Solitaire ring to my Kites design
As a research scientist I am used to doing a lot of that, research and science. When I first decided to take the plunge and get into faceting I did a huge amount of research and at first this led to total confusion. There is a vast amount of information about faceting in the literature and on line and much of this reflects historic approaches to the subject and, therefore, historic techniques, beliefs and practices. Furthermore, no two faceters approach faceting in exactly the same way. I decided to take a clinical, scientific look, adopt modern methods and equipment, and above all keep things simple.
The biggest investment any would-be faceter makes is the purchase of a faceting machine. There are a number of makes and models available. All will turn out faceted gems but the ease and accuracy of operation varies enormously. I wanted an easy to use, highly accurate machine incorporating the latest mechanical and digital technology. Homework done, the choice was simple, the Ultra Tec V5 Classic Faceting Machine with digital angle display. There were less expensive options but considering the amount of time any serious faceter spends at his or her machine – and I have spent at mine – the additional cost per hour works out at pennies and is getting smaller all the time! Also, exceptional build quality and factory backup, should it ever be required, ensures longevity.
When ordering the V5 Machine the order includes some vital accessories. These include: 96 Index Gear - Driptank - Transfer Fixture - Tabling Adapter (45 degree) - Set of 12 Dops (4, 5, 6, 8mm F.V.C.) - Set of Wrenches - Drain Hose - Owner's Manual. Although the price list does not say so a calibration bar is also included. To these I have added a lamp and table aligner. I have also purchased additional dops of the sizes I most frequently use, 3, 4, 5 and 6mm so that I can have a number of stones in progress on the same dop size. I have also acquired some larger and smaller dops but find that I rarely use them.
The Fantasy machine also comes with a number of accessories, see Ultra Tec's website, but a mast and a number of other key items of equipment are not included.
For a full list of Ultra Tec products and accessories visit pages here.
Here again, there is considerable choice and here I made an error. For the hobby faceter there is no point in going for highly expensive sintered laps and I do not and would not use cheap, thin (and poor quality), so called, ‘topper’ laps. Good quality metal bonded laps are fine and will cut a large number of stones before requiring replacement. 6 inch laps are a less expensive option but with a machine designed to take 8 inch laps the extra cutting area they provide is well worth paying for.
For preforming and roughing out a stone a coarse lap is required. However, there is a price to pay – sub surface damage. The coarser the grit the further this penetrates a stone and this damaged layer must be cut away during the fine cutting process. Failure to do this will be highly evident in the form of pits and scratches when it comes to polishing. In my opinion going any coarser than 260 grit is a NO. Personally the coarsest lap I normally use for small rough is a 360. The 260 is much more aggressive and saves a lot of time when roughing out larger stones, but see below with regard to the Ultra Tec facet saw kit.
Most of my cutting (“shaping” of the stone) is done with 600 and 1200 laps. Mine are manufactured by Crystalite and Labcraft. There has been some criticism of Crystalite's 1200 lap which I use for shaping rather than pre-polishing but in my experience it cuts reasonably fast and allows me to get meets together. These and laps and polishing compounds mentioned below are available from Ultra Tec. See pages here.
Having done my research I concluded that a 3000 lap was what was required for pre-polishing and it was here that I made my mistake. I purchased a Crystalite 3000 metal bonded lap costing around $200. Except when brand new it cut very slowly and produced the dreaded ‘orange peel’ (Google it) on most materials I cut. Luckily, on the Isle of Wight where I live there was (sadly he is no longer with us) a Master Cutter who also used an Ultra Tec and who has won national and international competitions. I discussed my problem with him and he put me right. I now use a Batt Lap and Gearloose’s 3000 Pandimonium diamond compound for pre-polishing. Care has to be taken because this combination cuts quite quickly but it produces close to a polished surface and (if I have got everything else right!) allows me to get my meets spot on.
So far as polishing is concerned there are a bewildering array of opinions concerning this, many based on myths, outmoded beliefs and superstitions. Here again I took a simple, scientific approach deciding to use another Batt and the Pandimonium 60000 diamond compound for most of my polishing. From the 3000 pre-polish this rapidly produces a first class polish on most materials, as competition results demonstrate (see the News page). I do however have a Darkside lap and oxide polishes. This with Cerium oxide works well with some materials especially Quartz. Batt laps and Pandimonium polishing compounds are available from Ultra Tec.
In summary, for “getting started” here are my Lap recommendations:
• For Shaping: Crystalite or Labcraft 260 mesh, 360 mesh, 600 mesh and 1200 mesh plated diamond.
• For Pre-polishing: a BATT Lap (use with 3000 mesh Pandimonium diamond compound).
• For Polishing: a BATT Lap (yes, a second one - use with 60000 mesh Pandimonium diamond compound)
and a Darkside Lap (use with Oxide Battstiks).
Having covered the machine and laps what else do I have in my arsenal?
