Edited and Published by Hale Sweeny
Web Site: http://www.lapidarydigest.com
Associate Editors: Geo. Butts, JR Shroeder, Steve Henegar,
Margaret Malm, and Sam Todaro
This list digest contains the following message subjects:
1. LapDigest News for Issue No 276 - Sun 5/21/2000
2. NEW: Field Trip to Australian Opal Country
3. NEW: Keeping Track of Stone Weights
4. NEW: Want Information on ADDEXTON Cabbing machine.
5. NEW: Advice on Mining at Virgin Valley, Nevada
6. NEW: Ring Sizing
7. NEW: 'www.lapidarydigest.com' Error
8. RE: HAZARDS: CHEMICAL PNEUMONIA
9. RE: Problem with Polishing in Tumbling
10. BIO: Sfc James E. Grelles, U.S. Army Retired
Subject: LapDigest News for Issue No 276 - Sun 5/21/2000
One of our Associate Editors, Margaret Malm, is away touring
the opal fields of Australia with Barbara McCondra's tour
group. Thanks to Barbara's generosity, Margaret has been
allowed to use Barbara's laptop to write trip reports about
opal fields she has visited and her wonderful adventures.
The first of her reports appear below. (LapDigest now has a
foreign correspondent!! Move over, Edward R. Murrow!!!)
She describes her stay at Lightening Ridge in this issue,
and then they are off to Yowah....
At Wildacres last week, I was able to hear lectures by Fred
Ward (Fred Ward Gem Book Series) and to meet him and talk
to him. Turns out he was a Digest member for a long while,
so he knew all about us. If you have the chance to hear
him speak, grab it. He is really good!
While we are talking about Wildacres (and William Holland)
the SFMS directors will take applications from members of
other federations, for openings in both the August and
September Workshops. Cost is about $240 per week/person -
and that is the total cost except for cost of any
materials you use. It covers room, board and tuition. For
further information and their websites, which have their
schedules, add http:// to the start of the following:
For SFMS at Wildacres:
For SFMS at William Holland:
For information about the facilities at Wildacres:
Information on SFMS William Holland workshops will be in
the next issue.
And while we are at it, the William Holland School still
has openings for this summer/fall. Read Jackie Paciello's
description of her experiences there in the last issue of
the Digest, and find the course schedules and registration
Just to remind you: When you send a message for LapDigest,
- Stay on topic (and the topic is LAPIDARY),
- Sign your name and
- Only include one topic per letter.
It has been a hectic summer for me; the contest and mentors
are still on, and I hope to cover them in the next issue.
You guys heed Sam's advice and work safely. Stay safe, and
play a little every day with those you love.
Subject: NEW: Field Trip to Australian Opal Country
(Or: An American in Paradise, Part 1)
Man coming down stairs at hotel: "G'day!"
Me: "G'day!". With perfect Australian accent, of course!
Yes! Yes! Yes! I'm in Australia with Barbara McCondra's
Outback Gems Australia opal tour.
The "characters" in this epic are:
..Leigh Miller, from Nevada; an opal cutter-polisher, and
fellow Lapidary Digest subscriber.
..Jane Thornton, from Tucson; a retired nurse specializing
..June Humphrey, also from Tucson and Jane's friend; a
retired Mechanical Engineer.
..Dick and Marilyn Rodenburg, from Denver. Marilyn is a
..Margaret Malm (me); retired Kodak chemist and now a
sometimes seasonal Park Ranger at Zion N.P. Opalholic, and
one of the Associate Editors of Lapidary Digest.
..Barbara McCondra; our Feerless Leeder; tall and sturdy,
arranger extraordinary, and a really exceptional lady.
Barbara is known more commonly (actually famed) in this
area as "Eskimo Nell", as she spent some time in Alaska
working on the Alaska Pipeline. Formerly a teacher, until
she got Opal Fever.
..Ron Vil, Barbara's son; our chauffeur, shepherd, and
..Michael with the unspellable name (a Swede turned
Aussie), who is Ron's assistant and driver of the "Ute", a
sort of special Aussie pickup truck that hauled our baggage.
In the area where we were heading it's always good to have
two vehicles, in case of trouble.
We found out before we even left Los Angeles that our trip
was going to be something special -- they had had so much
rain in the (Bush) in Australia that the road into Yowah,
which was to have been our first stop, was flooded, and
that be would be going to Lightning Ridge, home of the
fabulous black opals, first. Okay, we can do that!
Lightning Ridge is a bustling town in New South Wales, just
south of the border with Queensland. I was surprised at two
things: First, it was a larger town than I had expected.
Second, the country around there is not nearly as stark and
treeless as Coober Pedy, which I had visited a few years ago
and which I had mentally pictured "The Ridge" as resembling.
It has modern conveniences such as a grocery store, bank,
many many opal dealers, and -- a gambling casino!
The casino is actually the Lightning Ridge Bowling Club.
