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COLLECTING AND POLISHING STONES WITH WILLIS EZARD
by James Heck, Photography by Mary Schmalstig
Bittersweet Volume VII, No. 4, Summer 1980
In Willis Ezard's workroom, full of hundreds of rocks and numerous rock working equipment, there is a sign that says: OLD ROCKHOUNDS NEVER DIE...They just slowly PETRIFY." Mr. Ezard is a rockhound, all right, having tramped over fields, mountains and valleys all over the united States since 1936, digging, panning and sifting for rocks, but he is far from being petrified. A visit to his garage and shop opens a whole new world of beauty, both in gemstones and the common rocks which can be found most anywhere.
"At first I became interested in arrowhead, Indian stone work and artifacts, he said, "but the field got pretty well picked over, so I decided that I would switch to gemstone collecting. I still have the first two gemstones I ever had--a piece of petrified wood and a type of agate called moss agate because it has the characteristics of moss. There are little designs of moss in the rock. That was really the beginning of my gemstone hunting. I began forty-three years ago when I picked up my first stone."
Mr. Ezard has several different kinds of stones which he cuts, polishes, facets and fashions in other ways, such as drilling holes in them and mounting them. He belongs to a club for rock collectors and subscribes to two lapidary magazines--The Lapidary Journal and Rock and Gem.
Lapidary work is the cutting or shaping, polishing and engraving of precious and semi-precious stones or glass. In lapidary work the person collects or buys stones and then cuts them or polishes them.
Mr. Ezard holds up a piece of smokey quartz. In the background you can see the vibrator polisher and several different kinds of rocks.
A rock collector or "rockhound" needs to study books and talk with people about different stones and where they can be found. He picks up rocks on vacations or takes special trips to look for them. His eyes are always on the ground, analyzing the rocks he steps on, always on the lookout for a new rock or gem to add to his collection. In its natural setting it takes an experienced person to spot a gemstone or special rock, but there are many ordinary rocks that when polished will make very nice stones.
A close-up of some smokey quartz. Notice the points whose sides are naturally perfectly smooth and parallel in all types of quartz.
When the collector finds a rock and wants to get an idea of what it will look like when polished, he chips off a piece and spits on it or washes it off, because the moisture brings out the true coloring.
After he has collected the rocks, the collector needs different tools and machines to fashion the rocks to enhance their beauty and value. These can be simple tools or very specialized equipment.
Some of the tools that might be used in a small simple collection are a rock hammer, chisel and polishing kit with a tumbler. A more specialized collector might have several different saws for cutting rocks, several polishers, including a vibrator polisher and tumbler, drills of all sizes, and perhaps even a faceting machine. Following are descriptions of some of the tools and machines which Mr. Ezard uses.
The saws needed are all sizes from small hand saws to the larger table saws that have diamond-embedded blades. While the stone is clamped in place on the table saw, and with kerosene and crankcase oil as cooling lubricants, the blade slowly cuts through the stone. The saws range from a large 20 inch saw to those that are not really saws but have a disk-like, diamond-embedded blade about the size of a quarter. This blade, used for trimming or cutting smaller stones, is on a short rod that fits into a tool like a power hand drill which rotates it.
In polishing there are two types of machines that most rock collectors use. One is the vibrator polisher usually used on larger stones, which grinds away the stones straight on one side. Stones are put in a round tray on the polisher. Then the vibrator moves back and forth very fast to make a flat surface on the stone. Different sizes of grit are placed in the tray at different stages during the four or five days it takes to polish the stone. The polisher is usually turned off during the night to prevent the water coolant from evaporating.
The other polisher is the tumbler, usually used to polish the smaller gems and the smaller pretty stones the collector picks up. The machine is simply a small motor which rotates a can that is filled with stones and different polishing substances for different stages of the tumbling. This polishing takes several weeks as it relies on the natural friction to smooth the rocks.
