Lapidary – Making your own gemstones

You have some beautiful rocks and stones that you have collected. What can you do with them now? That is what lapidary does.

You want to shape and polish them. But you are not familiar with how to do that. You don’t even know what machines and techniques to use. And you don’t have access to the necessary machines.

So what do you do? Just give up? No. You read on to find out some information.



What Are The Basic Machines Used In Lapidary?

To do lapidary doesn’t take a whole shop full of equipment to do. The main tools can cut the stone down to make it the size you want and something to shape and polish the surfaces.

To cut the stone down into smaller chunks will require a slabbing saw with a diamond blade and some way of keeping the blade cool. A smaller slabbing saw normally has about a 6″ blade and uses a drip water system to keep the blade cool. There is a sliding vise that holds the slab of rock that you want to cut down.

A slab of rock is any piece of stone that you can hold in your vise. It doesn’t have to have a flat side to begin with, but it is easier to hold if it does.

With a 6″ blade you can make a cut to the height of about 2″ in one pass. So the slab will have to be thinner than that or you will have to move it.

Slab saws come in other sizes as well if you are going to be doing larger slabs. Just remember that the bigger the diamond blade, the more expense to purchase and to recharge the cutting edge. The diamonds used are very small and of industrial grade, not gem quality, so they are cheaper.

Once you have cut your slab and done some basic shaping, you will need a grinder and dop sticks. Dop sticks are dowels with a dopping wax on one end that will hold your slab while you grind on it. The wax is heated and then pressed onto the stone to get a good temporary bond.

The grinder should have a grinding stone or polishing wheel on both ends. Most times you will shape your stone with a coarse wheel and then use a finer wheel to get rid of the marks left by the coarser wheel. Just as in sanding down wood, you will use different grits.

There are both leather wheels and cloth wheels that you can use for the polishing. You put a compound onto the spinning wheel and then you can use it to smooth out the stone. Again, you will go through a couple of grits to get it very smooth.

Finally you will polish it with a good polishing compound on your choice of either leather or cloth. I personally use a cloth wheel.

Then you can turn the stone over and do the other side of the stone.

Make certain to not mix the different compounds on any wheel. Each compound needs its own wheel.

I was very lucky. A friend of mine gave a small slab saw, two grinding arbors with grinding wheels and a polishing unit. They were from an estate sale he had been in charge of and the items didn’t sell. So the widow told him to give them to someone who would use them. The only problem is that there was no motor with them. But motors can be found fairly inexpensively.

So all I needed to be able to start doing lapidary work was to set them up get a few supplies and start working.



Where Can You Find Equipment That You Can Use?

There are many lapidary suppliers listed on the internet. Do a search to find them. Below are some that I have had dealings with in the past (I am not an affiliate and don’t get anything from mentioning them):


These are just a few of the ones that are out there to buy lapidary equipment from. Also, check with your local rock shop for supplies and equipment.

If you look and see that the equipment is too expensive, a good source for lapidary equipment that you can use is your local gem and mineral club or rockhound group.

Most clubs have a permanent building that they use with the necessary equipment. And most have classes you can sign up for after you join. And after joining, you normally can sign up for times to use the equipment.

There will be many people there that will be willing to help and share knowledge. Rockhounds are a great group of people who enjoy what they do and want others to learn and enjoy the hobby also. Many of them can also tell you of any good deals they have found.

Just remember that most members will also be your competition if you plan on selling your work. But most clubs have at least one show per year where any member or vendor can sell their products.



After The Lapidary Thing, What Next?

After you have a nicely shaped and polished gem that used to be just an old stone, what do you do with it?

The best thing to do is make it into a piece of jewelry for someone to wear. There are many ways of doing that.

If the club has a diamond drill, put a hole in it and mount it on a necklace.

Or you could take a class on wire wrapping to make in into a pendant or as part of a bracelet.

What about a class on lost wax casting and making a beautiful framed pendant or a ring?

As you can see, there are many options, including using a larger stone as a paperweight on your desk.

The ideas are only limited by your imagination. So learn to do lapidary work and show off those beautiful rocks and stones that you have been collecting.

You say you haven’t gone out rockhounding to find rocks and gems? Then definitely join your local club. Almost all clubs have at least one trip per year. And you can hookup with other members and have your own exploring trip.

Get ready for some exciting fun and many adventures.


Next Friday there will be a new article on basic wire wrapping techniques. So come back to learn more.


Please leave me a comment below to let me know if this article was helpful. And please let me know if there is any other subject on handicraft that you would like me to write about.







Leave a Reply