Just Ask Jeff: Review: Graves Faceting Machine

Review – Graves 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.

Note: As of Jan 2007 Graves has made a new digital faceting head for Graves units. I do not recommend it, but it is an improvement over the old head. In my opinion some of the angle accuracy claims are questionable.

Read this article it should help answer some questions about digital faceting machines. Questions you need to ask when buying a digital Faceting Machine?

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.

Graves faceting machine Graves Faceting Machine Probably more people have learned or failed to learn to cut on a Graves faceting machine than almost any other machine in the last few decades.

That being said the Graves machine is not a faceting machine that I recommend buying.

Think of the Graves faceting machine as the “Yugo” of faceting machines. For those of you who do know what a Yugo car was. Well lets just say that you would often end up walking if you owned one.

Yugo’s were manufactured in Zastava plants in Kragujevac, Yugoslavia (the Yugo name was derived from Yugoslavia) and it was not known for it’s reliability but it was transportation, better than walking and popular because of it’s inexpensive cost.

In case you are wondering. I do not sell Graves faceting machines, mainly because I do not recommend them. I feel that for just a little more money when buying a new faceting machine there are a lot better choices available. In all fairness to Graves, this is a case of you will get what you pay for. A Graves faceting machine is one of the cheapest around in initial cost. The Graves faceting machine was designed to be mass produced and a lot of the major parts are cast (which is less money), and not as good as machined steel/aluminum parts, in my opinion. This is reflected in the cheaper cost of a new Graves machine.

On the other hand. You can buy a used Graves (there are a lot of them around) to start on and they can be cheap used. I have seen them for not much money, $200-400 or so. A Graves faceting machine is just barely adequate (as long as you take into consideration the faults) to learn on and certainly cheaper than about any other faceting machine on the used market. When you decide you want a better faceting machine (you may not want a different machine, but probably will, some people are happy with their Graves), you can almost always get your investment $200 to $400 dollars back easily and quickly from a used Graves. If you do not cut much, a Graves might be “OK” for you or if you decide that faceting is not for you it is a cheap learning experience.

If you consider a used Graves a cheap (I did not say good, or the best) way to get started into the faceting hobby and a learning experience it is an “OK” deal really. You will learn a lot. It’s a cheap way to start, but not a good way to start in my opinion.

I do not recommend a Graves Faceting machine and, well on a used one you get what you pay for. One point in a cheap Graves favor is that I have known a few people that wanted to learn to facet and after doing it a short while decided the hobby was not for them. So cheap might have been good for them because they did not like the hobby.

Starting to learn faceting on a Graves machine will not be trouble free and I would recommend that most beginners learn on a better machine if they have the means to do so. But I realize that cost is an issue for some people and a Graves can be bought pretty cheap, as I have said.

Learning on a Graves with the typical problems (see below) that the machines seem to have is starting with disadvantages. The problems can be frustrating and make it tough for a beginner when learning, you will need to have patience and determination because there will be some troubles (with the machine) that you will have to learn to over come.

Graves faceting machine mast and head At left is a picture of a Graves faceting head from the back side.

As you can see the Graves faceting head is very simple from a design point and decent in it’s engineering. The design itself is simple and works pretty well, and has hardly been changed from when it was first made in the 60’s (I think). Excluding the new Digital Graves of course.

Note: As of November 2006 Graves has announced a new digital head. They have missed their published date for when the head will be available, so it is time will tell. I will review the new Graves head when they are available to the public. No idea when.

The real problems are in the mechanical aspects of the machine. In other words, the design itself is decent but the manufacturing of the machine leaves a lot to be desired. The machine is just not made to very exacting standards… Fit and finish is just marginal, again this is reflected in the cheaper price.

Note: I have several friends that use older Graves machines and are fairly happy with them. They bought a new Graves thinking that they were stepping up and discovered that the older machine they had was actually better. Several of them have gone back to cutting on their old Graves for this reason.

Controls are marked adequately – Graves faceting head and mast. The Graves 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. The Graves mast height arrangement is almost identical to the Facetron in the way it works even though the engineering is a little different. Some people prefer it to the crank/thread mast of an Ultra Tec.

Personally, I am neutral. The clamp and slide system of the Graves/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. I do not think the clamp/slide is any faster than the Ultra Tec crank, by the time you are ready to actually cut.

One problem that people can have with the Graves system when 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.

Note: The Graves head is smaller and lighter than the Facetron so this type of accident is not as likely.

Graves angle gauge/scale. At left is a picture of a Graves angle adjustment protractor/venier. The view is close up from the operators side. The cheater adjustment on a Graves is easy and positive to use.

Here is a major problem. While the Graves faceting machine angle protractor is very easy to set and quite simple to use to adjust the angle just loosen the knob/clamp and set the angle you want on the protractor/vernier. The angles markings are not accurate.

Having angle markings that are not accurate, is a big problem. The angle markings on the vainer are stamped/etched into the metal. For some reason they are not precise, I have checked it on quite a few Graves faceting machines that I have had access to and they have all been off.

