Hobbyist Counts on Classic Equipment to Keep Creating

Walt Harrison
Walt Harrison at the bench, hard at work creating another amazing piece of lapidary art and jewelry.

By Antoinette Rahn

Walt Harrison
Lapidary Hobbyist and Dealer
(Mr. Harrison is an artist featured in the Tools of the Trade profile sponsored by Covington Engineering.)

Covington Engineering is sponsor of the Tools of the Trade special section that appears in the December 2020 issue of Rock & Gem.

Often, you’ll hear people say, “They just don’t make (fill in the blank) the way they used to.” More than a few people in the rockhounding and lapidary community can relate to that statement and swear by their tried-and-true equipment, which in some cases has been functioning for several decades. Walt Harrison is one of those people.

“I have bought almost all my equipment used; some of it (is) fifty years old. That requires me to buy parts for my Covington saws and sanders to keep them running well,” Harrison said.

And run well they do, in part because of the quality of the equipment, Harrison’s use and care of the machinery, and the support and service he receives from Covington Engineering, he reported.

Jade bracelet
A jade bracelet made of stone Harrison found on the Eel River in Northern California, with a cuff made of argentum silver, titanium, and copper.

“What makes Covington my go-to place is they have all the parts I need for their equipment. That’s not the case with other lapidary equipment,” said Harrison, who is a retired firefighter and long-time rockhound and lapidary. “What’s also nice (is) they do everything they can to help you repair other brands of equipment. Their service and public relations are what has made them my go-to source.”

Among the machinery he owns and uses are a couple of 10-inch saws, a 24-inch saw, two wet-belt sanders, and a glass lathe, all made by Covington Engineering. Supporting parts and supplies also include a variety of Covington-brand products. Before the company relocated to Idaho, Harrison would visit the factory on a nearly weekly basis. At that time, he would discuss new products and equipment improvements with Covington owner Dan Drouault. For example, Harrison said, Dan shared a few of the company’s thin diamond blades with Harrison to see how they’d work. Gladly, Harrison put the blades through high-speed testing and tried to “destroy them” before meeting with Dan again to share his results and impressions of the equipment. It’s another example of how the company seeks and takes customer input on what is needed and then tries to meet those needs, he added.

Harrison’s path to his present life of lapidary work began when he was just a child. It was thanks to a wonderful combination of family rockhounding excursions and picnics to Calico Ghost Town, as well as additional support and guidance received from members of the Yucaipa Gem and Mineral Society, a group he joined at the age of 14.

Dryhead agate bracelet
An example of the type of bracelets Harrison has made using his various skills. This piece features a Dryhead agate.

“They took me under their wings, and I was able to go on field trips to the desert,” he said. “I learned how to cut and polish gems with one retired couple, and then a man named Bishop Applegate taught me how to make jewelry.”

Thinking he may pursue a career in geology, he majored in the field during junior college, and within a few years, he was selling minerals and jewelry to friends. Ultimately, he got married and turned his attention to a firefighting career and raising a family, Harrison said. However, as many rockhounds and lapidaries have found, you don’t forget your first hobby, and sometimes you rediscover that source of joy later in life.

That’s what happened to Harrison as his firefighting career was nearing its end and he was entering retirement. He renewed his interest in collecting and stone cutting and even became co-owner of a turquoise claim, as well as the Dead Camel/Red Falcon claims, he reported. Also, he sells rough and slabs during the Quartzite Pow-Wow each year, sells his finished lapidary jewelry in the Casa De Oro shop in Cambria, California, and takes appointments, at his home, with collectors and dealers looking to buy rough.

Pendant in silver with pottery chard and turquoise nugget
This pendant, with a form of argentum silver, featuring pottery chard, and a turquoise nugget at center, was created by Harrison as a gift for his adult daughter, who found the chard when she was a young girl.
Among the Covington equipment that he appreciates most is the glass lath, which Harrison said is great for carving stone.

“With this unit, I can carve with many different (styles of) carving wheels and also use an 8” Expando drum if I need to,” he added. “What I really like about this unit is its long shafts and clearance to walk around the sides of the unit for carving at different angles.”

Throughout the years, Harrison has wondered, why stones? While others pursue passions for restoring cars or watching sports, finding and cutting stones are some of the things he enjoys most in life, and he believes it represents something far greater than himself.

“Why do we like rocks? I truly believe these are God-given gifts that we are born with to glorify God. When I find a beautiful agate and then cut it open and see the beauty inside, I cannot help but realize God’s hand in its creation. We are all the same beautiful creations unique in our design.”

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