Opal polishing with out ANY equipment (WITH REPOSTED PHOTOS)

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Opal polishing with out ANY equipment (WITH REPOSTED PHOTOS)

Postby mauibuck » Sat Jun 03, 2006 7:57 am

(Since we lost the original image host, I have reposted the photos with the new host so hopefully there will be pictures with this)


There have been a number of posts in various sections of this forum about how people would like to get started in polishing opals but not sure about what equipment to get or the equipment is too expensive or looking for a rock polishing club, or looking for somebody to teach them, etc. etc.

If you go to the home page of Opalauctions, click on Opal Resources, then click on Rough Opal, then click on Cutting Boulder Opal: part 1 and 2, it will give you very expert and clear instructions on how YOU, a raw beginner, can take a single piece of rough opal and turn it into a nicely polished opal using only $25,000 worth of highly specialized lapidary equipment in your living room. The fact that you have to eliminate all furniture, reinforce the floor, scrap the rugs, drag water hoses from outside, soundproof the walls and spread tarps everywhere to catch the mud, seems to be overlooked as a minor inconvenience for the glory of making a tiny shiny rock.

OK, let's rethink this and go at it from a beginner's perspective. That first $25,000 step seems a bit steep and I've always suggested learning to crawl before trying pole vaulting and mountain climbing. I suggest we start smaller, MUCH smaller, like with absolutely nothing, and see what is the absolute minimum we can invest to polish an opal or three.

I live on a tiny rock called Maui, in the middle of a big salty pond. There is no lapidary equipment here for sale, no classes, nobody to learn from, so it looks like the only option available is "none of the above." So, do what I do. INNOVATE.

The first thing you need is something to polish. Cruise your favorite opal auction site, which darn well better be this one. Look for rough or even better, rubs till you find something in the under $20-30 range that appeals to you. Actually, buy several stones. Check out the $5 selection too. It should be something large enough that you can hold easily with your fingers. Small stones less than 10 carats are hard to hold with your fingers. Try not to go over 40 or 50 carats because the amount of time required to polish a stone increases dramatically with the size of the surface to be polished. It is critical that you look for a stone with a pretty smooth surface. It can be flat or curved but avoid stones with holes or depressions because you can't effectively deal with these without power tools. You might consider a parcel but these usually have bumpy stones that are too hard to deal with by hand. Just pick something smooth and not too big or too small. This is a LEARNING experience.

Notice the photos of the stones are taken wet. The water sort of shows what they will look like polished. When you get the stones, they probably won't look as good as the photo because they are dry, the sellers use really good cameras, have lots of experience, take many shots, and then use the best one. Sometimes the colors are way different than in the photos on the auction. I bought one large split pair that was shown as pink and purple on the auction but was actually blue when I got it. Obviously, don't buy expensive stones for learning. The really great thing about buying from this auction site is the shipping is reasonably priced and usually arrives in less than two weeks, sometimes sooner. That's Oz to USA.

Here is the stone I selected for this demonstration. It is a piece of rough and it has a flaw. A rub would be smoother and easier to polish but this is what I had available. This photo is taken dry and that is a USA quarter for size. This is a very nice size to work with.

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OK, so here we go. It's polishing time. It is possible to polish opals with absolutely no power equipment at all. It just takes a hell of a lot longer. We do it all with stuff from the hardware store or in your home.

Go to any hardware or automotive supply store and buy one piece of WATERPROOF emery paper in each grade 180, 220, 320, 400, 600, and 1500. Each piece will cost about $2 USD. They have plenty and you can buy more later as needed. If you have an opportunity to buy the cheap Chinese waterproof paper, pass it up. Stick with the name brand stuff from a reputable hardware or auto supply house.

The next thing we need is a flat hard surface like a table top or whatever. If the stone has a rounded surface, then it might be nice to have a bit of a softer surface. You can put the emery paper on top of one or two layers of cloth, or rubber (much harder than foam but softer than a tire,) or a thin piece of carpet to allow the emery paper to curve a wee bit around the stone.

