Because lapidary is its own art requiring its own skills and tools, many jewelers outsource this work to a specialist. Plus, the process can be wet, messy, loud, and cold. But with the right attachments and polishing compounds, you can handle nearly every job a full-scale lapidary unit can with your flex shaft or micromotor.
For general-purpose lapidary work, use a fast-running handpiece with diamond burs to drill into stone and other hard materials. Polish stones with diamond pastes or compounds charged on felt, wood, or leather attachments. There’s no way around it, though. Just like the specialists, you will get wet drilling and cutting stones submerged in a shallow dish of water or cutting oil.
Oil-soluble vs. water-soluble
Whether you use an oil-soluble compound or a water-soluble compound depends on what you’re cutting, how hard the material is, and whether the compound might stain or damage the material. Water-soluble compounds risk rusting your tools. Steel and water do not play well together, so no matter how careful you are, your steel mandrels may eventually rust.
Oil-soluble compounds alleviate this problem. They also work particularly well on difficult-to-polish materials like rhyolite, ruby, and sapphire, and on stones with mixed areas of softness or hardness. They flow more easily over stones and are less likely to “grab,” which is common with water-soluble compounds.
The right start
Our Diamond Compound Sets (2169511) are an economical and portable way to try lapidary work without making a big investment. Each set includes four 1-gram syringes: 325- and 600-grits for shaping, a 1200-grit for polishing, and a 60,000-grit for achieving a high polish.
To use, just squirt oil lubricant into a small dish and add a small amount of diamond compound to form a paste. Then, soak the mixture into a ¾-inch hard felt buff and work it smoothly over the surface of the stone. Be sure to clean the stone with detergent and a clean, soft brush each time you change grits to avoid mixing a coarser grit with a finer one and accidentally scratching a stone. Proper storage is key to prevent cross-contamination, so organize the syringes and the wheels and bobs used with them by grit.
We love hearing from you! If you try our Diamond Compound Sets, shoot us a message on Instagram and tell us about your experience.
Metalsmith, Teaching Artist, Author
Read more about Helen's inspiration and experience here.