Mother of Pearl cutting

Hello everyone, I have a customer who would like a mother of pearl
sized down a little. It is now a large oval shape and he would like
it to be sized down a little. I have never worked on stones and I
am a little nervous about this. Would just grinding it on a
grinding wheel and dipping it in water be ok, or will it hurt the
stone? thanks in advance, Ann Madland

WARNING, Be extremely careful cutting Mother of Pearl or any other
Shell material it can quickly lead to lung disease, Remember thus was
once a living thing, and the dust from it can form cysts in your
lungs Very Quickly, I cut a lot of shell and when I do I have a heavy
stream of water running on it, the same for Coral and several other
Semi Precious gem materials, All Lapidary machines are equipped with
some type of water irrigating system so we don’t kill our selves
before we reach retirement age M.O.P. Is very soft and you possibly
could just file the edges, do it out side and have a fan or something
blowing air away from your self.

Ken Ferrell

HI Ann MOP cuts very easily. I even use my milling machine with steel
cutters to cut inlay shapes. Polishes up nicely with sandpaper and
jewelry buffs.

Jeffrey Everett

Ken, Respectively…the water irrigation system on lapidary
machines has nothing to do with protecting the cutter! Water is
essential to stone cutting (especially with modern diamond wheels) to
clean the swarf from both the stone and the wheel which would
otherwise become clogged and stop cutting. The water also cools both
stone and wheel from the very high friction caused by the abrasive

When I began cutting nearly 30 years ago, there was little to-do
about such things as being poisoned by dust from various stones etc.
We didn’t lick malachite because it tasted bad…not because it was
dangerous. Same with hemetite and others. Sea shells and coral
smelled terrible when ground…a vicious iodine/bromine
smell…after all that is much of what they contain. Today, people
suck down coral calcium tablets like they are going out of style.

Even with water, cutting some of those stones will cause some mist
that still contains the evil vapors. I guess over the last quarter
century I have breathed my share. Stangely, my doctor has told me on
more than one occasion that I have the lungs of a 30 year old (less
than half my age). My blood is clear, blood pressure is
excellent…now if I could only get my arteries a bit
cleaner…but then thats probably from all the great pork fat I
used to eat with home made bread as a kid!

I do not mean one should not protect themselves from the harm of
these materials, but once again, I find it difficult to cut stones
wearing a bonnet, a respirator, rubber gloves, and wadders! Know
what? I’m not going to do it either. I love to cut too much for all
that. I am now well past retirement age and aiming for the best part
of my life. On the other hand, if I don’t make it…I have already
had a wonderful, action packed life!!

Cheers from Don at The Charles Belle Studio in SOFL where simple
elegance IS fine jewelry! @coralnut2

Charles, I’ve cut upward of 1000 pounds of Malachite, maybe a tad
more and both my wife and I earned a part of our earnings when we
first started doing Indian Styled Jewelry in the early 1970s cutting
Turq. Backing included. And just about any thing else we could run
through a saw for .05 per CT. and at night we drilled nuggets for a
penny a hole. I do realize that the water is for cooling the stone,
but by flooding she shell or stone either for that matter epically
with Abalone, Mother Of Pearl, and most Mollusk shells, helps keep
the fibrous Calcified materials out of the air stream, Hint cut
Malachite with a fan blowing across you (from the side) Got
hospitalized for 3 days and this was from just slabbing a large gunny
sack or Potato sacks full in a 24x12 building using 2 - 24 inch and 3

  • 14 inch slab saws COOLED WITH OIL, THE FUMES WERE STILL TOXIC ,only
    once for that mistake, Funny thing was Doctor said had very clean
    lungs too (when they did my heart surgery) But Shell material besides
    it’s foul smell which is a fun as burning teeth out of gold (nearly
    the same material) is a different mater, it can and will lead to
    Silicosis of the lung I think it’s what coal miners call Black Lung
    Disease, Check out the life expectancy of the guys in Mexico that cut
    all the Abalone Shell for the cheap Alpaca / White Brass, I’ve been
    to some of their Tallarer (sp)or shops and seen guys in their early
    30s dying from it from dry cutting shell, I live less than two miles
    from the Tennessee River, we have some of the most sought after shell
    there is, a large Fresh water Mollusk the produces pearls, and has a
    shell that is used in the over seas production of nuclei for many of
    the worlds Cultured Pearls, I find it in Pink colors all the time
    since it is of no value to the divers. I’ve cut quite a few pounds,
    I also know several people here that have only ground down a bit here
    and there on a belt sander or bench grinder that are paying a
    terrible price. Silicosis is a very painful way to end a life

I don’t know if it can happen when grinding one piece or if you can
cut ton’s but my suspicion is that cut dry it doesn’t take many
pieces of that dust going past your nasal cavity and into the lung to
culture and grow the fungi that cause it. Since I seem to remember
you saying that you teach Lapidary, you may want to advise your
students that some of the pretty things that are easy to cut, the
stones with Lead, Copper and Aluminum Phosphates and Sulphates in
truth can kill them if not done with a slight degree of care, and be
extra careful when cutting ANY shell material. Better to stick with
Agates, and Jaspers, Quartz, Corundum’s (just don’t get any under
your finger nails) and other hard rocks, gems also I don’t think that
eating calcium, Coral or othewrwise is quite the same as breathing
the coarse Ground Fibrous material directly into your lungs. That’s
like Well I wipe my skin with Isopropyl Alcohol, so why not drink

Ken Ferrell
In west Tennessee where fall finally is on the way,


Thank you for your comments. I never (never) suggested one should
cut anything (anything) dry!

What I said was the water systems on lapidary equipment was not
meant (by the designers) to keep us alive. It is meant and designed
to clean and cool. That was for those who may not have known that.

As for my teaching lapidary, I don’t believe it necessary to remind
me how to teach one of the most basic tennents of the trade. I too
have cut my share of everything out there on the market, as you
obviously have, and after 30 years have a pretty good idea of how it
should be done.

What I also said was, in my mind, it is just not necessary to go
overboard to cut stones. We are addressing a very wide range of
people here. The ‘old timers’ should know better and protect
themselves or take their chances as they see fit. But we should be
careful how we address these issues to those new to the hobby, trade
or whatever. Lets not scare them away because of what we may see as
potential dangers. A few stones (shells) here and there should not
be dangerous if one is reasonably careful. I for one encourage my
students to cut everything they can so they have a good feel for
different stones.

And, if you want to smell something foul. Dry cut some Gorgonian
black coral (which cannot be cut wet but makes beautiful jewelry).
You have to shower twice to get it off!

We both sound like a couple of old geezers who loved meat fat with
our home made bread as kids - grin!

Still cheers from Don at The Charles Belle Studio in SOFL where simple
elegance IS fine jewelry!