Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Cabbing: The Good; The Bad; The Ugly

I'm terribly excited and distracted, but I will try to be coherent. I think it will be easiest just to show you. What do you want first? The good, the bad or the ugly? Let's start with the good. :)

Graveyard Pt. Plume Agate Cabochon
The cab above was the first one that I cut with my Genie and I did it (for the first time) last night. It was my first agate, too. I love the metallic bits at the top of the plumes. I looked it over and decided that I could do better, so this morning, first off, I repolished it. This picture was taken before I hit it with the final 14,000 grit. It is even more shiny now. This is the good. The beginner's luck. :) The polish is great, the cut is almost perfect and the positioning of the pattern is pretty.

Before I move onto the bad, let's take a look at the steps involved to get the good. Of course, last night, I was way too excited to stop and take pictures for you, so I recreated the cab experience just for you. :)

Graveyard Pt. Plume Agate Slab
 The picture above is of the same slab that I cut the first cab from. I got the slab from a woman on eBay who graciously labeled all the slabs in the lb lots that I bought from her. Turns out she teaches cabbing at her local rock club. You can meet the nicest people on eBay. :) But, I digress.

First you need to examine the rock/slab for fractures and whether or not they are healed. Then you need to find an interesting area which you think would make a nice cab.

Mark Up Your Cab
You can see, I chose a nice section. I used a Sharpie, but I usually use a pencil, and marked the area with a template. Simple, right? Well, no. I ran into some problems with this. My son actually took this slab to the trim saw and was cutting it out when a big piece of the back broke out. So, I had to remark the slab for a cab that would fit in the undamaged area. (Sorry, no photos of that fiasco.) These things happen. I looked it over real good and thought that section would be solid. Obviously, it was not. What I ended up with was a different shape.

The picture below was one my daughter took with her camera while I was working. It's a different cab, but pretend it is graveyard plume. (Yes, the kids had to come over and see Mom's new toy.)

At The Wheel
 Many of you may have noticed that I typically have long nails. Make that-- did have long nails. After using Randy's genie, I knew I had to cut them, but I didn't cut them short enough. The polishing wheels helped with that. :)

Anyone familiar with cabbing, might note that I am not using a dop stick. (The stick with sticky wax on it used to hold your preforms/blanks.) It is a real challenge for me and my old, short, fat, arthritic fingers to do this without one. I can see me purchasing yet another tool in my near future. Besides, I like my nails. A lot. 

After spending a fair amount of time at the wheels, going through coarse to fine, I finished up another graveyard plume. This one came out lovely. The size and shape remained true and the polish was good. However, there wasn't as many metal highlights in the cab.

Terrible picture, but you can see the shape is pretty good.
Here you can see a little of the metal

I gave up trying to get a picture of the gloss. You'll have to trust me on this. Taking pictures of stones alone is going to be something to learn. I usually use a polarizing filter on my camera to cut glare on metal. I think I need to remove it to get the shine on rocks. I'll need to try that next time.

That was the good. I am famous for having beginner's luck. The day was going too well. I was feeling confident. I had worked enough agate to break in the wheels. It was time for one of the lovely jasper preforms. I chose a really cool Tornado Jasper to try next. I found out while working this one, that wearing optivisors is probably a good idea. You'll see why.

Tornado Jasper (See the hematite?)

 The picture below looks pretty good, too, right??

Have another look. At first glance, this seems perfectly acceptable. But, on closer inspection..... extra facet close to the edge. At first, I was just disappointed with the dull shine. (More on that later.) I put my optivisors on to examine it closer. Then, I began to notice the little things that mean the difference between pro and amateur. Like the uneven bezel in the picture below.

At this point in the day, I had to put the Genie back in the bottle. DH was on his way home, and I had a huge mess on the kitchen table. He wouldn't say anything, but, well, I'm just thoughtful like that. Anyway, I resolved to repair these issues tomorrow and work through the polishing wheels again to try and get a better polish. I'm thinking it should get a better shine, but I have never seen a finished cab of this material before, so I'm not sure. I do love it, either way. It is much prettier than my pictures indicate.

That was the bad, but the bad still had hope. There was no hope for the ugly.

