Water Wheel Sea Glass

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I’ve always loved sea glass! Unfortunately, I live about as far from the sea as possible. For this reason, I decided to make my own DIY desert sea glass. I created a turbine to spin my glass shards with sand, and placed the entire contraption in a ditch. Three weeks later I opened the turbine, wiped off this interesting cappuccino-like mud in the cans, and found perfectly smoothed chunks! It’s all natural, and the process is almost as fun as trying to decide what to do with my sea glass! And why stop with just glass? I tried some small wood chips and a nickel. There wasn’t much change to the nickel, but the wood chips were nice and smooth -like mini pieces of drift wood.

While glass in the sea takes years to become sea glass, yours will only take about three weeks, depending on how fast the water moves. The turbine itself will take a couple hours to create and set up, and you’ll have to check on the wheel now and again.

The sea glass turbine could be made in several ways. I designed mine to minimize material costs, and while it was cool to watch it spin, I wouldn’t necessarily call it beautiful. But it could be! Follow my directions or take inspiration from the idea and design your own!

Lets reuse some old bottles and turn them into sea glass for mosaics, jewelry, or other art!

Supplies:

I used mostly scrap materials for the making of the sea glass turbine. There’s plenty of wiggle room with this Instructable, so if you lack some materials don’t feel like the project is off the table. Just read the Instructable so you understand the constraints behind each material choice.

With that said, you will need:

4X Large Cans: Mine once contained clams, and they’re about 8 inches tall and 3.5 inches in diameter. I would consider a can similar to this size to be ideal. Too big of cans and the water may not be strong enough to turn the wheel, too small and you won’t get very much sea glass. Another option would be to use 8 small cans. Keep in mind that they all need to be the same size for equal weight distribution. Also, if you use large cans, you will need more wood.

1X Hack Saw (or Similar)

3 Feet Bailor Twine (or Parachord, or Similar)

1X Duct Tape

1X Hockey Sock Tape: Duct tape really isn’t great after water exposure. I used hockey sock tape as well as duct tape to keep things secure after a few weeks of getting splashed. Any other type of water-resistant tape or fastener would work as well.

2X T-Posts

1X Piece of Metal Rebar: You will need roughly 2.5 feet.

1X Drill

1X Sharpie Roughly 25 Feet Scrap Lumber: Should be around 1 inch thick and 4-6 inches wide.

1X Hammer

1X Plastic Baggie

1X Dog Food Bag

4X (or more) Wine Bottles of Interesting Colors (or other bits of thicker, colorful glass)

1 Quart Sand: You could get technical with this if you wanted to, but I just used sand from my driveway.

1 Quart Small Pebbles: The pebbles should be penny sized or smaller.

1X Handful of Screws

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Step 1: Overview

My design for the turbine consisted of four cans with the glass/pebble/wood/sand mixture inside. These four cans were held inside a wooden box. Fins were attached to the four sides of the box, and the entire turbine rotated around a piece of old rebar. I used this design for several reasons: First, the turbine needs to be sturdy. I tried this project previously using a peanut jar, and it didn’t last long enough to examine the results. Second, I thought placing containers inside a container (aka wrapped cans inside of a wooden box), to be the easiest/least expensive method of having a hole in the middle of the turbine without having the contents leak out over time. Third, for the wheel to rotate effectively, the weight distribution needed to be reasonably centered.

Step 2: Cut Pieces of Wood

First, we’ll cut our wood. The size of the wood depends on the size of the cans; therefore, I have written the diagram in units of can length and can width. You’ll need 12 pieces of wood in groups of four identically sized pieces.
The first four pieces of wood will cover the top and bottom of the box that holds the cans, with two pieces of wood on each side. Therefore, these pieces must be equal in length to 2*(can diameter) + 2*(wood width) + 2 inches wiggle room.

The next four pieces of wood will hold the top and bottom of the can box together. These four pieces should be the length of the cans. The turbine will be sturdier if the top and bottom of the box are squeezed together tightly, so make sure these four pieces of wood are exactly the length of the can or slightly smaller.

Lastly, you will need four pieces of wood for the fins. Mine were each roughly 3 feet long.

