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Is lapidary hard on the hands?


#1

Hi Orchidians;

I’ve just hired a coupe people to help me run my new business, one a
trainee from another craft and another as an office manager. I’m
only able to afford to give them part time as of yet, and I’m eager
to ramp up the company’s income to give them more hours. I’m paying
them pretty well hourly though. I think this gives them a
perspective on the value of their contributions but leaves them
enough time to seek other income sources. Here’s my question.

My office manager is a former accomplished stone setter, a
specialist in bright cut and pave, among other types of setting, but
he worked in a genuine sweat shop and the grueling work load ruined
his hands. He has carpal tunnel and some ligament damage. It’s
getting better through therapy, but he’ll always be vulnerable to
repetitive stress injury. His knowledge of the operations of a
trade shop is immensely valuable to me, but I know he misses working
with his hands and I won’t let him work on machinery or anything
that might aggravate the damage, hence I had to hire bench help in
addition to him. I was wondering, if I set him up with lapidary
equipment and some training to do stone repair, and custom cutting,
if this would be stressful on his hands. It would give him
something he could do that he could take pride in, as he misses
making beautiful things, and also bring in income which I could use
to provide him more wages/hours. There’s only so much clerical work
I have at this time. Have any of you who cut gems experienced
problems with carpel tunnel? Can much of the cutting be done with
jigs and holding devices? I’m completely ignorant on the subject.
There’s a pretty good market hereabouts for clock repair too. It
wouldn’t be as interesting as gem cutting, I’m sure, but maybe that
would be a better choice. Eventually, I’ll find lots of creative
things for him to do, so this is just the beginning of my thinking
on this challenge. I welcome all feedback. Thanks in advance.

David L. Huffman


#2

David,

Maybe Gerry or a couple other lapidarys will respond as well. My
answer is; it can be hard on the hands depending on what sizes,
shapes, types and number of stones are being cut and how it is done.
I no longer cut a lot of stones …maybe 30 or 40 a week but do
virtually all of them by hand. I don’t dop because most of them are
freeforms in the 20x30mm size. If I do cut any smaller
geometric/calibrated stones I dop them. There is a big difference
between dopping and not dopping. Cutting geometric shapes in
calibrated sizes on a dop requires very specific and repetitive hand
movements that can tire one’s hand out in a few hours. Freeform
work allows more freedom in movement and less strain on the wrist and
fingers. On the other hand, cutting without dopping makes a real mess
of one’s fingernails and tips of the fingers. In freeform cutting,
the fingers are often used to ‘gauge’ the relation of the stone to
the wheel…thus there is always a high loss of skin and nails.

Stone repair is not so bad and it is not normally necesary to recut
the entire stone. Usually just a touch up of the shoulders and
crown…a few minutes on each wheel is all that is needed.

Many machines have ‘pre-forming’ devices that take a lot of the work
out of cutting the geometry and initial crown work. I never use one
but have heard they work well on geometric/calibrated stones. They
are not good (IMHO) for freeforms though.

Don’t know if your stone repair includes faceting - which is not all
that stressful. There is hand movement but not nearly as much as
cabbing. Usually the hand is held rigid and the arm moves the stone
on the lap.

I suspect he could get away with a stone now and then with no
damage. If he has to do many stones throughout the day however, this
could be a problem. I think a big question is, has your employee cut
stones previously? If he has experience, he might already know how
to mitigate damage to his hands. Otherwise, he could do some damage
in the learning process.

In any event, I would suggest you get him a 6" all diamond unit like
a Genie or something to try. These machines are smooth and a stone
can be cut quickly with practice. They are not necessarily meant for
high production but then it does not sound as if that is what you
intend anyway.

Hope this helps. Cheers from Don at The Charles Belle Studio in
SOFL where simple elegance IS fine jewelry! @coralnut1


#3

David - If the lapidary work is concentrated in faceted stone repair
your office manager ought to be able to do the work. If it is
cabochon repair, then carpal tunnel or other repetitive stress
problems are possible, or even likely depending upon the amount of
work being done. The machine does the holding for faceting; the
cutter in cabbing. Within two years after I went full-time with
lapidary I was wearing a brace on my right forearm. I redesigned my
bench setup, and changed the way I did my work, and can now go for
many months without problems.

Jim Small
Small Wonders


#4

I can’t speak to how cutting stones affects carpal tunnel, but as
someone who has it in both hands, I do have to be very careful about
what I do, how I do it, and how long I do it at a stretch. I would
not think that doing a “little” of anything would be bad. Doing more
than that of a lot of things (including typing!) would be bad. I
also think that the affect that the carpal tunnel has on each person
is different, and you also mentioned ligament damage, which will
change things again.

I have difficulty holding small things tightly, or for a long time.
However I can hold a small stone briefly in order to set it, or
manage to string very small pearls with no trouble - I am not holding
each small pearl for very long. I have also learned when to quit -
if my wrists and hands start to ache, it is time to stop! Hopefully
your employee has learned this. If so, then letting him "try"
anything should be fine, with the caveat that he MUST stop
immediately if he begins to hurt.

