Sunday, June 15, 2014

Tips and Tricks for Making Jewelry

Hello to everyone on  "Rockhound Times", and many thanks to Krissa for the offer to be a guest blogger here.

My name is Brad Smith. As background, I'm a studio jeweler, lapidary, author, and jewelry instructor in Santa Monica, CA. Currently, I'm also President of the Culver City Rock and Mineral Club and Show Chair for their Fiesta of Gems Show coming up on June 28 & 29. If you're nearby, please stop in and say hello.

I've done a lot of rockhounding since moving to California and joining the club. Liked it so much that I started the LA-Rocks discussion list to find more field trips to join. It's a good forum to hear what's going on around LA and to to get questions answered about lapidary equipment.

My journey into rockhounding quickly led me to the lapidary shop and cutting a lot of gemstones. That of course, led me to a silversmithing class, and the combination of the two has been one of the pleasures of my life ever since.

With that as a brief introduction, let me get to the subject of the material that I'll sharing with you. Many rockhounds make jewelry to show off their work, and what I'd like to do is to pass on some tips to improve your skills and help you be more productive. These are tricks of the trade for improving quality and saving time from my 18 years of teaching hundreds of students.

Every profession has it's tricks and Tips.  Here's some of mine.


When bezel setting a cab that has rather sharp corners, have you ever had problems pushing the metal down at the corners? It's a common problem often causing a wrinkle in your bezel. 

In order for a bezel to capture the stone, the top edge of the bezel must be compressed and become shorter to lay down onto the stone.  With a round or oval stone this naturally happens as you push and burnish the bezel. But when setting a stone with corners, the tendency is to push the long sides of the bezel down first. No compression occurs along the sides, and all excess metal is left at the corners. Compressing everything there is difficult. Often the only way to remove the extra metal at the corner is to make a saw cut and fold the two sides in to touch.

If you want a smooth bezel all around the corners, the simple solution is to set the corners of the bezel first. Then push in and burnish the sides.  In this way the necessary compression is distributed along the length of all sides and not forced to occur at the corners. With the corners set first, the top edge of the bezel can easily be compressed along the sides.


Cutoff wheels are inexpensive and in a Foredom or Dremel do a great job cutting or shaping steel.  You can use them to sharpen tool points, cut piano wire to length, make slots, and sharpen worn drills. Other uses include modifying pliers and making your own design stamps.

My preference is the one inch diameter size.   Be sure to hold the wheel firmly so nothing moves to break the disk, and definitely wear your safety glasses.  Those are little flakes of steel coming off the disk.

BTW - Cutoff wheels are poor at soft metals like copper, silver and gold. Soft metals clog up the cutting edges.

Get all 101 tips in "Bench Tips for Jewelry Making" on Amazon.

Multiple five star reviews.  Written for beginner to advanced jewelers, the book is filled with tips to improve soldering, how to avoid common hazards, suggestions for making your own equipment, and sources for inexpensive tools, plus over 80 close-up photos that show you exactly how to do it.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

How to identify California beach agates

A pile of beach agates

Beach agates, sometimes also called "moonstones" [although this name is incorrect - true moonstone is a form of feldspar] are a common find on California's coasts. Though they are much sought-after, many beginning rockhounds are left wondering just what an agate looks like, and if they've actually found any.

I often get emails from readers asking "Is this an agate? How about this?" And although I'm happy to answer such questions to the best of my ability, I thought perhaps a blog entry was warranted.

The difficulty with agate is that it comes in many colors, from clear to yellow to orange/red or even blue. The first clue I look for is the white coating that many beach agates have on the outside, which is often etched into intricate patterns by the elements [see photo above for an example].

Next hold it up to the light, and see how the light shines through it. Agates seem to almost glow, more so than any other stone I know.

They will feel very hard [around 7 on the Mohs scale] and smooth-grained. Look for bands within the agate [not all will have it, and sometimes it's faint, but a lot of them do have it]

The most common rocks I see people mistake for agates are quartz pebbles, banded rhyolites, and chert. Remember, if it's not translucent, it MIGHT be agate but it's not GOOD agate, since the real beauty in the stone is how it transmits the light.

Happy hunting!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Mineral of the Day: Okenite

Today's mineral is Okenite, those ever-popular fuzzy white cottonball minerals. Named after the German naturalist Lorenz Oken, they were first discovered in Greenland in 1828.

It is important to note that natural Okenite is WHITE. If you see it in other colors, it has been dyed. The white crystals do not have good contrast with the white matrix, and many sellers use food coloring to make a more colorful specimen, which they then try to pass off as natural.

Okenite is usually associated with zeolites, and is generally found inside basalt geodes. The 'hairs' are someone flexible, but still very fragile.

In my days of doing mineral shows, I found that putting a sign saying "Fragile - do not touch" did not deter every passer by from jamming their finger into my okenites. When I got fed up with smashed and mangled specimens, I put up a different sign that said, "Danger! Sharp needles!". Problem solved. However, they are actually quite soft and harmless to touch, just be very gentle with them.

Most of the Okenite currently in the market comes out of India, particularly Maharashtra Province.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Interested in guest-blogging?

I've had so many people email me with wonderful photos and stories to tell about their favorite rockhound sites, that I thought some of my readers might be interested in writing their own guest posts for Rockhound Times.

This would be open worldwide - I'm interested in hearing about sites from anywhere. Just so long as it's one you don't mind sharing with the world!

If you're interested, email me at rockhoundtimes at gmail dot com.

What I'd want from you:

A brief summary of yourself in a sentence or two: ie, "Example McExample is an avid outdoorsman from North Carolina and has been rockhounding for the last five years." [If you prefer to use a screen name rather than your real name, that is fine]

A link to your blog or website, if you have one - this will be put at the top of your post so interested readers can follow you home. If you want them to, of course!

What I'd like to see in a post:
Directions to the site
A comment on equipment needed and ease of access
What's found there
A few photos
A summary of the site with your own comments.

I hope to hear from you soon!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Field Trip: Meteor Crater, Arizona

Note: No collecting is permitted at the crater. This field trip is for geological interest only!

Meteor Crater
Meteor Crater, also known as Barringer Crater [and formerly called Canyon Diablo], is a meteorite impact site not far from Flagstaff, Arizona, said to be the world's best-preserved meteorite impact site.

The crater was created around 50,000 years ago, when a nickel-iron meteorite some 55 yards across struck the earth. Most of the meteorite's mass is thought to have boiled away during descent and impact, leaving only fragmented pieces within the crater.