Setting up a Beginner Lapidary Shop

Setting up a Beginner Lapidary Shop

Posted by OakRocks on 17th May 2024

What is lapidary? (pronounced lap-i-dar-y)

Lapidary is described as the work involved in engraving, cutting, or polishing rocks and lapidary artist is used to describe a person who cuts, polishes, or engraves rocks. The most common types of stone cutting are cabbing and faceting for jewelry, tumbling, polishing freeforms, and carving.

What do I need to begin doing lapidary work?

One of the easiest ways to get into lapidary is to start tumbling rocks. Check out our blog last month on how to tumble polish rocks here.

But if you are ready to begin more hands-on work, there are lots of tools and equipment on the market design for doing lapidary work.

Here are our suggestions for a setting up a beginner or hobby lapidary cutting shop:

Workbench -setting up a work area and a workbench for your tools and equipment should be your first step. It doesn’t have to fancy, you just need a sturdy table, preferably with drawers to keep your small tools in and a large surface area. The workbench should be at a height where it is comfortable to stand (or sit if you prefer) and use the equipment.

Trim Saw- We recommend starting with a 10-inch trim saw. It can be designed for lapidary or tile, and it is more economical to find a used one. A trim saw has a small, thin blade, that is made for cutting small stones into even smaller pieces, or for slabbing stones (cutting them into slabs) and/or creating a flat edge for a cabochon. Trim saws also come in 6 inch to 12 inch in width, but a 10 inch is a nice middle of the road starter. Usually, the blades have a thickness of .004" to .012". (Slab saws, in contrast, cut larger rocks of all shapes and sizes, and therefore, uses blades up to 48" wide and .025" to .2" thick).

Saw Blades- you will want to buy silicon carbide blades too start with.

Arbor Grinder/Sander with interchangeable rubber expandable wheels or drums (often referred to as a cabbing machine)- This machine has multiple wheels, where each wheel has a distinct grit level, from the coarsest to the finest grit and one wheel on the end will be a leather polisher.

Sanding Belts -you need the belts that fit on the wheels above. Start with a 100/220 grit, then 200 grit and then 400/600 grit. There are other grits and, as you experiment with more rocks, you may need to take things down to a finer grit in order to get a better polish.

Polishing pad and powder- There are different kinds of buffing pads used for polishing, we recommend starting with leather. There are also different types of polishing powders, start with cerium oxide.

Rough Rock- obviously you will need some rough rocks to cut. You need rough rock chunks smaller than 10 inches, so they will fit into your trim saw. Rocks come in all different hardnesses and one rock with different materials can actually vary in hardness throughout. It is best to start with a consistent hardness of about 7. The chalcedonies (agates, jaspers, petrified woods, and cherts) and Quartzes are good choices. Softer stones grind easier, but it's easier to grind too much away. Also, softer stones can be harder to get a polish on.

Safety Glasses, a Plastic Apron and Rubber Thimbles!

That's it! Of course, as you practice you will want to expand your tools and options. Some other items to consider:

Templates- templates are plastic or metal stencils of different shapes and sizes to use as guides for cabochons.

Caliper- calipers are used to measure your cabochons. There are basic ones and electronic ones. Cabochons are usually measured in millimeters.

Loupe and/or Optivisor- a loupe is a magnifying eyepiece to magnify your stones to see better. And an Optivisor fits over the head and covers both eyes.

Dop Sticks and dop wax- dop sticks are essentially wooden sticks with globs of wax on one end to attach your cabochons and not have to try to hold them in your fingers.