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 Post subject: Hi from a Welo Opal addict.
PostPosted: Tue Jul 22, 2014 10:02 pm 
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I recently retired from being a Performance Analyst specializing in identifying and solving training-related issues in the company I worked for. In April of 2010 I bought two 9-carat pieces of Welo Ethiopian Opal rough and was immediately hooked. Since then, I've purchased about twenty thousand carats of mine run rough (the cheapest grade) from a reputable dealer over the next three and one-half years and spent that same length of time trying to figure out how a person living in an apartment could successfully remove the matrix and decomposed opal easily, quickly, and quietly without spraying water all over. To make a long story short, I succeeded. I've spent this last year documenting what I found out about the opal and how easy and relatively cheap it is to get started in a fun hobby.

I'll gladly provide information I've gathered from my work with the opal, but I'm not a gemologist, geologist, or lapidary so please take the information for what it is.

Bob Nolan


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 Post subject: Re: Hi from a Welo Opal addict.
PostPosted: Wed Jul 23, 2014 9:19 am 
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Hiya Bob! Welcome to the addiction ^_^

I would actually be very interested in seeing what you've found out, being that I'm also an apartment bound hobbyist.


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 Post subject: Re: Hi from a Welo Opal addict.
PostPosted: Wed Jul 23, 2014 5:29 pm 
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Hiya back Robin!

I've consolidated all my work in a 160-page document but I'm pretty certain I'm not allowed to mention it so I'll explain as best I can:-)

As for working with the material in an apartment: If you have a separate room, use it. I didn't, so have set up an enclosed area in my living room:

My work table is a desk someone had thrown out. This sounds like I’m cheap but remember; I’m working on rocks with grinding and cutting tools. I bolted two solid table leaves I salvaged from a table I had previously thrown out to the top of the desk to add strength and additional surface area and then drilled a hole to mount a magnifying lamp that can swivel out of the way when not needed. Finally, I have a clamp-on lamp ($5.00 used from a Deseret Industries thrift store) that I’ve clamped to a six-inch deep shelving unit ($15.00 used from a Goodwill Industries thrift store) I placed on the table with its back against the wall. I put together a simple ventilation system consisting of filters and a means of directing the dust into the filters. Finally, I've enclosed the small work area with plastic sheeting (actually a paint drop cloth). I dust flat surfaces outside the grinding area before grinding and check the surfaces for dust build-up right after finishing my grinding and after about 1/2 hour to make sure no dust has leaked out.

The rotary tool, diamond tool points, diamond cutting wheel, and buffing brush are the basic tools needed to remove the mud rock, matrix, decomposed opal, spots, and blemishes from the opal rough shown. Of course, to ensure your work is safe, a dust mask, goggles, and some means of containing the dust are also necessary. I use a Dremel® rotary tool simply because that happened to be what I owned when I started this hobby. By using different size collets, the diamond tool points, diamond cutting wheel, and buffing brush will fit any rotary tool. Although any rotary tool will do the job, I do highly recommend you get one that has more than one speed setting so you’ll be able to select the speed that’s best for you.

Finally, I use a small-drum tumbler and silica sand dry for smoothing the rough surfaces after grinding (it won't do a complete polish, so don't waste precious opal trying) because I’m salvaging beautiful and potentially valuable precious opal and the smaller amount of opal in each tumbler drum allows me more control. I presently use and really like a course white silica-based sand I buy from a popular craft store for $2.99 plus tax that’s good for repeated tumblings. The finer grade “sand” (I don’t think it’s silica-based) they also sell doesn’t seem to polish. There’s an added bonus to dry-sand tumbling. Because no water is needed, the tumbler doesn’t have to have a water-tight seal.

I buy my opal rough as "mine run" from a very reputable dealer in Montana and have been receiving very good to outstanding quality for the last four years. His mine run opal consists of pieces of rough between 2 1/2 carats and 25 carats that yield, on average, 40% to 60% gem quality salvaged opal. Whoever you choose to buy from, make sure they'll take it back if it's not what you like.

I don't polish the pieces of opal I own because I don't know how and because I like the pieces in their natural shapes. If you feel the need to do a complete polish, I recommend initially shaping the pieces dry with the rotary tool and then use traditional means for the final polish.

Because I've taken advantage of specials and remove waste material from even the little pieces, the salvaged precious opal I own has cost me just about an even $1.00 per carat and I own between 9,500 and 10,000 carats. Oh yes; the $1.00-per-carat opal I own is every bit as beautiful as the material you can buy for much higher prices and I get to be the very first person in the whole world to see the opal under the matrix. Life just doesn't get any better than that:-).

