Lapidary Shop

The Lapidary Lab at the Madison County Senior Center features an enviable array of rock saws, grinding machines, and polishing equipment. The fact that we can enjoy such a facility is due in large part to the strong support we are accorded by the Center, in that we are the only member group allowed to have active participation by members as young as age 18 (who have completed the certification training). The Center owns all of the equipment for insurance purposes, but all maintenance is provided by a crew of dedicated volunteers. Oil becomes thick with sludge from the rock kerf, saws, belts & wheels gradually wear out and must be replaced, and disabled equipment must be repaired, or sometimes be replaced. The cost of this upkeep generally runs around $800/year, paid from the HGMS general budget to the Center for this purpose.

Huntsville gem and mineral club lapidary shop

Tuesday Night at the lapidary shop

Some of the saws predate the association with the Senior Center, which began in 1976, but with good ongoing maintenance over the years, are still serviceable. The selection includes five slab saws from 10” to 24” (one of which is new), four trim saws from 4” to 10”, eight diamond grinding wheels with 100 and 220 grit, eight carbide belts from 220 to 400 grit, and two leather polishing wheels. On a recent very busy Tuesday evening, there were a dozen participants, most of whom could find an empty machine of some sort to use in pursuit of the creation of genuine treasures. I should hasten to add that the fellowship of swapping stories, swapping rocks, and admiring each other’s skills and accomplishments is a significant part of the attraction.

Large slab saw at the Huntsville Gem and Mineral Society's Lapidary shop

Classes are offered to members of the HGMS and to any senior citizen, who cares to get deep into the smelly oil, risk broken fingernails, and spend long periods bent over a grinding wheel to help a tiny chip of stone reveal its secret colors and patterns. Jim Treadway has been carrying most of this load since Bill Sweetman gave it up and Nolie Bell was lost to us. Recently Bill Friday joined the teacher staff and now Wayne Falkenberg is pitching in.

Wayne grinding a cabochon at the Huntsville Gem and Mineral Society's lapidary shop

Wayne grinding a cabochon at the Huntsville Gem and Mineral Society's lapidary shop

There are two purposes for these classes – one is to educate members in how to choose good lapidary material and to properly & safely use the lab equipment. The other purpose is to keep the equipment safer from the members. There is little detectable outright abuse, although some woodworkers were discovered sharpening chisels on the diamond wheels – a serious no-no! Most problems occur when users forget, get in a hurry, or never learned basic rules for safe and proper techniques. Stones set insecurely in the rock vices have damaged many an expensive diamond edged saw blade when they slip halfway through a cut. Too much pressure applied to a blade or belt will shorten the equipment life significantly. Failing to check oil level, leaving a saw mid-cut to go pursue another task, or choosing a trim saw to make a cut on a large stone are all observed from time to time – often with bad, or even disastrous, results.

Cutting a large rock at the Huntsville Gem and Mineral Society's lapidary shop

Cutting a large rock at the Huntsville Gem and Mineral Society's lapidary shop

Frustrations arise when a piece of equipment develops a loose blade, slipping pulley, or just simply stops in mid-cut. In the best of these circumstances, a repairman is handy and the problem is soon fixed, or a sign is added declaring the unit to be out of service until later when a repairman can come make the rescue. Need for routine maintenance is really why this article is being written. After many cuts on a saw, the oil turns to mud, and is no longer able to lubricate the blade – resulting in very much shortened blade life if continued. Belts become slick and no longer can remove saw scratches prior to polishing. Jim Treadway is the chief  maintenance guru, and he has a small crew of other volunteers who assist him – recently including Bill Lokken, Wayne Falkenberg, Ray Baxter, Ben Carroll, Marty Martinez, Mike Soroczak, and Bill Friday. Some photos are  included here to illustrate how nasty some of this work can be. But we do it because we love the art, support the club, and benefit ourselves from having properly working equipment.

Rocks that will be cut and polished at the Huntsville Gem and Mineral Society's lapidary shop

Rocks that will be cut and polished at the Huntsville Gem and Mineral Society's lapidary shop

So next time you use a fine-tuned saw to cut a gorgeous slab of agate, or trim out an incredible scene buried within a solid stone, or shape this sliver into an attractive cabochon or other shape, or rinse the polishing paste from your brilliantly shining jewel, remember that a dedicated crew of fellow HGMS members, volunteers like yourselves, is backing you up replacing oil and sanding belts, tightening loose pulleys, ordering and changing out burnt motors and drive-belts, and teaching proper operation of equipment. Please do your part to observe the safe rules of operation, report equipment problems, keep the place clean, and log your time in the lab. With these simple steps, the lab will remain available and ready for all of our use and enjoyment. Wiping the surfaces of slab and trim saws, removing bits of leftover stone, mopping spilled water or oil from the floor, and when leaving turning off the water supply, unplugging the dop heater, and turning off lights, are all simple steps which will prolong the equipment life and insure our continued tenure in the Senior Center.

Tactfully reminding others to observe these same procedures when infractions are detected is the duty of each lab user. At times each of us is prone to forget and a gentle nudge will set us straight. So come on down, during the weekdays during open lab periods or on Tuesday evenings. The lab is truly a treasure, to be enjoyed by each of us. And did I mention the great fellowship opportunities?

Some of Julie's finished cabs from the Huntsville Gem and Mineral Society's lapidary shop
Some of Julie’s finished cabs she made at the Huntsville Gem and Mineral Society’s lapidary shop

Visit the Lapidary Shop Schedule page to see when the shop is open.

Article by Bill Friday