Drills are sometimes used in lapidary work to make holes in small rocks to put them on a chain or wire for a necklace or bracelet. Table drills are best for they are steadier. Rock collectors are ingenious in devising equipment. Mr. Ezard makes good use of an old dental drill with its overhead light and drills which can be altered to make a buffer or sander as well.
Willis Ezard's large collection of quartz includes the sample of crystal quartz shown here.
A geode after it has been cut in half and washed off is very pretty.
Faceting, another part of lapidary work, is grinding down the sides of a stone to put different angles or cuts to make them look more brilliant. This work is done on diamonds, rubies, emeralds and most other gemstones.
There are different types of facets such as the brilliant cut which has fifty-eight facets and others with up to 178 or more facets such as the emerald, cabochon cushion, modified brilliant, heart-shaped faceted and oval cut. In the typical brilliant cut there are several angles with different names, such as crown, upper gridle facet, girdle, pavillion facet, cutlet, lower gridle facet, star facet and the bezel facet.
The collector can put as many facets in a stone as he wants as long as the stone is big enough using different cuts. The stone is cemented onto an arm of the faceting machine. The arm which holds the stone while it is being ground on the wheel can be set at different angles to cut certain sides in a stone. You can barely see the stone on the end of the arm when it is down around one-half to one carat.
While water drops on it to keep it cool, the stones are ground away by diamond-empregnated laps which have different sizes of grits to do different things. Grits from 1,200 to 250 are used for grinding. The 250 grit lap will grind a stone down in a hurry, while a 3,000 grit lap is used to prepolish.
When the stone is rough, it may be, for example, two and a half carats, and when it is finished, it will be about a half carat, but it could be worth $300 to $400 or more depending on what kind of stone it is.
Carats are the measurement of a gemstone. One carat is 0.2 gram, or about .117 ounce. The value of gems depend on four factors--beauty, rarity, durability and the current style.
There are many uses for stones, the most obvious being jewelry, but they are used for ornaments, paper weights, door stops and many other decorative uses. Some like gold and silver can be melted down and used in thousands of ways like making chains and ring mountings and several other things including a basis for the monetary system of the world.
The cost of stones is not fixed in one price as it varies from almost nothing to millions of dollars. Prices are different in different places and fluctuate with the market.
THE ORDINARY AND NOT SO ORDINARY STONES
Missouri and Arkansas have lots of rocks as anyone knows who has tried to dig a hole, but unfortunately the states have few gemstones. Some of the attractive and collectible stones found in Missouri and Arkansas are quartz, jasper, geodes and a few others. One of the prettiest and most interesting stones is quartz. The three major kinds of quartz are crystal quartz, smokey quartz and Drusey quartz. In Missouri a lot of Drusey quartz is found in the eastern part of the state near Potosi, Bismarck and Flat River.
Quartz is formed by supersaturation of water with a silicate which then solidifies. Quartz always has the same characteristic form. There are points that project from a base which are prism-like with parallel opposite sides. That means that if you broke off a point and set it on a flat surface, the top would be flat. The point has many flat sides, but for each side, there is one parallel to it.
There are places to mine quartz where the collector pays so much for what he finds and other places where he can go just to buy rocks that have been mined already. Quartz bought off of a table costs from one to ten dollars or more a pound. The collector can usually barter for a group of rocks and sometimes gets a real bargain.
The drawing shows the parts of a brilliant cut in faceting.
A geode is cut in half with a special blade on a table saw.
The geode halves are put in a vibrator polisher to polish it until it is smooth.
Crystal quartz, as its name implies, is clear in color. Smokey quartz is a ferrous color that varies from brownish-black to clear and is found on Mt. Anters in Colorado. Drusey quartz has very small points and is clear to yellowish color.
Mozarkite is the Missouri state gemstone. It is found in the Lincoln vicinity in west-central Missouri. It is a brightly colored agate flint rock which is becoming popular in jewelry making. The stones are usually fashioned into cabochon cuts.
