  • gloves and eye protection
  • cement mixer
  • water
  • salt
  • sand
  • time
Regarding comfort and safety:
  • Bear in mind that the cement mixer is noisy.
  • Always use gloves and eye protection when breaking glass.
  • Glass dust is a dangerous substance when breathed in, so please avoid that at all costs. Wear protection if you're going to break lots of bottles.

Step 1: Collect Your Glass

Picture of Collect Your Glass

First of all,start collecting glass. Bottles come to mind, but remember: the thicker the glass is, the more tumbling it can stand, and the more rounded and matted it will turn out.
Good bottles are:
- whisky bottles
- champagne bottles
- any bottle, in fact, meant for fizzy wine, as they are usually thick

Other sources of glass:
- (coloured) window glass. May be on the thin side
- vases, ash trays, clown figurines or other glass objects you're not interested in keeping. Try the local charity shops or garage sales
- wine bottles are easy to come by, but they, too, are on the thin side.

Coloured glass is obviously very nice. Make sure, though, that the colour is through-and-through, not painted on. Oh well, you will find out soon enough.
Blue is a very nice colour for fake sea glass; try looking for grappa or prosecco bottles, as some of them are deep blue. Also, some fancy waters come in light blue bottles. Perrier bottles are a nice pale green.

Step 2: Clean It Up

Picture of Clean It Up

First, remove all labels and other non-glass materials from the bottles.

Most labels can be removed with warm water and dish soap; you will find that some will not be that easy to remove.
Unfortunately, there are many different kinds of glue being used for labels on bottles. But anything that doesn't respond to water and soap will most likely respond to a rag and some white spirit or similar.

Step 3: Break It Up

Picture of Break It Up

Now break the bottles into pieces.

Break your bottles or sheets in a safe way! Wear gloves and eye protection, because shards will fly.
It's easiest to break them inside a plastic or metal box so you can tip the shards into the cement mixer. I used a hammer.
Large leftover pieces will break by themselves during the process.

Step 4: Mix It Up

Picture of Mix It Up
Put inside the cement mixer:
  • glass (one or two kilos is a good amount but more is fine too)
  • water (I used about 5 liters)
  • salt (not sure it does anything, but we're imitating the sea, right? I used a pound of road salt)
  • sand (coarse and sharp is best. A pound will do)
Now let it tumble for an hour, and then stop the machine. Take some pieces out and rinse and dry them. You should see broken edges and some light etching of surfaces.

After another hour, your glass will start to look more rounded.

After about four  to five hours, it will probably start looking very nice. For thin glass, you may be approaching the limit now, as the pieces may start breaking up; thicker glass can be tumbled for some more hours. I'd advise you to stop and look every hour or two, though.

It's interesting that the glass doesn't really get much thinner during the process,except at the edges. But it does break into smaller bits.
The good thing about the water is that it is a great way of making sure you don't breathe any glass dust, which could be dangerous to your health.

Generally, for thicker glass, six to eight hours should do the job, but you can always keep going and see what happens.

When you like what you see, tip the contents out of your cement mixer, rinse it  with water (not over a sink, as the sand will clog your pipes) and behold your newly made  treasure.

Step 5: Results

Picture of Results
What results: a batch of lovely matted glass, in soft rounded shapes and different hues. What can you use it for? Some ideas:
  • drill holes in it (not easy, look up how before you start) and make pendants or earrings
  • wrap it in silver wire and make jewelry that way
  • glue it onto a sheet of glass and make a mosaic that you can hang in a window
  • make a mosaic on a table leaf or a vase, fill the joints with grout and wash off
  • use it inside a glass vase with flowers, or a fish bowl
Whatever you do with it, though, don't ever try to pass it off as real beach glass. It wouldn't be fair. I'm sure your mama taught you better than to mislead people.
Experts will see the difference anyway.

Comments

tareko (author)2012-09-16

Thanks for sharing this clever instructable.

If you need a hand getting empty bottles, just send me the full ones... especialy the Gatão Vinho Verde. You could also try, Casal Garcia another great portuguese wine. It comes in bottles of a beautiful light blue, aquamarine shade.

donnymarie (author)tareko2017-03-20

we have lots of "bottle empty-ers" LOL! good post

Moem (author)tareko2012-11-07

Thanks, I'll keep an eye out for Casal Garcia!

