Saturday, June 23, 2012

Rough Rock

Because I have my own lapidary equipment, I can save a lot of money by buying rough rock, and cutting/polishing it myself. I use my own cut gems in my own metalsmithing work, as well as sell them online in my etsy shop. Today I thought I'd show you some of my rough rock and how I purchase it. Usually I buy it online, because the choices far exceed the amount of choices I have at my local lapidary club show. For example, the smooth rock below is a 6" stone from Washington State:

This is actually Washington State Jade. It has a lovely blue-green color with dark inclusions. It comes in these large roundish forms and then I am able to saw off slices of it using my 10" slab saw. This type of stone is easy to mine and produces very little waste- I can get many, many cabochons out of this one rock, so it's worth my time to cut it down into slabs. Once it's in slab form, it's easier to mark and cut into shapes for stone-cutting- but I'll show you that in another post.

Some stones are not available in as nice a package as the jade. Some, as the chalcedony above, form in the earth in a much more disorganized way, making the mining of them a bit harder, and making the rough a bit harder to use. These pieces of rough could probably be cut down into a piece or 2 each, but there will probably be some pieces that are nicer than others due to the variety within the stone. There tends to be more waste in this type of rough. These do tend to make good carved pieces, though, because of their irregular shapes, as well as nuggets or beads. Sometimes I might look at a piece for a long time before I decide how I'm going to cut it!

Above is rough Ethiopian opal. It, too, comes in an irregular shape, and they can be challenging to cut 'right'- meaning it may take a lot of looking before deciding which orientation to cut them.

Some stones don't look like much on the outside, but once you slice them open.....

they reveal a gorgeous interior! This is a nodule of Laguna agate.

One of the easiest ways to buy rough stone is to buy rock already slabbed. It may cost a bit more per slab, but much of the work is already done. Above is an example of Imperial Jasper. I bought each slab separately. One thing the online dealers do to help you shop is they will show you a picture of the slab dry, as well as wet. The reason for this is the wet slab will best approximate the look and colors of the stone when polished. When I was shopping for rough rocks at the Tucson gem shows last year, all the vendors had water available in spray bottles for this exact purpose. For example, the above stone is dry, but the stone below is wet.

You can see from the above picture that the stone slabs portray a lot richer colors when wet, which is what you will expect when the stone is cut and polished.

The above slabs are some of the ones I cut from a 'tube' of Wonderstone. You can start to see the alternating bands of mustard, burgundy and rose, but look at the below pic of the slabs wet:

Once wet, the slabs' colors are much more saturated, which is what they look like once cut and polished. 

Above is a rough rock of Morgan Hill Poppy Jasper that I've been cutting into slabs. The above pic shows the face dry, and the below pic.....

... shows the face wet- much more saturated colors. Rough dry rocks tend to look hazy or frosted so that's why it's necesary to wet them in order to approximate the look/color of the finished stones.

One more example- the above stone is a piece of Koroit opal from Australia, pictured dry.

And here is the same piece, pictured wet.

Another important factor of cutting down a slab (other than aesthetics) is the appearance of fractures within the slab. However you want to call it- cracks, crazing, etc... these areas of the slabs are a bit problematic to work with. Many types of rocks have fractures- sometimes they're actually healed, which means they've been filled in over time with more rock and are quite stable. But other times they bely a weakness within the stone. I try to avoid having a fracture appear in my finished stones, and therefore I tend to cut the affected slabs, such as the Montana agate above, along the fracture lines, and then use the areas within to form cabochons.

However, some stones are so fraught with fractures! Morgan Hill Poppy Jasper is one such rock. It's often times impossible to avoid all of the fracture lines, and in doing, you get very small cabs with very little patterning. In this case, whenever I get a piece of rough that I know is known for fractures, I follow the advice of a lapidary friend: I hold the rough rock from 2 feet above the concrete floor, and drop it. Whatever fractures aren't stable, will break apart during this time. Then, whatever is left I use knowing it may look all cracked up, but it's actually quite stable. Just remember- every crack is not the kiss of death. Many stones have them, and they will not become worse over time or detract from the beauty of the stone or even affect the wearability or strength- they were part of the forming process of the stone. In stones such as the poppy jasper above, I like to think of the crazing as part of the character of the stone!

If you find a crack in a stone, have an experienced lapidary look at the stone to determine if the stone is stable or not.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Tour of My Studio

I thought the next best thing to showing you my work would be to show you my studio! I am indeed a lucky girl, because I have a large unfinished storage area in the basement in which to work. It's long and skinny, but very spacious nonetheless. No, it doesn't have any natural light :( but it does have a door at one end of the room with some glass panels in it, so it's not completely without a glimpse of nature. I guess it's good, because then maybe I'd be distracted.... but I definitely want a space with more natural light if ever I had the option!

 This is a view from one end of the room. On the left, out of view is the table below, which is the one table I let my kids use! It's usually used for various arts and crafts, and usually is just as messy as mine! It'd be nice if they could work silently for hours there, like I do, but alas, short attention spans rule around here, at least for the 3 Evans kids- ages 5, 11 & 12.

 I also have storage for arts supplies off to the left which the kids know they can help themselves to. Anywhere else in the studio, if they want something, they have to ask first. On the right is my laminator, which they LOVE (everything's better laminated!!), and which I also use for attaching PNP paper to metal. I also have a pasta machine on the right of the table, out of view, for polymer clay. The painting was my grandparents- pretty cheesy but I love the memories of it in their dining room. If anyone recognizes it as a great work of art from a famous artist worth tens of thousands of dollars- kindly let me know. The glassware is also old- my grandparents and parents stuff- no one wanted it but me. Great shapes!

