Intro to Stone Cutting: Beginning the Lapidary Journey with Freeform Cabochons
Lapidary work has long been on my bucket list; I’ve been collecting and cracking open rocks since I was a little girl. The idea of being able to purposefully and cleanly slice into one, to see something inside that no one has ever seen before, is so exciting to me–and besides the unseen, the thought that I might uncover something spectacular in it, maybe some geode crystals or a gorgeous pattern, makes me almost giddy.
Alas, I have yet to set up lapidary tools and a work station so I can practice stone cutting, but I do intend to take a lapidary class soon. Meanwhile, I get ready by reading and studying the stone-cutting patterns and projects in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine, like this beginner- to intermediate-level project from contributing editors Tom and Kay Benham.
Have you ever admired the rough, craggy beauty of a turquoise nugget that’s been ground and polished to expose its beautiful color, yet retained its natural texture? Our project will guide you along the pathway to this distinctive lapidary style.
Naturally, the first step is to locate a suitable turquoise nugget. We chose one with a bubbly surface, sometimes referred to as seafoam. Once you’ve chosen your nugget you should become familiar with it, study it and determine how the stone wishes to express itself. The nugget will tell you which side is the front and which is the back. Once you open your mind, the true shape of the stone will be revealed.
Most of us have been taught to force a perfectly calibrated cabochon shape from our sawn slabs. However, with this turquoise nugget, we won’t force the shape. Instead, we’ll let our nugget tell us where to cut and polish in order to achieve a pleasing combination of natural roughness and turquoise color. If this is beginning to sound like a mystical experience, then you’re catching on. Working with turquoise is mystical-with the nugget communicating its true form to you. Working at the grinding machine, even I, an engineer by profession and a guy with both feet firmly planted on the ground by temperament, seem to lose all sense of time and become one with the stone!
Tools and Materials:
Genie Lapidary Grinding Machine or comparable grinding machine
complete set of diamond wheels: 80-, 220-, 280-, 600-, 1200-, and 14000-grit
leather polishing disc
flat lap machine
325-, 600-, 1200, and 3000-grit diamond laps
spray bottle of water
Holy Cow Polish polishing compound or compound of your choice
We are firm believers in polishing all surfaces of a stone, as this seals them, reducing the absorption of oils, sweat, and water, which can cause stains and/or color alteration. An additional benefit of polishing the back is that the finding can be designed so that the back surface of the stone can also be displayed.
If you’ve been sparing in your grinding and polishing, your turquoise nugget should exhibit a pleasing combination of color and surface texture. Remember that each piece of turquoise is different and each requires a different approach. So listen to your stone, it will guide you through the process. Always remember the most important rule of lapidary work: grind a little and look a lot!
Keep going by making Tom & Kay’s reticulated silver bezel for this or any other cabochon.
Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine is the ideal source for more stone-cutting and jewelry projects by Tom and Kay Benham, as well as projects and patterns for faceted and cabochon stone cutting projects from other lapidary experts. Now you can receive all that expert info and keep a tidy desk by getting an entire year (all twelve issues of 2009!) of LJJA on a convenient collection CD!