The outdoor thermometer read 45 degrees this morning, the highest it’s been since the onset of winter, and it hit 80 by 3 PM. It takes warm weather to inspire me to dive back into my lapidary hobby, and today was the day. I brought out the big 16″ vibrolap, cleaned up the coarse grit lapping tub, mounted it in and loaded it up with grit, water and a bunch of thunderegg halves and turned it on.

When the first bunch is ground flat there’s a second load waiting to go on, then a third load. I’m polishing up Puma agate nodules from Argentina, Little Naches eggs from the high mountains of Washington and Dugway geodes from Utah, along with some nice, mossy old Priday Ranch thundereggs. By mossy I mean moss agate in different colors. Very pretty stuff.

There are 3 more grinding stages using finer and finer grit, and then the polishing stage, so I like to get a good bunch done with each stage before moving on to the next.

I have hundreds of uncut geodes and thundereggs I bought at rockhound pow wows while I was living in Washington, and hundreds of agate, jasper and etc. slabs I bought or cut from large chunks. The dealers and miners swarm into Prineville, Oregon in early June and set up shop on the fairgrounds, and that’s the one to go to. Most of the dealers are having their first sales since the Quartzite event in January, where they bartered and traded and loaded up for the pow wows, and the Prineville one comes first. After Prineville, it’s all been picked over from my point of view.

The thing about this hobby is that I don’t have an indoor workshop, per se. I do, but you can’t really heat a converted metal carport in the winter, and it’s hard to be careful when your hands are shaking. So it’s a warm weather hobby.

It’s a fun hobby though. I cut cabochons, which are those rounded¬†gems you see, as opposed to faceting. I have most of the different types of agates and other semi-precious materials mined since 1940 or so, to date, enough to outlast my cutting efforts, I’m sure. Add to that a reasonable skill with silversmithing, and I have all the projects I want, if I want them.

The thing about rockhounding is that it’s a sort of poor mans treasure hunting. Nice agate is very salable, with the result that in places where you can still find anything, you have to dig for it. The days of surface collecting are gone. People grab up little chips of agate now where there used to be tons of big chunks littering the ground. In fact I can show you big areas where even all the chips are gone, and the sad part of that is that once the¬†day trippers and campers get home with their little rocks, the rocks go into the trash or turn green in their aquariums.

Sad because so much agate is so beautiful if it’s properly cut and polished, which is why I’ve put together a really varied collection while I could. The finest agate has all been dug out, in fact most of it was gone by 1970. I have some I dug before then and the rest I bought from old collections and those pow wows.

As soon as the weather warms up a little more it will be time to build a raised garden bed, get some food growing, and go do a little shooting on my 20 acres of mountainside. I live for summers.


  1. First, sorry for my recent absence here. I’ve been in tax mode, that is, readying the necessary data to hand over to the accountant. A damn grueling task, and I’m sure that I’ve underpaid my estimated tax due to reduced medical expenses and a bit of a bump up in my income. I hope that I don’t get hit by some kind of penalty! I’m sure that I’m going to get slammed with a helluva tax bill for 2012 — never mind that my income is less than 1/2 the typical household income in Northern Virginia.


    I never got into rock collecting all that much. For a time, I collected arrowheads, which were everywhere on our farmette and the surrounding 50 acres (other people’s land).

    My paternal grandmother, a professional artist (oil painting) created a rock garden called Flint Hill (1909-1945). People came from far and wide to see Grandma’s rock garden. It really was quite something! Grandma has an artist’s eye. I don’t know where she got all those boulders — maybe a couple of counties to the west of here, where the land is damned rocky.

    When the highway came through around 1965, Flint Hill was taken by the road. But beforehand, people came from everywhere and toted off some of the boulders. I managed to get a few of the rocks — not boulders, but not tiny either.

    Even now, in front of homes and office buildings, I still see the part of Grandma’s Flint Hill here in Northern Virginia. One boulder not far from here has a sign in front of it: “From Flint Hill Garden.”