What Faceting Equipment do I need to get started?
This is a question that I get asked frequently, as you might have guessed. What is basics to one persons may be extra to someone else. But I will go over what I think a new cutter should start with.
There are a few things that I recommend that all beginners do before buying any expensive equipment (like a faceting machine). The first thing is… Try to take some faceting classes from a club or someone in your area. I even recommend that people take a few days off of work and use some vacation time to travel to an area where you can arrange to take some classes. There are several schools and guilds that teach the basics and most of them are not expensive. A fair amount of them offer weekend and day courses, you will get some good information, and maybe a better idea of different machines types. Most clubs have several different makes of machines and even laps on hand for you to try. It is worth the trouble.
A good place to inquire about what might be available in your area is the faceters USFG website. They also run an online egroup USFG list about faceting that is a good source of people, places, and information.
The second thing that I recommend beginners do is… Buy just what you need to get started and then add more equipment, laps, dops, or whatever as you progress. You can always buy something that you find out you need or want, but buying things you will not use (without knowing) up front, well. I personally recommend that a new faceter should NOT buy a dial gauge or down light with their machines. Both of these accessories are expensive and not needed, in my opinion. If you really want one or both of them later when you have learned how to cut you can always add them…
This will help you save a lot of money on things that you may never need or use. As you get experience and decide on what you enjoy cutting (this will effect your lap and tool selection) you will have a much more informed idea of what you want. Some people cut all man-made material like Cubic Zirconia, some just Quartz, and so on…
Faceting Machines – There are a lot of different types and models available. There are a lot of people using Facetrons, Graves, Polymetrics, Ultra Tec’s, Halls, OMNI’s and Facettes, along with a few others and they are happy with them.
There are a lot of opinions about faceting machines, and about what is best. This is one of the major reasons I recommend classes where you can actually get “hands on” experience. At the very least you should look at the machines you are considering in person and close up before buying.
If you are buying a new machine. Which I recommend if you can afford to do so, all of the basic dops and transfer fixture, table block will come included, along with an owners manual and some other basics.
If you are buying a used machine, care needs to be taken. Buying a used faceting machine is a like buying a used car, a lot depends on the last owner and how well they took care of it. This of course is why I do recommend a new machine for a beginner if they have the pocket book. If you decide on a used machine, be sure that all the following tools are included with the machine. Keep in mind that these tools will look a little different depending on the manufacturer.
Transfer Fixture Used to transfer the stone from one dop to another. Depending on the manufacturer these can be very expensive to buy separately. Be sure that the machine you buy has one included. (They all look a little different, but do the same job.)
45 degree Table Block These can vary, but almost all machines have/need one to use when cutting in the table.
Note: On the Facette machine, it does not usually come with one. This machine will set the quill at 90 degrees for the table and is strong enough to do so. Although I still think (personally) that it needs a table block because there is no way to cheat the table when the quill is set at 90 degrees.
Index Gears A faceting machine is rarely sold without an index gear on it. But be careful on some old machines index gears are no longer available, and/or hard to get. You definitely are going to need a 96 (standard on most newer machines), and 80 or 120 index gear(s) just for basics.
Dops There should be a decent selection of dops, V-dops, flat,and cone. Make sure that you have the same sizes in all three types of dops (sets) and that if they are keyed. That they do actually fit in the quill of the faceting machine you are buying.
This sounds like obvious advice, but you can over look these small details in the heat of the moment. Do not assume that the parts that are missing will to be easy to find or even available. Check and be sure.
Also do not assume that the parts and tools will be inexpensive to replace, for example, a new Ultra Tec transfer fixture is several hundred dollars. Also when having a machine reconditioned and upgraded, you can often get to the same price range of a new machine quickly…
An owners manual and some various tools, like a dop chuck wrench (if needed) and allen wrenches for adjusting the faceting machine should be included. Check and be sure you have all of the tools you will need for your faceting machine… It is also a good idea to call the manufacturer and talk to them about availability of parts, if they can upgrade it and so on.
Tools and Supplies you will need to start
Alcohol Lamp Assuming that you are going to learn to dop with wax, which I do recommend. It takes a little learning and practice, but is much more versatile and convenient then using glues. There are various types and none of them are expensive. I like the type that has an adjustable wick so the flame can be changed.
Note: Use denatured alcohol.
Blaizer Torch I use a torch like this for transferring a stone, from one dop to another. I like it because it gives you fast direct heat on the dop, which helps for transferring. I do not recommend the torch for initial dopping because it gets too hot too fast, especially for a beginner. An alcohol lamp is much easier for dopping.
Note: The butane fuel for this torch can be bought at any smoke shop, and most hardware stores.
Dop Wax I recommend and use the high temp red/brown dop wax. Like I said it takes a little practice to use, but is very strong and versatile. It comes in several shapes block, tube, and a stick. It is all basically the same wax, although I have had people tell me they are different. They are all made by the same company.
Tweezers A good quality pair of tweezers will be very handy and probably save you singed fingers. I prefer the kind with a side lock. I do not like the spring lock type, the hot stone always seems to pop out at a bad time with them. I prefer black because the heating during dopping will eventually make the tips dark on a lighter colored pair anyway.
Dial Caliper (mm) This is something that you will need sooner or later, you should buy a good quality one to start with. This type of caliper is fiberglass and will not chip or damage a stone like a steel one will.
Note: I like and use an inexpensive small brass caliper for taking to shows, and looking at rough. But it is not all that accurate and will chip a stone during cutting.
10x Loupe You will need a 10x loupe for looking at what you are cutting. There is no substitute for a 10x loupe. There are some pretty good ones for not a lot of money.
