The Lapidary Process
Cutting And Polishing Stone
Where The Magic Happens
Here is an article about my lapidary workspace and what magic occurs in the lapidary process.
The workspace includes a 6 wheel grinding, smoothing and polishing machine. A small trimsaw for cutting smaller pre cut slabs. A Dopping station for heating dop wax and placing cabochons onto dop sticks, ready for further shaping and polishing. Also a polishing wheel that has felt pads used for further polishing using various polishing compounds.
The 6 wheel grinding , smoothing and polishing arbor machine.
This machine has a water storage bottle that feeds water into each different grade wheel . You turn the little yellow tap on when you use that particular wheel and then turn the water tap back off when you have finished on that wheel. It has a drainage tray and drain hole which feeds the water down into a plastic tube that runs out the shed onto the lawn. You begin at the left side with the harder diamond coated grinding wheel, then work your way along to the finer grades. The right side 3 wheels are 2 grades for sanding and the last one is a polishing wheel.
6 Wheel Arbor Grinding Machine With Water Feeder
Trim Saw and Polishing Machine Using Felt Wheels.
The trim saw has an inside tank to fill with water and blade coolant. The water mix is filled only until it touches the bottom of the Diamond tipped saw blade. When the saw is turned on the water is spun onto the blade and keeps it cool for cutting, it also prevents any hazardous dust from being inhaled into your lungs by keeping the slab wet. I always cut with a waterproof plastic apron, safety mask, clear goggles and ear cover. Its always good to wash your hands thoroughly with soapy water after cutting slabs. After cutting is finished the water is drained out into a bucket, emptied onto the grass, and the machine is cleaned up.
Slabs Cut Using Trim Saw
Kaleidoscope Agate at the top, Blue Shattukite, Brown Nunderite, Grey Gabbro, then Green and Yellow Ocean Jasper.
Rough Materials Natural Uncut
Pink Tourmaline From Brazil, Kaleidoscope Agate From Utah USA, Lemurian Aquatine Calcite From Argentina, Nunderite From Nundora NSW Australia, and Deep Blue Sodalite From Brazil.
I purchase rough materials online or in my travels. They come from all over the world and have various densities, hardness, structure, pattern and colours. The rough materials can be anywhere from 2 pounds up to 15 pounds. All rough is first cut into slabs with the help of my local lapidary club, who have large sawing machines of different sizes that members can use for a small price per slab where proceeds go back into the club.
Goddess Lakshmi at the workbench
Wax Heating Station For Dopping Sticks
Tin Oxide and Cerium Oxide Polishing Compounds
Tin Oxide and Cerium Oxide polishing compounds that are mixed with water and used for polishing cabochons. I prefer to polish with only water on my large machine and then diamond paste on the felt polish machine. After using diamond paste, I again use the water polish to finish using large machine.
Diamond Paste Polishing Compound Syringe
Diamond paste polishing compound and polishing lube. The Diamond grit paste comes in different grades of grit and has to be used with the lube on the felt polishing wheel.
Basic Lapidary Process Stages
Here is the basic process description from cut slabs until finished polished cabochon.
I begin with the pre trimmed slabs and decide what shape I want my cabochon. There are times I prefer to free form the desired shape, and other times I will use a template to draw the outline. I also consider what colour and pattern would look best, What side of the slab will be the back of the cabochon and what will be the main feature and top of the cabochon. Placement is most important.
When the cabochon slab is marked I then put on my plastic waterproof apron and tie my hair back. Turning the tap on of the first harder diamond Coated wheel I then begin grinding my cabochon form. I will work around the outer edges first and then cut at a 45 degree angle around the area I want to be the top of my cabochon. Then I continue to shape the cabochon by smoothing it into a round edge from the angle cut, and rounding off the top on the finer grade wheels. The cabochon stays wet for the whole process to ensure no dust or inhalation of any dangerous particles.
Grinding flat the edges to make the initial shape of the cabochon
Grinding the form and rounding the sides.
Smoothing and Shaping on next Wheel.
When making the cabochon I will continually move it so I don’t get any flat spots or take off too much material that would spoil its desired shape. Every time I am ready to move to the next wheel I have to rinse the cabochon from the previous grade grit, so I don’t contaminate the next wheel from any previous diamond grit. As I move onto the third wheel on the left hand side of the machine that is the final grade for forming the cabochon. Sometimes it is done by hand and sometimes it is done with the cabochon placed onto a dopping stick.
