Friday, November 20, 2009

Giveaway Time

I feel like giving something away tonight. I've been cutting Tiger Eye all day. First person who comments on this blog post gets a free slab of Tiger Eye.

If this works, I think I'll start doing it eery couple of weeks, something different every time.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The beauty of Africa

What a ride the last ten days have been! Once the paperwork cleared last Friday morning, I called my handyman Steve, and he and I went for the drums of rock. When we got back to the house with them, I rounded up my son and we started unloading.

That's not as simple as it sounds. Each drum weighed about 600 pounds, and even with three of us there was no way to move them full. So we had to find another way.

Fortunately, the mine packed everything very well. All the rocks were in bags of about 50 pounds, marked and clearly labeled. They were packed in "layers" in the drums, so that we could take out two layers of three bags each, and have a relatively light load in the drum.

So that is what we did. We partially unloaded the first drum, moved it to the driveway, and then put the top layers from the next drum into it. At the end, we had the four drums in the driveway with the bags in them, just not in the same order in which they were packed.
But they couldn't stay in the drums in the driveway. And since it was clear that the entire shipment was handled multiple times by Customs in both South Africa and the US, I wanted to go through everything and be sure of what I have.
So I carefully unpacked the bags, weighed the rocks in each one, and moved them all to the back yard with a wheelbarrow. From there I put them into milk crates on shelves in the shade house. I managed to get everything moved by Sunday evening. My poor back!
Before I could cut the first slab, of course, trouble intervened. The saw blade I was using separated in a neat circle around the bushings that hold it on the arbor.
Thank goodness I order from Lopacki. I called on Monday morning and spoke to Mr. Lopacki himself, and on Wednesday at noon I had a new blade at no charge. So then I could start slabbing.
I'm cutting some of the neatest material. I'm trying to cut a little bit of everything for the show this weekend, but I'm not going to be able to get it done. I've cut some Coral Jasper and some Kalahari picture jasper and right now I'm working on some Licorice Jasper. Oh, and some gorgeous Unakite. I've seen a lot of Unakite that's kind of washed out or pastel looking, but this is bright green and almost hot pink. It's all such great stuff.
For all my friends in central Florida, this weekend I'll be at the Central Florida Gem & Mineral Show. Stop by and have a look at the beauty of Africa.

Friday, October 30, 2009

They're here!

And it is done. There are four 55-gallon drums of African rocks sitting in my driveway. Photos to follow. Right now I have rocks to sort.

On the way

Sometimes walking the dogs works wonders. I made some phone calls this morning, nudged some people along (again), and took the dogs for a walk.

When I got back, the paperwork had been completed and faxed, and now the shipper is just waiting for me to show up with dead presidents.

More later.......

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Almost doesn't count

Did I say I expected another delay? Uh-huh. Hung up in Customs for the third time.

Now I have to reschedule the trailer, the help, the the the........and I changed a doctor's appointment for this.

What is up with this shipment? And I'm not even smuggling anything!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Almost here........

The African rocks finally are here in Tampa. They're not in my driveway yet--that would be too easy--but they're at the EcuAmerica warehouse awaiting Customs inspection tomorrow.

The plan is to pick them up on Friday morning. Whether that's really going to happen remains to be seen. I've had so many delays with this whole thing since the beginning that another one wouldn't surprise me. But it sure would be nice if it would happen Friday as planned!

This past weekend, the 50th Annual Tampa Gem & Mineral Show went off without any serious problems. I don't know what the attendance was, but I was pleased with the number of people who stopped by my table.

I was frankly astonished by the number of people who asked me about the African rocks. I knew that members of the Tampa Bay Mineral and Science Club are eagerly awaiting the new material, but I had no idea they were spreading the word to other clubs in the area. Members of three other clubs all stopped to ask me when I will have African stuff to sell.

All I can say is "Soon......"

I did find out why malachite is so unavailable. According to the owner of the mining company, the mines are holding onto it and crushing it for use in copper smelting.

