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This list digest contains the following message subjects:

1. LapDigest News for Issue No. 160 - Wed 7/28/98
2. SPHERES: Sphere Making on a 3-Head Small Machine
3. SPHERES: Where To Get Motors for Sphere Machines
4. SPHERES: Making the Preform
5. SPHERES: Bibliography of Sphere Making
6. SPHERES: Sphere Maker List
7. SPHERES: Sphere Maker's List
8. SPHERES: Some Comments
9. SPHERES: Comments on Issue 1
10. SPHERES: Sphere making machines
11. SPHERES: List of Members Who Do Sphere-Making


Subject: LapDigest News for Issue No. 160 - Wed 7/28/98

This is the second part of the issue on sphere making. I hope
you have enjoyed this topic .. I know that I have learned a
lot! I want to thank all who have contributed to these two

Went to the three Gem Shows in Franklin NC this past weekend.
Met Tim Vogle (a LapDigest list member), who sells and cuts
Honduran opal. After long talks with him, I am now planning a
whole issue on this subject. If you have cut Honduran Opal,
please write and tell me so! With Tim, Arthur Mott and a few
others, we should be able to produce a fine issue on this

It was wonderfully cool in the mountains ... slept under a
blanket with the windows open!

Stay well, and have fun!


Subject: SPHERES: Sphere Making on a 3-Head Small Machine

Instructions and diagrams for making a small sphere machine
were published in two parts in the September and October 1968
issues of Lapidary Journal, and reprinted in August 1979.
Copies can usually be found at club sponsored shows and swaps
where used magazines are sold. Machine will not handle five
inch spheres but if inquirer is capable of constructing their
own machine, he should be able to upgrade size and motors for
bigger spheres.

The most difficult task is acquisition of high torque, geared,
motors. New ones are quite expensive. Used ones can sometimes
be found at electrical surplus and/or used equipment dealers
such as United in Philadelphia. Motor must be geared down to
or below 100 rpm. 60 to 75 rmp is the most desirable.
Suitable grinding heads are black iron (gas line) reducer
fittings. Galvanized are unsuitable as they are surface
brittle and tend to chip and scratch the stone.

Grinding and polishing a sphere is like all other lapidary
operations. The steps are:

1. Selecting solid and well patterned rough.
2. Preforming, in this case sawing a perfect cube, which
determines maximum diameter of sphere that can be obtained.
Sawing off the cube corners at a 45 degree angle;
3. Continuing preform by grinding off rest of corners while
holding by hand on lapidary wheel;
4. Placing preform in machine and then coarse grinding till
all flat spots are removed; going next to medium grind;
and finally a fine grind;
5. Polish can be achieved on the machine or by hand holding
completed sphere to polishing wheel, drum, or disk.

Like all other lapidary methods or operations there are as
many different methods used in sphere making as there are
sphere makers. The following description is how I make

1. Goal is to get the largest cube I can get from the
selected rough. Saw one flat surface at point of selected
dimension, or if a cabber, slab up to that point. This flat
surface is then placed against a flat stationary surface of
saw vise to make the 2nd cut at an exact right angle to the
first cut and again to achieve the desired finished cube
dimension. Keeping the 1st flat as the base, the 2nd flat is
rotated 90 degrees to make the 3rd cut at exactly 90 degrees
to the 1st and second cuts. If your saw vise is not accurate
or has play from wear and tear, you'll have to use a square
and wedges to get the exact 90 degrees. You now have the
base flat and two sides to the cube. Rotate 90 degrees for
the 4th cut. This cut must be the exact dimension of the
finished cube measuring across from 2nd cut. Again you can
slab up to that point, but you must be accurate for the
proper cube dimension. You now have the base flat and 3
sides of the cube. Rotate 90 degrees and accurately cut the
last side to cube dimension. Next you must rotate the cube
off the base and cut the 6th and final side of the cube to
the exact cube dimension.