Dopping Station with heated wax.
Using the Dopping station I heat the dopping wax and turn the stick until I have enough wax on the end. Usually I also gently heat the underside of my cabochon so its warm, by placing it on the edge of the wax pot. On a hard surface like this granite block, I then form the hot wax on the dop stick by rolling It, and then I place it on top of my cabochon base. Next I mould the wax whilst its still soft and malleable by pressing it onto the base of my cabochon. Using my fingers I press the wax making sure the cabochon is stuck in place and then allow it to cool and set firm.
Rolling the hot wax onto the dopping stick using granite slab.
Securing your cabochon base to the dop stick.
Cooling and setting time for the dop stick with cabochon.
Now its time to continue onto the right side of the arbor machine where I continue to smooth and sand away any of the grinding wheel cutting marks. I also ensure to smooth out any bumps in the surface form of my cabochon.
First sanding grade wheel for smoothing cabochon before polishing.
Smoothing the cabochon.
When I move to the last sanding wheel I will often stop and dry my cabochon to look at it out in the sunlight where I can see if there are any flat spots or scratch marks before deciding to polish on the last wheel of this machine. There are different types of polishing wheels and its always good to have a choice for different types of stone materials.
Polishing with the felt wheels.
When I have polished my cabochon on the large machine just using water, sometimes I will use the felt polishing wheel next. I use a clear lube combined with a diamond grit paste. I will continue to stop and look at the cabochon outside in the sun at regular intervals until I am satisfied with my high polish. As a final polish I will rinse the cabochon and return to just using the larger machine with water to final polish my stone. When done it is time to take off the cabochon from the dop stick. I use a short candle flame, an old butter knife and the hard surface of the granite block. I gently heat the wax being careful not to burn or crack the stone from the heat. So I stay focused on the wax being gently heated until I can see it soften enough. Then I use the knife edge between the wax and the base of the cabochon until I gently dislodge it from the dop stick.
Heating the dopping wax.
Gently dislodging the cabochon with knife.
Success off it comes ready to clean off remaining wax from the base.
Now to get rid of the excess dop wax from the cabochon, I soak it in a dish with a little methylated spirits for around 10 mins until the wax dissolves. I check underneath the cabochon and when there is no more wax on its base I give it a rinse with water and then I water polish the underside of the cabochon by hand on the polishing wheel of the large machine.
Dissolving the remaining dop wax.
Here are some kaleidoscope Agate Cabochons I finished Polishing January 2016.
Such amazing colours and no two are alike.
Colourful Kaleidoscope Agate cabochon
Polished Ocean Jasper Cabochon
A gorgeous Ocean Jasper Cabochon with tiny pockets of crystal druzy.
As with any creative process you will get better at it the more you practice, and as you journey through these experiences you will grow wiser and acquire more knowledge. There are many different types of stones for lapidary, all have different hardness, texture and layers. Sometimes you will have to cut material so that the inner patterns of the stone will show or be easier to polish cutting a particular way. I love stones that have some scenes of nature within them like picture jasper.
Picture jasper Scene Full moon through the trees.
Picture Jasper Scene through the trees.
Outback Jasper Scene tree in landscape.
I have cut and polished some opals but they take a lot of experience to master because of the way the colour is layered within them. They have to be cut gently and very slowly with lots of checking as you go, to not take off the colour layer or to fracture the surface. I have a lot to learn yet.
Some jars of opal rough and opal rubs.
Various pink and purple finished cabochons.
Various Brown, Black, white, grey and quartz finished cabochons.
Various blue and green finished cabochons.
Slab cuts of Kaleidoscope Agate, Shattukite, Gabbro, Ocean Jasper, and Nunderite.
To save time writing this blog I had to use different stones at different stages for the photos. I hope you enjoyed this article and maybe one day I will make a short video of the lapidary process from start to finish. Thanks for viewing this article and I hope it inspires you about the amazing colours and patterns that Mother Earth Shares with us in her stones.
Many blessings. Anita.
Article written by Anita Allen January 2016.