Primitive Faceting/Lapidary Techniques/Tools?

Hello all! I am new to this list and this is my first

Here is my situation: I’ve recently been taking faceting classes at
a nearby gem/minerals club and I like it, a lot. The club itself is
excellent… modern equipment, clean, and nice people. However, I
can only go to the club meeting/workshop once a week or less because
of my location, schedule, etc. And once a week is not enough to
satisfy my thirst for faceting!

Anyways, my question is this: aren’t there less expensive alternative
to faceting at home other than modern faceting machines? They easily
cost $1000! I asked around for cheaper alternatives at the club and
they all just recommended facetrons/ultratecs/etc… Don’t many
people use primitive methods of faceting, like the device seen on
Bob's Rock Shop: Faceting by Hand ? Its
basically a simple device thats held by hand over a lap, used much
like sharpening gravers. What did people use like 100 years ago?
500 years ago?! What do those in the third world use? Are there any
good books covering primitive faceting/lapidary? I simply refuse to
believe that the only way for me to start faceting at home is to
shell out a painful some of money.

I understand that ‘manual’ faceting would be a lot less efficient
and I’m fine with that…

Thanks for reading my post!
Asa Jamason

Welcome to the world of faceting Asa

There are a number of “entry” level faceting systems. One that
comes to mind is the Lap-Lap. I am not sure if this is the correct
name, but it is close. It is a hand powered faceting setup. You
have a flat plate that you put in your lap, and a wire type
arrangement that holds the stone. You manually sweep it back and
forth. You might finish a half a stone before swearing off faceting
forever. Other things that have been used is tinker toy hubs with
the stone glued to a shaft from the center of the hub. Short pegs
in the radius of the hub were use to index the stone. Not many of
these in use today either.

The third world faceters often use a Jam Peg setup. They can cut
some remarkable stones. However, most of the serious and progressive
cutting houses off shore are now using more modern machines like the
Ultra Tech, Facetron, and the Raytech, as well as some of the non US
made machines. The reason they are going to the more modern
machines is that the output is more consistent, and with experience,
they are faster.

Faceting is a blended field. Part Art, and part science. You will
get a lot of opinions on which wins out, but both play a role. If
your machine keeps the science part of the project under control,
then you can explore the Art part, with greater success. One of the
things that turns off new facetors is frustration. Nothing leads to
frustration more that machines and equipment that doesn’t handle the
science part of faceting well.

As you stated, the modern machines can cost thousands of dollars.
The lowest priced US machine that I am aware of is the Raytech, at
around $1400.00, well equiped, and the range goes up to the
Fac-Ette at around $4500.00, not so well equiped. These are new
prices, and you will need to add laps, dops, etc to fill out your
needs. It is very easy to spend $4000 to $5000 for a good setup.
While this sounds like outrageous prices, and I have the same
thoughts about spending $25,000 for a Chevy, you need to consider
the trade offs. A $5000.00 machine translates to 10, $500 stones.
If you can double your cost of rough, which is easy if you can cut
well, you can pay for the machine with 20 stones. With the right
machine, that is two weeks of cutting. With the wrong machine, it
could be a life time.

I guess my point is that you have tasted the better machines in your
club workshop. Anything less is not going to be as enjoyable.
Faceting should be fun. A poor setup will remove the fun.

I would recommend the Raytech machine. It was my second machine,
and will be my last. There have been a couple more expensive ones
in between, but the Raytech gives ease of use, with accuracy (with a
little modification) that you can not find in the market today. You
can find one or the other, but only the Raytech will provide both.
(I do not sell Raytech machines, but am a very happy user)

Watch the club membership. Some times, an interest wanes and you
can pick up used equipment at a reasonable price. Your local Rock
Shop might have some used equipment at far less than the new prices.
You might run an ad in the local newspaper “wanting faceting
equipment”. You can check out Ebay for used equipment, however I
don’t think you will get your best price there. You might even try
a WTB add here on the Orchid net.

You should also checkout the faceting news groups.


These are three of the faceting groups that I know of today. Each
will lead you to archives of past post going back some four or five
years. Jump in. And welcome.


