Facetron Faceting Machine

Jeff R Graham shares his opinions on various topics in Just Ask Jeff. See what his thoughts are on Just ask Jeff: Review: Facetron Faceting Machine.

15 Minute Read

Facetron Faceting Machine

Keep in mind that these are my personal opinions and experiences, other people may have different ones. I have used all of the faceting machines I review.

Almost all faceting machines have some problems. Major to minor, and anything in between. In other words no machine is perfect.

I am going to tell you what I think, you can make up your own mind on what is or isn't a problem for you. I am writing these articles as helpful information to faceters. The more a person knows about faceting machines the better decision they can make when deciding which machine to buy. Information is power.

Facetron faceting machine

Facetron Faceting Machine

The Facetron faceting machine is probably one of the better machines for the money. I do not particularly recommend it, but it is a decent machine. Although certainly not my first choice. Facetrons are considerably cheaper than a Ultra Tec or Facette faceting machine. Which is a plus. It certainly deserves a consideration for anybody looking to buy a new faceting machine.

The Facetron is not as good the more expensive machines, and certainly NOT equal to an OMNIe faceting machine in the same price range. The OMNI's are a lot more bang for the buck and just better designed machine in my opinion. It is worth noting that a lot of the top amateur/hobby competition cutters use a Facetron as their main machine. Quite a few of the faceters that have won and/or placed high in the Australian faceting competition were/are cutting with a Facetron machine and would recommend them to you. This maybe be a price issue and the facetron has been around a very long time.

Facetron SCM machine At left is a picture of a Facetron SCM machine (Special Cuts Machine).

Another thing worth noting for people that may want to cut curved facets in the future. The SCM machine is designed to facet/cut curves using a Facetron faceting head from their regular Facetron faceting machine.

Note: The SCM was dicontinued, Facetron says they are upgrading it and may be selling it again in the future.

The fit and finish of a Facetron faceting machine is good quality. The fit and finish includes things like how tight the joints are on the pieces that go together and the actual finish on the pieces. The finishes are clean and anodized for protection from the cutting water and stone dust that always seems to occur during the cutting process.

Controls are marked adequately - Facetron faceting head and mast. The Facetron does not have any markings on the mast because of the clamp/slide style system that is used to raise and lower the faceting head on the mast. You simply loosen the clamp and the faceting head slides up and down the mast. It is convenient and easy to use this system. Some people prefer it to the crank/thread mast of an Ultra Tec.

Personally I am neutral. The clamp and slide system of the Facetron is fast to move up and down but I always end up having to fish the height adjustment in to get the faceting head to exactly where I need to be to cut.

Note: The OMNIe is a cross between these two styles with a geared crank and a fine adjustment like the Facetron. The best of both worlds.

You crank the Ultra Tec to raise and lower the faceting head to the mast number(s). Cranking is slower but you can go right to where you need to be to cut the stone. To me these two different systems of adjusting the mast height are about the same speed. I do not think either one has the advantage over the other.

One Problem that people can have with the Facetron system is adjusting the mast height. If you are not very careful when you loosen the mast clamp, the faceting head can slip free and fall. This is almost a guarantee that you will damage any stone that you have on a dop in the quill/faceting head. I have seen quite a few new cutters knock their stone(s) off of their dop this way. It is something to watch for when adjusting the mast.

Close up of a Facetron angle gauge and quill At left is a picture of an Facetron quill and fine height adjustment knob. The view is close up from the operators side.

Here is a problem. As you can see the stone on the dop is hitting up against the mast height adjustment knob, when the quill is resting in the up position. Depending on where the faceting head is on the mast, the stone will be higher or lower. This is an irritating problem that Facetron has never fixed, there should be a stop on the quill when you put it in the up position that would keep your stone safe from banging against the metal knob/shaft. Some people get around this by using a pad of very thick rubber attached to the knob as a cushion, or a rubber band.

I personally find this a hassle because I want to leave the quill in the up position so that the dop and stone are out of the way when I am not cutting I do not want the stone touching anything. You will have the stone in the up position often, for example when changing the cutting laps. So you can see this is an issue. If you are not careful when you put the dop in the up position you will chip your stone and the quill cannot really be left up, if you have a stone and dop in it. Which of course means that you will need to take your dop and stone out of the quill in between cutting. Which I hate to do because it induces the chance for errors.

I try not to take the dop/stone in and out of the faceting quill any more than I have too. I think it is just too easy to have a problem/accident (like dropping the stone and dop) if you take them in and out and handle them too much. Plus there is sometimes a very slight difference on the stone when you take a dop out of the quill and then put it back in.

