What To Do As a Rockhound In Winter
Most of us do our rockhounding in warm weather, but once winter hits you may not be able to hit your favorite spots. Fortunately, there’s still plenty to do in the hobby depending on your tastes. There really is something for everyone.
So, don’t let the cold weather get you down! We’re going to dive in and show you some great ways to enjoy your hobby no matter what the weather.
1. Slabbing Stones and Cutting Geodes
If you collect rough jasper or agate, you may want to give slabbing them a try in the off-season. It just depends on the equipment you have access to.
A trim saw is small and affordable, but it makes a mess like all lapidary machines. For stones that are only a few inches across or smaller, they’re an excellent way to break into the fantastic interior of your rocks.
Actual slab saws are rather expensive, but you can often make the money back by selling some of your cuts. People are eager to get ahold of unique and beautiful stones, while others are just plain valuable the farther along you bring them in the process.
Cutting open any geodes you’ve collected is also great fun. You’ll be the first person to take a peek at the interior, ever, and they’re simple to cut.
2. Making Cabochons
Cabochons are domed pieces of precious and semi-precious stones. Most are destined to be used in jewelry, but large pieces of superior material can make great displays.
Cutting cabochons is an art of its own but most people will get the basics quickly. The idea is simply to cut a piece of material out of a slap, shape it with a grinding wheel, and then sand the dome downwards until you have a good girdle.
Then comes the polish.
Cabachon machines are expensive, but smaller pieces of material can be worked with a Dremel and the right bits. You can also check into rock clubs in the area, many have a space for lapidary work available for members.
3. Rock Tumbling
If you just like them shiny, then you’ll be in love with rock tumbling. Tumblers take stones through successive grits until they’re rounded off and highly polished.
Many specimens look fantastic this way, and tumblers are more accessible to the average person. The main problem is often going to be noise rather than space or mess.
Tumbling stones can often reveal awesome patterns, but the main purpose is to just remove the matrix and get them shiny without “artificially” changing the shape of the stone through cutting and carving.
Just be careful. Tumbling can be addictive and you may end up running them year-round!
4. Wire Wrapping
Wire wrapping is one of the simplest ways to make your stones wearable. Many rockhounds also do some form of silversmithing but it’s a full hobby on its own and not quite as accessible.
Wire wrapping can range from simple to complex pieces of fine jewelry, but the majority of wraps you’ll see can be done without any specialized equipment. A few pairs of pliers, some wire cutters, and a few rolls of wire can do amazing things in the hands of the right artisan.
Of course, the stone is usually what steals the show! Try your hand at it, it’s relatively inexpensive and very newbie-friendly as far as making jewelry goes!
5. Inlay Work and Intarsia
If you’re cutting valuable material like opal or turquoise, you end up with small pieces of stone and sediment. It never has to go to waste, you’ll just need to change things up a bit!
Once you’ve sorted out a good bit of offcuts and waste, you’ll want to remove any sludge from the material and let it dry. Crush the remaining bits into small chips and you have the basis for an inlay formula.
Inlay work is done by cutting a design into a material and then filling in the voids with crushed stone and epoxy. Then the finish work is applied by working the resin mixture with sandpaper and polishing materials.
Others specifically cut and fit pieces of stone to create scenes or intarsia cabachons. Both forms of art can make amazing work out of bits too small for most use, but it’s about more than just stretching materials.
Good inlay work is another full world of art that many people never care to look into.
It’s a great way to use up your scraps and another accessible art form for most rockhounds.
6. Try Areas That Are Too Hot Normally
If you have access to private land that isn’t limited by time of year, some of the hotter parts of the nation are more accessible during the winter. Many dig sites are in places with no shade, little water, and blaring heat. You can eliminate one of those factors in the cold season.
Just be aware that most deserts get cold once night falls.
With the right access, you really don’t have to stop digging through the winter. You can often find places that are perfect during the day for work.
No need to stop if you pick an area that never hits truly cold temperatures after all!
7. Check Out Mineral Shows
Gem and mineral shows are a treasure trove for collectors. Often you can find material that simply isn’t available anywhere else. The world of stone is vast, but not everything is available at the click of a button.
In addition to the more famous shows, like the one in Tucson, you can usually find something local as well. A quick search can turn up a directory and let you find just what you’re looking for.
Shows are a bit overwhelming for first-timers, so make sure to keep a tight hand on your budget going in. But it’s hard to beat the experience of looking down long rows of vendors, each with tables teeming with beautiful samples.
It may not beat nature, but it’s a grand experience in-and-of-itself!
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