Perhaps the most unique of all stones is the geode. It is interesting because of the way it changes in layers from a rough outside to a pretty and hollow inside. Though geodes are the gemstones of Missouri, they don't look like much when picked up, for the outside looks like an ordinary rough, roundish rock. But inside it is hollow with little crystal formations, like miniature pieces of smokey or crystal quartz. The rocks are formed as a solid ball, and then through the ages the action of water precipitates out some of the material while the rest of it solidifies to make the characteristic shapes.
To get into the hollow part without breaking the rock apart, the collector has to saw through it with a rock saw which has a diamond-embedded blade, and he needs to use kerosene and crankcase oil for a coolant. This process takes a long time and must be done carefully. The rock must be clamped into place very tightly before cutting or it may go flying out as soon as the blade starts.
When the geode has been cut in half, the crystal formations and different layers become visible. Geodes that are solid inside are called thundereggs.
After the geode is cut in half, a vibrator polisher is used to polish the cut surfaces. For four to five days the machine vibrates the geodes on the flat side to smooth and polish them, taking two or three different grades of grit to get it smooth and polished. Some collectors bleach geodes with acetic acid to make them whiter.
Jasper is another stone found in Missouri almost anywhere in gravel bars by the rivers, on gravel roads, or in a pasture. It is a smooth, small, brown, flint like rock, varying from deep red to light brown color. It is found more extensively than any other semi-precious gemstone.
There are rocks that are not really gemstones and are expensive and others that are almost worthless but can be pretty. These are rocks like flint and Creede bacon down to little rocks anyone can pick up in back yard or driveway.
Flint is a rock that has several colors and is found in many places including the Ozarks. It looks good when it is cut and polished in a vibrator polisher. Sometimes people are lucky enough to find a piece formed by Indians into an arrowhead or some other artifact.
Though not found in the Ozarks Creede bacon is another attractive rock not worth much. It is from Creede, Colorado, a little mining town which opened up about 1849 and is famous for its silver mining. The Creede bacon is a mixture of amethyst and agate and one or two other minerals. The word bacon is in the name because when it is cut and polished, stripes like bacon become visible, only the color is a purplish-blue instead of a red color.
Willis Ezard shows how to facet a ruby on a faceting machine. Water drops cool it.
He uses the diagrams to facet the ruby at the end of the arm. The gears on the arm are used to set the angles that the stone is cut. ( photos by Mike King)
Gemstones are the prettier, more expensive stones which are usually faceted and mounted into different types of jewelry or displayed on a piece of cotton or felt.
The main gemstones are: diamond, ruby, sapphire, emerald, topaz, amethyst, agate, tiger's eye, jade, lapis lazuli, opal and turquoise. Of all these stones, the agate is just about the only one found in Missouri though several of the others are found in other places in the United States, such as, diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, topaz quartz, amethyst, opals, and turquoise.
Diamonds are the hardest and most precious of all stones with a hardness point of 10, the highest on the scale. The colors of diamonds range from colorless to yellow, brown, light red, blue, green and violet. Africa produces more than one-half of the world's diamonds.
The ruby, from the Corundum group, has a hardness point of 9 and is a red color. Rubies and sapphires are the same stone except for color. The sapphire has several colors such as blue, purple, yellow, orange, green and colorless. A blue ruby is a sapphire and a red sapphire is really a ruby.
The different kinds of Missouri gemstones including flint, jasper and Drusey quartz.
Geodes are hollow while the thunder eggs have solid centers.
This close-up of Lake Superior agate shows the tiny lines in the stone.
The emerald from the Beryl group has a hardness point of 7.5 to 8 and is an intense green color. The emerald is one of the three semi-precious stones.
Topaz has a hardness point of 8 and is brown, yellow, blue, light red or colorless, while topaz quartz or citrine is a very pretty yellow to brown stone with a hardness of 7.