2. Next step is to remove corners of the cube by sawing.
I cut the corners off by clamping the cube in the vise at a
45 degree angle. I achieve this by using a hardwood, 1" x 4"
board which is the same length as the jaws of the saw vise.
Approximately 1/2" in from one end of the board, I saw a vee
notch 3/4ths of the thickness deep and across the width (4")
of the board. This board with vee notch is then clamped to
one of the faces of the vise using small C clamp with the
notched end flush with the saw blade side of the vise. Next,
I have prepared a series of wood blocks with a 45 degree
wedge end and short enough they don't strike any part of the
saw or carriage if they stick past the non-blade side of the
vise. These blocks vary in thickness up to 2"s and are used
to give an exact 45 degree alignment to the cube when a
corner is placed in the vee notch. Thickness used varies with
the size of the cube so the thickness of the wedge can't
interfere with the closure of the vise on the cube, yet you
desire the greatest stability of the cube, clamped by its
corners, at the 45 degree angle.

After clamping the board with the vee notch to the vise face,
measure the distance from the bottom of the vee notch to the
saw blade, remembering to measure at the very outer edge of
the blade where it is the thickest. You then adjust the
distance of the bottom of the vee notch to exactly 1/2 the
cube dimension from the saw blade by moving the vise toward
or away from the blade. The vise must remain in this
position for the remainder of the sawing.

3. After completing saw cuts, take the piece to the coarse
grinding wheel and grind off all corners using a rounding
motion to create a ball. Do not grind directly on any flat
center or you will reduce the size of the finished sphere.
The more hand grinding accomplished, the less time is needed
in the machine. The bigger the sphere, the longer it takes
and you may require several sessions as a two or three pound
rock can get quiet heavy fast. Once well rounded, but still
with flat faces which have been reduced in size, you are
ready for the machine work.

4. The motor shafts are fitted with a threaded pipe plug
which has a hole, the size of the shaft drilled thru its
center. This can be done on a drill press with a vise to
hold the plug centered or you can get it done at a machine
shop. The side of the plug head is tapped for a set screw to
hold the plug on the motor shaft. On a small machine for up
to 3" spheres, a 1/2" diameter plug is sufficient. On a
larger machine, a 3/4" plug is used. As previously stated,
reducers are used as grinding heads. The cutting side should
be 2/3rds the diameter of the sphere to be made or slightly
smaller. Thus for a 3 inch sphere you would use a 1/2" x 2"
reducer threaded on the plug on the shaft of each motor.

5. The cutting heads must be adjustable in and out from
the sphere center to be adjusted so that the motor shafts are
all horizontal when the cutting heads are engaged on the
piece. There must also be some provision to apply pressure,
either springs or threaded screws through plates to move the
plates holding the motors, to the piece. The important point
here is that shafts must be horizontal. If they are elevated
above horizontal at the piece, the piece will eject from the
top. If they are below the horizontal, the piece will eject
at the bottom.

Once the piece is in and the heads adjusted into position, a
short trial run is done to see if the piece is going to stay
in the machine. If ejected, watch your toes and make
adjustments in pressure and check to make sure the shafts are
horizontal. If the piece stays in you are ready for the
rough grind.

6. Grinding is accomplished using 60-90 silicon carbide.
First the piece is wetted with water. I use an ordinary
household spray bottle. This serves to hold the grit on the
heads and the piece. The grit is then sprinkled on the top
of the sphere as it rotates and grinding begins and proceeds
with spraying, then grit, each time the grinding noise dies
out as the grit is worn out. Household mustard and/or catsup
dispensers make good grit applicators. The important point
in grinding is that the piece must be constantly in motion,
turning in all directions. If it stops for more than a
moment, the heads will cut grooves and the piece is lost as
there is no way to get it to rotate over the grooves. Such
an event would require either hand grinding out the grooves
or going back to the saw .. Thus it is imperative that you be
in attendance at all times to assure that the piece is
rotating and revolving in the machine.

Grinding continues until all flats are gone. This will occur
uniformly with a good saw job. If your saw work was not
accurate, you may end up with one or two flat spots that
require much more time to remove because your grinding
surface increases as the flats get smaller. Once all the
flats are removed, take the piece out and wash it off.
Examine it closely in good light to be sure all flats are
gone. If not removed with the coarse grit it takes a long
time in the medium grit to get them out. If all is well,
clean up the grinding heads or replace with another clean set
of the same size.

