Saturday, April 7, 2012

Small Holes & Hard Rocks

So you want to drill a hole in a cabochon or other gemstone? Drilling gemstones has to be one of the most challenging and potentially frustrating lapidary techniques to master. The holes are usually small, the stone is harder than expected, diamond burrs wear out or break and it always requires more time than planned. Plus, there is always the problem of the gemstone chipping around the hole. Or even worse, the stone becomes a pile of worthless and sometimes very expensive fragments.

Sandy Craig at Orca Gems developed the following method. Admittingly, stone drilling is still an intimidating process, yet I've had a lot of luck with this method.

Get a plastic bowl, a piece of 1"x4" wood and a nail the same diameter as the drill.

Drill a hole in the 1"x4" the same diameter as the nail.

Insert the nail through the board and into the bottom of the plastic bowl. Epoxy everything in place and to seal up the hole in the bottom of the bowl.

Clip off the nail at about 2-3 mm.

Drill the first hole to a depth equal to the length of the nail or half the total speth of the hole.

Now clamp the board and entire drill in place so that the nail is centered directly under the drill.

If done properly, the nail will hold the cab in place. Drill the second portion of the hole.

No chipping. No blow-out. No mess. Just a nice little hole.

Add a pinch bail to complete the project. (This cab still needs to be polished. So a little water was added to show what is will look like when finished.)

If the hole is off-center, use a bead reamer to straighten it out. This method works great for stones up to a hardness of maybe six and for drilling side-to-side and front-to back. The maximum depth is about .375" to maybe .5".

If you need to drill something harder or deeper, then it's probably better to get something like this

Can't afford a $1800 tool to put some holes in rocks? Here's a gemstone drilling service. An average hole will run somewhere between $8 to $15 depending on the diameter and depth. The minimum order is $150. The holes from an ultrasonic drill are usually cleaner and don't require polishing. 

If drilling gets into to your blood, you can try to go crazy like Craigor Clark does at Slice of the Universe. 

Minnesota Lapidary Supply sells a few accessories for drilling that look very useful.

One additional tip.

If you need to core drill a stone, glue a thin piece of wood to the back of the stone. This will normally stop any blow out when the drill finishes the hole. Someone also mentioned using cardboard instead of wood.

Good luck!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Tucson 2012: "Survivor" Meets "Treasure Hunt"

Compared to last year, Tucson 2012 was a pretty mellow, uneventful yet productive show for Bright Star. No record cold temperatures. No endless wind storms. However, the more gem and mineral shows I attend, the more I'm convinced the gem business is really a cross between "Survivor" and "Treasure Hunt". 

The "Survivor" portion occurs by trying to avoid the scams and not getting robbed. Unfortunately, an Oregon sunstone miner had their entire inventory stolen a few days after the GJX show. This was reportedly only $800,000-$900,000 in loose stones and finished jewelry. The International School of Gemology is offering a $1,000 reward for the recovery of these gemstones, etc. More details can be found here.

"Treasure Hunt" occurs during the endless search for good rough rock. A second and again unfortunate reality is Tucson 2012 really didn't produce any significant new discoveries. There were plenty of dealers content to offer the same types of rough. Of course there was a plentiful supply of some of the more popular agates and jaspers but there really wasn't that much new material available.

Two really neat materials that I overlooked last year are the Utah Lace Opal and Atlantasite. 

Lace Opal slightly resembles crazy Lace Agate and is offered in every form imaginable -rough, slabs and finished cabs and jewelry. Bright yellow to orange patterns run through a bright red to crimson background. Aspen Rock and Gem are both the direct miners and distributors. Call Larry or Joyce at 970-250-0178 or 970-250-4094 to try some.

Atlantasite is found only on the island of Tasmania. The miners really must have a sense of humor to name a stone after an ocean on the other side of the world. Purple Stichtite provides a nice contrast to the almost chartreuse yellow or green Serpentine. 

While both of these materials require treatment with some type of polymer to help stabilize them, the results are worth it. The finished cabs are really stunning. 

Need a knife? Need a really nice, custom one-of-a-kind with stone inlay handles knife? Knives were one of the "in" items this year.

Custom knife maker Steve Nolte of Nolte Knives is the guy to see when you want the best in one-of-a-kind cutlery. This was Steve's second year exhibiting in Tucson and he seemed to really enjoy himself. His specialty is using Damascus steel combined with different stones including Turquoise, Agates, Jaspers and even the above mentioned Lace Opal to create the ultimate cutting tools. 