I am learning that sometimes there is no hope. I began these two with the hope of finishing some interesting looking cabs. One- the lower, Burro Creek Agate- had a super cool looking alien face in it. The upper one- some kind of agate- had a cool pattern, too. I began on the 80 grit wheel to shape them both, but both had pieces break off. In fairness to both the rocks and myself, I knew each section of rock had problems, but I was hoping against the odds that I could salvage them. (Why do I always try to do the near impossible as a newbie??) With each chip or break, I simply refused to give up and tried in vain to salvage them. At the point in which you see them pictured, I decided to let them of the hook with some dignity left. In the image of me at the wheel, it is a much larger version of this burro creek agate that I am working on. It shrank. :)

I am glad for the ugly, they both taught me an invaluable lesson or two. First, you can't win if you don't play. And, equally important- Know your limits and in my case, ignore them. I wouldn't have learned better how to evaluate a rock if I hadn't given them a shot.

That sums up my day's adventure.

I hope you enjoyed this post. I enjoyed putting it together. I won't bore you with every rock adventure I have, just let this be an introduction to my new fascination. Well, cabbing stones is one, but there are two others that are equally cool and I'll let you know about those soon, too. :) And, let's not forget that I haven't even the broached subject of the rolling mill, yet. But, I'll be getting to that, too. Now that I am cutting my own rocks, we'll see how I can combine the rolling mill with cabs. :)


  1. You're having too much fun, Tela! My instructor told me just last week she had a 100 grit wheel as her first in the series because the 80 was "just too aggressive." She noted that it could cause chips and even fractures to some of the more "delicate" stones. Also, have you heard of some of the fillers you can use to fill those fractures; even the little pits (which I usually like, anyway!)

    ~ Robin

  2. Oh, and Tela -- that Graveyard Point of yours -- that's what it's all about!! Love it.

    1. Thank you! :) I have never been especially fond of agates, in general, but I must say, I really do like this. The little metal bits are so visually interesting.

      I am looking at the link you mentioned before and looking at the thread on fillers. I have a tiny piece of some outstanding, drop dead Parrot Wing and it will need some help. I am setting it on the back burner until I trust myself not to destroy it. I have never seen any green like this!

      Yes, the 80 is very aggressive. I'm thinking a lot of stones could easily skip it.

  3. What a wonderful post on your cabbing adventures. I had to chuckle though about the part about your nails. They are indeed in grave danger without a dop stick!

    1. Oh yeah! Spent the day at it again and was working a cab while I smelled burning hair. Oops! That wasn't burning hair! LOL!

      I want to get the dopping station in a week or so.

  4. I love reading about your rock adventures! I'm like you, I've always loved rocks, and it was only 'later in life' was I able to pursue it. I'm looking forward to reading future rocky adventures!

    1. I went through a gemstone phase, which didn't last long. They just never held my interest the way cabs do. Cabs are truly one of kind. I wish I had learned this earlier, but better late than never. :)

  5. Hey Tela, How fun to read along with your cabbing adventures. I can feel the excitement through your words about this new journey. Each piece you work on will teach you something new..even the ugly. Alas, I am sorry about your gorgeous nails but I am sure you will reach a compromise.
    Thanks for sharing. Amazing to realize you have a rolling mill to also conquer. I will live vicariously through your adventures!

    1. Hi Christine :) I'm really happy that you like to hear my stories. I have a million and I'm afraid to tell them all for fear of putting everyone to sleep! LOL! You know, like your cousin's vacation pictures. :)

  6. I love the graveyard plume! So pretty, and you did a great job cutting it. :)

    Your adventures in cabbing are so exciting to me! Until now I had no idea how stones were cut to make cabs, so this is fascinating -- and I hope you share some more of your process in the future!

    1. Hi Sarah :) I want you to know I am a faithful reader of yours. I love your blog! It makes me feel like I could do soooo much better with mine. :)

      I do plan to get into some more of the process. I just got finished with some pictures and will do another blog soon. I get so caught up in what I am doing, that I almost forget to take pictures. :)

  7. Thank you, thank you, Tela, for sharing all of this! Ditto Christine's comment about feeling your excitement!

    I really like how you walked us through the plume agate project, from slab through completion. I'm looking forward to seeing it in wire!

    Don't worry about your blog being boring ... it would never happen! Your adventures and stories are always interesting and entertaining.


    1. No, Thank YOU, Joyce! I'm really glad for the feedback. I would probably write with no readers, but it is so nice to have friends follow along. :) I really appreciate your comment. :)

  8. Great looking cabs. I wish mine looked as good!

    Our club uses an old iron turned upside down in a homemade wood frame to heat the wax for doping in an old tin can. It been used for years and seems to do the job even though it's not beautiful.

    I was also told by members of my club that you can soak a stone that has cracks in Opticon to seal up fractures before cabbing. ( I've never had any personal experience with it but if you have a slab that is something special and has a fracture it would be worth a try.


Thank you for sharing your thoughts and comments.