I have always had an interest in lapidary work. This group has been so kind and generous every time I had a question, so I decided this was a good place to ask.
There is a tool advertised right now for a nice discount. It’s called an Ameritool Universal grinder and comes with 5 disk grits. It looks small enough to fit on my bench. The disks operate horizontally.
I realize that I would probably need some kind of saw also. (Ameritool has one)
So my question is this- Will I like this as well as one of those lapidary machines with the vertical disks?
If anyone has other suggestions I am open to other considerations.
Thank you so much.
I bought an Ameritool all in one unit years ago and sent it back as it was crap. I can’t speak for the one you are looking at. I would suggest that you look at Kingsley-North online and even give them a call and see what they recommend. Making cabs on a horizontal surface is a challenge, but a lot of people do it. I built one of my own after sending back the Ameritool, but I only use it now to grind flat surfaces. You have a lot more control, at least I do, grinding cabs on the curved surface of a round wheel. Long term, think diamond grinding wheels and diamond resin polishing wheels with various oxides to polish on some sort of buff, it depends on the material you are working with. Lapidary is a lot of fun. Look for a local rock club. There are several online directories that will help you find one in your area. Good luck…Rob
Here are a few thoughts on lapidary. I have had a self-built arbor machine, a big Highland Park machine and now have a Genie as well as a faceting machine. I think your choice depends on what you want to do. The Genie and similar machines are very convenient as you go from one wheel to another without any changing of parts, but they are very expensive, about $1500 and up. I also find that the hard grinding wheels and only slightly soft resin wheels are difficult to shape curves on. A horizontal shaft machine with some expanding drums is much easier to use, but you don’t see them…I had to modify my machine to take the expanding drums. The vertical shaft or slant shaft machines are much cheaper (~$500) and they do provide pads with a rubber backing into which you can push to establish your cab’s curve. Much easier to use. It isn’t the fact that you can’t see the surface you are working on that is the problem, it is the hard grinder only contacting your work at one point at a time, therefore you have to keep twirling your stone to hit all surfaces equally. The disadvantage with the vertical or slant shaft is that you have to change pads from one grit to the next. The pads use hook and loop or glue and they change easily, so it is a minor inconvenience. Also, you may want to do several cabs at once and then change to the next grit. With either of these machines you would also need a saw, probably at least a six inch saw. Ironically, the cheapest way to go about this would be to buy one of the cheap faceting machines. Get one with a varianble speed and you can use rubber backed sanding pads on them, too. On the faceting machine base (~$200?) you can also use a couple of large flange washers and mount a saw blade horizontally. This isn’t the easiest way to use a saw, but if you buy slabs at first, you can definitely do the little sawing you need to do this way. As far as dops, buy some dowel and cut it up yourself. For wax, use the green cab wax if you don’t hand hold your stones, and use a $7 alcohol lamp to melt the wax. It is easy enough and quicker than waiting for a dop pot to heat up. A little practice and you won’t burn the wax. The problem with cabbing is that it probably doesn’t pay to do it unless you just want to control that part of the process or if you are going to turn out a lot of work. So I wouldn’t go buying a Genie to turn out 10 stones a year.
I have one other thing to say, as an old geezer lapidary. When I started, we all used silicon carbide disks and belts. They are cheap, a couple dollars each at most, and will grind and prepolish most stones outside of corundum…all the jaspers and agates. You can rough out on a coarse SiC disk or on a gringing wheel and use a 220 grit to shape and a 600 and maybe 1000 to prepolish and then go to a felt or leather pad with an appropriate oxide polish. The Genie merchants will sell you a myriad of diamond wheels which you really do not need. They will be a tad better on materials that undercut and on jade, but if your touch/technique is good, you don’t need them even for that. And going thru many steps is a waste of time. Hope some of this is helpful. -royjohn
In answer to your original question, no, I don’t think you would like a flat lap as much as you would a standard lapidary grinder. I have both, and I’ve only used my flat lap to grind/polish flat pieces. Since it’s flat, you are constantly fighting against making a series of flats on your stone, as royjohn said, the expando drums are better/easier for making cabs. I have a rock grinder with a saw, two diamond wheels and an expando drum on the outside. I have a series of belts (200, 600, 1200, 3000, 8000) to do additional shaping and polishing with. I got lucky and got it for cheap as it was rusty, still had it’s worn out SiC wheels and needed new bearings and a belt. I patched it, fiberglassed the body/pans, replaced the wheels and bearings and made diamond belts for it. I had never restored one before, and it wasn’t that hard. BUT, I had to wait a LONG time to find one I could afford. I have seen some being offered on Craigslist and Marketplace for as little as $200, but very rarely. Lortones usually go for around $500 on Ebay, but they really are more fit for purpose than a flat lap, and they also have a saw.
If you are lucky enough to live near a gem and mineral society, I strongly suggest you join and visit one. They often have equipment that you can use, and then you could easily see which type of machine you’d prefer. And, they are usually the smartest and nicest people you’ll ever meet, and they end up giving you more rocks than you’ll know what to do with! Joining my club was the best thing that ever happened to me, except for marrying my husband.
I would like to thank each of you that responded to my question about the flat lap machine. All of your answers were very helpful. The reason it appealed to me was the fairly reasonable price and the small footprint. It also didn’t look quite as messy as the traditional set up. After your comments I analyzed exactly what I want to do. I decided that my JoolTool wold be adaptable to the same processes as the flat lap. JoolTool has abrasives however they are very expensive. There is a set of flat disks that are used in the same manner.
If I decide to get lapidary equipment I think I will bite the bullet and get something appropriate.
I live in the middle of nowhere so there are no lapidary gem clubs near me that I have ever heard of. (western MN)
For the time being I plan to continue to purchase cabs made by others. Thank all of you for taking time to respond to me.
If your main focus is making jewelry, then buying cabs is the most economical way to go from a time spent doing point of view. You need to develop some reliable sources. I know that you don’t think that there are any clubs nearby, and that may be the case. But open your range a bit as many clubs have yearly shows where you can see exactly what you are buying and also probably get a better price. I do lapidary because it lets me design either the stone around the piece or the piece around the stone. I also inherited over 2,000 lbs. of semi precious slabs from my father who was a real rock hound and wheeler dealer. Following are links to clubs in Minnesota. Don’t give up on lapidary. It is a lot of fun and another way to be creative and, occasionally, very frustrated. Good luck…Rob