To cut rough to a size suitable for dopping a trim saw is a vital part of the faceters equipment. The one I use is manufactured by High-Tech Diamond and can accommodate 4 and 5 inch saw blades. For valuable rough I have blades that produce a kerf width of 0.23 mm. For less valuable material I use a more robust blade producing a kerf width of 0.33 mm. Having dopped your stone Ultra Tec can supply a Facet Saw Kit comprising an adapter and diamond saw blade that permits you to make trim cuts with the precision provided by your faceting machine. It saves time, eliminating much of the rough grinding; saves wear on your expensive laps; and most importantly, saves gem material by frequently cutting-off usable rough rather than grinding it away.
The faceter's mantra is "cut a little look a lot", in bold because it is so important! For inspection of stones during the cutting and polishing process a top quality 10x magnification loupe with a triplet lens is required. There are many options but I use the moderately priced but excellent Belomo 'Achromatic' 10x triplet loupe available via this link but also from many other outlets. For accurate facet measurement and girdle thickness measurement I also use a Lithco 10X LED Scale Loupe with Black Copy Metric Reticle available from Peak Optics. I have also recently acquired a Belomo 10 x measuring loupe which is now my measuring loupe of choice. Apart from facet measurements these eliminates somewhat inaccurate fiddling around with feeler gauges when establishing girdle thickness, especially for competition stones.
In no particular order these are other items required :
An absolute must for novice faceters and highly useful and informative for experienced faceters are two manuals by Tom Herbst, Amateur Gemstone Faceting volumes 1 and 2. These provide a comprehensive wealth of up to date faceting information. They are, today, the definitive guide. In order to keep costs to an absolute minimum they are printed to order (a very quick process) and are available from Amazon at a remarkable price of £17.49 each. February 2022. See Volume 1 here and Volume 2 here.
Computer software. The long established GemCad and the associated Dataview Database of designs, and GemRay are indispensable tools that automate the otherwise very tedious process of scaling designs to suite materials of different refractive indices. GemCad also lets the imagination run free when creating new designs and permits the test cutting, on a computer, of old ones thereby avoiding the risk of wasting rough on designs that don't work. GemRay allows optimization of designs, with the optimization criteria readily transferable to GemCad, and provides renditions of designs in the materials of your choice. Both can be downloaded here. Recently (autumn 2018) a new program has been released that combines gem design with real-time renditions of the design in progress and which provides a ready means of optimizing finished designs. This is Gem Cut Studio.In June 2019 I downloaded the 30 day free trial but initial impressions were so favourable that within a week or so I purchased the program. I am still getting to grips with the design features but the optimisation aspects of the program are superb.
Dust cover for the machine. This is essential but I forgot to order one so mine is made from a Waitrose 90 l recycled plastic storage bag! Ultra Tec can supply a purpose made version with the UT logo on it.
Adhesives for dopping. I do not use wax for dopping although I can see a time when it might be desirable. I use cyanoacrylate Gorilla super glue for attaching rough to flat dops and 2 part Araldite Crystal epoxy glue for attaching stones to cone and V dops.
Post-it 76 x 76 mm sticky note pad for mixing epoxy and cocktail sticks for the same purpose. One end is cut flat for mixing and the other left pointed for applying the adhesive.
Solvents. For cleaning stones at all stages of the faceting process I use isopropyl alcohol. For cleaning adhesive residues from stones and dops and for releasing stones from epoxy I use acetone.
Immersion fluid, a high refractive index liquid for examining rough. Refractol, with a refractive index of 1.567, appears to be out of production. Alternatives are cinnamon oil which has an RI of 1.59 - 1.62 and benzyl benzoate with an RI of 1.57. Both are readily available and of the two the latter is less odorous.
Kitchen blow torch. A high heat output, adjustable model is required for releasing stones from flat dops during transfer.
Heat resistant mat, kitchen types are fine, (released dops are very hot!)
Extenders for use with polishing compounds and for removing swarf from polishing laps. I now use Gearloose products but there are alternatives, e.g. WD-40.
Digital calipers for measuring stones. Mine have synthetic jaws rather than metal jaws to avoid chipping.
Digital scales for weighing stones and rough.
Tweezers and stone holders for handling cut stones.
Compartmentalized boxes with individual padded containers for storing cut stones.
Compartmentalized boxes for storing rough.
Boxes for storing miscellaneous items.
Stackable containers for lap storage. Available from The Rock Peddler and others.
Paper kitchen towel for cleaning stones and equipment and microfiber cloth for final cleaning and dust removal from materials such as quartz.
Small mist spray bottles for water and isopropyl alcohol.
Small, shallow glass jars to hold dopped stones and acetone during the release process. I have John West black lumpfish caviar on my breakfast toast and the jars this comes in are ideal! When acetone finally destroys the seal the jars are recycled and replaced with new ones.
A 50 x 50 mm square of 3 mm window glass and black permanent marker for zeroing my cheater.
Note pad and pen for recording data during faceting.
Last but by no means least, a mat to stand my lungo coffee mug on.
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