Cabochon Cutting How-To: Michael Boyd’s Tips, Tricks, and Advice for Aspiring Lapidaries

If I could chose any jewelry-making skill to learn that I haven’t learned so far, it would be lapidary work like cabochon cutting and stone cutting. The idea of cutting into a stone that no one has seen inside before and revealing its hidden beauty makes me giddy! I’m fascinated by the “science” behind it, too; not gemological science but the knowledge that the gem cutter must have to coax just the right shape out of just the right part of just the right stone. Fascinating.

Until I can take a lapidary class and actually get my hands wet and dirty cutting gems and cabs, I cut and polish vicariously through the pros. Michael Boyd is one such pro who released an excellent DVD on cabochon cutting recently. Here are just six of the many cabochon cutting tips, tricks, and techniques I learned watching Michael demonstrate the safety, tools, and steps involved in cutting and polishing stones.

1.       You don’t want to cut a cab from a larger slab with inclusions in it, or it might break during cutting, setting, or worse–while a customer is wearing it–but it can be hard to see inclusions in slabs, especially opaque ones. A surprising way to identify inclusions in stones when you can’t see them is to slap the slab onto your work surface with some force. It will break–but it will likely break along the existing cracks or natural inclusions, so you can be reasonably confident that the remaining pieces are stronger and more stable. Michael stresses those with his hands to further draw out any potential breaks. If they remain solid, cut your cabs from those tested pieces.
2.       Remember that the hardness of stone can determine how thick or thin the slices of it can be. Agate, like Michael cuts in the beginning of the video, is quite hard and can therefore be cut into fairly thin slices. A softer stone like turquoise needs to be cut in thicker slices for best durability and to prevent breaking.
3.       Using water when cutting stones is a pretty commonly known practice, to help keep the stone cool and to serve as a lubricant, but you might not know that using water when cutting stones also keeps the dust down. You definitely don’t want to breathe in rock and gem dust. Stop when the stone gets dry and add more water.
4.       If you have a piece in your collection that you haven’t used in awhile (and that you’re not completely in love with), consider reformatting it. Michael shares that he sometimes will take a bead that’s languishing in his stone supplies and cut it in half, hole to hole, turning it into a cabochon that he can use in his work. (You can also do this if the bead happens to break.) Likewise, you can always drill a hole in a piece that you have and turn just about any stone into a bead. Note: If it’s a cab, you’ll probably have to finish the unfinished back.
5.       Sometimes with a diamond blade, Michael says the metal will “fold over” the diamond, causing it to cut slowly, and you’ll need to re-expose the diamond grit. If your blade is cutting slowly, try running a dressing stone through it a couple of times to expose the diamond particles.
6.       When you’re cutting a round (spherical) bead or stone into two pieces and you get near the end, it has a tendency to “blow out” as Michael says and break before you cut all the way through. To avoid this while cutting, he cuts into the stone partly from all sides, turning and cutting, rolling forward and cutting more, until he has cut into the stone all the way around–then he finishes by cutting through the center.

To learn more from Michael Boyd about cabochon cutting and working the lapidary’s magic to uncover the beauty hidden inside a rock, don’t miss Basic Cabochon Cutting for Jewelry Makers. In it Michael covers how to cut and polish rocks and prepare them for your jewelry-making purposes. You’ll learn about using lapidary equipment like cutting and grinding machines, diamond drill bits and saws, a flat-lap machine, a flex shaft, and a trim saw–plus how to lap by hand. You’ll be cutting cabochons and creating one-of-a-kind stones in no time.



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