Amethyst is also a form of quartz with a hardness point of 7. Amethyst is found on Mt. Antero in Colorado, a 14,000 foot peak, second highest peak in the world where gemstones are found.
The agate, a type of quartz with a hardness point of 7, comes in various colors. The one that might be found in Missouri is the Lake Superior agate which is washed down onto the gravel bars on the Mississippi River from Lake Superior.
Tiger's eye, a type or quartz with a hardness of 7, is brown with a silky luster or is sometimes dyed other colors.
There are two groups of jade jadeite and nephrite. The jadeite is in the 6.5 hardness group and the nephrite is from 6 to 6.5. The jadeite is green, yellow, white, violet and brown, while the nephrite has all the above colors plus gray and black. In the United States jade is found mostly in Florida.
Lapis lazuli of the lazurite group has a hardness of 6 to 6.5 with an intense dark blue with flecks of yellow pyrite color to it. Lapis lazuli is a pretty stone from Afghanistan that was first brought to Europe by Marco Polo.
Another very pretty rock, the opal is softer than a lot of the other rocks with a 5 to 6.5 hardness point. Opals range from white or dark gray to black background with vivid flashes of color in patches. The black opal is from Australia and Mexico and looks almost green rather than black. In the United States Nevada is first in production and Idaho and Arizona are probably next. Most opals have a matrix around them which is as hard as the rock itself. The matrix looks like clay that has hardened around the opal and is sometimes left around the stone to prove it is genuine.
Turquoise is a light blue stone, with a hardness point of 5 to 6. Turquoise was used by the American Indians of the Southwest to make jewelry. There continues to be a profitable market for turquoise jewelry.
Perhaps the most important of all precious minerals is gold. Perhaps no other element has had as much influence historically than the search for and acquisition of gold.. Nor has its importance decreased. On the contrary its value today is greater than ever before. Because of its value, everyone would like to find gold, and panning for gold is still a profitable venture if there is enough gold to pan. Mr. Ezard explained how to pan for gold using some gold ore he brought back from Canada.
First you need a gold pan which has baffles in it--little ridges along one side of the pan. Then put some of the ore in the pan and add enough water to wash the ore around in the pan. Swish the ore around, slowly washing out the pebbles and dirt. The baffles will help keep most of the gold from falling out of the pan but not all of it. Just keep washing out the dirt ore until you can't get much more out without losing all of the gold.
To separate the gold from the remaining impurities, use mercury because mercury has a specific gravity, or weight per cubic measure, so that everything but gold will float. The gold will be absorbed. Then after pouring off the particles that are floating, all that is left is the gold and mercury. The next step is to evaporate the mercury. But since evaporated mercury lets off a deadly gas, it must be done safely. There is a homemade way to do it. Hollow out a cavity in an average potato, pour the mercury and gold mixture in, put the other half of the potato on, and tie it together very tightly with wire. Then heat it in an oven that is well ventilated. Be sure to get away to not breathe any of the fumes, After a time the mercury will evaporate, leaving the gold.
(Note: Do not use mercury in this "home system". It is far too dangerous. Put some lard in front of the baffles. Gold sticks to this far better than sand and rocks. Scrape out the lard and boil it. The gold will sink to the bottom.)
Thunder eggs on the left and Creede bacon on the right with Tiger's eye in the foreground.
Crystal quartz and Drusey quartz can be used in rock gardens with other rocks in addition to being faceted.
With rapid inflation rates today, many people are looking for ways of holding on to their monetary value. For this and other reasons there is a growing interest in rock collecting as a fun and profitable hobby. Whether one goes into it seriously with a lot of equipment and investments in stones of high value, or whether interested only in collection, polishing and enjoying pretty rocks and stones found on hikes and excursions, there seems to be lots of room for professionals, amateurs and beginners. One thing is certain--there are plenty of rocks left, especially in the Ozarks! And though not especially valuable, for decorative and asthetic purposes they are precious.