The next grind is with 220 grit and can usually be done in
2-3 hours for a three inch sphere. Less time for smaller,
longer time for larger. As soon as you are satisfied that
the 80-90 grit scratches are gone, remove the piece, wash,
clean the heads or replace with clean ones and grind with
600 grit until the sphere is smooth and free of scratches.
Again remove and wash the sphere and the heads.

Some grinding notes are: can use the heads until worn down to the point they
are getting smaller than the original diameter. careful in handling the heads or taking the piece in or
out as the cutting edges become knifelike and very sharp.
..adjust pressure of the heads on the stone as needed to
keep it revolving and rotating.
..loosen if turning only in one direction.
..take extra care to keep grit out of motors when applying
to the piece in the machine.

I polish on the machine using leather and tin and/or cerium
oxide. Friends buy old leather coats and vests at garage
sales to keep me supplied, or you can buy pieces of hide at
leather hobby stores. I use plastic pipe fittings for
polishing heads, but you can use the cast iron reducers if
you desire. Using the cutting heads will usually result in
rapid cut through the leather due to the sharp edges created
during grinding. The plastic ones are fittings to connect
plastic pipe to threaded metal or plastic thus you would need
a 1/2" threaded with a 2" opening for a glue joint on the
plastic pipe. I cut a square of leather sufficient to cover
the open end and sides of the fitting and I use radiator or
hose expansion clamps to hold the leather in place on the
fitting. Some use rubber bands to hold the leather in place.

The cleaned sphere is placed between the heads just as when
grinding and the heads adjusted so that the motor shafts are
horizontal. The piece is wetted and the polish sprinkled on
dry or you can mix the polish in water in a spray bottle and
apply by spraying. It usually takes about an hour to obtain
a good polish.

As previously mentioned, you can also hand hold the sphere
and polish using wheels or discs with felt, leather, or
whatever your favorite polish media is for the material from
which the sphere was made.

Some final suggestions are:

1. It is usually more beneficial to buy the cutting and
polishing heads at a plumbing wholesale supply than trying
to find 3 of each size at your local hardware or
discount store. If you are thinking big, a 6 inch sphere
will need a four inch reducer, which sells for about
$30.00 each. Smaller ones are much more reasonable.

2. One of the most difficult tasks is obtaining solid,
fracture-free, rough material.

3. Like most, if not all lapidary operations, it
can't be done on fast track.

Good luck!

John Blue

Permission to republish and reprint is granted.

Subject: SPHERES: Where To Get Motors for Sphere Machines

Several people have asked about a source for sphere machine
motors; here is what I use and where I get them. As of
4/8/98 they said they have "many" but since these are surplus
and removed from equipment, other sources have run out.

C & H Sales Company
P.O. Box 5356
Pasadena, CA 91117-9988
(800) 325-9465
FAX: (626) 796-4875

Stock # ACGM8008 $34.50 ea. (includes 10uf run capacitor).

G.E. Mina Gear Motor, 105.7 RPM, 115 VAC 60 Hz, 1.1 Ampere,
internal fan, continuous duty, 30 in-lbs. torque. Output
shaft is 1/2" dia. x 1-3/16" long. Overall 4-3/4" dia.
x 8-1/4" long.

Request a free catalog if you're into motors; they have many
other models, some more powerful (but costly) that would
probably work for a large 8-12" sphere machine.

I am in no way associated with this company.