All the knives are sold with a custom leather sheath that often compliments and reflects upon the style of the knife. Steve can be reached through his website .

Hopefully, this marks the beginning of regular postings to the Bright Star blog. Sometimes it's a little surprising where all the time goes - 2011 was certainly one of those years.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

New Cabochon Dop System

Last month at the Golden Spike Gem & Mineral Show in Ogden, UT, there were several new products for cabochon and lapidary cutting. 

Highlighted here is a new dop system that is both simple yet ingenious. At the end of the Ogden show I stopped by to grab a set and every last one of them had sold. So this month when I was back in Utah, I jumped at a chance to pick up one.

The key to this system is an ergonomically shaped aluminum handle that accepts any #10 (10 mm or 7/16") or smaller screw, nail or even a tiny wooden dowel. The screw is attached to the preform cab as normal with super glue or dop wax. 

With a small Allen set-screw in each handle, it's easy to add and remove each cabochon.

Immediately the benefits of the ergonomically shaped aluminum handle become apparent. The size of the handle is similar to a writing pen and feels more natural than a small nail or wooden dowel. The small sculptured area for the fingers helps prevent the handle from slipping around. Any cutter with large hands will especially appreciate this feature. 

Another benefit is it will be much easier to dop and hold very small stones. Now it is possible to dop anything from the largest cowboy belt buckle size cab all the way down to the tiniest little speck imaginable and still be able to hold it. No more fiddling with chopsticks...

The entire kit includes several items. Enclosed in the package with the aluminum handle are a plastic block for holding your stones after they have been hit with your favorite dopping adhesive, twelve #10 screws and an Allen wrench. The price is $19.95 for everything or $14.95 for the handle alone. 

While I am certainly not a gear freak, this is one tool that will see a lot of use in my lapidary shop. After getting home I found an Aquamarine cab that was half started. After a few minutes on the grinder and a little more time sanding and polishing, one thing was certain: I'm not going back to just using a dowel.

You can get one for yourself from several sources. Brugman's Lapidary (801 963-7847) developed the system and sells them around Utah at many of the rock shows. You can also find them at

Happy cutting!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Nature's Best & Worst: Rough Rock & Bad Weather

This is part two of a delayed report on the gem and mineral shows in Arizona this past January and February. A lot happens at these shows and sometimes, some of it gets overlooked or missed. In the future, I promise the blogs will be up-to-date.

There are at least four good things about Arizona in February: seeing the new tools and equipment, meeting fellow gemstone lovers and rock hounds, enjoying the warm weather and discovering the new rough that Mother Nature has given up.

Well this year, we got three of the four. The weather didn't exactly cooperate. A cold front hit Tucson and everyone got to experience the coldest temperatures in 50+ years. At one point the head of security for the TEP Show reported it was only 10 degrees inside the big tent. 

It got so windy a few days, they even had an evacuation plan just in case the gusts became too much. Tents did get blown over. Merchandise got damaged. Buckets of rough froze completely solid. Some people's patience was short. Quite a few of the outdoor vendors packed up and left after a few days of this.

For those that persevered, Tucson gave up it's hidden treasures.

While not new to the market, the material from Gold In Quartz did make a big impression on me and many other folks.

Starting with natural quartz, owner Onnick Arakelian has created a process for infusing the rock with gold, silver or copper. The metals are combined with a variety of semi-transparent, translucent and opaque materials. Stunning white, black and almost clear pieces of rough are available. They even offer one variety in black jade.

At the time of the show, prices ranged from $1.75 to $42 per gram for the rough. Gold in Quartz also offers finished cabochons and jewelry. If interested, give Onnick a call at 559.285.2764 or vice-president of sales Ivory Lynd at 907.529.6850.

In 2005 (and again in 2011), Pakistan experienced a series of devastating earthquakes. As a very small benefit from these calamities, a new deposit of cab grade Kyanite was discovered. It just took a while for it to reach the market. The local miner's had to attend to the needs of their families and communities before beginning the extraction of this cool new material that combines blue and green Kyanite.

The finished cabs should be real eye candy. Quasar Gems is the source (262-573-4001). Head honcho, Quaisar Manzoor, was really helpful in helping me find the right size and quality I needed. 

While I didn't have time to get photos, three new types of rough certainly warrant attention. O.K. The truth of the matter is that I didn't get on the ball and buy some of this rock for myself.............

The new Sonoran Dendretic Jasper may have been the most noteworthy new find displayed this year in Tucson. Also called Sonoran Flower Jasper, there are generally red dendretic "trees", "plants", "flowers" and other abstract patterns on a white to blue grey background. Fans of designer cabs are going wild for this stuff.  John Huesler at Slabs To Cabs is the importer for the rough - 636-359-4706. He probably has a few finished cabs laying around too.