Malachite can be so beautiful, and grinding it up for use in an industrial process is a total waste.

Stand by for more information on the African's almost here...........

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Moving in the right direction

After much pushing and shoving (on e-mail, that is), my African rocks are finally moving in the right direction, which is toward Tampa.

Customs released them yesterday, with no explanation other than that they wanted to go over all the paperwork for every shipment in the container.

However, because Customs had them in storage from October 3 through the 19, Vanguard had to pay a storage fee, which of course they pro-rated among all their customers who had shipments in that container.

I can't quite figure out the logic here. Customs detained the shipment so the receiving shipper has to pay a storage fee? I don't like having them pass it on to me, but I understand why they did it.

The bottom line, though, is that there's been way too much government interference in this process on both sides of the pond!

I sent the check for the destination fees Express Mail today, which means they should release the shipment on Wednesday. It should depart the New Jersey warehouse where it's sitting now either Thursday or Friday. Note that I said "should," not "will." I don't trust anything at this point.

Meanwhile, I continue to be glad I found some western material and all that Wyoming jade--I would be in a world of hurt for the Tampa Gem & Mineral Show this weekend if I didn't have it.

But I do wish the last two boxes from Wyoming would get here.....there's some Shirley Basin blue agate in one of them that I really want for this weekend!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Movement, maybe?

I called Vanguard again and asked for a customer service supervisor. This time I got someone with some sense.

She went over the invoice with me point by point, explained everything, and said the shipper in South Africa should have told the mine about these charges so they could tell me. So it sounds like that's who dropped the ball.

I have so say, I do like the mine staff. They have been very helpful throughout this process.

In any case, the shipment was released today. The container has been picked up and will be stripped (unpacked) tomorrow.

And the rocks should be on the way by Friday.

African time, imported

Now this is getting ridiculous. My African shipment arrived in New York on October 3.......and there it sits.

Vanguard tells me that since it's an LCL--Less than Container Load--and that there is something else in the container that Customs isn't happy with, there's no telling when it will be released. Of course, Customs can't release the stuff they aren't examining, so they let us all sit and wonder what's going on. Meanwhile, my first gem and mineral show is this weekend.

On top of that, Vanguard now is saying I have a bunch of fees due that they didn't quote me on the original invoice. Anyone who knows me personally already knows that that kind of thing irritates the you-know-what out of me.

I spent all day Friday questioning customer service at Vanguard and getting nowhere. The women there finally blamed it on my shipper, which is ridiculous. The shipper has been very clear that they told me about every single bit of information that Vangard provided them, and that the shipping straight into Tampa is already paid.

I'm on hard deadline with a story right now, but when I finish it I'm going back and get my teeth into someone farther up the food chain at Vanguard (or Brennan, the parent company).

At least I know about it now, and can deal with it before it causes any further delays in the shipment. Stand by for more details.......

Monday, October 12, 2009

More delays

And the delays in the African shipment aren't over yet. It's still sitting on the dock in New York instead of being almost here.

It seems that since my shipment is an LCL (less than container load) it was packed into a container with a bunch of other stuff. There was something in that container that US Customs wanted to inspect. So the whole thing sat there until they inspected whatever it was.

The shipper says their paperwork shows that the container has been released. That means they'll get my rocks sometime in the next few days.

However, they will not be here in time for the Tampa Gem & Mineral Show. I won't have them until the next month's show in Orlando.

It sure is a good thing I picked up some backup material.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Heading For Home

After five snowy days in Wyoming, we are trying to leave for home. Our plan was to leave Story this morning, go as far as Casper today, and spend this afternoon and Saturday morning rockhounding in Shirley Basin.

It seems, however, that the weather had other ideas. The big snowstorm that was supposed to move in late this morning got here overnight instead. It's supposed to dump 8 inches of snow in Shirley Basin, and the low tonight here is predicted to be -1.

Definitely not good rockhounding weather. That will have to wait for the next trip.