Bowling in the English sense of "lawn bowling", not our
type. It has a cafeteria-type restaurant where we ate
dinner one night, as well as a room full of slot machines -
"Pokies" to them, and a place to play Keno. It is owned by
the Mayor, who also just happens to be the owner of the
"station" where the first opal discovery was made. He
essentially donated that land to the cause, as he charges
no rent to the miners. But he has a good income from the
club; they recently completed a new addition with a sort of
"rec room" for the miners; the million plus dollar mortgage
was paid off quite quickly -- out of the income from the
pokies! Miners are great gamblers; to be expected, I guess,
as mining opals is also a great gamble.
The town itself is sited on the first original claims, now
reclaimed and no longer mined They use a lot of tin in
their construction (including siding and fences) as the
white ants (termites) are quite voracious and quickly eat
up any wood except pine, which is thus quite rare and
Most of this wide area is rather heavily wooded; Box trees,
and other species of Eucalyptus -- there are something like
220 different species of Eucalyptus trees in Australia, and
they seem to be in the great majority. As you approach, the
mines, although not far from the highway in most places, are
pretty well hidden in the trees. The Ridge is growing, and
they are expecting, through the promotion of tourism, that
their yearly visitation will rise from 80,000 to one half
We got to go down into one mine there, -- and NOT the
"tourist" walk-in mine, either! -- Barbara had arranged
with Jimmy Burgh and Mats Ericsson to go out to Jimmy's mine
at "Wyoming", one of the major areas along the Ridge. It is
in many ways a typical mine, in that it is fairly shallow.
While there is opal to be found at several depths, they tend
nowadays to mine only the upper level(s), as it is just too
costly to do the deeper ones. And since they figure that
only about 15 percent of the opal along the Ridge has been
mined as yet, they can easily afford to do the easier stuff
first. We all clambered down a hanging ladder 17 feet to the
bottom of the shaft, and watched as Jimmy worked his neat
(home-made) excavator, which chewed up the "opal dirt" in
short order, even though it is a bit harder than most right
here. The material his excavator gouged out was sucked by a
vacuum into a good-sized pipe (I would guess about 9 inches
diameter) and up to the surface, where it was deposited in
After they had chewed up a fair amount, their truck was
full. "Oh," said Jimmy. "I had figured we would probably
find a "nobbie" for you to see. Oh, well. We have some
'potch' over here that you can 'mine' by hand." So Mats
got out a small pick and pointed at a small bit of gray
showing on the wall. I carefully excavated it and found --
a small bit of gray "potch". Then June tried her luck with
another bit. "You can dig it out and keep it for a
souvenir", said Mats. Suddenly, as she gingerly excavated
around it, she saw a bit of color! Hey! As she carefully
exposed it, it fell out into her hand. As Mats saw it come
out, he said, "Oh, my, I think that one is too good to let
you keep!" Further examination showed a beautiful "Red on
black" nobbie that they though might be worth as much as
$10,000! (They took it down and had it cut; turned out to
be "only" $2000, and June bought it from them).. It is an
absolutely gorgeous black opal, showing a full range of
After the truck was full, they took it over to a water
source for washing and "tailing out". There actually is lots
of water in Lightning Ridge, as it is poised over a huge
Artesian basin. Their well goes down 3400 meters; but there
is enough water there for 2500 years. But only enough
pressure to force it naturally to the surface for 50 years,
so they will eventually be faced with pumping it. So they do
not waste what they have; for instance, the sewer water is
reprocessed to be used for watering lawns. The material is
put on a conveyer belt which takes it up into what resembles
a large cement mixer. Water is added and it is tumbled for
awhile. Then it comes out the spout (again, just like a
cement mixer) into a long shallow tray, where it is "tailed
out", i.e. gone over and the opal picked out. We got to help
with that. I found one piece that they though deserved
further investigation, and several that showed "color" but
not enough to do anything with, and those I got to keep. The
first piece cut a matched pair of very nice opals that they
priced at $400 each. The others are great souvenirs!
Most of the miners live on or near their claims. Their
housing is required by law to be "temporary" and moveable.
Thus most of them live in definitely primitive conditions.
While Lightning Ridge has power, the fields do not -- they
use generators, or solar power -- as the power lines would
get in their way. And of course, no piped-in water. Most
have tanks in which they collect rainwater, but this is not
enough for their needs, as the area averages only about 18
inches of rain per year.
We have also visited a number of people here, including Len
Cram, the man who has found out how to grow precious opal,
which I will tell you about later, and some dealer/cutters
from whom we bought some fine opals (both rough and cabbed)
at bargain prices; again thanks to "Eskimo Nell and her
encyclopedic knowledge of all things around here. And a
short session with one of the local opal cutters who lives
in an old historic mud house on how to cut opals.
As the time to head out to Yowah, home of the famous "Yowah
Nuts" approaches, we are wondering if we will get there, as
the water is still being reported about 4.5 meters over the
Paroo River bridge. But we are heading out tomorrow, and
while we may have to take the "flood boat", or -- if the
water comes down a bit, maybe ride across on the flood
truck, we are determined to get there!