Wayne Moorhead
San Diego Mineral & Gem Society
San Diego, CA 92121

"-- non-commercial republish permission granted --"

Subject: SPHERES: Making the Preform

If you're making spheres and using a jig that holds the cube
at a 45 degree angle to the blade, here's the chart for
finding the distance from the saw blade to the corner (back)
of the jig. It's a linear function so if you are doing
bigger or smaller spheres the formula is:

distance = cube size * 1.207415

C= Cube Size (")
M=Distance to back of jig

C" M" C" M" C" M"
----- ------ ----- ------ ----- ------
2 2-7/16 2-1/4 2-3/4 2-1/2 3-1/16
2 3/4 3 3/8 3 3-5/8 3-1/4 3-15/16
3-1/2 4-1/4 3-3/4 4-9/16 4 4-7/8
4-1/4 5-3/16 4-1/2 5-7/16 4-3/4 5-3/4
5 6-1/16 5-1/4 6-3/8 5-1/2 6-11/16
5-3/4 7 6 7- 1/4 6-1/4 7-9/16
6-1/2 7 7/8 6-3/4 8-3/16 7 8-1/2
7-1/4 8-3/16 7-1/2 9-1/16 7-3/4 9-3/8
8 9-11/16 8-1/4 10 8-1/2 10-5/16
8-3/4 10-5/8 9 10-7/8 9-1/4 11-3/16
9-1/2 11-1/2 9-3/4 11-13/16 10 12-1/8

Tim Fisher, 1995 President, Pacific Fishery Biologists
Ore-ROCK-On Rockhounding Web Site WWW

-non-commercial republish permission granted-
Note: I prefer to think of 'depth of cut' (D), measured from
the sharp corner of the cube to the place where the blade
will cut the cube. Then the formula is: (D= 0.207 * C), where
C is the cube size, as above. hale

Subject: SPHERES: Bibliography of Sphere Making

My favorite reference on sphere making is Chapter 15 in
Sinkankas' GEM CUTTING: A Lapidary Manual. He covers quite a
bit in a short space!

There were a lot of articles published over the years in
Lapidary Journal, and Xerox copies of these are all available
now from Lapidary Digest for a nominal sum. They are listed
below; the number defines the location of the reference, as
follows: the first two digits define the year (65 = 1965),
the next two define the month (03 = March) and the last two
or three digits specify the starting page number.

You may order these directly from LJ by calling 800-676-GEMS.
The reprints are $2 each and $0.50 postage for each 5
reprints. (I think this price is right!) They do accept major
credit cards in payment. The last batch of reprints I ordered
took 10 days to arrive. Not bad!

The LJ references to sphere making are:

A Silver Necklace of Caged Spheres --- 65:03:1302
A Unique Sphere-End or Book Rack --- 59:06:336
Amateur Sphere Making 71:07:584
An Acrobatic Boilermaker and His Inlaid Projects -- 66:10:864
An Easier Way to Make a Sphere --- 77:06:732
An Easy way to Make Spheres and Eggs
(How to make a Sphere Machine) --- 83:01:1778
Atomium Tower of Spheres --- 58:10:480
Building a Three-Headed Sphere Machine- Part 1 --- 65:09:710
Building a Three-Headed Sphere Machine- Part 2 --- 65:10:813
Conglomerate : A New Approach ---70:07:645
Cutting a Sphere Within a Sphere --- 60:08:232
Don'ts in Sphere Cutting --- 56:02:520
Faceting a Sphere Directly from the Rough --- 73:08:840
Faceting Small Spheres --- 76:08:1242
Forming of Gemstone Beads and Small Spheres 64:03:1236
Have a Ball (Hollow composite sphere) --- 89:04:101
How to Make Fairburn Spheres --- 74:09:994
How to Cut Spheres on a Kitchen Mixer --- 60:06:186
How to Make a Sphere --- 66:04:247
How to Make Miniature Spheres or Marbles --- 66:06:495
Inlaid Marble Sphere 88:11:41
Linde star sapphire - Star Ball --- 76:03:2220
Man and Dragon Can be Made to Hold a Sphere --- 69:04:278
Metal Mountings for Spheres --- 50:04:34
More About Spinning Spheres and Beads --- 64:04:163
My Work Horse Sphere Machine
(How to Make A Sphere Machine) --- 59:02:772
On Our Cover ( Joseph and Florence Mathieu) --- 55:02:510
Photograph of the Mathieu Sphere Collection --- 53:10:326
Rockhound Creates Largest Sphere --- 57:02:530
Sphere Cutting --- 49:06:124
Sphere Faceting --- 74:02:1644
Spheres --- 88:06:71
Spheres and Spheres --- 70:04:190
The Art of Cabbing and Sphering on a Faceter -- 80:05:520
The Ashley Quartz Sphere --- 54:06:144
Cutting a Sphere Within a Sphere --- 60:08:232
Two Useful Grit-Feed Devices --- 63:08:537
Unusual Spheres Reported in Iran --- 58:10:547
Spheres Reported in Iran --- 58:10:547