What you’re looking for is called a jamb peg. It’s basically a tall
cylinder with holes drilled in it. A stick with a stone dopped to
it is inserted into the cylinder with the stone applied to a flat
lap. By inserting into various holes you get a faceted stone. As I’ve
mentioned on this forum before check out “Gem Cutting” by John
Sinkankas for details. Kevin

Asa, In times long past and today in many small cutting shops in
undeveloped countries, faceting is done with “jamb peg” faceting
machines. Check out the term in the Orchid archives . There are a
number of articles and discussions available through “Google” or
other search engines. If you’re handy with tools you can build one
yourself. For that matter facetors have been building their own
machines for many years. I would suggest getting the book “Gem
Cutting, a Lapidary’s Manual” by John Sinkankas. It’s probably out
of print now but well worth having if you can find one. I don’t know
if you can get Lapidary Journal articles this far back, but
Sinkankas lists their article by R.A. Beall in volume 33, no. 12
1980, pp.2588-2591 as one which tells how to make a simple low
cost but effective faceting machine. There a many more. Good luck!
Jerry in Kodiak

Hi Asa,

 Don't many people use primitive methods of faceting, like the
device seen on ? Its
basically a simple device thats held by hand over a lap, used much
like sharpening gravers. What did people use like 100 years ago?
500 years ago?! What do those in the third world use? Are there
any good books covering primitive faceting/lapidary?

There’s a unit made called the ‘Lap Lap’ that uses a simple pyrimid
type device to hold the stone. The cutting media is silicon carbide
paper on a piece of glass. For polishing other materials are used.
It’s a very slow way to facet a piece of rough.

As far as 3rd world countiries are concerned, a device called a ‘Jam
Peg’ faceter is used. It’s basically a table that has a rotating
flat lap similar to the faceting machines you’ve seen in the class
room & a mast with a board attached. The board has holes drilled in
it from top to bottom. One end of the quill, to which the dopped
stone is attached, is inserted in on of the holes. The hole selected
causes the stone to contact the rotating lap a a given angle.
Changing holes results in different angles. The indexing about the
circumference of the stone is done, for the most part by judicious
hand & wrist placement.

It’s not uncommon for the lap to be larger than the 8" lap usually
used on the Facetrons & UT’s. In some cases it may be as much as 18"
in diameter. If this is the case, & it’s a production shop, 2 or 3
facetors sitting around the lap may be using the same lap

While many of these facetors turn out respectable stones, the odds
are that there’s a wide variation in angles between the various
facets. As the accuracy & proportions of a stone vary from an set
of values that are determined by the laws of physics, the light
return, sparkle & other optical characteristics of the stone suffer.
A well cut stone will out preform those cut by jam peg machines.

Sorry, I can’t help you with any books on ancient lapiday.


Dear List, In reply to Asa Jamason’s question on Primitive
Faceting/Lapidary equipment/tools.

I think that she could referring to the basic Jam Peg type of
faceting machine found throughout the world, it is not really
“primitive” in my opinion but did occur towards, the start of the

I can agree with her about the costs of today’s faceting machines
they are “spendy”, while browsing on eBay I found a complete
set/combo of a faceting machine with start up equipment for a very
low price, it included an “American Facetor” machine and an
assortment of laps dops ect. to get one started without spending much
more than the cost of a Jam Peg machine. I have had my “American
Facetor” since 1974, still works fine!, well I would like to share
with the list this Ebay members name as, I do not have his email
address or phone number, he goes by the name of “AquaDennis” and
also sells Opal rough, so if Asa or others are looking for a low
price/high quality faceting machine, do a search on ebay for this

The usual disclaimer, Not related to this guy, not in business with
or other connections to (I did buy some opal rough from him at one
time last year).

William Wren,

    my question is this: aren't there less expensive alternative
to faceting at home other than modern faceting machines? They
easily cost $1000!  I asked around for cheaper alternatives at the
club and they all just recommended facetrons/ultratecs/etc... Don't
many people use primitive methods of faceting, like the device seen
on ? Its
basically a simple device thats held by hand over a lap, used much
like sharpening gravers.  What did people use like 100 years ago?
500 years ago?!  What do those in the third world use?  Are there
any good books covering primitive faceting/lapidary?  I simply
refuse to believe that the only way for me to start faceting at
home is to shell out a painful some of money. I understand that
'manual' faceting would be a lot less efficient and I'm fine with
that... " 