(To be continued)
"Margaret Malm" <email@example.com>
Subject: NEW: Keeping Track of Stone Weights
I would appreciate any information about how list members
keep track of the weight of expensive rough material prior
to cutting it into a cabochon. It makes little difference
when cutting inexpensive material, but I need to do a much
better job with materials selling by the gram or carat.
Subject: NEW: Want Information on ADDEXTON Cabbing machine.
Hello my friends:
I am reading the Lapidary Journal magazine and I find an
advertisement about an automatic cabbing machine made by
THE ADDEXTON CO. Do you known this company?. Do you know
the address of their website.
Thank you for your cooperation.
If you go to the Lapidary Digest website and scroll down
to the section on links, there is a manufacturers link and
it includes Addexton. If any of our members have had
experience with Addexton equipment, please write and tell
us what you know. hale
Subject: NEW: Advice on Mining at Virgin Valley, Nevada
Hale and members,
I plan to spend a couple of days looking/digging for Virgin
Valley, Nevada, opal on June 21 and 22. Never having been
there, and wanting to make the most of the time (and money)
spent, I'd eagerly accept all suggestions and advice on how
to have a successful trip.
I believe there are three different fee-mines in the same
area and I certainly won't have time (and money) to do all
three, so any advice you may offer would be mighty welcome.
I'll take the usual digging/collecting gear, spray bottles,
Thanks in advance.
As with the Ring Sizing note (below), this is a bit far off
the topic of this newsletter, but I thought that answers
will serve others who go to VV to get lapidary material. h.
Subject: NEW: Ring Sizing
I can't remember where I read it but I recall an article
describing a compound you can use to coat the stone/stones
in a ring so they do not have to be removed during sizing.
I would appreciate any info on such a product and where to
Ron: This is a bit too far off topic and you must know by
now how hard I try to stick to the narrow topic of
'lapidary'. Usually I just reply directly with any answer
I have, but I have kept this in the Digest to remind all
that this is a LAPIDARY digest, and to stay on topic. Ron,
look in the Rio Grande catalog; I saw the stuff there. Some
stones are too heat-sensitive to be worked on in the ring,
even with this stuff. hale
Subject: NEW: 'www.lapidarydigest.com' Error
My Microsoft Internet Explorer can not open the above
website because of an "Invalid Syntax". Do you have any
suggestions as to how I can get it up? I was able to get
the website a long time ago when I first joined the
Lapidary Digest and I recently passed your site off to
some friends and they told me they could not get it.
The Geode Man
Ernie and everyone: I don't know why you can't get the
webpages. I discussed this with Mindspring web techs, and
they washed the website program through some analytical
software they have, and found no syntax errors. They
suggested that you may have an old version of MSIE, and if
you do, suggested that you upgrade (it is free) to MSIE4.
Also you might try to connect to our IP address. Just type:
into your browser. That is our uncoded raw website URL. It
might help. Please keep me informed about this. hale
Subject: RE: HAZARDS: CHEMICAL PNEUMONIA
The obvious solution is to leave the saw closed for a few
minutes after the cut is complete. Most of the vapor will
have settled out. Even if you use a saw with an exposed
blade, the usual cheap trick of having a fan blowing from
behind you should reduce it substantially.
Most trim saws don't have a cover. A cover would interfere
with the trimming of rough to a preform shape. When using my
trim saw, my first defense is a good mask, which I wear when
cutting on any saw, with or without a cover. And usually
the mask is quite spotted even after relatively short
cutting times. Agreed, on slab saws, close the cover and
let the mist settle. But I'd still wear a mask. hale
Subject: RE: Problem with Polishing in Tumbling
I agree with everyone else's suggestions on final polishing
tumbled stones, especially about keeping everything clean
in between each process. For me, I fill a tumbler 3/4 full,
add a cup of wood pine chips, a 1/2 cup of diatomaceous
earth, and a 1/4 cup of cerium oxide, and I get beautiful
results. There are a lot of different ways to tumble stones.
Also I tumble this process 10 days.
Subject: BIO: Sfc James E. Grelles, U.S. Army Retired
I've just started into polishing rocks late march 2000. I
got interested in stones while stationed at Holloman AFB at
Alamogordo, New Mexico. The wife and I use to go to Lalose
Canyon right outside of town to hunt for rocks. We'd take
the kids and a lunch and had a great time. This was in the
I have a True Square model T which was my first tumbler
that I ordered from Harbor Freight and since then I got a
tile saw from them for $60.00 which works pretty good
I'll probably not be satisfied once I see a lap saw in
action. I also got two Lortone tumblers an 3A plus a 33A.
I'm just learning so the rocks have a higher IQ then I
do. I read every thing I can find on the subject and I'm
on line with my Web TV in the search mode looking to find
out more. Next year I hope to travel to some of the shows
and sights I see on the Web sites.
Oh yes I live in Elizabeth City, NC the only stones we
have are imported.
Thanks for listening.
Sfc James E. Grilles U.S. Army Retired
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