Homemade Lapidary Equipment

This weekend I will be taking some pictures of our homemade cabachon machine and writing an artcile on how we made it. This will also include details of Uk suppliers where I managed to obtain the parts to make the machine.

The cabachon machine has seen quite a lot of service since it was built last summer and has stood up to the test of time so far, we have ground, shaped and polished many types of semi-precious gemstone on the machine, including amethyst, sodalite, rose quartz, petrified wood, pebbles found in the fields and many more varieties with a large degree of success.

We also use the diamond grinding wheel on the machine to make pre forms for the tumblers.

It’s not a particularly pretty machine to look at when compared to the commercially available machines, but what we have lost in looks we have saved in terms of costs and nothing in functionality.

I will get the details posted over this weekend, plus make a start on cutting some of the black flint I recently found, it should polish up really well for use in the jewellery.

42 comments to Homemade Lapidary Equipment

  • I was in from 76 to 99 and got around a bit myself too

  • ernie carter

    Thanks Dave, i will have a look at rez belts soon.
    I served from 69 to 93 travelled a lot but never had a full overseas tour!!

  • Hi Ernie, sorry for the late reply, so another ex RAF chap eh, I too was in the RAF for 23 years in a past life, interesting what you say about the micromesh I will have to find the time to research, it more, one other thought though, we use REZ belts which a resin impregnated canvas belt that we use on our expanding drums and we charge them up with diamond paste, which is very cheap to buy from the Far East.

  • ernie carter

    hello dave
    micromesh is a cushioned abrasive that grades down to I think about 12000 grit. I used it for polishing out scratches on fighter aircraft windscreens during my time in the raf. it is available on the internet from various sites but it not cheap and to the best of my knowledge only comes in 6″ widths but can be cut to length

  • Hi Ernie, thanks for your question but could you tell us what micromesh is please? Then I can do a bit of looking around

    cheers

    Dave

  • ernie carter

    Has any one tried polishing rocks with micromesh? I have made a small polishing machine using the 6 volt motor and gearbox out of a childs car. It works ok polishing cast acrylic with a micromesh table but I have not tried any rocks yet.

  • Hi Ernie, fingers crossed this holds together for you

  • ernie carter

    one of the end caps on my tumbler came off and the grit damaged the roller and roller supports making it wobble badly. replaced with supports with 6mm aluminium and fitted 19*6*6mm bearings. filed the roller ends to fit, now working with only a slight wobble as all work was done with hand held tools. A lathe and pillar drill would have made a neater job but it is now working. See how long it lasts!!!!!

  • Hi Ernie, no problem, just keep a beady eye out for gravel paths or driveways!

  • ernie carter

    thanks Dave, I will look at using marbles or flint piece if I can find any.I don,t have any offcuts as I burnt my tile cutter trying to cut an ironstone cobble. Will try and find some way of sorting it out later

  • Hi Earnie, we have never tried the glass bead idea, but we have enough offcuts left over after cutting on the saws to be able to make up loads if needed, the other thing you could try is small pebbles or flint gravel that you find on gravel paths a dirveways as flint is quite hard and the little bit you find on paths and drives should do to bulk up your loads. We have read about people using ball bearing in tumblers, but that is more for de-burring metal on jewellery.

  • ernie carter

    having a bit more success lately but during initial I have been adding glass beads to make up the weight loss at each stage, however, they do wear away quite quickly so I considered using marbles or ball bearings. Does anybody recommend the use of ball bearings or will they damage the inside of the tumbler tube and end caps.

  • Hi Ernie, very pleased to hear you are getting results now, the plastic beads certainly do help in two ways, for one they cushion the stones as they are tumbling and they also help to spread the polish. I will be honest with you we have never recycled the cerium oxide ourselves. If I understand it correctly, cerium oxide is a very fine abrasive in it’s own right and after a tumbling cycle it will become worn down to an even finer abrasive so much so that it will have no effect in the end.

  • ernie carter

    I have just emptied my machine after 8 days in polish with plastic beads and cerium oxide. Much better result so it looks like reusing polish is not good idea, also the plastic beads ended up with small black spots on them so it looks they will need a wash in a flour sieve before re-using.

  • Hey Ernie, good to hear you have some success

    Cheers

    Dave

  • ernie carter

    Steve Miller at Vitrex sent me a spare blade carrier and securing nut. My son eventually got the carrier turned down to take a 20mm blade ( the company he works for are very busy) and it spun up fine when I tried it. Tried cutting a couple of pieces of rock which seemed to be quite hard and it cut slowly but with a good finish in my limited experience. May need to find some sort of finger protection or some way of holding the samples!!!
    Next project try and make something to polish flat pieces

  • Fingers crossed you get a better result this time.

