Mass Producing for Lapidarists – Polishing Gemstones

Slab Pile Ready for Cutting and Faceting

Slab Pile Ready for Cutting and Faceting

Doubtless few, if any lapidarists would give thought to mass-producing anything that they’re doing purely for fun. And also, why produce a lot of anything that you have no special demand for? I have found that there are two good reasons: first, it gets you out of a rut and, second, it can improve your technique. And this can apply to anything you do. When you make, or produce, two of a kind, the second is always — or should be — better. Because now you have more experience. If you make ten, then the tenth, if not ten times better, it is at least much improved. Also, ten rocks or gemstones, of a wide variety, are vastly more colorful and interesting than one, so mass producing finished gemstones is definitely worth your time.

That gets us off the ground, now let’s see how it applies and what we may accomplish by working in multiples — no matter what we do. For instance sawing and slabbing. The saw is clean, with oil or proper lubricant changed and ready for work. Instead of sawing a single slab and having to clean up, I plan and do a number of slabs and on different rocks; there is no more work cleaning up than if I had sawed but one. Cutting ten various slabs from various material can become far more inspiring and meaningful than working just one. Also I can now be more selective when choosing the slab for my next project. In this multiple sawing I can also compare materials and decide on future projects. I can now profit by the experience I have gained. This could not be done by sawing one single slab.

I sometimes cut a nodule in half and then continue until I have reduced both entire halves to slabs — all of it now ready for cutting material or whatever. I have done it with only one clean-up job involved or required. Not only time-saving but drudgery-saving as well. And one more thought; when I saw a nodule in half I expose only what’s in the exact center. Many times I find that in getting away from the center, the pattern and color have changed and become something else.

Serpentine Slab Pile

Serpentine Slab Pile

Having thus prepared a “slab pile” (from a variety of rocks) I am now ready to seriously begin a project. I inspect and select interesting slabs and each suggests something or other and I am soon full of ideas for preforms and projects. I outline a half dozen or more designs with the template and move to the trim saw. The difference is that here the saw throws more lubricant and there is even more mess to clean up. Why not do all the trimming and preforming for a half dozen or more projects while I am in business; and while the saw is filled or primed with the proper lubricant. In multiple sawing and trimming you soon get into a rhythm so that the work progresses more easily and before you know it the work is finished. All your stones are preformed and ready for the next step. Much less time is consumed per item than if you did them one at a time.

Of course before I start the grinding, the preforms are all dopped and attached to dowel sticks in six-inch lengths, where the stones remain through the various processes and until ready for mounting.

Cab King Lapidary Grinder, Polisher, and Cabochon Maker

Cab King Lapidary Grinder, Polisher, and Cabochon Maker

I now move to the wet grinder. You hardly get started by doing just one stone. It’s when you start on the second that you really get in the groove, get the feel, and everything just seems to fall into place. Each rounded shoulder or bevel slowly takes shape and the roughness is gone — a cabochon is born — and now ready for polishing. In a remarkably short time they are all finished. And in a much shorter multiple of time than if you had ground and finished one cab each day and cleaned up in between.

After the grinding I now move to the buffer. With each stone dopped, half the work is already done. And you don’t have to waste time polishing your fingernails. Polishing a stone on the end of a stick is both convenient and comfortable. It’s so much easier after the first stone is huffed to a shining lustre; and the second stone can be buffed while the proper abrasive or polishing agent is in use. And soon all are done and finished. There is so much more satisfaction in seeing a half dozen stones finished rather than just one. Mass-producing establishes a motive and then adds new inspiration in seeing it done.

Dopped Stones Ready for Faceting

Dopped Stones Ready for Faceting

Lapping is another operation that is always put off for some reason or other; mainly because of the intermittent clean-up and which is always so important. So why not lap a number of stones with each application and use of the same grit; and instead of changing grit and clean-up three times for one stone, it is reduced to three Limes for three stones; two more stones have been lapped with the same amount of clean-up work. Not only good arithmetic, but it seems to make sense.