Two other really neat materials are the new Cheetah Jasper or Dendretic Leopard Jasper from Brazil and the Bumblebee Agate from IndonesiaCheetah Jasper is pretty much as the name describes: black dendretic spots and flecks cover a yellow to orange or sometimes almost red matrix. Bumblebee Agate also nails the description of the material with the name: bright yellow bands contrast nicely against black all in a translucent matrix. You can find Cheetah Jasper (they call it Dendretic Leopard Jasper) at and the Bumblebee Agate from Gary Andruss at The Stoneworks (541-386-2397).

To backtrack a bit, prior to the big Tucson gem and mineral shows, there are the QIA Pow-Wow and Desert Gardens shows in Quartzsite. Since it is not as spread out as Tucson, Quartzsite can be another (and some people will say better) place to find cutting edge new rough.

The new American Poppy Jasper from Washington state drew a lot of attention. Not only is this the northern most discovery of Poppy Jasper, there can be a really wide variety of colors in a single piece. The "poppies" go from tones of red and orange all the way to red on white or even completely white. These are a couple of young rock hounds digging the goods and making a go of it. They can be reached at 360.460.3670 or

Wandering around any good gem show always leads to finding something unexpected. Sonoran Cactus Jasper caught my attention because of the unusual green color and patterns that reminded me of the prickly pear cactus all over central and west Texas. Unfortunately, I lost the contact information for the vendor. He did say it was stabilized. I'll just have to wait until next year and hope there is more.

Anyone that knows me or seen my cabs, has to realize that I love Quartz with inclusions. So here's an example that had two different names, two different locations and two different reported compositions this year in Quartzsite and Tucson

I've always known this as Cacoxenite in Amethyst Quartz. The gold Cacoxenite sheathes in the purple Amethyst makes beautiful and distinctive cabs. Occasionally, there are pieces that include yellow Citrine along with the Amethyst.

There were a couple of vendors selling this as "Super Seven Stone" and representing it to contain golden needles of Rutile, black Tourmaline, red Lepidocrosite (or Hematite), Cacoxenite, Goethite, Smoky Quartz, Amethyst and clear Quartz. (Yes, that's eight. Some vendors listed a different combination to arrive at seven.) In the past, here are examples of what the market recognizes as "Super Seven Stone".

In Brazil, this type of Quartz is known as Conchonita . The only discovery was in Baixo Guanadu in the state of Esprito Santo. A few years ago, the Brazilian environmental agency, IBAMA, closed the mine for not having the necessary permits. All seven minerals are generally visible in good stones.

While a few of the seven minerals are visible in the new "Super Seven Stoneand it really doesn't matter what it is called, truthful representation is important. One vendor even made what might be the quote of the show - "You can't always call a stone by it's technical name". What a bunch of baloney!! Since this guy had Gilaite labeled as Paraiba Tourmaline ( a much more valuable gemstone that can sell for as much as $30,000 per carat) and was selling "Green Amethyst", it does demonstrate what a few will do to make a quick buck.

At several booths, the source was listed as Minas Gerais, Esprito Santo, Brazil or the other way around as Esprito Santo, Minas Gerais. Some vendors said this was a new discovery. Others claimed it was old material from 20 years ago.

The only problem is that these are two different states in Brazil. It's kind of like saying a mineral came from New Mexico, TexasMinas Gerais (literally General Mines) and Esprito Santo (Holy Spirit) are neighboring states. After a little legwork, I discovered the mine is in Fundao, Esprito Santo and is owned by someone in New Jersey of all places.

It still could be that there were two different finds of this rough 20 years apart. It was just a lot of fun playing rock detective and learning a little more about the mining and sources in a foreign country.

To finish up in Tucson, the last piece of rough I found turn out to be a chameleon. Grey, round, dull and generally pretty non-descriptive is a good summary. After slabbing it, about the time I got to the 1200 grit wheel, the real beauty became apparent.

It was a piece of Native Silver in Cobaltite from the Frontier Mine in Cobalt, Ontario, Canada. The stuff glows like nothing else. It's a rich metallic silver in a white Calcite that is now one of my favorite stones to cut.

While I have mentioned a few of the new cabochon and gemstone materials available in 2011, I certainly know I have missed quite a few. There are also many more vendors worthy of mention. A few of these include, Atkhoma Hobbies (479-736-9015), and

All the best!

Bright Star