Beyondblissbeads (author)2016-01-06

Can a glass tumbler be used instead of a cement mixer?

You can! http://www.thecomfycrafter.com/2013/03/how-to-make-sea-glass-with-rock-tumbler.html?m=1

gcai_fwb (author)MandyC282017-03-10

domain has expired :(

Moem (author)Beyondblissbeads2016-01-07

If you read the rest of the comments, you will know as much as I do. I've never seen or used a glass tumbler. But I have a cement mixer. So that's what I used.

ooohlaa (author)2017-03-10

wonderful, thorough and inspiring ... thanx

Beyondblissbeads (author)2016-01-06

Can a glass tumbler be used instead of a cement mixer?

You can! http://www.thecomfycrafter.com/2013/03/how-to-make-sea-glass-with-rock-tumbler.html?m=1

JudyK34 (author)2016-05-09

a cement mixer I don't think so

Moem (author)JudyK342016-05-10

I do think so, though. :-)

lacey6 (author)2016-03-22

Sounds interesting but I think I'll just go to the beach :)

Medicnewt17 (author)2014-05-08

have you ever used a bottle or heavy glass cup to get same effect without breaking the bottle or cup?

Melissahp2 (author)Medicnewt172015-09-27

There is a pin that shows giving whole bottles a "Sea glass" look by painting them with watered down Elmers glue and a coloring. They look amazing. I would head over to Pinterest or even google and search it out.

Moem (author)Medicnewt172014-11-29

No. Worth a try, although I'm not sure how to keep the bottle or cup from breaking.

wendyra (author)2015-07-25

p.s. I break my bottles inside of a heavy canvas bag.

wendyra (author)2015-07-25

I have had better luck with a vibrating rock tumbler. As I am in South America now, I'm waiting for a tumbler to be brought down to me. Use plastic pellets, grit or sand and enough water to make a sludge. Let it run for a couple of days (checking to make sure you aren't running out of water) rinse and use. I make mosaics on glass vases so the light will shine through.

flick (author)2014-05-31

I wonder if it would be a good idea to break up the glass initially under water in a tub, and then dump the whole thing into the mixer. Seems like that would safely keep the dust down and possibly reduce the risk of flying glass splinters.

Moem (author)flick2014-11-29

It sounds like a good idea, yes. But in fact, I have found that the bottles will break inside the mixer all by themselves.

JosephineA (author)2014-08-14

Hi there i would like to ask you why is the water brown and dirty if there is just clean bottles sand and water in it?

Moem (author)JosephineA2014-11-29

Because the sand wears down as well as the glass, so it forms a very fine mud.

pttrsna1cek (author)2014-09-09

We have been tumbling for 8 hours and have nothing. What type of sand are you using? We bought contractor's sand.

Moem (author)pttrsna1cek2014-11-29

Sorry, I don't know what contractor's sand is. I used coarse sand with large, sharp grains.

bloomautomatic (author)2012-09-02

I'm wondering if I could use my car as the tumbler. Add the sand and glass to an old paint can or bucket, seal the lid tight, and put it in the trunk of my car. Leave it there for a week or so and let it roll around.

hmmm...

dde jongh (author)bloomautomatic2013-09-30

Well, I did this, and in a couple of days I got nice round edges, but no etching yet ... I'll leave it there more time to see what happens :)

Moem (author)dde jongh2013-10-01

Be sure to let us know, it's interesting!

dde jongh (author)bloomautomatic2013-09-05

I will try this, because I don't have a tumbler or cement mixer here :) I bet it will take a LONG time, but I'll try !!!

Moem (author)dde jongh2013-09-05

Have fun and let us know what happens!

I've read that this is also a good way to wash your clothes when you're on the move. Get a nappy/diaper bucket that's used for soaking cloth nappies/diapers; they have well-fitting lids so are less likely to spill. Tie them upright somewhere in your vehicle (or wedge them between the front and back seats in a sedan) and when you reach your destination - hey! presto! - clean clothes, or, in this case, tumbled glass!

srilyk (author)Tamaresque2012-09-15

Even better than wedging them in place - I believe it was Ernest Hemingway who used to do this - attach them to bungie cords. One on the bottom, one on the top. The bounces from the road will create extra agitation.

