We often get calls from people who are interested in rocks and gems, would like to get started in the lapidary hobby but dont know where to start. It is a good question but a very BIG one that will need some research first.
First question is why type of work are you interested in? Tumbling, Carving, Cabbing or Faceting? Do you need a diamond saw to trim or slab your rock? Depending on your interest and available budget, you will need to pick from one or more of these main categories to set up your lapidary workshop.
- TUMBLING – low entry cost and easy to learn. Use your tumbler to turn rough rock into free form polished gemstones that can be used in various craft projects or drilled/strung or wire wrapped to make jewellery.
Tumblers are available in a range of sizes. You will need a starter kit of grit and polish plus time – it usually takes around 4 to 6 weeks to complete a batch of rock in a rotary tumbler.
CARVING – low to medium entry cost although a little trickier to learn. Carving is usually done using some type of rotary tool (dremel, micromotor, flex shaft or similar) fitted with appropriate carving burs and polishing bobs.
Create free form or carved shapes from rough stone – anything is possible here with the only limit being your imagination. Carve abstract or realistic shapes (animals, plants, religious motifs, etc). Pieces can be for display or drilled/set for jewellery.
Dremel kits can be purchased very cheaply at large hardware stores – all you will need to add are some diamond tools and polishing bobs/polish. SOME SUITABLE ACCESSORIES ARE LISTED HERE.
CABBING – medium to high entry cost. Use a flat lap or cabbing arbor to create cabochon gems (usually flat bottom and domed top) – opals are the most well known cabochon gemstone but just about anything can be cabbed including gems that are more typically faceted. Can be regular shaped or free form – if you cut in a regular calibrated size, then your cabs can be set in a blank jewellery setting at very reasonable cost.
At the budget end of the range, we offer flat laps for cabbing – the machine will drive one horizontally mounted disc (6″ or 8″) and you will go through a series of steps to grind, sand and polish your cabs. A bit cheaper and more compact but not quite as convenient. If you have a bit more money to spend, you may prefer a cabbing arbor which has a series of vertically mounted wheels in 6″ or 8″ diameter so you can move through the steps on the one machine. A 6 wheel arbor is most popular but if your budget is more limited, you may choose or 2 or 4 wheel arbor.
BROWSE SOME OF THE OPTIONS HERE – machines can be set up to suit your needs so contact if you have any queries.
FACETING – high entry cost and more difficult to learn.
This is the top level of the lapidary hobby – faceting machines are a big investment but is the only way of creating a traditionally faceted gems that you would normally see in a piece of jewellery. There are a number of different machines around so do your research thoroughly and choose carefully. We highly recommend doing a faceting course or having access to help at your gem club so that you have the help you need as you learn to use your machine. The basics of faceting is not difficult to learn – the process of becoming a master faceter able to create beautiful gems takes longer but is incredibly satisfying.
BROWSE OUR FACETING OPTIONS HERE – note that faceting machines are sold without laps so you will need to factor in the extra cost of the accessories – there are lots of options when choosing a lap kit.
CUTTING – most people will need some kind of diamond saw to cut their stone to size. Diamond saws are optional but very useful.
Generally you only need a trim saw around the 6″ to 8″ size but we have slab saws that can handle very large stone. The key thing to consider here is cutting depth – decide how large a stone you need to cut and choose the saw accordingly.
A more detailed discussion on saws is beyond the scope of this article but we suggest you REVIEW OUR COMPARISON VIDEOS ON YOUTUBE HERE to help you select the best option for you.
Once you have narrowed down which area of the hobby you want to focus on, then you can decide which package suits you best. Buying second hand can help to cut down the cost of equipment – unfortunately, good quality used machinery can be difficult to find as it often changes hands privately within clubs. If you are keen on buying second hand, keep a close watch on Ebay, Gumtree and the classifieds – good idea also to spread the word that you are looking so others can keep an eye out for you. Keep in mind that there will be no warranty support and sometimes spare parts are unavailable for older machines that are no longer in production.
There is a wealth of advice out there on the internet to help you get started in the lapidary hobby – we also suggest checking out the AUSSIE LAPIDARY FORUM and we are always available to answer any queries you might have.