All the polishing should be done WET with water. Not swimming in water or running water. Just need to keep the emery paper wet so the paper will last a lot longer, the results will be smoother and the stone will stay cool.
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This is going to take a while, several hours probably, so make sure you are comfortable and suitably occupied otherwise. This doesn't need extreme vigilance so use your mind for other things like memorizing bush poetry, talking to your mother on the phone, watching TV, or whatever. You can even do it in the car on a long trip. Just put your stuff in a deep plastic dish pan and put a sponge in a bowl holding the water so it doesn't slosh around. I listen to audio books while I polish because I don't have enough time to read everything I want to.

So, start with the roughest emery paper you think is necessary to remove the roughness of the opal or to change the shape to your desires. I strongly recommend you stick with the basic shape the stone is in because it takes a lot of work to reshape the stone by hand. So, how long do you work with each grit? This is a LEARNING experience. You are learning about the paper, how much water to use, how hard to push on the stone, how fast the stone wears and when to change to the next finer grit. The surface of the stone will get smoother and the scratches will get finer. Occasionally you will discover that you have switched to a finer grit too soon and will have to back up a bit

This is sort of like learning how to put a diaper on a baby. Too loose and the diaper falls off. Too tight and the kid screams. Slip with the pin and you stick the baby. It's a learning experience so just have fun and by all means, make some mistakes. You will learn more from your mistakes than by being super extra cautious and continuously worrying if you are doing everything perfect.

When you feel like you have accomplished the best reasonable amount of smoothness with that grade of paper, switch to the next finer grade. Notice that a brand new piece of emery paper will cut really fast but that rate will taper off quickly and then level out. However, that paper should continue to cut for a very long time. You should get several hours out of each piece of emery paper if you keep it wet and rinse it off if you think it is getting a bit gunky. This is particularly true if working with ironstone which is pretty messy.

Keep a dry cloth handy to dry off the stone and inspect it periodically. You can't really tell where you are if the stone is wet. If you can't find 1500 grit paper, use a worn area of the 600 for the final emery polishing and a lighter pressure.

After you are satisfied with the smoothness of the stone and essentially all scratches are gone, it is time for the final polishing. There are many was to do this with cloth and some polishing compound. For a polishing cloth you can use denim, felt, flannel, whatever you have laying around. I like this piece of thin cheap industrial carpet for first polishing. It is a scrap from somewhere. For the final polish I used a piece of sock because it was within arms reach.

For a polishing substance you can use automotive polishing compound. This is NOT car wax or cleaner wax. It is a very soft white paste used to remove scratches in automotive paint. A 12 ounce can cost under $5. If you have a friend that works on cars, they probably have one or two cans. Just bum an ounce or two. Buy some only as a last resort. (Am I cheap or what???) There are also car liquid cleaning compounds. Try that too. Experiment.
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You can even try plain old toothpaste. If you are afraid your opal will get cavities, use fluoride toothpaste.

This whole effort will take several hours but it is CHEAP and a great learning experience. It is a great way keep your hands busy, and to make your time more productive while using your eyes, ears, mouth and brain for other functions. Give it a try and post your experiences right here on this forum.

Here are two shots of the finished stone. Took a lazy two hours.
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And here is one other stone I polished the same way. This is MUCH too small to easily work with but I did it just to prove it can be done. My finger nails will grow back in a week or so.

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Please post your own results with this method, particularly if you do it while traveling in a car, camping or some other unusual place.

Aloha nui loa, Mauibuck
Last edited by mauibuck on Tue Mar 20, 2007 9:10 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby daveczar » Sat Jun 03, 2006 1:38 pm

Excellent post Maui... but I'm sure there's now going to be a worldwide run on emery paper and then the cost will double! I can't wait to see some of the other members results here... I may even give it a go myself, although I will cheat a bit and use my Dremel tool to get started!
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emery paper

Postby opalgraphics co » Sun Jun 04, 2006 2:56 am

Mate that was interesting to read,so i can see how it would help if u dont have any equipment handy ,so u can still polish and opal,,so these people can polish rub..Did u try boulder opal rub and would that take same time to polish?? :?:
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Boulder opal rub

Postby mauibuck » Sun Jun 04, 2006 7:21 am

Yep, you could do a boulder opal rub or virtually anything in the opal family. All the materials are relatively soft compared to the emery paper. It is just the rougher the surface and the bigger the stone, the longer it takes. I would guess it takes 10 to 20 times longer by hand than by using lapidary machines and I sure wouldn't want to do any real reshaping by hand. But this method allows anybody to polish opal rubs pretty much anywhere with virtually no investment in equipment. Somebody could even do classes for a bunch of kids. If you are teaching polishing with equipment, only one person can use the equipment. With this hand polishing method, everybody can do it at the same time. Maybe even somebody in France and somebody in N.Z. (Hint, hint)
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Postby lindafox » Sun Jun 04, 2006 3:23 pm

