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Power tools or handwork with amber

I’ve had plenty of trouble (crazing, melting, peeling) in trying to
use power tools to shape and polish my amber, even at slow speeds.
I’ve gone to hand sanding/polishing/filing completely. Has anyone
else experienced this OR have a technique which might allow nice
results using power?

once you understand that amber is a gum resin,like gum arabic,
myrrh, copal ,frank incense etc. it should occur to you that they are
heated to relese scent- ending up as a bubbling pool of plant based
material on a charcoal ember or hot metal,wire, etc,. They can be
heated and mixed yielding an array of different exotic aromes, and in
some cases medicinal compounds, or melted and poured into moulds,much
as you would barley sugar candy or a boiled sweet: transparent, and
glossy in its natural state - provided you have heated the mass to
the appropriate temperature,and not overdone it… carving it, shaping
it, embedding things in it ( the current trend is embedding scorpions
in a combination of amber and any inexpensive gum available arabic
most commonly),using it as a cap as for doublets,etc.,is popular,and
more importantly sells to the mainstream -untrained for the most
part- that desire variety in colour, shape,design,and believe that
the mosquito inclusions are potentially,ancient, and that the
crackled effect in some offerings are different varieties,from
different lands- it’s simply marketing and the recycling of waste
from natural materials,or completely fabricated to look and smell
(somewhat) like the real thing… So, motorized tools smear the gum
when heated- either water quench every minute or so, or use an
alcohol lamp, and heated carving tools,gravers - razor sharp and
highly polished, and consider rtv moulds as an option for production
work…motorized tools even micromotors,and high torque low speed
units aren’t suited for working with most gums ( eliachi being an
exception,and dragon’s blood another- though brittleness and chipping
are the trade-off with those examples).because if the burs, etc.
available for use ( unless carving them with 3/23 diamond burs that
are specifically made to produce finest detail work)…A gravermax is
an option- but how many beginning jewelers can afford that
set-up? think like the ancients that used it and think of wht was
available pre-electrification…make what you can out of found objects
and use the alcohol lamp as a fire polish…but FOREMOST is to learn
the properties of amber…so buy some cheap,unrefined rough, melt it,
mould it, form it like sculpting material,make test tiles of
different temperatures, and different thicknesses, try cutting it
with as many different things as you can think of.ignite it and
record how you accomplished it. and what worked best to remove the
carbonization…or just buy pre fabbed cabs!

If you need or want more info feel free to contact me off list… and
if anyone wants to download a marvelous tool for learning all you
need to know about 1500 plus plant based by-products the perfumers
workbook, is the best freeware tool around.Not only will it help you
learn many essential plant based materials and their chemistry,uses,
safe and unsafe combinations, but it lets you craft your own
formulas, preparations and experiments -analyze and save them, submit
them (To marketing interests and chemists) rework and patent your
creations…fun for the ever-curious…

It is of course, spam free, scam free and free to thee! So learn
your stuff, make some insect repellant and learn why patchouli oil
never dies!


When I shape amber, I use a red craytex wheel on my buff mandrel. I
run it slow. I barely need to touch the amber to shape it. Polishing
is on a loose muslin buff with red Tripoli, again go easy. Finish on
clean denim - translation, rub the amber on your leg when you have on
clean jeans.

If this doesn’t work, you probably have copal. IMHO, much of the
stuff found in places other that the Baltic is too new to be worked.
How does your stuff look after a year of hand working? Does it craze?

Judy Hoch, GG

if this doesn't work, you probably have copal. IMHO, much of the
stuff found in places other that the Baltic is too new to be
worked. How does your stuff look after a year of hand working?
Does it craze? 

No, after a year (or 5) my pieces don’t ‘craze’ and they are genuine
amber, not copal. That cratex is an interesting idea. I think my
problem is that my variable-speed motor doesn’t go slow enough.
Thanx, kirk


Even the slowest speed on my variable speed motor is too fast for
working with amber. I use a battery powered rotary tool for carving,
superfine grit papers and files (from the beauty shops that do fake
fingernails) for the finishing, and a loose muslin buff charged with
Pearl Drops toothpolish for the polishing.

Hope this helps!
Best regards,