R&G Kids: Gemstone Carving

carving stone
Rylee Jones works with his grandfather, Dick White, to craft gemstone carvings from soft rocks like soapstone with inexpensive and easily acquired tools.

By Jim Brace-Thompson

One enjoyable form of lapidary arts is carving. I’m not talking about a sculpture of the sort that Michelangelo crafted from 10- or 20-foot slabs of marble, nor huge national monuments like the Lincoln Memorial or Mount Rushmore. Rather, think of small sculptures that can fit into the palm of your hand or even smaller pieces that might be incorporated into necklaces or wire-wrapped jewelry.

stone carving
Relatively hard rocks (like this piece of chalcedony) require machinery with a shaft and diamond bits.

Carving hard rocks such as agate, jasper, or jade requires fairly expensive tools and machines such as a flexible shaft Foredom or Dremel with diamond bits and carving points, a gem lathe or fixed-shaft spindle, or more. Besides the expense involved in acquiring such machines and their associated bits, carving these harder rocks requires instruction with an experienced mentor and lots of practice.

stone carving
Soft rocks (like this piece of soapstone being crafted into a ?sh) require just simple hand tools to craft ?ne results.

Also, rough semi-precious gemstones such as jade or lapis lazuli don’t come cheap! Still, the pay-off and reward in the form of a beautiful, gleaming work of art are worth the expense and the effort.

stone carving
A piece of Montana agate carved into small sculptures to be set into jewelry.

But not all carving requires expensive equipment or materials. For instance, soft-stone carving with commonly available and inexpensive rocks such as alabaster, soapstone, marble, or travertine can be accomplished using simple hand tools. These include knives, scribes, files, sanding boards, various grits of wet-and-soft sandpaper, and polished-infused pieces of leather or cotton flannel.

Whether you opt for hard-stone carving with expensive machinery and high-priced rough stones or for soft-stone carving with hand tools and easily acquired rocks, you will be able to take great pride and satisfaction in transforming somewhat dull, ordinary rocks from nature into shining and dazzling works of art that are wonders to behold!

Author: Jim Brace-Thompson

JimBraceThompson Jim began and oversees the AFMS Badge Program for kids and has been inducted into the National Rockhound & Lapidary Hall of Fame within their Education Category.
Contact him at jbraceth@roadrunner.com.


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