As an employer, the risk you run, I would think, is in terms of what
might happen with insurance claims. If he aggravates, reinjures, or
more deeply injures the existing areas, what is your liability? What
is his? I don’t know, but I would think those are areas you should
carefully explore!

What I, as a self-employed artist, can and will do, and what might
be the best thing for you to have an employee do, may not be at all
the same thing.

Good luck!
Beth in SC


#5

Hello David, I agree with Don as far as cabbing is concerned although
dop sticks are definitely required if your wrists are painful. I am
a commercial cutter and spend most of my days with a faceting
machine. I suffered quite badly from a mouse attack that left me
with bursitis and CTS which although diagnosed as mild, from my side
it was really really painful. It didn’t affect my ability to facet
as the pain only occurred with extreme movement or effort. It’s
impossible to work up a sweat faceting. The mouse died painfully
and horribly from a terrible bludgeoning that I administered
repeatedly with a large hammer, it has been replaced by a 3 button 2
wheel trackball and no pain.

H.T.H.
Tony.


#6

David, The short answer is “yes”. However, that doesn’t mean you
shouldn’t have your employee try it, but have him talk to a doctor.
The major problem for me is the vibration of the machine. This can
aggravate all sorts of problems in the hands. I wouldn’t recommend
cutting for more than 2-3 hours at a time. Faceting is probably a
little kinder to the hands then cutting cabs.

Amy O’Connell
Amy O’Connell Jewelry
http://LapidaryArt.com


#7

Hi David, I applaud your expansion and your interest and concern
about the well being (mental and physical) of your new employees.

Yes, lapidary is hard on the hands, but I don’t think it’s
necessarily in the sense that you’re thinking. The grinding wheels
take their toll on fingernails, finger tips and knuckles, but it’s
nothing that won’t heal or grow back. The water and grinding debris
make you wash your hands frequently, so a good hand lotion is also
necessary.

I haven’t had the feeling that there is a great risk of developing
carpal tunnel problems, but a lot of the motions are repetitive. I’d
be interested in seeing comments on this topic from high-volume
cutters like Gerry Galarneau or Doug Turet…

All the best,
Dave
Dave Sebaste
Sebaste Studio and
Carolina Artisans’ Gallery
Charlotte, NC (USA)
dave@sebaste.com


#8
    lapidary I was wearing a brace on my right forearm. I
redesigned my bench setup, and changed the way I did my work, 

What were the changes that helped you?


#9

Tony - would you share which model you have replaced your deceased
mouse with? I use a Logitech cordless with a trackball, that is
"supposed" to be ergonomical. I find it does, with more than light
use, still cause pain. Would love to know what works for others with
wrist/hand issues.

Beth in SC


#10

In my briolette business I do all the sawing and preforming of the
gem materials. My normal m.o. is to do a marathon preforming stint
every two months for about 2 weeks. By the time I am done with about
400 - 500 preforms my fingers are cracked, ground down, bleeding and
very sensitive. The damage is worse in the cold months. This leaves
no lasting effects on my hands which recover in about a week. So the
answer is - YES.

Steve Green / Rough and Ready Gems Your source for fine gem
briolettes and precision ultrasonic drilling www.briolettes.com


#11

In a word, yes! But I have carpal tunnel problems with both wrists
even after having surgery on one of them. Having lost some dexterity
from the surgery, I am in no mood to repeat it. My option it to take
really good care of my wrists and talk with my dr about injections.

To give yourself the best protection, use braces, good ones, with
steel shanks and adjustable straps.

Pacing is everything! Short work/ long rest cycles are essential!

Angle of cutting/polishing makes a huge difference. Height of the
workbench is an issue, or your relationship to the wheels/

Then, use as big a dop stick as you possibly can - grasping small
things is murder on wrists!

The easiest way to make one that will protect your wrists is to use
two pieces of dowel fitted together. I use the first piece of fat
dowel (normal length, minus one inch) and a smaller diameter piece
or, a piece of ordinary dop. Drill out the first, larger diameter and
longer one, and fit the smaller one into it, sink into the first one
about 3/4 inch. Provide enough length to dop the stone, and have
good vision of your work, Glue works well after using ordinary
joining methods.

Handles can be shaped, padded, or just taped. There is a discomfort
to a straight piece of dowel, so some modification adds comfort and
staying power to your wrists.

I have had to adjust my bezel and prong setting tools in the same
way - making them fit my hand better and eliminating the small, tight
grip.

A further word about carpal tunnel. I found an old neurology book
that sited the use of cortisone injections for some cases where surgery
is not desired. It seems that some drs still do that with good
results.

Frif


#12

Hello Beth, I have a Logitech trackball at my office, it’s optical so
it doesn’t need to be clean to work but it doesn’t have the wheels
and is not as comfy as my first, an A4 tech. This same model is now
being sold with the Radio Shack label. I think placement is the
most important aspect, I find as close as possible works well and it
often ends up on my knee. I also have a ‘ring mouse’ which is
actually a tiny trackball that fits on a finger, it’s a bit gimmicky
and is only convenient for low precision mousing such as browsing. I
once loaned it to a friend that was in a brace and was unable to use
a mouse and she found it very comfortable but slow/imprecise.