Angle gauge (pictured above). The angle gauge on a Facetron is clear and easy to use, but there are some minor problems.

The first problem is that the angle on a Facetron is adjusted by using a crank (to the right of the gauge) to adjust the angle. The adjustment is gear driven and like I said easy to use. But I always wonder about how accurate it is especially when the machine is older and the gears are worn? In other words what about "Gear lash?" Another thing is that you cannot adjust the gear assembly. Most people that I know that use a Facetron have not had any real problems with this design, it is just that I feel it could be better.

When setting the angle, there are a couple places that getting the correct angle can be confusing. Care much be taken because the are a couple of places on the gauge that unless you have watched closely and counted the angle you can actually set the angle incorrectly.

This is caused by the mechanic's of the gears and wheels of the gauge itself, it is just the way they work. It is not really a problem. But a new cutter needs to watch for it because the angle looks like it is reading one angle and it is actually set at another angle (pictured). The Facetron can be set to .1 of a degree, for example 41.1 degrees with no problem, so it is accurate enough for about any design.

Close up of Ultra tec angle dial and cheater. At left is a picture of an Facetron faceting machine head. The view is close up from the operators side.

The Facetron comes from the factory set up to be a soft stop machine. You cut to the needle (pictured), until the needle is lined up with the fixed needle on the gauge. You can cut to either side of the needle (also), in other words over cut or under cut depending.

I prefer and recommend a hard stop machine. On a hard stop machine you cut until you have actually hit the hard stop. Then you cannot cut any further. That is why it is called a hard stop. It is much more accurate and easier for a new faceter. A soft stop tends to confuse a new cutter, who is probably not sure what is going on because they are learning anyway.

Note: Facetron has now upgraded their machine so that is has a dial and hard stop, which is a real improvement. Older machines can be upgraded for a fee. See below.

However older Facetrons can easily be adjusted so it can be used as a hard stop machine. All that needs to be done is adjust the knob/stop underneath (same side the needle gauge is on) to take the slack (soft) out of the stop assembly. It is simple and fast to do.

Note: Some people like to use a soft stop machine and while I prefer a hard stop, I do not think one is necessarily better than the other for an experienced cutter. With the exception that I do not recommend a soft stop for a beginner. If you buy a Facetron as a beginner, set it to be a hard stop until you have learned to cut the basics, then set it to whatever you prefer.

Another problem that I have seen is that the cheater adjustment wheel is tapped/threaded into the aluminum block of the faceting head. The bolt that the cheater sits on is metal and it is easy to strip the threads in the head (aluminum) if too much force is applied when adjusting the cheater. There has been several machines with this thread damage at our local club. They should sleeve the hole with a metal tube/coil for the threads to run on so it is not steel against aluminum.

Facetron index gearFacetron slide assembly

Facetron has a large selection of index gears (pictured above) and they are easy to change and adjust, no tools are needed. Just unscrew the knob and put the index you want to use on.

Note: Because the machine uses keyed dops it is important to line the index gear and the key up to each other. I recommend a 96 (most machines come with one standard), 80, and 120 index.

Picture top right - As you can see the Facetron base (in my hand) can be taken out of the tube that the faceting head slides up and down on. It is important to keep these parts clean and oiled.

Facetron index gear hitting the power switch

Another small problem (pictured left). Is when cutting at low mast heights, the bottom of the faceting head/index gear is blocked and/or bumps into the the speed control switch. This a problem if you are cutting a girdle (which you cut on all stones) or a small stone. If care is not taken when raising the quill to look at the stone in a low mast height position, it is easy to bump into the switch and knock the quill and stone out of your hand. This usually results in knocking the stone off the dop, chipping it, or damaging a lap. Sometimes all three. This is a minor problem and one that could very easily be fixed by placing the switch further out towards the edge of the machine. I (and others) have pointed this out to Jarvi on several occasions, but it has not been done. Same with the stone hitting the height adjustment knob.

Facetron head, and control switches

The index gear has good visibility during cutting. It is easy to see and the set.

A problem is that if you are not careful when setting the index gear it is very easy to high center the setting. Because of the way the index gear is made it is easy to set the gear at half numbers. You need to be sure and get the index gear teeth meshed and set properly. Cutting at say index 12.5 when you should be set at index 12 puts an extra facet on your stone and depending on where you are in the cutting can cause a lot of problems. Like recutting the whole stone to fix/get rid of the the extra facet.