References in Rock and Gem Magazine:

Spheres June 1972
He Makes Crystal Balls Feb 1975
Making Onyx Spheres April 1979
Making Abalone Spheres July 1988
He's Not Making Spheres Dec1988
Shape a Sphere June 1993
Master Sphere Cutter Mar 1998

Hale Sweeny
-Non-Commercial Republish Permission Granted-

Subject: SPHERES: Sphere Maker List

(I had asked everyone on the list who made spheres to write
and tell me that they did, and to tell me which machine they
used. I thought that compiling a list of our members who made
spheres would allow sphere makers to better communicate among
themselves. I would still appreciate your sending me your
name, if you make spheres. hale)

A list of sphere makers and e-mail addresses would be
interesting. I know about 10 sphere makers, although only a
few have e-mail. Perhaps the list would get them to become
web enabled! I know our club newsletter being on the web has
encouraged several older members to jump into computers--they
just needed an excuse.

John R. Duncan

Subject: SPHERES: Sphere Maker's List

I'm just starting to try my hand at sphere making, so I'm
interested in discussing the topic. But I'd prefer to keep it
here in the Lapidary Digest. Discussion groups and news
groups with little traffic tend to die. Also, I like to
follow the discussions on the other areas of lapidary, so
I'm reading the Digest anyway.

I bought one of the three headed machines from Richarson's.
Most of my my spheres are in the 2-3 inch range, mainly
limited to what I can cut on my 12" slab saw. I'm planning
on making some kind of jig for the saw to help position the
blank while I'm cutting the edges. The two biggest problems
I've seen, are getting the blank perfectly symmetrical, and
cracks in the material. The first (why I want the jig)
usually results in same flats that require extra grinding.
The second will require more careful examination of the rough.

When cracks are unavoidable, what have people used to seal

One other question. I've seen different references on the
number of cuts to rough out the blank. I cut a cube
(6 cuts), then cut off all 12 edges of the cube for a total
of 18 cuts. I've seem some references claim as many as 26
cuts. Are these cut differently, or just counting in some
strange way?

Art Berggreen
Santa Barbara Mineral and Gem Society

Subject: SPHERES: Some Comments


I appreciate this topic... I've been sphere making for a few
years myself.

I have a two head machine that on old codger here in Oregon
made for me for 275$. I don't have most of the problems
written about in the first article. One thing I've noticed
is that most machines I've seen have the motors mounted with
an upward tilt to them (the sphere rides higher than the
motors). My machine's motors are tilted at a slight DOWNWARD
angle. Maybe this is why I have no problems with the sphere
rotating in the same place? Also - The guy that made it has
several three head machines he has made and notices very
little difference in the time involved... he feels that the
cost of the extra motor (his cost/motor is about 110$) is too
much for the little that is gained.

I have a slightly different grit feed setup. I use wiper
motors I bought at a wrecking yard. I have 1/4 20 thread
screw attached to the motor shaft that runs through copper
tubing which is in turn run through a plastic container.
The copper tubing has a slot cut into it, which allows the
grit to enter (in other words, a worm feed system). The
motor is powered by a heavy duty electric train transformer.
The advantages are: 1. its cheap and easy to replace worn
parts; and 2. the speed is adjustable with the transformer.

