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Tips For L Plate Facetors From a P Plater

Updated on December 2, 2012

My Gemmasta GF3

This machine is working well now,she gave me some heartache but i wouldn't swap it now.
This machine is working well now,she gave me some heartache but i wouldn't swap it now. | Source

Why This Topic

I suppose this may seem a funny topic and you may be wondering why I have decided to write an article on this. Having just reached my P plates after 5 years of learning to facet, I think back on all of the issues and dilemmas I had and would like to put them down on paper to help others that start down the track to the wonderful world of faceting. I will try to run through some of the issues that I had starting out and add information that i found in my journey. I find it very fulfilling to see the reaction when people receive a gift that I have created.

Harts Range Zircon in 14ct Gold Eternity Ring for My wife. I found cut & set the stone.
Harts Range Zircon in 14ct Gold Eternity Ring for My wife. I found cut & set the stone. | Source

Where To Start

I will qualify this article with the following disclaimer, at no time do I claim to be an expert in any areas of faceting, This article is only meant to pass on observations and tips that I have learnt, (some easy lessons and some hard) along the way. I learnt to facet as a hobbyist. In the following article i will try to give an overview on the some of the areas that you may come across including,

  • Where do I learn to Facet
  • Faceting machines
  • Laps and Housekeeping
  • Grinding and polishing
  • Doping and transferring stones
  • Tools and extras

Some of these topics can be quite large so I may create articles relating to specific areas down the track.

12 x 10 Omni Oval CZ
12 x 10 Omni Oval CZ | Source

Where do I learn to Facet?

In this day and age there are a few options out there to learn to facet. Anywhere from Technical colleges that infrequently host courses to local Gem clubs. Out at the CQ fields there are courses in Skin Polishing and faceting which are held regularly in the season at the local community center.

After a bit of research I joined my local gem and craft club. Apart from being a great inexpensive place to learn there is a huge font of information on all things lapidary available to a beginner. The program was not rigorous and I found that helped.There was a hand full of members that assist newbie's and their different techniques allowed my pick the eyes out of the info provided to develop my own"" style"" of cutting. Probably the best bit of advice given to me was ""Son near enough is not good enough when learning to facet, you will just get into bad habits""

I look back at some of those first stones every now and then, 1 in particular I have set aside, It led to that piece of advice. It was the third stone I had cut, I was very proud of it, after all I had done it in only 2 short sessions. I thought Gee this is easy what's all the fuss about? I took it over to ""T"" and proceeded to tell him how quick I was learning and how fast I could cut. That is when I received that Pearl of wisdom, followed by a lesson on the intricacies of Meet Point Faceting including having it pointed out to me that meet points must actually meet. I felt very sheepish after that but it was a lesson I needed to learn.

For me the knowledge I gained at the club and I am still taking advantage of, plus the friends with similar interests I have found have made this a very positive experience.

The other advantage I found learning at the club was that I had somewhere that i could continue to feed my itch to facet until I found my own machine, which incidentally I was put onto by another member who heard on the grapevine, from a guy who new a guy who used to be a member that had bought a new machine and might be thinking about selling his old machine *** Suffice to say inside info is always handy.

1ct Yellow colour change Sapphire
1ct Yellow colour change Sapphire | Source

Faceting Machines

For some this topic will raise more questions than it answers but choosing a machine to suit your budget may limit your options. Personally this is where joining and learning at your local club had its benefits, I was able to learn then continue to to cut until I was able to find a unit that suited my budget.Another benefit is that you will have a network of connections that will help you to sniff out that bargain machine that is out there in someones back shed gathering dust waiting for a new owner.

New or Used? Hmmm?

This will depend on your budget, everyone would like that high end machine with all the bells and whistles on it but, Your budget may not extend that far, like me, I just couldn't afford $6000. New units lower end can start as low as $1800 up to $6000+.

New Units.

Not much to explain here for this article. If you have the resources, speak to other facetors about different brands. Think about what you want on your unit for example Dial gauge, Digital displays, degree splitters ect. Remember that users when giving a review of their machine will usually favour theirs above other brands. All machines have their Pro's and Con's but they all cut stones.It is about finding a unit that suits you and your style of cutting.

The other difference buying new is you will have to add all extras and consumables. So while saying base models start at $1800 you Will probably need between $300 to $500 for laps and other bits and pieces so you can start cutting.

