Waco Gem and Mineral Club, Waco, Tx

4.2 Choosing a Lapidary Project


4.2: Choosing a Lapidary Project

Types of Lapidary Projects to Choose From

The choice of a lapidary project should be matched to the age level and abilities of your club‘s kids and youth. Following are some sample projects, starting from simpler ones appropriate for younger members and progressing to more difficult ones that would challenge even your adult club members:

Rock painting. Paint designs or pictures on flat, smooth rocks, or transform round stones into bugs, turtles, bunnies, etc., with enamel, acrylic, or tempura paints.

"Rock Critters." Stack and glue small stones together like snowmen to make animals and people; incorporate google eyes, pipe cleaner arms and legs, feathers, and other ornaments.

Light-catchers. Glue tumble-polished agates or beach glass onto translucent plastic container lids and insert a wire or fishing line to hang the creation against a window.

Sand art. Colored sands (available with aquarium supplies), white glue, and cardboard or small plywood sheets can be used to make sand art pictures and designs.

Wind chimes. Starting with 8- to 15-inch wooden rods or driftwood limbs, space screw eyes 1- to 1.5-inches apart, and attach varying lengths of fishing line or base metal chain to each eye. Then attach agate slabs, seashells, or obsidian needles with bellcaps or glue-on leaf bails and jump rings.

Rock tumbling and "free-form" jewelry. Tumble small agates and jasper and top the best pieces with bell caps and jump rings to make necklaces and dangling pieces for bracelets.

Cabbing. Create domed cabs for brooches, belt buckles, necklaces, and bolo ties.

Flat-lapping. Create bookends or polished agates, geodes, and thunder egg halves.

Beading. Craft bracelets and necklaces with natural and synthetic beads and supplies purchased from a bead store.

Wirewrapping. With brass or copper wire, turn fossil shark teeth into necklaces or wrap a cab to hang from a necklace.

Gemstone trees. Small, polished gemstone chips from a tumbler can be transformed into leaves when glued onto tree limbs swirling out of twisted copper wires.

Carving and sculpting. Soft rocks like soapstone or alabaster can be carved and shaped fairly easily with metal awls, files, and sandpaper.

Flint knapping. Turn flint, agate, or obsidian into arrowheads and knife blades. Knapping, though, can lead to nasty cuts, so appropriate training and precautions, along with eye protection, are mandatory!

Scrimshaw. Inscribe and ink scenes onto fossil ivory or tagua nuts.

Intarsia, inlays, and mosaics. This craft required much precision and patience.

Sphere making. You‘ll need an expensive machine and a lot of saw cuts!

Faceting. This requires expensive machinery and a lot of time and patience.

Forging glass beads. Due to the fire hazard, this is for your oldest juniors.

Metal smithing. Due to working with torches, this, too, is for your oldest juniors.

There are a variety of projects you can do with simple tumbled stones for very young kids. I noted free-form jewelry and light-catchers, above. In addition, kids can glue seashells and tumbled stones against a framed background in the shapes of flowers. Or they can coat a simple clay flowerpot with plaster or self-hardening clay and press in tumbled stones for a mosaic or inlay effect. If you have a club member with a drill who can drill a large number of tumbled stones for you kids, you can teach them to make bead necklaces with free-form tumbled stones.

Resources to Guide You in Choosing and Practicing a Lapidary Art

Many magazines and books provide good ideas for lapidary projects. Some include:


Rock & Gem

Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist

Gems & Gemology


Ann Benson‘s Beadwork Basics (Sterling Publishing Company)

Jack R. Cox‘s Cabochon Cutting (Gem Guides Book Company)

Henry C. Dake‘s The Art of Gem Cutting (Gem Guides Book Company)

Pansy D. Kraus‘s Introduction to Lapidary (Krause Publications)

Tim McCreight‘s The Complete Metalsmith (David Publishing, Inc.)

Jinks McGrath‘s Jewelry Making (Chartwell Books, Inc.)

James R. Mitchell‘s The Rockhound’s Handbook (Gem Guides Book Company)

Edward J. Soukup‘s Facet Cutters Handbook (Gem Guides Book Company)

J. Wexler‘s How to Tumble Polish Gemstones (Gem Guides Book Company)

The Rio Grande company (suppliers of lapidary materials) allows you to access free how-to video clips on varied lapidary projects. Go to their web site and click on earn with Rio.

Your Own Local Experts:

In addition to books and videos, draw from the experience of your own adult club members in helping kids learn about the various lapidary arts they might try. Many clubs have an expert in cabbing, another in faceting, another in metal smithing, etc. In the Ventura (California) Gem and Mineral Society, member Wayne Ehlers sponsored cab-making workshops for kids and adults alike, and he prepared a set of handouts. In basic, step-by-step fashion, these included instructions for making a cab, useful hints, and a glossary of lapidary terms (what‘s a cab? a blank? a preform?). Who are the most experienced lapidary artists in your club? Work with them to prepare a set of handouts with simplified instructions and guidelines to distribute to your junior members, with emphasis on one or two basic arts (e.g., cutting and shaping a cab, wirewrapping, soapstone carving, rock tumbling and making freeform jewelry) to get kids‘ feet wet.