The same goes for mounting the stones. I try to keep a supply of various findings on hand (they are cheaper by the dozen) and, when stones are ready, I can mount more than one or I can he very selective in choosing the right stone for a certain mounting. When I have some very special project, or some special person in mind, I use sterling silver or gold, but for the run-of-the-mill projects I use gold-colored or silver-colored metal mountings. These are very attractive as “second best,” and they are also appropriate for antique style mountings. Another reason they are going to look even better is the new look in the price of silver. In a recent order for sterling silver mountings the catalog price was increased to almost double that of the listing. That’s going to turn more lapidarists to the “second best” material for mountings
— except of course, for those very special instances where expense is no object.

Dura-BULL Rotary Rock and Gemstone Tumbler

Dura-BULL Rotary Rock and Gemstone Tumbler

Tumbling is a time-consumer and the very reason that most tumblers stand idle after infrequent use. But why not make it pay — use it. Instead of just tumbling a batch of rock or a common “grab bag” I always make it a point to include a dozen or so preforms or speical pieces that I have cooked up. (My most recent tumbling batch of agate included 29 miscellaneous preform&) This form of mass production can turn out a mass of beauty in stone and many of the select pieces can be used in glue-on mountings. Also many of the most beautiful tumbled pieces can be cut in half and glued to ear pieces with almost startling matched results. Also here can be another byproduct of mass-producing. If you have already been mass-producing with the trim saw then you have an accumulation of odds and ends, bits and pieces, representing all kinds of material and all colors ot mixed colors. Include this riffraff as filler or even as a complete tumbling batch, when you have enough. It will bring surprising results and also it will be different from the grab-bag type of tumbling material; because this is something you found to be pretty and distinctive enough to work with and your interest is already built-in. It will add another dimension to your tumbling prowess.

The same goes for dopping. This is another messy, and sometimes distasteful, job that we are inclined to avoid or more or less put off until we reach that point where we can go no further without it. Why not dop a half dozen or so stones while you have the miscellany of equipment and material all together. And in order to dop a considerable number of stones we have to find them somewhere. And if you have mass-produced a number of stones then you already have them on hand and ready for use. The mass-producing angle follows right on down the line. I find that instead of having one tumbler batch, I have several, and each is a glittering array of polished stones waiting for some possible use. In selecting stones I can now pick and choose.

And the point in mass-producing is not merely to duplicate, which would only be monotonous, but to differentiate and vary what we are producing. I purposely choose a wide variety of stones in whatever angle of lapidary art I choose to indulge in. For instance in an ordinary tumbling batch I might have bloodstone, jasper, pigeonblood jasper, blue ribbon agate, crazy lace, ebony, zebra, mozarkite and aventurine. My next batch then will include something entirely different, or simply a batch of colorful jasper. This is what adds spice to the lapidary routine. Before I start sawing or slabbing I go through my reserve of cutting material and select a few widely different specimens; and when I am done I have opened up an entirely new world of slabs; revealing precious lines of coloring and form that I have not seen before. Because each time I slice a rock it comes out differently; and if it doesn’t, then next time I carefully saw it from a different angle, so that it does.
The most important idea behind mass-producing is to save time, inconvenience and drudgery — any one of which can represent money. Lapidary work is a time-consuming, tedious operation at best; something that requires meticulous care and patience to turn out a fine and valuable end product for use in handmade jewelry. If producing one is good, then producing a half dozen or more is better — as experience will show.

Rough Boulder Opals

Rough Boulder Opals

Ever notice that when you go into the field alone, you sometimes stumble onto something that is really precious. But if there are two of you, the probabilities and the odds increase by that number, so that anything you do more than once will substantially show an improvement. And that’s what lapidary art is; the means of achieving just that. We want to do it better and we want that superlative finish. As an example: setting on my workbench at the moment is a rack for holding dopsticks. On the tips of six dopsticks the following finished and highly-polished oval cabs stand waiting: one turquoise size 24×14, two malachite size 24×14, one malachite size 25xl8, one poppy jasper size 25×18 and one snowflake obsidian size 30×22. All are ready for mounting. But the destiny of each was not, and has not been, preplanned. They were turned out at random and so that I could make selections or have a wider choice when ready to mount the stones. And before I mount any of these I plan to preform another contrasting group and grind and polish them. This way I never run out of projects of ideas.

In mass-producing, instead of having to accept something mediocre because it’s the only one available or all that I have, I can now be selective or pick and choose. This is the result of a technique I’d like to call “mass-producing.” If you’ve never done it you may find it worth a try. Also it can brighten your lapidary  future.