Gem Stone Cutting Tools

Written by nicole o'driscoll
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Gem Stone Cutting Tools
Cutting and shaping gemstones is an intricate craft. (garnet gemstones image by Julianna Olah from

Lapidary is the name given to the craft of cutting and shaping gemstones. Basic techniques can be carried out with a small variety of tools and equipment, or more elaborate work can be done with a greater array of tools. For carving and precision work, you cannot depend alone on owning an impressive range of tools. Creative flair, artistic rigour, and the ability to improvise sharp and blunt tools out of household and DIY objects will enable you to craft interesting pieces out of your raw materials.

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A tumbler is a barrel that is lined on the inside with abrasives. The stone is placed in the barrel, which is then revolved at different speeds, tossing the stone against the inner surface. This polishes the stone into a regular, rounded shape.

Gem Stone Cutting Tools
A tumbler is a small barrel used to polish and round a gemstone. (barrels image by Albo from

Faceting Machine

The faceting machine allows for great control in cutting and shaping the gemstone. It can be set to three different adjustments, according to the International Gemstone Society: "the angle of the cut," "the rotation of the gem," and "the depth of the cut." The speed of the process can also be controlled, and the direction of the cut reversed.

The Cabbing Machine

The cabbing machine consists of a wheel about 3 to 4 inches wide (wider for larger pieces of stone) on an axle. It turns on a motor, and the speed and tension are maintained by a pulley system. More expensive machines have the wheels encrusted with grit diamond, which provides a permanently rough surface that smoothes the stone. Although these require a more expensive initial budget, they are reported to last for a lifetime. Cheaper machines can have sandpaper of different grades attached, but are less durable and more labour intensive.

Chisel and Hammer

Used for cutting or splitting large chunks of gemstone, the edge of the chisel is placed against the surface of the stone, and struck with the hammer. The hardness of the strike depends on whether you want to cut a cleft into the stone, or to split the piece outright.

Gem Stone Cutting Tools
Split stones with a hammer and chisel. (cold chisel image by Aleksandr Ugorenkov from


Some saws have an abrasive edge, cutting a clean surface into the stone. As with the cabbing machine, grit diamond is the abrasive of choice if you want a tool that will last.


A nippers resembles a tile-cutter, where small, shaped pieces can be cut out of the stone. If the gemstone has a crack in it, the nippers can cut along the crack more effectively than the saw, which can fracture the area around the crack. This tool can also be used to "nip" small, circular or irregular shaped pieces out of the stone.

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