Gerald Wykoff answers some common questions from novice faceters. Topics include how to get started, how to clean gemstones, and dopping issues.
By Dr. Gerald Wykoff GG CSM 2 minute read
gem cutting FAQ - apatites

Apatites, rough and cut pieces. Faceted gemstones from Maine (1.1) and Mexico (5.8). Photo © Joel E. Arem, PhD, FGA. Used with permission.

Getting Started

If lapidary is as easy as you suggest, wouldn’t everyone be cutting gems?

If everyone knew just how easy it is, yes. You’d find more people doing it. What stops many would-be cutters is the high cost of equipment and gem rough. However, high-quality lab-created gem rough represents a fine alternative to natural material.

Where can you get gem rough to cut?

There are dealers all over the world who’ll gladly sell you gem rough. Search for them online.

Do you need an experienced person to teach you how to cut gems?

Many gem cutters are self-taught. You can come by gem cutting information pretty easily. Many people just lash up with colleagues on a share-the-info basis. However, you can also look for federations, local clubs, private instructors, and faceting schools near you.

Cleaning Gemstones

What’s a safe and effective gemstone cleaner? Is ammonia really necessary?

Nix the ammonia. It stinks heartily and that’s about it. Instead, toss the gemstone into a shot of vodka. Seriously. Vodka is vegetable-based alcohol, so it’ll do a great job cleaning a crystalline surface. Plus, it will evaporate without stains. (And if you drink the vodka, the gem will look even better).

Please note, some gemstones, like pearls, can react poorly to alcohol. Consult this gemstone jewelry care guide for more information on cleaning finished gems and jewelry pieces.

Dopping Problems

I attach gem rough to a metal dop stick with cyanoacrylates (Super Glue) and epoxy. When I want to remove the stone, I have a hard time breaking down the matured attachment. Any recommendations?

There’s a safe and simple way to do it, and it’s not the old-fashioned method of soaking the attachment in acetone, ketone, or another ugly chemical.

Use this ancient goldsmith’s trick:

  • To protect your stone, wrap it in a water-saturated folded paper napkin strip.
  • Train a propane torch right on the metal dop stick you want to remove.
  • Hold the dop stick with pliers. (Otherwise, you’ll heat up your fingers very quickly).
  • Keep a steady break-off pressure on the attachment intersection.

In a few seconds, the Super Glue and/or epoxy will surrender completely to the heat. The still-cool stone will lift away.

Trust the wetted tissue. Veteran goldsmiths even use this heat sink stunt to solder around pearls.

Wax dopping with wooden sticks is such a coordinated heat-and-slop method. Is there a better way?

Take advantage of wax’s tendency to cold roll, long a vexation to gem cutters. Just melt some wax and wrap it around the wooden dop stick. Then, holding the stick vertically, push the wax glob down flat against a cold glass, metal, or plastic surface.

The wax will still cling to the dop stick, but the glob’s tip will cold roll out flat against the chilly surface. Now, put Super Glue on the flat wax platform and attach the stone.

For removal, heat a knife and cut off the wax and Super Glue. Better yet, place the dop stick/stone assembly in the freezer for a few minutes. This will shrink the attachment.

Further Reading

To learn more about the lapidary arts, read about these techniques.