 This is the closest thing I have to a desk- I have a nice daylight spectrum lamp for viewing and assembly. I keep odds n' ends here, some bead strands, stones, findings, and charts. My seed bead mosaic supplies are here, too. Pens, pencils, scissors, etc.. This is usually the first and last stop for a piece of jewelry or stone. I have my calipers, scales, etc... here too.

 This is my soldering area. I use a standard (& cheap- $15) plumbers' torch from Home Depot for most of my soldering. It fits my needs. On occasion, like if I have to ball the ends of a wire rivet, or solder a bangle bracelet, I will get out my Mapp gas & oxygen torch (also cheap- $45) which is on the left of the picture- the yellow and red tanks. 

Notice on the right my pickle pots- one large crock pot, one small one on a cup warmer. The small one is the one I use most- unless I have a big piece then I turn on the big crock one. It takes a lot longer to heat up the crock pot, too- so I only turn it on for big items.

The pliers I use most are on the magnetic strip, and the less popular ones on the rack below. I also have a can of 'Flame Out' for fire emergencies- haven't had to use it yet! The blue container on the left is for silver to be recycled. And also notice I use the cork boards to hang my different types of silver wire. The plastic drawers are where I store my sheet and other silver supplies.

Above my soldering area are corkboard squares for me to hang up what inspires me from other artists. The necklace at the top, above, is by Shaun Bluejacket. Seeing this necklace was the impetus for me to start metalsmithing. I saw that necklace with the gorgeous opals (my fave!) and said to myself, "I've GOT to learn how to do that!!"

 This is my 'bit' station. I have a cheap rotary tool that I stole from my husband, as well as a cheap flex shaft from Harbor Freight. Neither are working too well right now, so a nice flex shaft will likely be my next purchase. In the plastic drawers are 3M polishing wheels- the rubber abrasive type as well as the flap wheels for polishing. And also I have little drill bits for drilling holes (Drillcity on ebay), files, saw + blades, etc...

On the right of the pic is my heat gun for chasing/repousee work. The drawers to the bottom right are adjacent to my soldering area and hold hammers, mandrels and other forming tools- of which I don't have very many. I don't do a lot of 3-D work with forming stakes. They're very expensive and I haven't yet invested in them.  I do some 3-D work with the chasing/repousee tools, as well as a hydraulic press which is under my soldering table. I just sit on the floor to use it.

 This is my all-in-one lapidary machine. It's a flat lap, and it was not very expensive, less than $500. A Genie would be nice, but that's around $2000 so I'm making due with this one! I don't have a water supply in this room, so I use old apple juice jugs for water and a bucket underneath the table to catch the used water. At left is a motherlode of Montana Agate, a recent obsession. I also have a wonderful slab saw, which I'll show you in another post.

 The low table on the right holds my dopping station and various rocks for lapidary. The high table on the left is my mailing station. The big tackle box holds most of my rough rocks and slabs. The brown cardboard drawers above hold finished stones. And on the left of the table you can see finished rings and earrings. Underneath the table are boxes, tissue paper, mailing envelopes and foam sheets- everything for mailing out.  (Don't tell my dad about the tackle box- he gave it to my husband and I hijacked it...)

 This is a view of the back half of the studio- the small red table holds my rolling mill and anvil. I like to cover many of my metal tools with fabric to avoid rust and dust. On the left are plastic shelving with various art supplies, some decades old! It's amazing what we hold onto! You never know when something may come in handy! The carpet squares were from an online site selling surplus commercial tiles- pretty cheap- about a buck each, and they're cuttable and have sticky backs!

 More plastic shelving- but with recent art stuff- on the left- grout for my seed bead mosaics, soap making supplies, my photography/light setup, and enameling and some sewing stuff. On the right are my kiln and keum boo burners, a buffing machine in a homemade cardboard shield (with 3M polishing wheels), tumblers and various media, and PNP supplies.

Hope you enjoyed the tour!!

WELCOME! This being my first post, I've posted some pics of my work. You can find my stones at: and my jewelry at: This is a blog of work in progress. It will give you an idea of how stones are cut, how jewelry is made, and all the tools and tips in between- so stay tuned!!

Bird's Eye Rhyolite

Purple Coyamito Agate

Desert Queen Landscape Jasper

Ethiopian Opal

Montana Agate

Mookaite Jasper

Morgan Hill Poppy Jasper

Madagascar Ocean Jasper

Madagascar Ocean Jasper

Polka Dot Jasper

Porcelain Jasper

Rainforest Jasper



Silver Earrings with Topaz & Cuprite

Druzy, Ruby and Seed Bead Mosaic Pendant

Australian Opal earrings in Silver

Australian Opal in Silver with Keum Boo

Flower Ring utilizing Chasing/Repousee with Opal and Ruby

Opal Earrings with Argentium Silver Granulation

Pendant with White Australian Opal

Opal and Montana Agate Earrings with Keum Boo

Opal and Montana Agate Necklace

Seed bead Mosaic Findings on a woven seed bead bracelet

Australian Opal with Argentium Silver Granulation

Australian Opal Ring

Carnelian Earrings with Keum Boo

Opal Mosaic Earrings- silver and gold-plated brass

Opal Earrings with Keum Boo

Silver pin with Australian Opal and Copper/silver Accents

Seed Bead Mosaic Earrings with hanging Rubies

Chasing/Repousee with Australian Opal

Chasing/Repousee with Spectrolite

Australian Opal Earrings