Or somebody is Missouri? I have a rough that I am going to try this with.
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emery paper

Postby jackie » Sun Jun 04, 2006 10:43 pm

Went to local hardstore,they didnt know what emery paper was,but had sandpaper,so bought that in different grades,maybe emery paper trade name we dont have here..so im off now to try it out. :lol:
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Emery paper

Postby mauibuck » Mon Jun 05, 2006 1:06 am

Jackie and interested parties.
The terminology may vary by country but the main point is that it is WATERPROOF. Regular sandpaper will die instantly with water. What we are using is the same waterproof paper used for refinishing paint on cars and is available everywhere.

To get super technical, Waterproof Sand Paper is made with Silicon Carbide and it is dark gray or black in color. Regular sandpaper is tan color and is not waterproof. Emery - a hard gary-black mineral consisting of corundum and either hematite or magnetite; used as an abrasive (especially as a coating on paper) is also dark gray or black. Emery paper is not necessarily waterproof. So, no mater what it is called, WATERPROOF is the most important factor and it must say that on the back of the paper. In the USA it is also called WETORDRY.

Linda, since you are from the Show Me state, I knew you would be right out there #1, maybe even teach your son somewhere down the line. Sure would keep him occupied on a long trip. I grew up in St. Louis and still have family south of Jeff City.
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sandpaper

Postby jackie » Mon Jun 05, 2006 8:14 am

Already tried but started dry and it was starting to polish,than used water on dremel drill and opal rub went flying out the door ,and i had wet soggy sandpaper everywhere..serves me right trying use dremel drill ..
ill read thread again afetr i get WATERPROOF SANDPAPER :oops: :oops: :oops: :
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hand polishing

Postby Iceopals » Tue Jun 06, 2006 3:07 pm

Hey Mauibuck!! What a FANTASTIC walk through on cutting by hand! Thank goodness I don't have to do it that way, but it is by far the most comprehensive set of details I have read, and you include times in it, so that is very encouraging and enlightening. Now everyone can cut! At least from a rub. :D
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Postby eu_citzen » Fri Jun 16, 2006 3:12 pm

now I have heard that to get "a really fine polish" you can use leather,
any thoughts?
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leather

Postby collector11 » Fri Jun 16, 2006 11:43 pm

My friend has leather business and best results are from veal leather ,thats youg calf or pig leather is also good
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Postby OpalAuctions Tech » Wed Aug 30, 2006 1:35 am

hey great work maubuck thats the first time i've seen this post... we've just started getting some google hits for the keywords "how do you polish an opal rub?" only started a week ago, so its taken this long for it to get picked up...
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thanks

Postby mauibuck » Thu Aug 31, 2006 12:07 am

Thanks for the kind words Steve. The next step is getting into power driven equipment and I made a posting under CUTTING OPAL for How to make a cheap wet grinding machine. As crude as that machine is, the cost is very low and the flexibility is wonderful. Since making that post I've added two wire brushes to the shaft which adds versatility. I might make posts on diamond pads and buffing pads, more stuff I'm experimenting with.

aloha
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Postby fujicat » Tue Sep 05, 2006 3:09 am

I'm so happy to have found this site and forum! I have some potch sitting in water and have been afraid of it. Not anymore thanks to all of you. I have a waterproof pedicure file, well there's a place to begin since I don't use it on my feet :) Polishing opal sounds like nail buffing. There's a four way nail buffer I use to shine my nails after I have buffed them. I think it's a rubber/silicone base. If it can make nails look like glass, then I'll try it on my rough once I get to that point. Barb
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nail polish

Postby petersopal » Wed Sep 06, 2006 11:21 pm

Barb hi ,i have seen opal that was smoothed over as rough and nail polish applied and looks ok.it has nice shine if only thin amount applied
and if it goes yellow over the years just disolve and apply again..it does look good on specimens ,on sandstone sometimes they add hairspray but it only lasts few weeks
now you can see the fire in your opal,thanks nail polish !!! :lol: :lol:
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