Step 3: Add Notches

The next step is to cut notches in the middles of the four pieces of wood that compose the top and bottom of the can box. This is so the turbine can rotate around the piece of rebar. Try to make the hole roughly the size of a quarter. I doesn’t really matter if the hole ends up being square.

Step 4: Prepare Cans

Next, we’ll prepare our cans. Place the wine bottles in the plastic baggie and crush it into little bits with the hammer. Whether you want large pieces of glass or small ones is discretionary, but remember that your sea glass will end up being roughly the size of the glass shards.

Fill the cans until they are about 3/4 full with a 2:2:1 mixture of glass, sand, and small pebbles. If you add more pebbles, or larger pebbles, your glass will come out with more craters and divots. If you add more sand, it will end up being smoother but it might take a little longer to wear down. (In some of my cans, the sand leaked out, but it didn’t seem to matter.)

I added some larger objects to my cans, like chunks of wood and some pieces of glass that were stuck to the label on my wine bottle. This was partly because I wanted to see what happened to the wood, but it was also to help mix up the cans. The end goal is not just to rotate the mixture, it’s to have the glass and sand in the mixture move past each other. Therefore, it’s helpful if part of the mixture moves more slowly (because its stuck behind a chunk of wood) and part of it moves quickly (because it isn’t stuck behind a piece of wood) as the cans rotate.

Step 5: Wrap Cans

Next, wrap the tops of the cans. Cut two squares of dog food bag for every can so that when the squares are placed over the top of the dog food can extra material extends over the edges. Then fold the bag down and wrap water resistant tape around it (I used hockey sock tape). This covering will go through quite a bit of abuse in the next few weeks, so don’t be stingy with the tape.

Step 6: Assemble Design Body

Finally time for assembly! Please read the description and consult the diagram, because I think the diagram makes it much easier to understand.

Arrange the cans in a square and use the eight precut pieces of wood to build a box around them. Assemble the box so that the sides of the boards on the top and the sides of the boards on the bottom are perpendicular. This is important for strength. The notches should form a hole in the center of both sides. Use at least eight screws. Make sure to screw in the top and bottom pieces so the cans are nice and snug. Pilot holes are good.

Next add, the fins. Screw the fins in so the ends of the fins are centered in each side piece of the box. Use at least two screws per fin.

Step 7: Add Fins

Next add, the fins. Screw the fins in so the ends of the fins are centered in each side piece of the box. Use at least two screws per fin.

Step 8: Install Water Wheel

Find a water source! Local farmers and ranchers are good resources for this, at least if you live by irrigated fields. The water source absolutely doesn’t need to be a river; I placed my turbine in a small ditch. You would be surprised how much power even a small amount of moving water has.

Pound in two T-posts about 2.5 feet apart in the water source, so that an imaginary line drawn between them would be perpendicular to the water’s motion. (This step almost certainly will involve getting wet.) Put a slight bend in the middle of the piece of rebar. (Very slight; it shouldn’t be off by more than 2 inches.) This will help keep the wheel centered. Tie one side of the rebar to one post, and slide the wheel onto the rebar. Then tie the other side. Watch the wheel for a few minutes to make sure it doesn’t get stuck on anything, and make adjustments as needed!

Step 9: Wait

My wheel spun at 13-14 rotations per minute, and it took 3 weeks to create sea glass. If your wheel spins faster or slower, it will take less or more time. When the moment arrives, open up the contraption and see what’s inside! It may need to be cleaned up a bit!

Step 10: Make Things With Sea Glass!

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    39 Discussions

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    erikgilliam

    9 hours ago

    Over the years plastic has replaced glass as the material of choice for bottling many liquid products. One result has been the reduction of glass bottles being dumped into the sea. I would like to think that increased recycling, for both glass and plastic, has had a part in reducing glass being tossed into the sea.
    Still, it is nice to know of a way to make "sea glass" without tossing glass bottles into the ocean.

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    pemazzei

    Question 19 days ago

    As an alternative method, can I use a metal container with an abrasive inside (carborundum) and put the glass pieces to roll up? After some time the edges of the glass pieces will be smoothed. Shure, there is not the "poetic" and "emotinal" of the sea. Also, not so valuable!