Living in Oregon, I have seen the Richardson's operation a
few times. It IS a must see. Last time I was there, they
were making about a 30" sphere out of a petrified log from

One thing I have always wondered about... I know the need is
there for low RPMS and high torque during the shaping stages
(my motors are 110 rpms and 30ft/lbs torque), but I've always
felt that during the sanding stages, a higher rpm motor could
be used with less torque, thereby allowing for much cheaper
motors to be used. Anyone have any advice/experience with my

Mark Williams
non-commercial republish permission granted

Subject: SPHERES: Comments on Issue 1

(Tim Fisher wrote a note with comments on items in Issue 1,
which have been rearranged and edited as shown below:)

<<Richardson's Recreational Ranch ...(snip)... sells an
excellent machine of this type. >>

The machine is currently $695 new direct from Richardson's. I
have one and would highly recommend it. BTW the big sphere
machine is capable of at least 27" spheres and is
affectionately named "Big Bertha".

<<I know of several different preforming fixtures. (snip)
Generally, a cube is cut using a regular diamond saw, then
the preformer is used to cut off corners from three directions
(total of 18 saw cuts) to form a rough sphere. >>

Richardson's has a nice jig which is cheap. I need to make 27
cuts to get a preform. Aren't you taking the corners off the
corners? That would definitely stick in a 3 head machine. I
don't like to babysit my spheres (I wind up doing it for one
reason or another on the rough grind anyway).

<<Most of these preformers produce a preform that is
approximately round, but has a number of projecting points
that must be ground at least partially away.>>

Richardson's use a hand held hi-speed rotary saw (used for
cutting steel pipe?) with a small (4-inch?) diamond blade to
chop off the corners. Much faster than a diamond wheel.

<<Generally, iron (grinding) cups of some sort are mounted on
the motor shafts and rotate against the preform. (snip) I use
standard >plastic sprinkler/irrigation pipe bushings >>

Threaded steel caps work well, don't need drilling and
tapping, and you can unscrew the pipe ends from the caps when
they wear down. I get them at a plumbing supply. Much easier
than epoxying pipe into the caps!

PVC fittings work good for the finer grits (prepolish-polish),
and be sure to use chrome softened leather for the polish
pads, oil tanned leather will not work! Cable ties work
perfectly to hold the leather pads on the PVC.

<<..Richardson's Ranch has been producing a three-head
machine for some time now. It sells for $695 ...>>

The price reflects the new motors currently being used. The
used motor supply ran out. They were $495 with the used

<<Here in the West, it is generally known that the best
sphere making machines come from Hank and Cal Clason of
Bakersfield. >>

I guess I'd like to see some discussion on this point. IMHO
the Clason Bros. produce a fine homemade machine for a good
price, but which is not nearly as reliable, sturdy,
long-lasting, or easy to use as Richardson's.

Tim Fisher, 1995 President, Pacific Fishery Biologists
Ore-ROCK-On Rockhounding Web Site WWW

non-commercial Republish Permission Granted

Subject: SPHERES: Sphere making machines

About Sphere making machines - My Wife and I belong to
the Flint Michigan Rock and Gem Club, our annual show is
coming up 8-10 May and there will be a sphere making
demonstration all during the three days of the show. The
demonstration will be on a home made machine. One has to see
this machine to believe it. It is made up of old weathered
boards, plumbing pipe parts old door hinges rubber bands and
chamois. Last year I was observing him applying the final
polish, I ask what he was using for the final polish
(expecting something like tin oxide) he smiled and handed me
a can of Bar Tenders Helper, and said this stuff is a dollar
forty-nine a pound and does the same job as the expensive
stuff. Hale if you send me your snail mail address I will
send you a picture of this machine. After an hour (maybe two)
or so my wife had to drag me away.

Tyler Miller

Non-commercial republish permission granted.

Subject: SPHERES: List of Members Who Do Sphere-Making

Members of the list who have indicated that they cut spheres
are listed below. If you are not listed but do cut spheres,
please send me your name and I will add you to this list.

Lester C. Wetherell II
6502 Jennings Dr.
Austin, TX 78727

Roy Freeman
(Does a lot of custom spheres out other peoples material.
Any interest, please let me know. From 1" to about 8".)

Tim Fisher
Ore-ROCK-On Rockhounding Web Site WWW

Mark Williams

Art Berggreen
Santa Barbara Mineral and Gem Society

John R. Duncan

Wayne Moorhead
San Diego Mineral & Gem Society
San Diego, CA 92121

John Blue


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