Saturday, April 05, 2008

Is there a lapidary in the house?

Don't worry, I haven't started putting rocks into my ice cream. We ice cream makers must always be on the lookout for inclusions that might chip a tooth. No, what you see above is the 'before' shot of a bunch of rocks about to go into my new (for Christmas) rock tumbler. I think I know what you're wondering now. Why would anyone want a rock polishing kit for Christmas? As if knowing what an 'ice-out' was, could I get any nerdier? You ask good questions.

Before I explain where my interest in the lapidary arts comes from, here's the new toy. Jealous yet?

When I was a kid, I remember my grandfather had a rock polisher. It was tucked away in a corner of his old decrepit detached garage. My brother and I would rummage around out there, looking for anything we could make into a weapon or a fishing pole. It was many years ago, but I still remember that slow and steady crunching sound eminating from the barrel of gramp's rock remake contraption. I swear I can clearly recall the smell of that musty garage - a gourmet medley of engine oil, dried lawn clippings on an old push lawnmower, and grit from that rock polisher. Why would I not want to recapture that aura in my own basement?

The magical thing I remember about that polisher is you put dingy old agates into it, add some metalicky powder, turn it on, and next time you open it, out come beautiful, colorful, shiny stone works of art. As a seven year old boy, I had no idea the process actually takes over a month and is actually a fair amount of work for both polisher and the human supervising.

This second part I quickly discovered during the past month of my lapidary initiation. The polishing process takes four steps. Each runs a week or so, and each involves a different strength of abrasives addded to an endlessly rotating stone water soup. The extreme makeover process begins with 60/90 grit followed by 120/220 then a prepolish compound and finally, a dose of polish compound. The first two steps are where most of the action takes place, which might explain why the barrel needs to be opened every day during this time. This allows the gases to diseminate, like opening a window, as you can see in the shot you just passed. I don't think the polisher would explode if you didn't do this, but I had no plans to find out, so I dilligently released the non-toxic rock gases as recommended in the instruction booklet.

I believe the shot above is after step 2 (120/220 grit in case you aren't taking notes). I almost abandoned the entire project after the first then the backup belts broke. This forced me to shut down the operation for a week while I patiently waited for replacement parts. I'm happy to say the breaking belt issue has been resolved with the new and obviously better belts from, or some such.
So here we are, five weeks since I set up my new rock polishing kit from Santa. Was it worth it? From a practical standpoint, probably not. I've now got a pile of smooth and shiny rocks that are about half as big as they were five weeks ago. Maybe I'll make a keychain or cool necklace out of the more interesting pieces. Or perhaps I'll just add them to my bell jar of smooth and shiny rocks I've collected over the years. Dare I say my pet rocks , if you'll indulge me the bad 70's reference.

So let's just throw out practical for a minute and see what we have left. I got to relive and savor a nice little memory of my youth and think about a great guy my Dad called Dad. His name was Joe, and he was just a hard-working family man. Who just happened to have a rock polisher in his garage.
There are definitely a few tasty metaphors in here too, something about life smoothing out our own edges, a thing of beauty takes time, good things come to those who wait...

Just for the record, one of my other off-season hobby adventures was brewing beer. Perhaps if polishing rocks and watching ice melt hasn't lit any fires under you, this may be a bit lower on the nerd scale for you. But come to think of it, I did learn how to use a hydrometer this time...
Thanks for listening.

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