Tony.


#13
   I use a Logitech cordless with a trackball, that is "supposed"
to be ergonomical.  I find it does, with more than light use, still
cause pain. Beth in SC 

Hi all; I too find steering mousies around the desktop to be a pain
(in the wrist, that is). I have a friend who never uses one but
instead does everything with a pen pointer on an “art pad” of some
sort. I want one, I just keep forgetting to shop for it. I think
there may have been some talk on Orchid about those a while back and
maybe there’s something in the archives. I never seem to have
problems with my hands from using a pencil. Wonder what it is about
a mouse.

David L. Huffman


#14
What were the changes that helped you? 

The most important two were putting a new top on my lapidary bench
so that I could move the machinery to a more comfortable position,
and buying an adjustable height drafting chair. Between these two I
was able to find the right body position to, as another poster
noted, take the strain off my wrists and forearms. There are
additional changes which helped other problems, like using both skin
lotion and disposable gloves, always dopping up after preforming,
and mounting adjustable lighting at each work station. A final
improvement was at my computer; it turned out the "mouse fatigue"
was compounding my wrist problems.

Jim Small
Small Wonders


#15
The major problem for me is the vibration of the machine. 

Hi Amy, What kind of lapidary setup are you using that has such a
vibration issue? I use the 6" DP Genie, purchased well-used, and it
is smooth as silk (well, almost). The last time I had vibration
issues was in the old silicon carbide days when wheels would get out
of round… and stones would chatter across the face of the wheel
while grinding.

If you’re using diamond wheels and have a vibration issue, you might
want to consider changing the bearings on the shaft.

All the best,
Dave
Dave Sebaste
Sebaste Studio and
Carolina Artisans’ Gallery
Charlotte, NC (USA)
dave@sebaste.com


#16
I find it does, with more than light use, still cause pain. Would
love to know what works for others with wrist/hand issues. 

I use the Microsoft Intellimouse Trackball. The only way to go on a
cluttered desk like mine… and I don’t get the “mouse creep” that
ends up with me reaching for the mouse near the rear of my monitor.

Great ergonomic design… but for you new users, it takes a day or
so to get used to a trackball. You’ll instinctively slide the whole
thing around and the mouse pointer doesn’t move at all! :wink:

All the best,
Dave
Dave Sebaste
Sebaste Studio and
Carolina Artisans’ Gallery
Charlotte, NC (USA)
dave@sebaste.com


#17

Beth and all, I also use the Logitec cordless with track gall. I
simply love it!!! Very confortable though my wife thinks its a bit
large for her hand. Cheers from Don at The Charles Belle Studio in
SOFL where it is raining cats and dogs and where simple elegance IS
fine jewelry! @coralnut1.


#18
        lapidary I was wearing a brace on my right forearm. I
redesigned my bench setup, and changed the way I did my work, 
What were the changes that helped you? 

This question wasn’t directed to me, but I have a suggestion based on
something that worked for me. Despite trying to keep in control of my
posture while cabbing, I would repeatedly find myself hunched over
the grinder like I’m trying to keep my nose to the proverbial
grindstone… or at least close to it. After a cabbing session, my
back would really be quite unhappy.

I placed a couple conventional masonry cinder blocks on the bench
and placed the grinder atop them. This elevated the whole thing six
(or more) inches, which is a much more ideal height. Now all I have
to do is remind myself to keep my shoulders relaxed.

See a picture? http://www.sebaste.com/orchid/lapidary.htm

Definitely not going to win any “Good Housekeeping” awards with this
one… :wink:

All the best,
Dave
Dave Sebaste
Sebaste Studio and
Carolina Artisans’ Gallery
Charlotte, NC (USA)
dave@sebaste.com


#19
I never seem to have problems with my hands from using a pencil. 
Wonder what it is about a mouse. " 

Just a thought here, but when was the last time you sat with a
pencil in hand for about 4 or 5 hours straight? I can guarantee you
that if such a thing did happen, you’d have to have someone pry the
pencil out of your hand. While surfing, I can easily burn up 2 or
more hours, a lot of that hanging onto the mouse. Gotta get me a
trackball, too…

Betty


#20
The most important two were putting a new top on my lapidary bench
so that I could move the machinery to a more comfortable position,
and buying an adjustable height drafting chair. Between these two
I was able to find the right body position to, as another poster
noted, take the strain off my wrists and forearms. 

Apparently, I am not alone in my carpal tunnel woes! I have
purchased a kind of gloves called Hand eze, that were recommended in
the Orchid archives- I have been wearing them while doing my silver
work. This seems to help somewhat. They would get pretty nasty while
doing lapidary, but possibly you could put thin plastic gloves over?
The theraputic benefit seems to be from the pressure on the wrist
band- perhaps you could improvise just that part. I have also been
sleeping in wrist braces that I purchased at the grocery store, which
helps- and they are oh, so sexy- LOL. The computer mouse, the
keyboard, and the repetitive motion of making glass beads seems to be
what did me in. Anne