DIY stone carving

Posted by John Coxon on

Interested in learning how to carve gemstone or hard stone? It needn't be as expensive as you think it might be.

Yes, in a perfect world you would have access to a well equipped studio workshop, with every imaginable tool at your fingertips, however you don't need that to get started. A shed full of tools won't create great art or give you a lot of satisfaction.

If you are able to wander along to a gem club that is the best starting point. These places are loaded with experienced people wanting to share their knowledge and you will have access to every tool you will need for a very affordable price.

For those that don't have access to a gem club - start small! Find a small piece of colourful rock or stone, the smoother the better. Beaches and waterways are good places to find water worn stones. 

Stone carving is an abrasive process. We reduce the stone into its desired shape by grinding away excess stone. Sketch out a basic design that utilises as much of the original stone material as practical. Use a pencil, a black marker or even scratch the design on with a sharp tool.

Create an abrasive material. Ideally you would use a piece of carborundum, or wet & dry paper or a grinding wheel if you have one. In the absence of all those wonders of nature or technology, a slurry of sand and water applied repeatedly over a very long time will achieve a carved shape, along with repetitive strain injury.

Regardless of what stone or tools you have, find something and get started. Enjoy the satisfaction of creating something with your own hands. Always keep your first created piece - to remind you of where you have come from.

Can't access the collective knowledge of others but have access to the internet. Go to YouTube. All the lessons you will ever need are there for free. If you have access to Facebook then join one of the many Jade and stone carving groups. You will learn a hellava lot from some good people, while enjoying the vicarious pleasure from deleting the dickheads.

I started bone carving in 2007 by reading and following instructions from a book written by Stepen Myhre. I was taught the basics of Jade carving by Steve Gwaliasi at Bonz 'n' Stones in Hokitika in Aotearoa/New Zealand, between 2010-2016, and learned by observing other carvers, I joined my local gemclub in 2017 and it wasn't until 2019 that I set up my fully equipped studio workshop. In between I used whatever tools I could lay my hands upon and I carved bone, timber, hard stone and soft stone. My first bone carving was created with a hacksaw, some industrial files and lots of sandpaper. After all those years I am still learning.

If you know someone with a workshop (nah dont ask to use their tools, that is a recipe for disaster), but ask them if they might cut some material into preformed shapes for you. Then you do the finishing work, final shaping, fine sanding and polishing. A lot can be achieved with a set of diamond files, sanding stones, wet & dry, a leather pad, some cerium powder and a lot of elbow grease while watching television.

Finally, to get started, avoid getting hung up on a particular stone. Choose something interesting, something that is readily available, that is easily worked, gain confidence and work from there.

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