  • ernie carter

    Most of the pebbles were smooth to start with as they were gathered from the beach and had a good shine when wet. They will not scratch with a fingernail, most are what i think is a type of quartz, some are chertz or flint from the hardness and finish. Will try using plastic beads in the polish. I used to make up lost weight with glass pebbles but these wore away!!!
    Thanks for the reply

  • Hi Earnie,

    sorry to hear they didn’t come up to scratch, am just wondering if your pebbles are too soft for polishing, normally the harder the stone the better for tumbling in our experience as they are less porous. Can you scratch them with a fingernail, if you can they are most probably a bit on the soft side and won’t really bring up a good shine. We have also read about recycling polish but we have never tried that so can’t comment on that. Also do you use do you use plastic beads in your polish stage to cushion the pebbles so they don’t bang into each other too much. Final thought, after each stage with grit were the pebbles nice and smooth and scratch free. I know there is a lot said about tumbling each stage for 7 days, but that’s only a rule of thumb, we often find that we can run the 80 grit stage for 3 or 4 weeks, changing the grit every week and the rest of the stages can vary from 1 week upwards. One final thought did you give your pebbles a really good wash after they had finished the polish stage?

    Hope this helps, anyone else have any words of wisdom for Ernie

    Cheers

    Dave

  • ernie carter

    just emptied a 3lb load of beach pebbles after 14 days in cerium oxide, not satisfied with the results. They had been tumbled for 7 days with different grades of grit before polishing. I have read that the polish can be reused and this is what I have done. Would I get better results discarding the polish each time? I also read on the internet that adding hard soap improves the shine. Is this added to the polish or put in on its’ own? Any body know

  • ernie carter

    Got the 20mm blades but do not fancy trying to take them out to 22mm. Contacting vitrex to try to obtain spare blade carrier and washer and will ask my son to turn them to fit 20mm blades. Also a friend has a saw he says will do lapidary which I can have when he manages to dig it out of his shed.!!!

  • ernie carter

    John, I found a 110mm by 20mm by 0.13mm blade on amazon at sourcingmap for £2.34 free postage. I have ordered it and will give it try and let you know
    Ernie

  • ernie carter

    John
    thanks for the info. If I can find a 22mm blade I will give it a try. I know about the facemask etc as I discovered when I did the tiling job I initially bought the machine for. Should I find a blade I will do a no load run and stand well to one side. I once worked in a machine shop making a go nogo gauge out of stainless steel on a precision grinder when the wheel disintegrated. We never did find some of the pieces!!
    Ernie

  • Hi John, well I am just clinging onto 53, couple of months then 54 so I am not that far behind you. The cold affects me really strangely as the colder it gets the more I sweat which in turn means I get chilled very quickly, been like this ever since Gulf War 1 back in ’91.

    I like you idea about swapping rocks for finished items that’s really cool, in fact wouldn’t it be great of there was a “rock swap shop” on line, food for thought there for me in all the spare time I never seem to have.

    I just popped over to Donnies Rocky Treasures web site, he has some really nice wraps on there (wire wraps), I am sure you have seem the wrapping that Shalini (my wife) does but just in case you haven’t you can see it on her site at http://www.jewellerybyshalini.co.uk

    You know I do believe that Lapidary is getting a bit more popular over here in the UK again which is a good thing, just wish the machines were all readily available over here at a reasonably price, but on the subject of machines I really do have to get that flat lap made this year.

    Anyway John, time for a cuppa tea.

    Cheers

    Dave

  • John Pilkington

    Dave I totally agree with that,I suffer from reynauds disease-a result of using chainsaws and riding old british motorbikes-the cold cripples me,and I echo this as being a really bad one.
    I hit 55 this year and have recently moved to a new/old place-everything is taking longer than it should,as is the norm,I guess.
    I note that you point people at the rock and gem something site.I am a member of the sister site”rock tumbling hobby”-known as “still alive”-several posts about equipment-a trip to Scotland to collect agates,and some Tisbury coral-this is pretty rare stuff,and I recently did a swap with Donnie,from “Donnies Rocky Treasures”,for a pendant for my 13 year old daughter.
    Basically some rock for finished product,just wondering if you might be interested in a similar sort of deal?
    Do let me know,maybe you would be into a joint search for some in the future?
    I can send you pictures of the finished item,-or you can check it out on the site I already mentioned-If I know lapidary artists,they are always on the lookout for new and unusual material-All the best,JOHN.

  • Hi John,

    workshop, that’s what the living room is for ha ha! I must be honest I haven’t been out in the workshop so far this year, just been too darned cold however I must make the effort to go and get all the machines serviced and ready to work again as there is so much to do.