Note: I do not know if these machines were all just unusual, or if this problem is consistent with all of the Graves faceting machines. I can tell you on the machines I have access to and have checked all of the angle gauges have all been wrong/off. You should check your machine and see if it is accurate or not.

Not only were the markings off, but they seemed to be fairly random in how they were off, or incorrect. By that I mean that the angles were off different amounts plus or minus depending on where you checked the angle markings on the gauge. Some of the angles were correct too, just to make things interesting.  So there is/was no way to compensate because the angle markings were/are off randomly. In other words you cannot just add or subtract a fixed degree to your angle setting and make the gauge accurate. The ones I checked were totally randon in their error.

Close up of a Graves angle gauge/scale with a set screw.

Angle fix? Here is what a friend of mine did on his Graves that was off.

Left is a set screw that has been tapped into the angle block on his Graves.

The angle when it was originally set at 45 degrees on this Graves was off almost 1.2 degree (43.8 true angle at the 45 degree marks).

This does not sound like a lot, but most Quartz designs are cut at 41 degrees and the critical angle of Quartz is 40.49 degree (R.I. =1.54). You would be cutting below the critical angle and not even know it before this Graves faceting machine was fixed.

This friend of mine tapped a bolt with a lock nut into the angle stop block of his Graves faceting machine to compensate for the markings being incorrect on the angle protractor. Why 45? 45 degrees is an important degree to fix because it is where tables are cut and also it helped/helps compensate a bit in the 39 to 45 degree range where most natural materials like Quartz, Tourmaline and Topaz are cut. He can tweak the set screw to get the precise angle he wants. My friend (Tony Carson the guy that used a set screw above) that has a Graves, has checked all of the angle markings so that he can compensate when he is cutting a complicated design. On his machine the 45 degree mark is actually 43.8 (before the fix) degrees and that 5 degrees is actually 3.6 degrees. The markings vary in a random fashion, no way to predict in how the angles vary. In other words the angles were not just all off 1/2 degree that we could compensate for.

A couple of other notes from Tony about his Graves machine.

Note #1: The screw that holds the quill in the up position on the faceting head has a tendencey to loosen up and not stay tight. When this happens the quill can and will come banging down. A possiable fix is some lock tight on the threads.

Note #2: The nut/nylon washer on the mast base will not stay tight (maybe because it is older and worn a bit) and it can be a problem. It loosens up sometimes without the cutter being aware of it happening and can cause problems during cutting because of the slop. The faceting head is not level or stable.

Now I need to point out that if you are just cutting a normal round brilliant design (or any simple design), for the most part this inaccuracy problem in the angle markings will not bother you much. With the serious exception of cutting below the critical angle on some materials, depending on the design and the machine if it has this problem. Some people may not even be aware that their Graves angles are off, some may not be. The angles being off is not obvious unless you try to cut a design that is complicated and and has tight meet points. But if you are cutting any type of design that is more complicated. Like a design that has several tiers with tight/close meet points. Then you will have a lot of trouble because of the incorrect angle markings and may not be able to cut a complicated design.

Bob Keller (he runs Bob’s Rock Shop on the web) and I first noticed this problem on his Graves faceting machine when he was trying to cut Fred Van Sant’s “Ying Yang” design (the crown looks like a split “S” and/or the Chinese symbol the design is named for). There are a lot of critical angles in the crown facets to get the “Ying Yang” effect/appearance. No matter what Bob did he could not get the crown to come out, he was frustrated and asked me if I could find what he was doing wrong. He thought perhaps there was a typo or a mistake in the design and asked me to double check it for him in GemCad. The design was fine, so we had to start checking him and his Graves faceting machine.

The problem he was having was. He always ended up over cutting or under cutting some of the crown facets no matter what he did. I sat and watched him re-cut the crown (for the fourth or fifth time) to see if I could spot anything he was doing wrong. I did not see anything.

Note: Bob is a good cutter and won the novice level competition of the USFG cutting contest for 2001 using this Graves machine.So you can cut to high standards with a Graves provided the design is not too demanding of accuracy. It is just harder to do.

So finally we started checking his Graves faceting machine. After some checking and head scratching we figured out that it was the angle markings on the Graves faceting machine (it turned out they were between 3 and 4 degrees off). Bob has a new Graves and an old one too. We checked both of his machines and were very surprised to find that the angle markings were off on both of them. But not the same way.

Bob finally gave up on tying to cut the “Ying Yang” design, there was just no way to do it using the angle markings on his Graves faceting machine.

Graves hard stop and mast At left is a picture of a Graves faceting machine head. The view is close up from the back side.

The Graves is a hard stop machine as you can see. It is simple and easy to use. I prefer and recommend a hard stop machine, especially for a new cutter.

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. As you can see the white flange (part of the quill) just stops up against the stop block that is set by the angle knob (other side). This is very simple and I like the positive way it sets and works. I think a hard stop is 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.

The lever (picture above) that sets the index gear is easy to use and spring loaded as you can see in the picture. It is easy and simple, not much that can go wrong… Graves faceting machines have a variety of index gears available and the gears are easy to change. There are some odd/old gears available and almost all of the gears are easy to find for a Graves.

