Making Gemstone Jewelry: 9 Expert Dopping Tips and Advice for Stone Cutting
Dopping fascinates me. I know that probably sounds odd, but the fact that you can glue a stone to a stick and it will stay on that stick throughout stone cutting, grinding, polishing, carving, all kinds of powerful machine work–amazing! I need to dop one of the little knobs on my car because so far, no glue on earth will hold that sucker in place. But I digress . . .
Back to dopping. It’s a rarely discussed part of stone cutting and other gem work, but it is, literally, the glue that holds the whole process together. These nine tips, taken from a stone-cutting feature in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist, will help ensure a perfect dop, all the way from grinding and polishing to removing the adhesive when you’re done.
Dopping Tips for Stone Cutting
By Ahna V. White
(excerpted from an article originally published in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist, May 2008)
- Normally, I begin by gluing my rough to something stable, a process known as dopping. Usually, it’s a rough cut cabochon that gets dopped using wax and a wooden stick for easier manipulation on the cabbing machine, but when the rock is large, a stick would just fall off from the force of cutting. So I asked my husband to cut up a wooden 2×4 into 4″ lengths. This gives me plenty of room to glue down the rock as well as a safe amount of wood to hold onto, as I’m cutting by hand. Of course, if you have an automated cutting saw, you may use that. I have two saws, a 6″ trim saw and a 14″ slab saw. The 14″ slab saw is much too aggressive for this small rock, so I prefer to use my trim saw.
- For the glue, I use acrylic latex caulking with silicone, available at any hardware store. This product is a bit rubbery and will allow me to remove the remainder of the rock once I’m done cutting, so nothing goes to waste.
- To release the remaining rock glued to the 2×4, I use a sharp X-acto knife to cut into the caulking. Always cut away from yourself. Most of the caulk can be removed from the stone just by pulling it off. It’s important to remove as much as possible because you don’t want to grind caulk on your cabbing machine, as it could clog your wheels.
- Dopping the cabochon once it’s trimmed allows greater control over the shaping and also keeps your fingers a safe distance from the spinning wheel on the cabbing machine.
- You’ll need a heat source to melt the wax. You can buy a heat source from a lapidary outlet or you can use things found around the house. I rigged up a small 3″ x 3″, nonstick cake pan I had in the kitchen, and I have a fragrance oil burner that uses tea lights to create a wax melter. Use the melter on a fire-safe surface such as firebrick.
- Make sure not to get any wax onto the sides of the cabochon because wax can easily clog your grinding wheels. This is a little tricky–you don’t want to burn yourself–but I very quickly pat the wax down, usually about 1 minute after I’ve put the wax in place to help make it more stable.
- There are several methods used to heat a cabochon–here are two. In a frying pan on low heat, set the cab in a cup of hot water. You can also use a hair dryer.
- For dopping sticks for very small cabochons, I’ve cut up some kabob skewers. For larger cabochons, I use 1/2″ round wood dowels found at a local hardware store in the trim department. I cut them into 3-4″ lengths.
Off the Dop: Removing Wax from Stones
Here’s a great trick for removing wax once you’ve completed your stone: ice water! Fill a bowl with cold water and several ice cubes, and place your cabochon in the bowl for about 10 minutes. Hold both the cabochon and the stick and break off the wax–it usually takes the entire wax area off. If it doesn’t, add more ice to your water or leave the cabochons for another 5 to 10 minutes. Any remaining wax can be removed with an X-acto knife–again, always cut away from yourself and your fingers! —Ahna
Whether you want to learn about stone cutting and other lapidary techniques, bezel-setting stones in metal jewelry, enameling, gemstones, jewelry tools, forming dimensional metal and metal fabrication, soldering, or any other metalsmithing techniques–Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist has been the source of expert techniques and information for more than 65 years. Now you can get the last 15 years of inspiration and information shared in LJJA in the convenient, space- and money-saving Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist 2000-2015 Digital Collection. This special collection will help you learn about and perfect nearly any metal and gemstone jewelry-making technique you can think of–and probably some you can’t!