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The Art Of Cutting Lapidary Stones

By Lela Perkins

Making your own lapidary stones is not hard. Nowadays the art of polishing and cutting stone can be taken up by anyone with the right equipment. Once upon a time, obsidian and flint were classed as lapidary stone and were used to make tools and weapons. Times have changed and the stone is used these days to make jewelry and ornaments.

Whereas back in ancient times they cut the stone on rock, these days artists use machines to do their cutting and polishing. The machines are fairly small electronic devices that operate using a pulley system. The purpose of them is to operate a small plastic drum in which the stone is placed. The process is called tumbling and it polishes the rocks and grinds them.

If the rocks turn out to be a little too big for the drums then they have to be shrunk. This is often done by smashing them with a hammer. There's a distinct lack of control when you use this method. For a start you have no control over what shape the rock takes on when you hit it. Additionally, the rocks can develop splinters, which can ruin the stone or make it look unsightly. If you do use a hammer or blunt object then be sure to wrap the stone in a cloth so the splinter can be contained.

Cutting the stone is a delicate task. You must choose the right blade, one that is sufficiently sharp and yet won't create too many rough edges on the stone. A circular saw, hopefully one that has diamond tips on the blades, is a viable option. Make sure you buy one that contains a reservoir. These wet the blade automatically, meaning it is both cooled and lubricated at the same time.

The grinding process involves shaping stone. By using a cutter you can shave weeks off the time it normally takes. For instance, it can take around 10 weeks if you do not using a cutting tool, but with a cutting tool it can take around three. This is a task that does take a lot of precision, which is why it takes such a long time to accomplish the task.

Tumbling and grinding is the stage where the rocks are put into the drum. Usually a tiny quantity of silicon carbide grit is added, then the rocks are covered in water, with some air left in the drum. The amount of rocks and water have to be accurately judged. If you add too many stones they'll not rub against one another, too little and they'll smash against each other rather than rub. This is done for about a week and the finished product should be smooth, well rounded stone.

One of the final stages is when you polish the stones. Before doing this it's important to wash and clean them thoroughly to remove traces of silicon carbide. Once that's done you can add cerium oxide, diamond powder or even tin oxide to the drum with the stones in and turn the machine on.

Lapidary stones used to be shaped into weapons back in ancient times. These days they are shaped and cut by artists for cosmetic purposes. The machinery has changed and so has the process by which the stones are polished and cut, but the quality is as good as ever.

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