Note: I would generally recommend a better quality loupe, it is just easier and better for your eyes.
Gram Faceting “Learn how to Facet the Right Way.” I, of course recommend my beginners book. It will give you a very good start into the hobby and to be honest there are not too many other books I would recommend.
Note: I do not recommend the Vargas book “Faceting for Amateurs”, but some people do. Also the Long & Steele “MeetPoint” faceting is an old standby, I would recommend it, before the Vargas book, for learning, although it really just covers how to cut designs, not learning in general. “Learn How to Facet the Right Way.”
Gram 1 I also (of course) recommend my design books. For a beginner, there is no need to buy all of the design books right off, unless you want to. Gram Designs
Addition #1 is Quartz, Topaz, Tourmaline, Garnet
Addition #2 is mixed materials (Quartz, Tourmaline, Topaz, Peridot, Apatite, Garnet, Sapphire, CZ)
Addition #3 is mixed materials (Quartz, Tourmaline, Topaz, Peridot, Apatite, Garnet, Sapphire, CZ)
Addition #4 – “Money Cuts” fast easy high performance commercial designs
Addition #5 – “Barions” Barions that are ideal for colored stones, low number of facets and optimized
Addition #6 – “Checker Boards” – Money Cuts are fast easy high performance commercial designs
Addition #7 – “Money Cuts” – Fast easy high performance commercial designs
Addition #8 – “Diamond Checker Boards” – Diamond checkers
Addition #9 – “Mirage Cuts” – Fast easy high performance commercial designs
Addition #10 – “Mirage Cuts #2” – Fast easy high performance commercial designs
Addition #11 – “Sunstone” – Fast easy high performance commercial designs
Addition #12 – “Glitter” – High performance commercial designs
Addition #13 – “Domes” – High performance commercial designs
Here, you will need to start making choices.
For a new cutter that wants just the basics.
Cutting laps You will need a 260 grit coarse lap. I prefer solid steel, but a cap lap (steel plate, with a lighter aluminum base) will work just fine. They are a little cheaper.
You will need a 600 grit medium lap. For a basic starter set I recommend the Nu Bond 600 because, while it says it is a 600 grit lap, it really cuts much finer when broken in. You can get by pretty well with it, initially…
If you do not mind purchasing an extra lap or two then I recommend a steel 600 grit lap, which will cut coarser than the 600 Nu Bond will. You will need to buy a 1200 steel lap in this case. I do recommend the steel 1200 lap. If you only buy one solid steel lap it should be a 1200. I use a well worn 1200 steel lap for most of my fine cutting before polishing.
Nu Bond 1200 If you are cutting Quartz or Beryl, most beginners do. I highly recommend this lap, it is really the magic bullet for a good pre-polish on these materials.
Note: A Nu Bond 1200, especially when it is broken in will not work well on most other materials, it is too fine and leaves an orange peel on some facets, that is difficult to polish out.
Spectra Ultra laps I use these for polishing Quartz, and Beryl of all types. They are easy, and inexpensive. For more on how to use them see my article What is a Spectra (Ultralap) Lap? How do I use them?
They are ideal for a new cutter, because of price and speed. Spectras
Other methods include a Lucite lap, Cerium Ultra laps.
Note: I find that the Spectras work the best and do not bother with the alumina and cerium oxide Ultralaps. I charge them with aluminia for Tourmaline and with cerium for Quartz and Beryl (use a seperate Spectra for each, do not mix them). It is a lot easier to just buy the Spectras, and not have all of the money invested in all of the other kind. Also it is less clutter and just easier.
Oxide Polishes I use Cerium Oxide polish for Quartz and Beryls. I use Aluminia Oxide polish for Tourmaline and Garnets. They both come as a very high grade polish, like powered sugar in consistency. You will need both of them.
Note: I often recharge my Spectra Ultralaps with them, depending on what type of stone I am polishing.
Tin Lap I use a tin lap quite a bit for polishing Tourmaline and Garnets. I score them, but that is just a personal opinion… Do I really need to score polishing laps and if so how? I recommend that you buy one. Laps
For those of you with deeper pockets, that want most of the laps right off.
Here is what I recommend (along with the other tools I have mentioned)
1 – 100 grit steel lap
1 – 260 grit steel lap
1 – 600 grit steel lap
1 – 1200 grit steel lap
1 – 300 grit steel lap
1 – 1200 Nu Bond Composite lap (for a fine pre-polish on Beryl and Quartz)
1 – Tin lap – for alumina oxide polish (or phonelic laps)
1 – Pkg. Spectra UltraLaps – for polishing Quartz and Beryl
2 – Tin laps for diamond polish (not needed to start, this is mainly for using diamond polish with hard stones like Sapphire)
1 – bottle 8,000 diamond for pre-polish (on one of the Tin laps)
1 – bottle 50,000 diamond for polish (on one of the Tin laps)
1- bottle of Crystal Lube extender fluid (for lubricating the Zinc/diamond polishing laps)
This selection of laps and tools will get you going for about any material that you want to cut. There will be a few other things that you may want. Like a larger dop selection and there are a few specialty polishing laps available, that you may decide you want.
Of course this is not including rough, which can get into a lot of money depending on what you like. For a beginner I suggest they start with Quartz or Beryl (maybe Garnet, depending on the situation). These can all be found pretty cheap, if you look around. I do not recommend man-made Sapphire, Cubic Zirconia, or natural Topaz for a beginner. These materials are a little tough for a new cutter to work with, although people often buy them because that are cheap. If you must use man-made materials to learn, try a piece of Laser Glass.