Bob Nolan


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 Post subject: Re: Hi from a Welo Opal addict.
PostPosted: Thu Jul 24, 2014 10:38 am 
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WElcome, Bob.
So glad you found us. :D


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 Post subject: Re: Hi from a Welo Opal addict.
PostPosted: Thu Jul 24, 2014 12:48 pm 
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I like your passion and innovative approach. That said, I'm kind of curious what you have planned for your not-quite-polished opals. I have a few which a friend of mine tumble-polished to a lapidary finish. They look awesome, but he wasn't very happy with how much material was lost in the process and didn't end up doing more of them. That said, I doubt he was putting in the time to prep them as you have, so you might have more luck going into a final polish. There are better sources of polishing grit than your local craft store, after all. You might also have luck using a buffing wheel on your dremel loaded with an oxide polish--I've been told tin oxide is ideal for opals.
Also, despite all this opal talk I see a startling lack of opal pictures. I would love to see some of your work.

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 Post subject: Re: Hi from a Welo Opal addict.
PostPosted: Thu Jul 24, 2014 12:54 pm 
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Scarodactyl wrote:
I like your passion and innovative approach. That said, I'm kind of curious what you have planned for your not-quite-polished opals. I have a few which a friend of mine tumble-polished to a lapidary finish. They look awesome, but he wasn't very happy with how much material was lost in the process and didn't end up doing more of them. That said, I doubt he was putting in the time to prep them as you have, so you might have more luck going into a final polish. There are better sources of polishing grit than your local craft store, after all. You might also have luck using a buffing wheel on your dremel loaded with an oxide polish--I've been told tin oxide is ideal for opals.
Also, despite all this opal talk I see a startling lack of opal pictures. I would love to see some of your work.



Me too :D


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 Post subject: Re: Hi from a Welo Opal addict.
PostPosted: Thu Jul 24, 2014 1:46 pm 
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Thanks a lot for the positive replies. I have many pictures taken with a Canon PowerShot A4000IS but when I tried to upload one to Gemology Online I was told it was too many kbs (they run around 3.0 mb). I'm not particularly computer literate. You might say I'm self-taught and my teacher wasn't very good:-). I have transferred one to a Word document and I'll try to upload it. If it's still too large (it's 484 kb) I'll work with some of my other pictures to get the size under the maximum allowed.

The try failed. I tried converting a JPEG to a PDF and was told my trial period for PDF was over (I've never used it so could be). I'll purchase a PDF plan but if you've got some other ideas I'm all for listening.

About your friend's experience tumbling the opal. I pre-tumble my salvaged opal nodules dry in a course silica sand initially for about twenty to twenty-four hours to smooth out the rough surfaces caused by the grinding so I can inspect them for fracture lines, blemishes, common opal and spots of missed matrix. I tumbled 597 carats of opal nodules for about three days in course silica sand with almost no improvement in the looks of the opal and a loss of 30 carats of precious opal. That loss hurt. I highly recommend you dry tumble enough to be able to inspect the opal nodules for flaws but, if your goal is to complete the polishing, revert to the more traditional methods.

The opals I've salvaged are ready for the collector, re-seller, artist, jeweler, lapidary, or believer in the power of the stone. I remove all waste material, pre-tumble the pieces, inspect each piece, make all the repairs possible, and perform a series of tests.

If you can tell me what to do to get my JPEGs small enough to be accepted, I'll do the required stuff and be proud and honored to show you my pictures.

Bob Nolan


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 Post subject: Re: Hi from a Welo Opal addict.
PostPosted: Thu Jul 24, 2014 5:20 pm 
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Hey Bob, you are having fun!!
Now comes the messy part. As Scaro has said, tin Oxide is a good polish medium, but it makes a mess. Run the mop on your dremel wet, and go for the polish.
Make sure your "splatter" shield is good.
Barry.


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 Post subject: Re: Hi from a Welo Opal addict.
PostPosted: Thu Jul 24, 2014 7:15 pm 
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Bob Nolan wrote:
I have many pictures taken with a Canon PowerShot A4000IS but when I tried to upload one to Gemology Online I was told it was too many kbs

OK, here's what you do.
Step 1: go to http://www.imgur.com
Step 2: at the very top, click the blue "upload images" button.
Step 3: navigate to your images within your computer, select the ones you want, click open'.
Step 4: click start upload
Step 5: wait while they upload.
Step 6: once they're uploaded, right click each image and click "copy image location."
Step 7: Put that image's url between [img] tags, like so:
Code:
[img]yourURLhere[/img]

So for instance,
Code:
[img]http://i.imgur.com/jYWTi7z.jpg[/img]

Becomes
Image

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 Post subject: Re: Hi from a Welo Opal addict.
PostPosted: Fri Jul 25, 2014 3:33 pm 
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Image


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 Post subject: Re: Hi from a Welo Opal addict.
PostPosted: Sat Jul 26, 2014 9:16 am 
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Nice :D


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 Post subject: Re: Hi from a Welo Opal addict.
PostPosted: Sun Jul 27, 2014 11:03 am 
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First, I want to give my heartfelt thanks for your help in getting that picture posted.

