Daily Wire Tip Dec. 18: How to Polish Apache Tears

By on December 17, 2010
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Daily Wire Jewelry Making Tip for
December 18, 2010


Good morning Dale, I’m tumbling some Apache tears and they refuse to polish up to that fine glass finish we all love. Can you give me some pointers? Thanks for all your help and guidance.

-Sherry in Coulterville, California


Ah yes, Apache tears, lovely little drops of obsidian. These are about the most difficult of all materials to tumble polish! I remember my first batch, it took me about 4 months of experimentation to get it right. The following is how I mastered tumble polishing Apache Tears:

First, be sure that you use LOTS of plastic pellets throughout every run, from coarse through fine, as you do not want a single conchoidal chip.

The secret is in the polish stage. Carefully place the tears in the polish barrel and before you add the water, saturate the water with white table sugar (and I mean saturate!!). This forms a really thick syrup that when added to the tears and pellets will further the “cushion” needed to protect these little glass pieces. Note: Be sure to add enough pellets for the barrel to be 4/5 full!

Then add cerium oxide, about half again the amount you would normally use, a dash of Ivory flakes, and run for about 10 hours before checking. Enjoy!

Answer contributed by Dale “Cougar” Armstrong

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  1. avatar

    Jane Elizabeth

    December 18, 2010 at 10:45 am

    Though I do not yet tumble or cut my own Obsidian (or anything else), I am in awe of your depth of knowledge and willingness to share! I believe you must be the craft’s most valued artisan as well as, a truely gifted teacher. I would love to join your fan club and run for office, in it.

    • avatar


      December 18, 2010 at 9:54 pm

      LOL Jane, thanks so much for your kind comments. I just do what I love and learn more every day by sharing it : )

  2. avatar


    December 18, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    A question, Dale. Do you use different barrels for each grit, or do you wash the barrels between grits?

    • avatar


      December 18, 2010 at 9:51 pm

      Karen, to answer your question about barrels and grit: I use one barrel for coarse, one for medium and wash it thoroughly before using it for fine and one for polish only. So I basically use 3 barrels. (The reason I use one only for coarse is because the grit can sometimes embed itself into the side of the rubber.)

  3. avatar

    Tami Brewer

    December 19, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    I have been tumbling stones for about 5 or 6 years, including Apache tear and obsidian and get beautiful results. I use 5 barrels in 6 stages. Here is the recipe I use for my tumbling.
    1-2 weeks in 60/90 grit
    1 week in 120/220 grit
    1 week in 500 grit
    1 week in 1000 grit
    1 week in Tripoli
    1 week in a combination of Cerium Oxide and Aluminum Oxide Polish
    I use one barrel for the 60/90 and 120/220 grit, one barrel for 500 and 1000 grit, and separate barrels for the Tripoli and Polish. I also have plastic pellets for each stage, although I generally don’t use the plastic pellets in the first 2 stages unless I am tumbling a batch of stones that have a low Moh’s hardness.

    There are just a few stones that I can’t get a great polish on. Hematite gets shiny but not the mirror shine you usually see, I haven’t found the right formula for Jade or Fluorite.

    • avatar


      December 19, 2010 at 4:17 pm

      Thanks so much for sharing your recipe Tami!

  4. avatar

    Sue Balk

    December 19, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    Dale you are the best. I thought I was reading a cooking recipe. You are awesome with all your hints and knowledge. I have just started bending wire. :-) I have had some good results. I am slowly collecting enough tools and wire to work with from your store.
    Keep up the good work and the wonderful sharing.
    a fan

  5. avatar


    December 21, 2010 at 11:25 am

    Thank you Dale for responding! It would’ve taken me forever to figure out your recipe if I ever got it down. I would’ve never thought Sugar! I’ve found I’ve got a lot more to do too. So thank you, Thank you, I can’t wait to get back home and try it.
    I want to thank everyone for your comments and replys. It’s wonderful being part of such a wondeful team.
    Hope you all have a very merry Christmas and safe New Year!

  6. avatar


    March 23, 2016 at 1:05 pm

    We are new at tumbling rocks and are trying to do the Apache Tears. They were beginning to smooth and round well,and the pits were diminishing. However, on the next check they were wanting to show cracking and more pitting. What might have went wrong. We are still in stage 1 and we do have the added pellets in the tumbler.