Dops for a Graves faceting machine are plentiful, easy to find, inexpensive and there is a large variety available. Specialty dops, like Tourmaline dops, are available from Graves and quite a few other manufacturers also..

Graves motor and belt

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

Graves are belt drive, belts do tend to vibrate and make noise, depending on the machine.

The Graves is adequate power wise. It’s newer machines are reversible, and variable speed.

Note: On older Graves faceting machines there is no reverse switch and they cannot be reversed. Depending on the age of the machine they may not be adjustable for lap speed either. The machines can just High and low speed (with a switch) or just single speed.

I do think a direct drive machine is a little better. But as you can see the Graves belt drive is simple and seems to work well.

Note: I have talked to quite a few people that have had bearing problems with the arbor/platen of their Graves machine (Bob Keller was one). I do not know if this is common or not. I just thought it worth mentioning.

Graves height adjustment

Left is a picture of a Graves faceting head.

Design & Adjustability
The Graves machine just an “OK” design in my opinion and can be adjusted somewhat. It does not have nearly the adjustments that other faceting machines on the market do. While a Graves can be adjusted, it is rudimentary at best and the adjustments that the Graves is capable of will seldom be enough to get the job done.

There are a couple of design problems. One is that when you tighten up the mast/faceting head to square things up, because of the way the Graves is designed the click height adjustment wheel on the mast gets too tight and will start to ratchet the height of the mast up and down (by itself) as you move the faceting head back and forth. This is a big problem especially if you are not aware that it is happening.

Graves height adjustment

Left is a picture of a Graves faceting head/mast assembly.

The bearing cups that hold the mast assembly are poorly designed because you cannot get them adjusted correctly and tight enough to get the slack out (tight enough to hold correctly and the height adjustment self ratchets). To get the left/right adjustment correct so that the quill sweeps flush to the lap is almost impossible to do and even if you can get things lined up the settings will not stay. The head works it’s way out of alignment fast and easily.

The adjustments are a major problem to get even close and if care is not taken the screws that you make the adjustments with will strip their threads (the metal is not a high/hard grade because of the casting). 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 squareness 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 the main considerations that you should think about when you are buying a new or used faceting machine.

Convenience of getting service is also something that you should consider. By this I mean. The Graves Company is located in Pompano Beach, Florida, 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.

I do not recommend machines made out of the country. If you have ever tried to warrantee a product that was manufactured out of the country then you understand the problems involved and how costly and difficult it can be. Just the shipping can be very expensive to send a faceting machine to another country. Plus depending on the country the shipping service might not even be available or more importantly dependable… On top of all of those problems there is still customs and taxes (import/export duty if the machine is new and depending on the country) to consider. A faceting machine made in the USA has quite a few advantages in parts and service, just because it’s made locally (in the country, assuming you live in the USA).

Graves has been in business for a long time. They do not do all of their own manufacturing/machining to my knowledge, parts are farmed out, different machine shops do different parts, which can and often does impact the overall quality of the machine.

Note: I heard from Graves on machining here is what they told me.


“The only parts that are produced outside our facility are dops at a CNC shop, the dop spindle at a centerless grinding facility, and our castings. The castings are machined and assembled in our machine shop here in Pompano Beach. I invite you to tour our facility anytime you are in the area.”

There is nothing wrong with this, and it is not uncommon with other machine manufacturers either. But in my opinion manufacturers that do not do their own machine work are usually not as dependable and stable as an actual “brick and mortar” manufacturer that does, at least in my experience. They do not have control of the process if they are jobbing it out.

You can get a hold of someone and get some service from Graves because they are a real company and have been in business a long time (since 1960 I believe). 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 never really dealt with Graves and have no opinion on their customer service. Frankly I have heard good and bad about Graves service (that can be said about any company). You will need to try them and make up your own mind. I have no opinion because I have never dealt with them directly.

I have heard a lot of people say it is not the machine, it is the faceter that makes a good stone. That a good faceter can cut a great stone on a poor faceting machine. There is some truth to this. But a poor machine (or one out of square) makes the learning process much more difficult and time consuming for a beginner. I personally think that it discourages a lot of people just learning or trying to learn from continuing in the faceting hobby.

I want to point out. It is a lot easier to cut a good stone on a good quality/square faceting machine. Whether you are a beginner or an expert. Trust me life is just easier if you start with good tools to begin with. Having quality tools will make the hobby of faceting a lot more enjoyable, your cutting a lot faster and stress free (at least as far as the machine is concerned).

In conclusion, I do not recommend buying a new Graves faceting machine. My opinion is that most people will be better off to spend more money and get a better machine. You get what you pay for.

However if you can find a cheap used Graves faceting machine in good shape a Graves is not a bad way to start to learn faceting. A used Graves is easy to find, usually inexpensive, and easy to sell when/if you decide to move up to a better machine.

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).

Gram Faceting Archive of Information
This edited version of an article by the late Jeff Graham is part of a special archived informational series from Gram Faceting. Used with permission.