Faceting Equipment Essentials
What faceting equipment do novices need to learn to cut gems? Learn what faceting machines, laps, books, and supplies are most suitable for beginners.
10 Minute Read
Before You Buy Faceting Equipment, Take Some Faceting Classes
Try to take some faceting classes from a club or someone in your area. If you can't find classes near you, I even recommend taking some vacation time to travel to a place where you can take some classes. There are schools and guilds that teach the basics, and most of them are inexpensive. A fair number of them offer weekend and day courses.
You'll come out of these classes with good information. Plus, most have several different makes of faceting machines and even laps on hand for you to try. You'll have a better idea of the different types of faceting machines available. Taking a class is worth the trouble.
The United States Faceters Guild (USFG) is a good place to inquire about what might be available in your area.
Advice for Buying Faceting Equipment
Buy just what you need to get started. You can always buy more faceting equipment as you progress, whether you discover you want it or need it. This will help you save money and keep you from buying things you may never need or use. For example, I personally advise new faceters not to buy a dial gauge or down light with their machines. Both of these accessories are expensive and, in my opinion, unnecessary.
As you gain experience and figure out what you enjoy cutting, you'll have a much better idea of what you want and need. Some people will decide to cut just lab-created material. Others might decide to focus on natural quartz. These choices will affect your lap and tool selection. (And if you really want that dial gauge and down light once you've learned how to cut, you can always go back and buy them).
There are many types and models available. Many people use machines by Facetron, Graves, Poly-Metric, Ultra Tec, OMNI, Facette, and other manufacturers. And they're happy with them.
Of course, you'll hear lots of opinions about faceting machines and "which one is the best." This is one of the major reasons I recommend taking classes before buying any faceting equipment, especially a faceting machine. "Hands on" experience will help you choose a machine. At the very least, you should look at these machines in person and up close before buying.
Buying a New Faceting Machine
If you can afford it, I recommend novices purchase a new faceting machine. The basic dops, transfer fixture, and table block will come included, along with an owner's manual and some other tools.
Buying a Used Faceting Machine
Buyer beware. Purchasing a used faceting machine is like buying a used car. A lot depends on how well the last owner took care of it. Thus, I don't recommend used machines for beginners.
If you do choose a used machine, make sure all of the following tools are included with your purchase. Keep in mind that these tools will look a little different, depending on the manufacturer.
Used to transfer the stone from one dop to another. Depending on the manufacturer, buying these separately can be very expensive.
45º Table Block
Almost all machines have/need a 45º table block to use when cutting in the table.
Please note, the Facette machine usually doesn't come with one. This machine will set the quill at 90º for the table. It's strong enough to do so.
However, personally, I still think it needs a table block since there's no way to cheat the table with the quill set at 90º.
You'll rarely find a faceting machine for sale without an index gear on it. Nevertheless, keep in mind that index gears for some older machines are hard to get or no longer available. For basic cutting, starters will definitely need a 96 (standard on most newer machines) and an 80 or 120 index gears
Your faceting machine should have a decent selection of dops — flats, V-dops, and cones.
Make sure you have the same sizes in all three types of dops (sets). Also, if they're keyed, make sure they actually fit in the quill of the faceting machine before you buy it.
Your machine should include an owner's manual and various tools, like a dop chuck wrench and Allen wrenches for adjustments.
Check and Make Sure Before You Buy
Some of this advice may seem obvious. Just remember, in the excitement of buying your first faceting machine, you can easily overlook these little details. Furthermore, don't assume that missing parts and tools for older machines will be easy to replace. You'll also find that reconditioning and upgrading an older faceting machine can quickly become as costly as buying a new machine. Even replacing parts and tools for new machines can be expensive.
It's a good idea to contact the faceting machine manufacturer and find out about the availability of parts, the possibility for upgrades, and so on.
Faceting Equipment, Tools, and Supplies
I recommend beginners learn to dop with wax. Using wax takes practice, but it's much more versatile and convenient than using glues.
For most commercially faceted gems, I recommend the high temperature red/brown wax. It comes in block, tube, and stick shapes.
Assuming that you're going to learn to dop with wax, get an alcohol lamp. You can find many inexpensive types. I prefer one with an adjustable wick so you can adjust the flame. Use denatured alcohol in your lamp.
I use a Blazer torch like the one to the right for transferring the stone from one dop to another. It gives you fast, direct heat on the dop, which helps with transferring.
Please note, don't use the torch for initial dopping, because it gets too hot too fast, especially for beginners. Use alcohol lamps for the initial dopping.
You can buy butane fuel for a Blazer torch at most hardware stores.
A good-quality pair of tweezers will come in handy and probably save you from singeing your fingers. I prefer the kind with a side lock, but not the spring-lock type. The hot stone always seems to pop out of them at a bad time. I also prefer black tweezers, because the heat from dopping will eventually make the tips dark anyway.
Dial Caliper (mm)
You'll need a caliper sooner or later, so buy a good-quality tool right from the start. A fiberglass caliper won't chip or damage a stone like a steel one.
Personally, I use small, inexpensive brass calipers at gem shows for looking at rough. However, it's not all that accurate and will chip a stone during cutting. Stick to fiberglass for cutting.
You'll need a 10X loupe to look at what you're cutting. There's just no substitute for a good-quality loupe. Your eyes will thank you. You can easily find some pretty good ones for not a lot of money.
Of course, I recommend my beginner's book, Gram Faceting: Learn how to Facet the Right Way. It will give you a very good introduction to the hobby.