Also care must be taken to make sure that the index gear is tight, it can have a tendancy to loosen up and if it does the quill and index gear will become out of sink with each other during cutting. This is a major problem if it happens and can easily ruin your day. The index gear and quill are not keyed in any way which would solve this problem if they were.

Note: The little screw knob that sets the index gear into free wheel can be a little tricky. If the knob is not all the way disengaged it makes the teeth of the index gear a little vague and hard to find. It is easy to have the index gear accidentally jump a number.

Facetron with new dial attachment

Left - New dial gauge. Early in 2003 the Facetron factory began to offer a dial gauge attachment. The cost is/was $300 or so at the time. They will retro fit older Facetrons with the gauges.

For those of you who know me I am not a fan of gauges. Gauges fall into the catagaory of a bell and whistle to me. Some people really like them and want them. I personally feel that most people would be better off buying some good rough. Be that as it may, this is a personal decision, if you want one, get one, if not. The gauge will not make you cut a better finished stone, but I do know people that claim that the gauge helps them.

The addition of the gauge to the Facetron (I have been told, I have not had the chance to cut on one yet) eliminated the spring and needle soft stop, making the machine a hard stop. I definitely consider this an improvement. I feel that for most people a hard stop is more accurate.

The addition of the gauge for $300 significantly adds to the price of the Facetron. In case you wondered, a dial gauge for an Ultra Tec is about $190, and can be fitted anytime it is not necessary for the factory to machine anything.

The Facetron uses a flat keyed dop which has a positive firm grip and is easy to put in and out of the quill with the use of the key (pictured at left). Facetron offers a large selection of dops, but it should be noted that some specialty dops made by other people may not fit because of the flat/key on Facetron dops.

Facetron dops are usually made with a steel base and a brass top. I personally do not like the steel/brass combination because the heating properties (of the brass and steel) are different. But they work OK and maybe it is just me. I prefer a solid brass dop.

Facetron motor and drive belt

Left is a picture of the Facetron drive motor and drive assembly.

Facetrons are belt drive, belts do tend to vibrate and make noise, depending on the machine. The motor is strong and has plenty of power. It is reversible, like most newer faceting machines. I do think a direct drive machine is a little better. But as you can see the Facetron belt drive is simple and works well.

Design & Adjustability

The Facetron machine is pretty well designed and can be adjusted somewhat. It does not have nearly the adjustments that an Ultra Tec or OMNIe does, But it is adequate, and honestly the machine is quite a bit less money.

A lot of machines do not have the ability to be adjusted, especially some of the older designs. The lack of the ability to adjust and tune the sqareness of the faceting machine is a major limiting factor in what you can cut and how well over time.

Dependability, Parts, & Service Parts and service are one of the main considerations that you should think about when you are buying a new or used faceting machine.

The Jarvi/Facetron factory does service machines in a quality timely manner. The main point here is that they do it and parts are available.

Convenience of getting service is also something that you should consider. By this I mean. The Jarvi factory is located in California, USA, they are easy to call on the phone if you have a problem or need a part. Plus it will be reasonable (not cheap, faceting machines are heavy and cost money to insure) to ship your machine to the factory for service and up grades as you need them.

Jarvi has been in business for a long time and is an actual "brick and mortar" manufacturer. They do their own machining work "in shop" and can control the quality (some faceting machines are farmed out, different machine shops do different parts, which can and often does impact the overall quality of the machine). They are not working out of their garage, there are quite a few faceting machines made in garages, you might be surprised to learn how many. There is nothing wrong with this, but these companies are usually not as dependable and stable as an actual "brick and mortar" manufacturers. At least in my experience.

You can actually get a hold of someone and get some service from Facetron because they are a real company with people there to help you. This is important, a smaller one or two man operation is limited in their service simply because of their size. Believe it or not, some manufactures are not very responsive to their customers for parts and service. Help from some of them is almost impossible to get, especially in a timely manner. There are several manufactures of faceting machines that I have tried to get service from unsuccessfully for months and even years without much success and especially not in decent time frame.

Getting parts and service on your faceting machine in a timely manner is not as easy as you might think depending on the company. I have always gotten good reasonable service from Facetron. Norm Jarvi's family is currently running the business, they should be around for a long time to come.

In conclusion, the Facetron faceting machine is a solid machine in both quality and design. The Facetron does have some problems. But it is one of the machines that people should look at, if you want a decent new machine on a smaller budget. There are other machines that are nice and I will be reviewing them as I get the time and machines to use during the reviewing process (actually cutting on them).

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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