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Apache Tears (Obsidian Nodules) Tumbler Rough

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Apache Tears (Black Obsidian)



Apache tears are small roundish nodules of black volcanic glass known as "obsidian". They look opaque in the image above but when polished most of them will be translucent to semi-transparent if you hold them up to the light. They make beautiful jet black tumbled stones. You can see a photo of Apache Tears that we tumbled below. We also have polished Apache Tears for sale here.

The Apache Tears for sale here range in size from approximately 1/4" (6 mm) to 1 1/2"" (38 mm) in diameter.

Lots of people say that Apache Tears, various types of obsidian, and other natural glasses are a challenge to polish. The problem that they encounter is brusing and chipping if the tears are tossed around too vigorously in a rotary tumbler.

That problem is easy to solve!

Simply load the Apache Tears into a tumbler barrel with about 30% to 50% (by volume) small ceramic cylinders. The barrel should be loaded to about 3/4 full. The small ceramic pellets will cushion the Apache tears as they tumble and prevent hard impacts in the barrel. That's how you prevent brusing and chipping.

We have successfully polished Apache tears in a rotary tumbler with small ceramic cylinders and TXP polish using the four step tumbling method (a few days in coarse grit, one week in medium grit, one week in fine grit, and one week in polish). Our favorite way to polish them is described at the bottom of this page.

Here are two more tips about tumbling Apache Tears and obsidian in general.....

First, obsidian is a lot softer than the agates and jaspers that most people tumble. They are 5.5 on the Mohs Hardness Scale while jasper and agate are 7. If you tumble Apache Tears with agate and jasper they will wear away while the agate and jasper are still being rounded. Apache Tears should be tumbled separately.

Second, instead of allowing them to tumble a week in coarse grit it is best to check on them after four to five days. Apache Tears have a hardness of 5.5 but the silicon carbide has a hardness of 9+. The tears will wear away rapidly in the hard silicon carbide. You don't want to open your tumbler and discover that your tears have tumbled to the size if small peas!
Polished apache tears
This photo is of a batch of Apache Tears that we polished. Look at that bright polish and no brusing! Here's how we did it......

Step 1: We loaded about two pounds of Apache Tears and about two pounds of small ceramic cylinders into the barrel of a Lortone QT6 tumbler with 60/90 grit silicon carbide. We then tumbled for seven days. The Apache Tears that we tumbled were already rounded. In addition, they are a lot softer than agates and jaspers - so seven days in coarse grit was enough to produce nice rounded shapes with almost all of the dimples smoothed out.

Step 2: We loaded the Apache Tears and the small ceramic cylinders into a single barrel Lot-O-Tumbler and ran them for 48 hours in 150/220 grit, rinsing and adding new grit after the first 24 hours.

Step 3: We then ran the Apache Tears and ceramic cylinders for 24 hours in the Lot-O-Tumbler with 500F grit prepolish. The tears were now showing a slight gloss.

Step 4: The final step was 48 hours in the Lot-O-Tumbler with TXP aluminum oxide polish. We checked the tears at the end of 24 hours and they had a bright polish but it wasn't mirror smooth throughout. So we added one Lot-o-Tumbler cap full of water and allowed the tumbler to run another 24 hours.

Wow! They came out great! Total processing time was one week and five days.

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