Moem (author)bloomautomatic2012-09-02

If the can or bucket rolling around in your trunk doesn't drive you crazy, and you drive around a lot...
Well, yes, it just might work. Let us know how it goes!

sleighbedguy (author)2013-05-29

I threw about 100lbs of Lava Rock I had in my front garden bed through a cement mixer along with a few shovels of sand and some 1" Ball Bearings after reading about the sea glass/tumbled glass Instructables. It turned all of the rock into a paste that I tilled back into the garden. It has made planting and weeding a lot easier.

mailmam71 (author)2012-09-02

I did this with a little rock tumbler I got from Harbor Freight for about $40 and it works well. I wanted to do some mosaic and the only thing I would recommend is to make sure the pieces you break are flat. The bottles tend to have humps and that makes doing a table top difficult and things don't sit well!

Moem (author)mailmam712012-09-02

Bottles, on the other hand, are great for making mosaics on bent surfaces, like a cylindrical vase.

I've heard of rock tumblers... never seen one. They aren't common here at all, probably because we don't have rocks.

bricabracwizard (author)Moem2013-01-20

Rock tumblers are mainly for semi-precious stones like opals etc which I know I mentioned earlier by mistake.....these run for days at a time to get the gems!

jessyratfink (author)2012-08-29

That's amazing. Never seen this done before. :D

Moem (author)jessyratfink2012-08-29

Thanks! Well, I found some tutorials for doing it using a rock tumbler... but those aren't common here, probably because of a distinct lack of rocks. So I decided to work with what we do have :-)

bricabracwizard (author)Moem2013-01-20

Rock tumblers are mainly for semi-precious stones like opals etc that's why they are small and you run them for days at a time.

Mar HK (author)Moem2012-08-29

Yup, I grew up doing this with a small rock tumbler and broken wine bottles to decorate stepping stones. Depending on the grit you use with the rock tumbler, you can get various levels of smoothness, and use thinner glass. Quieter than a cement mixer, but still pretty noisy.

Maybe I should raid my Dad's shed and see if he still has it around...

sherrycayheyhey (author)Moem2012-08-29

I was going to ask about rock tumblers. It would be a much smaller scale but might be nice to get some of those rare colors like red.

Moem (author)sherrycayheyhey2012-08-29

It's totally possible, apparently... just pop the appropriate words into a search engine of your choice and you should be on your way.

savagehart37 (author)2012-09-05

Since not everyone has a cement mixer lying around, do you think this might work on a smaller scale with a stone tumbler?

iamadam (author)savagehart372012-10-11

I have done this on a smaller scale with a rock tumbler. It takes significantly longer though. I remember it taking about 5 days when i did it. I used beer bottles.

Moem (author)savagehart372012-09-05

According to the comments, it sounds like it would... but I've not tried that because I don't have a stone tumbler lying around.

zacker (author)2012-09-02

Is the speed of the tumbler important? like, if its spinning really, really fast, say 1340 RPM, would it be ok or would it turn the glass into powder? Im thinking, use an empty paint can, attach it to a turn table of some sort, maybe welded to a shaft on a bearing with a pully, then use a 1/3 or 1/2 HP motor like on a drill press or table saw... just run a belt from the motor to the table's pulley and let er rip! lol

srilyk (author)zacker2012-09-15

If you add some different sized pullys you can change the speed (think bicycle gearing). A much lower RPM motor would be better - think < 100. You also want a motor that's designed to be run constantly for long periods of time (like maybe a fan?).

Moem (author)zacker2012-09-03

If it's spinning too fast, the glass would probably be pressed to the wall all the time, and not get any decent tumbling action. So I suspect not a lot would happen to it.

I'm actually thinking of building a glass tumbler using an engine from an old sewing machine.

Steelsmith1 (author)2012-09-05

If you break glass bottles wear a fine particle protection mask. Glass dust will give you silicosis. It does not get better. Ask potters who wear masks when they mix clay. The dust that will hurt you floats for a long time, is invisible to the naked eye. A couple bottles, no problem. If you decide to break hundreds as a friend plans to do, use protection.

Moem (author)Steelsmith12012-09-06

Good point, I have added a warning about glass dust.

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Bio: I like to tinker. I'm a co-founder and active participant of my local hackerspace: Hack42 in Arnhem, the Netherlands. You can also find me ... More »
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