The center tray with the black felt contains 228 pieces of gem quality Welo Opal with a total weight of 953 carats. The pieces of rough also shown arrive in 3-troy-ounce parcels from my dealer in Montana and presently cost me (or anyone; I don't get a discount) about $0.68 per carat. I initially place them in the bead tray shown (available at most stores that sell crafts) so I can look them over and select the ones I want to salvage first. Each of the pieces took, on average, between 15 and 20 minutes to remove all waste material, with some taking as little as 5 minutes and a few taking over an hour.

If you look at the rough you can see what I call "windows." These are those clear places on the pieces that let me look into the nodule. If you take the time to protect them from scratching, your salvaged pieces end up with a large variety of potential uses. When I first started working with the opal rough, my only goal was to get more than just a peak through those windows. While trying to solve the problem of waste removal necessary to reach my first goal, I encountered a few other problems. The opal now became a challenge. I'm not a smart person so I was willing to do things smart people would know enough not to do.

After figuring out how to remove the mud rock, matrix, decomposed opal, black carbon/manganese splatters on the windows, and poor quality common opal, my next goal turned out to be figuring out why the price for rough remained so low. That has to do with two problems; the opal is a type of hydrophane, which most people including me didn't understand; and a percentage (about 10% of mine) of the pieces turn opaque and the surface of each lose their resinous luster gain a "chalky" appearance. I was able to develop simple methods for dealing with both problems.

Since I had documented everything I did, my next goal turned out to be publishing my results, which I just recently completed. Now I'm deciding on what to do next. In the mean time, I'm having fun making you smart people aware of my results. It really is an easy and relatively inexpensive hobby.

Bob Nolan


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 Post subject: Re: Hi from a Welo Opal addict.
PostPosted: Mon Jul 28, 2014 4:52 pm 
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I prepare all my gem quality opal as baroque pieces and follow Mother Nature’s design as much as possible. There are three valid reasons for this. First, I can’t bear to grind gem quality opal into dust. It’s just too beautiful. The second reason for keeping the opal nodule in its original shape is that my methods provide a complete piece of gem quality opal that will allow the artist, the person who believes in the power of the stone, or the dealer to make a fully informed decision on the best use for it. The third reason I follow Mother Nature’s design is that I have absolutely no artistic talent of my own. I often notice pieces where a bit of skillful shaping here and there could perhaps result in a masterpiece. I label them “specialty pieces” and set them aside because I realize others with the necessary skills to do justice to the gemstone will also see what I see (or maybe see something even more beautiful).

I have a fairly high mechanical aptitude and have used hand tools throughout my teenage and adult life. Because of this, I suspect I could successfully complete enough classes to eventually become an amateur artist or lapidary. The problem is that I don’t want to. I get my “kicks” (also called personal fulfillment) out of rescuing potentially beautiful natural rocks and minerals, and then preparing them in such a way that their natural beauty can be seen. None of the pieces of Welo Ethiopian Opal I’ve salvaged have been changed by me into anything other than nature’s natural creations. This provides satisfaction enough for me.

Welo Opal is very beautiful and very scarce. Traditional methods of working with the material involve using trim saws, grinding wheels, and polishing systems. These tools can destroy up to 80% of the gem quality material and more important, the waste fluids, which can include cutting oils and antifreeze, are not environmentally friendly and are quite often dumped out into open drainage systems. My method destroys almost no gem quality material and produces absolutely no waste fluids. When I grind a Welo Opal nodule, the result is a beautiful gemstone and a small amount of ground up volcanic rock. This ground up volcanic rock, also called dirt, is used around the world as an aid in growing pretty and/or tasty things. :D

Bob Nolan


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 Post subject: Re: Hi from a Welo Opal addict.
PostPosted: Mon Jul 28, 2014 6:07 pm 
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I'm going to attempt another picture. I'm worried but here goes:

Image


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 Post subject: Re: Hi from a Welo Opal addict.
PostPosted: Mon Jul 28, 2014 6:23 pm 
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Have you read HOW TO POST A PICTURE in the upper left under the Marketplace link?


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