To be honest, there aren't too many other books I'd recommend to novices. Some people recommend Faceting for Amateurs by Glenn and Martha Vargas and, an old standby, Introduction to Meetpoint Faceting by Long and Steele. I don't recommend either. However, I'd recommend Long and Steele before Vargas, but it really just covers how to cut gem designs, not learning to cut in general.
The Gram Design Series
Of course, I also recommend my own gem design books. For beginners, I would suggest Gram 1 Faceting Designs. However, beginners don't need to buy the rest of my design books right off the bat. These focus on different gem materials and types of commercial designs.
- Quartz, Topaz, Tourmaline, Garnet (Addition #1)
- Mixed Materials (Addition #2): 42 designs for quartz, tourmaline, topaz, garnet, apatite, tanzanite, opal, peridot, sapphire, cubic zirconia, spinel, beryl, and zircon
- Mixed Materials (Addition #3): 42 more designs for the same materials as Addition #2
- Money Cuts (Addition #4): fast, easy, high-performance commercial designs
- Barions (Addition #5): Barion designs
- Checkerboards (Addition #6): fast, easy, high-performance commercial designs
- More Money Cuts (Addition #7): fast easy high performance commercial designs
- Diamond Checkerboards (Addition #8): diamond checkers
- Mirage Cuts (Addition #9): fast, easy, high-performance commercial designs
- Mirage Cuts #2 (Addition #10): fast, easy, high-performance commercial designs
- Sunstone (Addition #11): fast, easy, high-performance commercial designs for this variety of feldspar
- Glitter (Addition #12): high-performance commercial designs
- Domes (Addition #13): high-performance commercial designs
- Gem Beads (Addition #14): designs for beads
- More Checkers (Addition #15): high-performance checkerboard designs
Choosing Faceting Laps
Here, you need to start making choices about your faceting equipment.
Just the Basics
For new cutters that want just the basics, I recommend the following laps.
- A 260 grit coarse lap. I prefer solid steel, but a cap lap (steel plate with a lighter aluminum base) will work just fine, too. They're also a little cheaper.
- A 600 grit medium lap. For a basic starter set, I recommend the NuBond 600. While it says "600 grit," it really cuts much finer when broken in. Beginners can handle it pretty well, initially.
If you can afford an extra lap or two, then I recommend a steel 600 grit lap. It will cut coarser than the 600 NuBond.
I would also recommend a 1,200 steel lap. If you only buy one solid steel lap, make it a 1,200. I use a well-worn, 1,200 steel lap for most of my fine cutting before polishing.
Most beginners start by cutting quartz or beryl. For these materials, I highly recommend a NuBond 1,200, the magic bullet for a good pre-polish on these materials.
Please note, a NuBond 1,200 won't work well on most other materials, especially when broken in. It's too fine and leaves an orange peel on some facets that's difficult to polish out.
I use these inexpensive and easy-to-use laps for polishing quartz and beryl of all types. They're ideal for new cutters.
I charge them with alumina oxide for tourmaline and cerium oxide for quartz and beryl. Use separate Spectras for each one. Don't mix them. For more information on how to use them, see my article on the Spectra Ultralap.
I find that the Spectra Ultralaps work best and don't bother with the alumina and cerium oxide Ultralaps. It's easier to just buy the Spectras rather than spend money on the other kinds. It's also less clutter.
For another option, use a lucite lap.
I use a tin lap quite a bit for polishing tourmaline and garnet. I score my tin lap, but that's just my preference.
I use cerium oxide polish for quartz and beryl. I use alumina oxide polish for tourmaline and garnet. Both come as a very high-grade polish, with a consistency like powdered sugar. You'll need both of them.
I often recharge my Spectra Ultralaps with them, depending on the type of stone I'm polishing.
For Beginners with Deeper Pockets
Some of you will want to buy most of the laps you'll eventually need all at once. In attention to the tools I've already discussed, I recommend the following faceting equipment:
- 100 grit steel lap
- 260 grit steel lap
- 300 grit steel lap
- 600 grit steel lap
- 1200 grit steel lap
- 1,200 NuBond composite lap (for a fine pre-polish on beryl and quartz)
- Tin lap (for alumina oxide polish) or phonelic laps
- 1 package of Spectra Ultralaps (for polishing quartz and beryl)
- 2 tin laps for diamond polish (not necessary for beginners, mainly for using diamond polish on hard stones like sapphire)
One bottle of each of the following:
- 8,000 diamond for pre-polish (on one of the tin laps)
- 50,000 diamond for polish (on another tin lap)
- Crystal Lube extender fluid (for lubricating the zinc/diamond polishing laps)
For beginners, this larger selection of faceting equipment will let you cut just about any material you want. Of course, if you can afford them, there are a few other things you could also add. For example, you could get more dops and a few specialty polishing laps.
Gemstone Rough for Beginners
All you need now is rough. This can cost a lot of money, depending on what you want to cut.
For beginners, I recommend starting with quartz or beryl. Depending on the situation, you can also try garnet. You can get this rough pretty cheaply if you look around.
I don't recommend natural topaz, lab-made sapphire, or cubic zirconia (CZ). Since they're inexpensive, these materials may appeal to novices. However, new cutters will find them tough to work with. If you simply must use lab-made materials, try a piece of laser glass to start.
Jeff R. Graham
The late Jeff Graham was a prolific faceter, creator of many original faceting designs, and the author of several highly-regarded instructional faceting books such as Gram Faceting Designs.
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