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I’ve collected lots of glass and stones from the beach near me and would like to make jewelry with it. I’d like to be able to cut the glass into shape, drill small holes into it, and also be able to polish it so it’s smooth and see-through. Can anyone help? Thank you!

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  • You can likely buy a semi-precious stone for less than the cost of diamond saw and bits, grinding/polishing wheels, assuming you have a drill ,grinder and small vice. – blacksmith37 Jun 9 '20 at 18:47
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For drilling glass, drill bits for tiles (the spear-point type) work. Work wet and go slowly. I've seen them down to 3mm. You need to hold the glass steady, but a cordless drill will be adequate.

If you want a smooth (as opposed to facetted) piece, jewellers rouge on a cloth will polish glass, worked by hand, though it might take a while. For a little reshaping, such as to remove a sharp edge, you can use wet/dry paper (silicon carbide paper) or emory cloth. Start coarse and work down to a fine grade before polishing. I'm much more familiar with machine polishing, but that's good for flat surfaces.

If you really need to cut it, small cuts can be made with a dremel or similar, with a carbide cutoff wheel. There are also coarse hand saws for tiles that cut glass. They're like a file made of thick wire (coated in abrasive) in a frame, rather than what you'd it think of as a saw.

Safety glasses are a good idea when cutting or drilling.

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  • Sanding and polishing individual pieces by hand would take forever. I'd just use a tumbling machine or shaker for that part. – Gwyn Dec 4 '20 at 23:00
  • @Gwyn, that's true if you want a lot of polished pieces, which the OP might well do. My mental picture was of items using just one or two pieces of beach glass – Chris H Dec 5 '20 at 8:14
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First you need a tool to work the glass. I suggest a dremel or similar rotary tool for that, but there are vast differences in quality:

  • You can get a dremel / rotary tool including a collection of bits and a tool box for around 40 €/$. Most of these advertise insane rpm values, but in reality what you want is motor power, not motor speed (I never used more than half the available speed of my tool). They notably slow down as soon as your bit touches the object because the motor doesn't have the power to withstand the slightest resistance, forcing you to work in very small increments. These cheap tools are okay for occasional hobby crafters, but if you plan on working with them regularily, you'll be very dissappointed.
  • Many people already have such a tool and never use it. Maybe you can loan one from your neighbor / friend / family for a while.
  • If this is more than just a one-time project you should consider getting a more expensive, high quality tool. These have a strong motor that allows you to work fast and evenly and most include nice features like a quick and secure way to change bits or an ergonomical handle.

Then you need the bits to use with your tool. I'll refer you to Chris' answer for that with the additional advice to totally forget each and every cheap bit set that is included in a cheap rotary tool. In my experience they are not properly centered, which makes them bump into the object instead of running smothly over it, causing damage or rough surfaces where you wanted to smoth them.

For shaping the glass and drilling holes you could ask your dentist for old drill bits they no longer use. They won't be perfect (after all your dentist sorted them out for a reason), but it's a cheap way to get good diamond bits for drilling small holes.

Then you absolutely need protective equipment, at least safety glasses and a fine dust mask! The fine dust you produce while working the glass is not as smooth as it feels. It's a pile of microscopic glass shards that can irritate your eyes and lungs. Even worse! Since glass isn't organic, your body cannot decompose it and it stays in your lungs forever.

Thanks to beadforever for the addition that

Diamond drill bits should be used underwater to prolong their life and reduce dust from the glass getting into your lungs.

And lastly you need patience, lots of it. Polishing glass to a mirror finish takes several passes with decreasing grain size and finishing with polishing paste. To me personally it sounds not worth the efford for an oddly shaped piece of a bottle. Many people like the frosted finish of beach glass.

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    Diamond drill bits should be used underwater to prolong their life and reduce dust from the glass getting into your lungs. – beadforever Dec 3 '20 at 2:50
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If you use beach glass and stones in crafts, the frosted look is actually prized, so polishing them is usually not done. You can buy glass beads in any size or color you want quite cheaply, after all.

However, if you really want you beach stones/glass smooth and shiny, tumbling is probably your best bet and certainly easiest if you are going to be doing a lot of it. For single larger pieces, the other answers describing how to work the stone using rotary tools, etc. would be a better option.

You can buy a tumbling machine and tumbling media or make your own.

They all operate on similar principles. You clean your rocks/glass pieces and then put them into a barrel with water and coarse tumbling medium and set it turning. Depending on the hardness of the rocks (which you can test before starting), you keep it going for anything from a day to a week, checking daily. Once the rough edges are gone and the rocks start getting nice and rounded, you remove and wash them, remove the slurry and wash the barrel thoroughly, then repeat with a finer grain of tumbling medium. Keep repeating with finer and finer media until the surface is polished/shiny.

There are a number of how-to videos on YouTube and written tutorials all over the internet explaining how to choose and use a tumbling machine or how to make your own. To start with, you can look at RockTumbler or a for a DIY option The Active Family

Once your rocks/glass is tumbled to your satisfaction, you can give individual pieces a final polish by hand with jeweller's rouge (or 3 micron diamond polishing paste) if you want, then use a fine diamond drill bit to drill a hole through each one (or the other way round).

Work with the piece you're drilling clamped firmly and don't press too hard otherwise you may get melting of the glass or splintering/cracking of the rock. Keep the contact surface under water while drilling to avoid dust getting into your eyes and respiratory system and wear the right protective equipment (gloves, safety goggles and dust mask).

Don't pour the slurry/mud from tumbling and drilling down the drain.

If you are using something like beach sand as medium, rather mix it into your garden soil. If you are using commercial products or adding plastic beads or other plastics as cushioning, rather pour the slurry into a bucket as discussed in the comment by Chris H below and do your washing (of the stones and equipment) over a bucket as well. Once the solids have settled out, the water can be poured off and the solids discarded with your non-recyclable garbage. Otherwise you'll end up clogging drains.

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    +1 for the description of tumbling, but I'm not sure all tumbling media should be put in soil. Some include plastics, and I wouldn't be surprised if there were detergents/wetting agents in there as there are in the diamond slurries I use in work. What I do is drain into a bucket, leave overnight, then pour off the water slowly, leaving the sediment behind.That can go in normal waste, but might need to dry a bit first. – Chris H Dec 5 '20 at 8:24
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    @Chris H Good point. I was thinking more DIY, and since the OP spends all that time on the beach, I figured they would mostly use sand as it would be easily available. I'll edit that a bit ... – Gwyn Dec 5 '20 at 9:33
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Use a diamond drill bit but make sure you drill underwater or you could inhale glass dust in your lungs. A tumbler will not polish the glass smooth and shiny . You would need to fire polish with a torch like a hot head or some other torch for lampworking and than you would need a way to heat the glass before fire polishing it of the glass will most likely pop and crack exploding basically . As other have said beach glass is something most love that frosted look of.

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  • Is this an answer to the question, or a collection of comments based on the existing answers? If it is the first, can you please clarify what steps can be undertaken for what parts of the process? – Joachim Dec 9 '20 at 7:38
  • There's also a terminology mix-up here. There's a difference between lampwork beads and fire polished beads and the latter is usually used to refer to faceted beads made using the Czech method. – Gwyn Dec 9 '20 at 18:44

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