Hi Asa, I’m glad I caught your posting, today… welcome to the world
of faceting! Actually, it’s kind of funny that I should read this
question, today; I’ve been involved in a “rather passionate”
discussion of just such a scenario as the one you describe on one of
the other listserv’s, where I serve as a mentor to the global
faceting community. Anyhow, yes, Asa, there are a few
alternatives available to you, right now, and if you can wait for
another 30-45 days, I’ll be able to offer you yet another of them.
As for the possibilities you’ve just mentioned, each one has its
pro’s and con’s, and I’d suggest you take a deep breath and think
them through before taking that first big leap. The reason I suggest
this is that, in addition to the initial costs of equipment (of
whichever type) there are also the costs of materials and
supplementary supplies to contend with, and I’d hate to see your
current passion for faceting decimated by an unpleasant string of
“unexpecteds”. So, before we go any further, let’s take a good look
at what’s really involved, here, okay?

For starters, it’s important to keep in mind that faceting, by
definition, is really a progressive set of grinding and sanding
steps, performed upon a material, so as to creat flat faces. We
start with coarse grit and work our way through medium and fine
steps, until the scratches are too small for the eye to see them; at
that point, we’ve created a polish, of one sort or another. (I know
that that sounds almost foolishly basic, but bear with me, Asa: I’m
restating the obvious for a reason.) The degree of completeness of
the answer to your questions depends on the degree of excellence you
want your finished goods to exhibit. Translation: if you really
don’t care what your finished products (your gems) are going to look
like, then it really won’t matter which equipment you use to get
there. If you do care, though, and you’re a stickler for quality,
then your options narrow, somewhat, and, if you’re really anal
retentive and tend to obsess over that one fleck of white dust on a
yard of dark velvet, your options narrow considerably further, down
to only the most exquisitely accurate machines. (For what it’s
worth, I have one of each: an Ultra Tec, a Lee, and one of Jeck
Lahr’s “LapLaps”, to cover whichever bases I need to, on any given

The most basic unit you can have is what’s called a “freehand” unit
which consists simply of a flat lap, which spins around, and a
dopstick, held in the hand (much as you would if you were cutting a
cabochon). These are what were commonly used in India, Myanmar and
Sri Lanka to do much of the so-called “native cuts”, years ago (even
today, in Myanmar, a.k.a. Burma), and the results are generally
asymmetrical, with rounded facet-surfaces. If you want to, you can
build one of these by yourself, using an arbor, a pair of pulleys
and an old washing-machine motor, all for well under a hundred
bucks. This is how most colored gems were cut, prior to the middle
of the 19th century.

Next up is the “jam-peg” machine, so named because the back end of
the dopsticks (which often look like artists’s paintbrushes, sans
bristles) are literally “jammed” into a receiver-block riddled with
holes, while the stone attached to the front end of each dopstick
rests on the surface of the spinning lap. Although it can take a
cutter anywhere from six months to a few years to get the hang of
cutting anything not ‘butt ugly’ on one of these, good quality
craftsmanship can very easily be achieved, here, once the fine motor
skills have been developed and, since this method is inherently less
precise than those which follow, the setup time between facets is
greatly reduced, so cutting can proceed more quickly, for an
experienced hand. The trade-off? Since each of the dozens of facets
on an average stone is created as the result of two random
placements of the dopstick (one, of the front end’s position on the
surface of the cutting lap, and the other, of the back end’s
placement in the jam-block’s holes), finding and repeating the
correct angle-positions (both radially and vertically), so that
successive grits and the polishing steps can occur, can be a