    2 answers
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    hockeyidiotpemazzei

    Answer 17 days ago

    Had to look up what carborundum was lol. I understand your comment to be that you're thinking of gluing abrasive paper to the inner wall of the container?
    Yeah I think that would probably work for the edges. The only problem I can forsee is that often the glass pieces would be curved. The inner part of the curve would not contact the wall of the container.
    Thanks for your comment!

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    pemazzeihockeyidiot

    Reply 16 days ago

    Hi. I was thinking in carborundum pownder. In Brazil some craftsman use this method to round hard stones for neck laces. Any way, I can see that the natural action is better than the artificial action! Thanks.

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    rozzieozzie

    18 days ago

    What a great idea! Not only are you recycling the bottles but also the wood, cans and items used to make the wheel itself. With beautiful results too! Makes me wish I had a creek nearby....

    1 reply
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    budc11

    18 days ago

    Great project, It is a project the is in the possible for many if us. Interesting, productive, affordable and not time consuming. Also no special tools. but as a little note the larger the diameter of the can the more weight the faster cutting, commercial rock polishers use drums ove 4" in diameter with hundred of pounds of stones. also consider get some of the abrasive used in vibration polishers,they are harder and keep cutting better. Some sands ma not be any harder than the glass.

    2 replies
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    hockeyidiotbudc11

    Reply 17 days ago

    Its interesting that commercial polishers have a larger diameter; probably some interesting math behind that. And interesting thought on getting rock polishing abrasive.
    Thanks for your comment!

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    EmmitSbudc11

    Reply 18 days ago

    Most sand is silica, which is hard enough, The playground sand from the home improvement store would work just fine.

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    EmmitS

    18 days ago

    What you've built is a water powered rock tumbler. If you were to leave the rocks in there and changed the cans as they wear out, your glass would end up with a mirror polish. for a little more, you could replace the cans with regular tumbler barrels, which would not rust and would take forever to wear out. You could use your sea glass in any findings made for tumbled stones. One idea is to buy a package of up eyes and glue them to the pieces of glass to make instant pendants.

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    hockeyidiotEmmitS

    Reply 17 days ago

    The idea probably would work as a rock polisher. Mine would not be sturdy enough to last that long, but if better materials were used I think it would work.
    And pendants are a good idea! I have far too much sea glass now and I need to find more uses for it.
    Thanks for your comment!

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    WB333

    19 days ago on Step 9

    My imagination sours with all the variables that can be constructed ... excellent contrbution - one of the best submissions in years of reading all the pages of Instructables that come across my email. As a maker of Organic Styled Jewelry, I am certainly going to start using "Paddle Wheel" Ocean Glass in my designs.

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    hockeyidiotWB333

    Reply 17 days ago

    Thank you WB333! And good luck with your jewelry!

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    BillJ1

    19 days ago

    Wow, this was really a great use of natural resources and recycled materials to make something. Great results. I see from the photos that water infiltrated the cans. Not sure if this was intended or not, or if the water helped or hindered the process. I’m wondering if using sealed PVC pipe would have a positive or negative affect on the time or outcome of the glass end product?

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    hockeyidiotBillJ1

    Reply 17 days ago

    That's true, the water did infiltrate some of the cans, and in some cases washed out most of the sand. I didn't actually notice any difference between the glass in the various cans, so I'm not really sure whether the water helped or hurt the process. If I had to guess, I would say it probably helped? Very interesting question.
    PVC is a great idea. You could even mix water and sand inside the PVC.
    Thanks for your comment.

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    dhaykus0418

    19 days ago

    I have done essentially the same thing using the cheapest rock tumbler kit
    i could find, it does not use that much power and results are somewhat faster(consistent rotation speed).

    1 reply
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    hockeyidiotdhaykus0418

    Reply 18 days ago

    Hi dhaykus0418!
    You're right, I imagine using a rock tumbler would definitely be easier, and also could be faster depending on water speed. I did it this way because it was more fun, and also cheaper!
    Thanks for your comment!

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    pemazzei

    Question 19 days ago

    Please, what is sea glass? Online translators give me some silly answers... Thanks, Paulo - Brazil