    Cheers

    Dave

  • John Pilkington

    Thanks Dave.
    We all had to start somewhere with this totally addictive hobby,and people like yourself,and the information on your website are invaluable to beginners and experts alike.I have been following your exploits for some time now and slowly getting the equipment together.I now have a 12″ slab saw,8″ trim saw,a little robilt,flat lap/grinder/facetor,and a couple of 5lb beach tumblers.And spurred on by your cabbing machine,am in the process of assembling the parts for a similar machine.I just have to build a workshop for it all now,lol!
    All the best,John.

  • John Pilkington

    Ok Ernie,I have just checked the MK website,and all of their blades are either 1/2″ or 5/8ths” bore.One other observation,from experience,-if you use one of these machines for cutting-stand behind and pull the rock through the blade,as opposed to in front pushing,otherwise you will wish you had worn a wetsuit and facemask!
    All the best,John.

  • Hi John,

    don’t worry you are aren’t breaking any site rules by passing good information and references across and thanks for helping this chap out

    Cheers

    Dave

  • John Pilkington

    Hello again,I should have added that my saw(vitrex) is running 180mm blade,(slightly over 7″),and therefore gives a greater depth of cut.Cheers,John.

  • John Pilkington

    Hi,Ernie;-in response to your question regarding using a lapidary blade on your vitrex tile saw.I bought a vitrex 560w pro,which uses the same size blade,but with a 16mm diameter- I managed to find(from the states)an Mk 303 pro series lapidary blade that slotted straight on-I really don’t know if they do one with a 22mm diameter,but will have a look.
    I didn’t get around to using it as an 8″ “real lapidary saw” came my way shortly afterwards-in fact the whole set-up was used only twice to cut two lake superior agates using the original blade.It was unsatisfactory hence the purchase of the MK 303 lapidary pro blade.If anyone is interested,(and I’m not breaking any site protocols),perhaps you could email me for details photos etc.
    I will have a look around to see if I can find anything with a 22mm bore,but keep in mind that these blades are expensive,mine cost as much as the saw itself after adding customs/import taxes-you simply can’t get them over here.
    Regards John.

  • ernie carter

    A correction to my earlier post. the blade is in fact 110mm with a 22mm bore

  • ernie carter

    I have recently bought a Vitrex torquemaster tile cutter, does any one know if a lapidary blade could be fitted to this machine. Steve at vitrex advised they do not recommend any blade other than the one fitted.The machine has a 110mm dia 16mm blade running at 4600rpm. I am new to lapidary having recently purchased a 3lb tumbler and at the moment simply using pebbles gathered from various beaches.
    Any info or advice would me much appreciated
    Ernie

  • Hi George,

    thanks for the info I will check this out later, as you say it might be basic, but it all helps to build an overall picture of what one is trying to achieve.

    Cheers

    Dave

  • George Dyson

    Theres a old paperback book in the teach yourself series. ” lapidary” by Del Fairfield which describes how to make home made machinery. I think it maybe a bit too basic for you but it does describe the building of a basic flat lap. Last time I looked copies where available on Ebay

  • Hi George,

    thanks for your input here, we still haven’t built our flat lap yet but the time is fast approaching we think as we need to do some nice flats and a few people have asked us if we came make dowsing wands for them, I like the idea of the bicycle pedal bearings. Yes, the lap plates have had me scratching my head a bit as well, although I now researching using diamond pads which attach to the lap plate with velcro. I think this would have advantages in the same lap plate could be used for all grits and as the diamond is fixed to the pad I see very little risk of contamination between stages in fact I just think it will make the whole process a whole lot easier.

    You can be sure that when we do build this machine we will make some posts about it.

    All the best and thanks for dropping by.

    Cheers

    Dave

  • George Dyson

    Hi.
    Vibrating laps have a grooved aluminium pan and I found that 80grit silicon carbide wears these pans away very quickly, I think some manufacturers recommend starting with 220 grit, so a standard rotating one would be great for the rough grind. I don’t think the design would be too difficult. I seem to remember that a magazine in the 70s/80s showed a design using the (pedal?) bearing from a bicycle. I don’t if you can easily get the cast iron lap plates though.
    George

  • Graham Field

    Hi
    Do you have a home made Flat Lap machine. Vibro Laps are very expensive and slow
    I have a number of Oragan Thunder egg slices that I would like to polish as they are too nice to Cab.

    Graham.

  • Hi there,

    glad you found the post interesting, we are currently chatting with some other people who have made their own vibrating laps as this is a mchine we want to build in the near future for polishing flat slabs

  • Hi, good post. I have been woondering about this issue,so thanks for posting. I’ll definitely be coming back to your site.

  • Great machine

    Simple and does the job

    Brilliant

    Thanks for sharing details

    John

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