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Lapidary Art & How We Cut Cabochons

If you have kept up with our blog posts so far, then you know the next step is cutting the stones! If this is the first blog post you have seen, take a quick look at our last couple posts to see our process from mining the material to getting it ready to cut. Okay, let's dive in! The most common question we get is when it comes to our stones is "Oh! So you tumble your own stones then?" and our answer is a big fat NO! Now, to be clear, we have no disrespect for people that tumble - we just don’t have the patience for it. Tumbling takes several weeks but using a cabbing machine is instant gratification! We take a lot of pride in our lapidary art!

Okay, we have to pause here to make time for a vocabulary lesson! The word "lapidary" can refer to either a person that cuts and polishes gems or the skill of gem-cutting. As lapidary artists, we specialize in cutting cabochons (cabs for short). "Cabochons" are gemstones that have been cut and polished to have a flat back, domed top, and very slightly angled girdle edge. This angled girdle edge allows for the stone to be held in place once it is set in jewelry. (More on the jewelry side of things in future blog posts!) Now, let me explain how the machine is set up and then we will get started on the process. There are many different machines on the market, but we currently have a Diamond Pacific Genie. The Genie has 6 rotating wheels of graduating grits with a water pump that keeps the wheels cool and clear of mud. Working down each grit is what allows us to shape and polish each stone. The first two wheels are diamond wheels at 80 and 220 grit. These wheels are where we do all of the shaping! We start by getting the shape we want and then angle the girdle edge. From there we begin working on a rough dome.

Wheels 3 - 6 are for polishing! The polishing wheels are resin coated with a flexible foam rubber backing that allows it to conform to the stone. The third wheel is 280 grit and is used for removing large facets and scratches. We also use this wheel to add a 45 degree angle to the back edge of the stone to help with setting. The remaining wheels (4, 5, & 6) are for finishing and polishing and can vary in grit depending on the stone you are working with. As we mostly cut turquoise and variscite, we have these wheels set up with grits 600, 1200, and 3000. After working through each wheel on the cabbing machine, we use a polishing compound and a buffing wheel that brings all of our stones to a brilliant reflective finish!

Last but not least, we have to get the stones off of their sticks! If you read the last post, you know that we use common nails and super glue. To remove the stones, we just heat up the nail which liquifies the super glue. The stones pop right off and then we scrape any remaining residue off the back.

Phew! That's it! It is an elaborate and technical process, but with the experience we have, we are able to cut a stone from start to finish in about 10 minutes. Much quicker than waiting several weeks for a tumbled batch to be finished! If you have any questions about any step of the process - send us a message! We are happy to give you tips and tricks! One of our favorite things is being able to help beginning lapidary artists fall in love with the craft! Thank you for reading! -- Thomas & Riley

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