I have added a couple of interesting links below to Jamb Peg and TES units. Plans for Jamb Peg units can be found on the Internet and made relatively inexpensively. I have not tried it but have a friend that used to use one he built and turned out some nice stones but now uses a conventional unit.

The TES unit looks easy to use and they are not that expensive certainly well below conventional units also no power required.

Faceting Area

Used Pro's and Con's

Quite often when buying second hand one of the bonuses is that the unit usually comes with all the extras like Laps, extra dops, polish and may even have some rough as mine did. This is a bonus as faceting accessories can be quite expensive. For example a extra transfer jig for my unit is $175 mine came with 2. So as you can see it value for money can sometimes override caution. The extras on mine probably came to $700+, so with the overall cost $1500 I thought "Can't go wrong here"".

My piece of advice at this point is Take someone who understands how to check a unit for accuracy or get some basic advice on how to to do a basic accuracy check yourself. Also when learning to facet learn about the faceting unit also, how it works and how it is adjusted. take it from experience there is nothing worse than cutting a beautiful pavilion, transferring the stone, then starting the crown only to find the girdle is uneven and then not knowing what is causing the error. Not knowing whether it was the unit or you that was the problem. It was a frustrating 18 months and $800 until my unit was aligned and cutting properly.

I guess the main lesson know what to look for when buying. I will put together a more detailed post at a later date to demonstrate basic tests when buying a used machine.

Laps and Houskeeping

It took me little while to come to the realisation that this is one of the more important lessons that a beginner needs to learn. Firstly contamination of your polishing laps is one of the most frustrating things. There is nothing worse than getting to that last facet and looking down and there is a large deep scratch right across the center of it.

Secondly Machine cleanliness. As i said before they are precision machines and need to be kept clean for 2 reasons. The stones we are cutting are quite hard like garnet and sapphire. Particles of these are used in Grinding discs and as sandblasting medium so any build up around moving parts will cause increased wear and tear. As well the build up of grinding dust or splash on the area where your mast moves along the base or other critical areas can cause minor errors that can drive you mad until you realise the cause.

Grinding and Polishing

This topic is very large, there are so many variables.I will limit my content here to a few basic insights that I have picked up and follow up with a post on this subject alone down the track.

Think about the laps you are using and what they are used for. Simple question are they Grind or polish and use accordingly. This can depend on your rough but generally I classify up to including 3000 diamond bonded laps as grinding laps. As Pre polish I use copper lap with 3000 diamond compound and on most stones I finish with a Type metal or similar with 100000 diamond.

I stress that there are many of different combos you can use this is only what i have found to to be the most suitable for the gems that i cut.

So having sorted this out the next important thing to consider is pressure or weight when cutting. Pressure is heat, if your are dopping with wax heat is your enemy. Use your Grinding laps to grind your facets before proceed to your pre-polish and polish and make sure that all of your meet points are good. Polishing should only be half a dozen rubs on each lap, if you are trying adjust your meet points to much on pre-polish and polish you will waste a lot of time and frustration. It is quicker to go back a lap than persist.

Dopping and Transfering

After 5 years i have yet to master the use of wax. I can see the benefits of it in being able to move or reposition a stone to get the best recovery, but there is nothing more frustrating than getting a stone 99.9% ready for transfer only to have it pop off the dop. I revisit it again every 6 months or so starting with lesser value stones do a couple then get game and put a better stone on and off she pops again. One day i will master it.

For dopping I use a popular epoxy, it takes a lot longer to dop up but I am not cutting comercially so the time isn't a factor. I have to spend more time preforming the stone and removing flaws but i have yet to lose a stone with this method.

Gemmasta Transfer Jig
Gemmasta Transfer Jig | Source

List of Consumables you may need

Laps & Stuff

Grind - Bonded Diamond - 240, 600, 1200

Pre Polish & Polish - Copper, Type Metal

Diamond compound - 3000, 100000 either spray or paste

Dopping - Dopping Wax, Epoxy Glue, Spirit Lamp or Butane Torch

Cleaning Medium - Methylated Spirits or similar.

Tools and extras

First of all a good head Loupe is a must ,others I know use a hand one also but I find the head one adequate.

Another must have is a Verniers Caliper to calibrate your stone sizes. If you are going to set the stone in a pre - made setting it is much easier with calibrated sizes.


As I said at the start there is to much info to include in such a short article. I hope to add some more reading down the track on the specific areas.

Until then Happy Faceting.


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