Lapidary is the term given for the cutting and polishing of stone. This is a past-time that has an illustrious past, dating back to early human times when the art of lapidary was used to create tools and weapons from stone.
Even though lapidary was an important factor back then to help them hunt and live, historical evidence indicates that stones were also used to create personal adornments in the way of jewels and accessories. So you see, we were still concerned with fashion way back then.
No matter the reason for the stone cutting and carving, it was viewed as an important part of everyday life and culture and it has remained that way.
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An Exciting Hobby
In the 1950s, lapidary developed into a popular past-time in the United States. There was a growing interest for people to cut and polish their own gemstones. These were then mounted into ready-made jewellery pieces or showcased around their home. This led to the introduction of lapidary clubs.
Times change and the clubs popularity, at least in America, fell away. There are still a number of lapidary clubs meeting in Australia regularly where the hobby remains as popular as ever. Here in the UK there are a few societies worth taking a look at: Scottish Mineral & Lapidary Club, Sussex Mineral & Lapidary Society, Rock 'n' Gem Magazine, UK Facet Cutters Guild and Norfolk Mineral & Lapidary Society. if you have a society you'd like to add, please let us know.
The Fundamentals of Lapidary
There are many different techniques and styles used in lapidary and if you're starting out, tumbling is likely to be the method you will try first.
This method of lapidary is a simple one and it doesn'tt cost alot. Tumbling is where the rough stone is placed in a barrel that revolves and the barrel has abrasives placed in it. The process continues with abrasives that get finer and finer until the stone appears polished.
Of all the lapidary techniques, cabbing is probably the most common. Cabs, or cabochons, are stones which have a flat bottom but the top side is curved. This requires a greater degree of effort than tumbling and will require more equipment to add to your Christmas wish list.
The stone is first cut out, choosing the attractive surface you require for the finished product. It is then moved on a grinder to achieve the desired shape. The smooth top side of your cabochon is produced using varying grit sizes of diamond laps attached to a lapidary machine. The diamond grit sands and polishes your stone down until the dome like effect is formed.
Finally, the stones are polished with a small amount of diamond paste on a felt polisher until you end up with a mirror finish you can see your face in!
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Faceting is another step-up and many lapidary enthusiasts who carry out faceting usually do so on a semi-professional or part-time basis. To facet a gem is to form tiny geometric flat surfaces, like you might find on a diamond. Faceting shows the brilliance of the stone and is usually done therefore on transparent stones. An artistic style is needed but there is also a need for good quality equipment to complete this work, a faceting machine for one.
After faceting, carving is another step-up and this is a difficult process, requiring great skill, patience and talent to make the most of the process. One type of carving is Cameo. Diamond dental tools are often used for such precision work.
If you're looking to drill holes in gemstones you will need to use small diamond drill bits with plenty of water at a slow speed and little pressure. Small marks or scratches around the entrance and breakthrough holes can be polished up again with the diamond paste or with silicone rubber polishers, working through the grades until the desired finish is achieved.
Whether you are looking for a fun and affordable hobby or you are looking for a way to bring in further income, lapidary can provide you with everything you are looking for. Enjoy! And, as always, if you can't find the tools you're looking for on our site please drop us an email to see if we can source them for you. You may also like to read our article '7 Tools for Your Lapidary Supplies'