Next-up comes Jack Lahr’s “Lap-Lap” hand-held facetor. (I actually
had an ancient one of this unit’s 45-yr.-old predecessors, which I
traded to Jack, last year, for the current model.) The great thing
about the Lap-Lap is that it very inexpensively mimics the basic
geometry of a Diamanteer’s “sled”, and does it cheaply. The
“not-quite-as-great” thing about it is that it’s still not very
repeatable.In other words, since you can’t accurately reset the
handpiece to the last position you’d had it at, the only way to
accurately cut reasonably flat facets is to grind, sand, prepolish
and polish each facet, one facet at a time, all the way around the
stone. Yes, it’s true that this is done much the same way that
gravers are cut, but there’s a pivotal difference between the two:
you don’t necessarily need a graver’s face to be flawlessly
mirror-polished, while a faceted stone’s, you do. If you’re
primarily after the feeling of triumphing over the obstacles and
creating something that’s an historically accurate rendition of what
cutters were able to create, 100 years ago, I’d wholeheartedly
recommend that you order a Lap-Lap. As a hobbyist’s first foray into
faceting, they will provide ample experience in the challenges,
pitfalls and triumphs of this art and, after all, produce faceted
stones of one quality or another. (The key, though, is that last
line.) Since neither end of the dopstick is truly stationery, and
one end is subject to the lateral arcings of the wrist that’s
sliding the other end side-to-side against the grit-laden metal
sheet, the facets it produces aren’t usually completely flat, and
therefore, the polishes upon those facets are not usually flawless,
either. (By the same token, I can attest to the “cheap thrill” of
faceting part of a 1/2 Ct Montana Sapphire’s pavilion on top of an
ordinary masonite clipboard, while sitting on a sand dune on San
Francisco’s Ocean Beach, last summer, so I can speak to that
element, too. Again, it all depends on what you’re after.)

And, finally, there are the two most prevalent kinds of faceting
machines, those based on removeable handpieces which sit atop
adjustable-height platforms, like the Raytech-Shaw and Imahashi, and
those whose handpieces are attached to vertical masts by rotating
protractors, like the Lee, Graves, Ultra Tec, Facetron, Fac-Ette,
etc. The great thing about these, as a group, is that even the
cheapest among them will enable you to produce gems that are
literally world class, and the vast majority of them will enable you
to duplicate anything you’ll find, anywhere in print, right up to
the latest designs created on GemCAD or macGEM, the two leading
faceting-CAD packages.

An even better thing about these more substantial units (for both of
us, actually) is that a friend of mine recently began producing the
newest and least expensive of them (which remains unnamed, but
should hit the market by Valentine’s Day), overseas. This new
faceting machine will feature a complete mast-type setup, with
coarse, medium, and fine cutting laps, a polishing lap, a set of
dops, dop wax, polishing compounds and a small selection of gem
rough to get started with, all for somewhere between $600 or $650.
I’ll have the final numbers together within that 30-45 days I’d

In the interim, there are actually several good books you can pick
up on the subject… The first, and cheapest, of these is the old
paperback “Facet Cutter’s Handbook”, by Edward J. Soukup, GG, FGA;
you should still be able to get this through the Lapidary Journal
Bookstore for under $10. Another good one (though you may have to do
a bit of searching for it, since I’m pretty sure it’s out of print,
at this point) is “Faceting For Amateurs”, by Glenn and Martha
Vargas. Although the choices of angles they’d suggested will produce
decidedly different face-up appearances from those recommended in
Soukup’s tables, either or both will stand you in good stead, while
you’re still getting your feet wet, as a cutter. Additionally, if
you’ll email me, off-list, I’ll be glad to turn you onto a whole
gamut of on-line resources available to faceters of all ages and

I hope this’s helped!

All my best,
Douglas Turet, GJ
Lapidary Artist, Designer & Goldsmith
Turet Design
P.O. Box 162
Arlington, MA 02476
Tel. (617) 325-5328
eFax (928) 222-0815

1 Like

Hello All , Early faceting / stone cutting includes use of “laps”
similar to potters wheels , later there were different wheels tied
into water power with power transmitted with leather belts . I
visited Idar-Oberstein in Germany on my honeymoon it was the
medeivel capital of stone cutting for much of Europe and is still an
important center for stone cutting etc.My wife grew up in the area
and we visited the stone cutting factories of some of her childhood
friends families .I was blown away seeing a clean modern faceting
factory with rows of automatic preforming and faceting machines and
ONE man in a corner working at a lap with a wooden Jam Peg . Asking
the owner about this he explained that if you were really [ really
] good with such equiptment you could out perform [ both
quantitativly and qualitativly ] all of the fancy automatic
equiptment .Examining the mans work and seeing the speed with which
he could facet and polish a gem were amazing . Once again learning
that it is the skill/hand/eye/mind of the craftsman not the tools
that creates jewelry .

Clodius&Co. Jewelers