We did get the jade we bought shipped....and we badly underestimated how much we had. While we were hunting I picked up some agates and some other odd pieces of pretty rock that I can't identify--maybe 20 to 25 pounds of it--so I have to figure that into this.

However.......we took 6 large Flat Rate Priority boxes to the Post Office this afternoon. The lightest box weighed 4o pounds, and the total weight was 255 pounds and change. When you allow 10 pounds for the boxes--considering that I reinforced them--and 25 pounds for the other rocks--that still means I just shipped 220 pounds of Wyoming jade home.

I hadn't gone through the buckets until I packed it all. There were a few pieces that don't look like much, but most of it is very nice, and there's a lot of pink jade among it all.

I am really looking forward to getting home and getting it sorted out. Of course, with the African material due in next week, it may be a while before I get all of it organized!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Jade Lady

This morning on our way up to Story, Wyoming, we stopped to see the lady in Casper with the jade. What she had was amazing. All colors from very dark green to pale green, and some pinks. I'd already paid her for some of it, but we bought more and ended up with about 150 pounds of jade of all sizes and colors.

She also gave me three small blue agates from Shirley Basin.

And to think I hunted all over Shirley Basin in the early 1990s and never knew about the agates.

Now I just have to figure out how to get home with all of it!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

William Holland School of Lapidary Arts

It’s taken me three weeks to digest my experience at William Holland School of Lapidary Arts well enough to sit down and write about it. It was a singular experience, and one that I truly hope to repeat next year!

Kym had already been there a week to take a wire sculpting class when I arrived. We originally had planned to both take cabochons, but then she changed to chain making.

As a result, there were only two of us in the cabochons class, myself and a lady from south Georgia who was less serious about learning to cut cabochons than she was staying away from home for a while. She was only there about half the time, so I ended up having the instructor to myself a lot of the time.

My instructor was Gene Baxter, who’s been teaching cabochons at William Holland since the mid 1970s. One thing I really appreciated about him was that he didn’t have an agenda for the class; he let me identify my weaknesses and pick projects that would address those weaknesses. As I result I learned much more than I would have learned from a more structured course.

During the week, I cut a total of 20 cabs. A couple of them were experiments just to see if I could cut the particular material; I was able to cut them, but I won’t bother to try them again. Some of the others I cut in a freeform shape specifically because of the pattern in the material, because I’m trying to develop an “eye” for what makes a good freeform cab and what doesn’t.

One big thing I learned was not to fear experimenting. I’ve been so afraid of messing up nice pieces of material that I’ve avoided cutting them. However, I had one piece of “I dunno” rock break on me twice, and I just cut it smaller both times until I had a very nice—albeit small—cab out of it.

I was surprised at how much I already knew, but overwhelmed by how much there still is yet for me to learn. I’ve already made a “lapidary challenge list” of things I want to learn to do and I’m starting down that list one thing at a time.

I’m also enjoying teaching on Wednesday evenings. It’s fun to watch the beginners start to grasp what to do with a stone besides just look at it.

Just as an aside, the ocean vessel SAF Marine Oranje docked in New York on October 3. If all goes according to plan, my African material will arrive in Tampa on October 17, one week before our club show. I won’t have time to get many slabs cut, but if I can get the barrels unpacked I’ll at least have some rough there. I’ve also committed to the November Orlando show, the December Withlacoochee show, and the Tomoka show in January. Plus there are club tailgate days……

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Wonderful wonderstone

I just started slabbing some of the Nevada wonderstone I got for my upcoming gem and mineral shows. I had some doubts about it when I first saw it, but the first end cut is absolutely gorgeous.

It just goes to prove that old adage: never judge a rock by the rind.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

We have liftoff........

This excursion into African lapidary materials has been an exercise in utter frustration. The containers were scheduled to ship late August, and they were actually on board the ship, the Maersk Jambi.

Then South African Customs got a bee in their bonnet about something--no one knows what--and out of all the orders on the Jambi pulled my little shipment of rocks off. They took two samples, kept the shipment a week, and then released it with an apology but no explanation.

Of course, by then the Jambi had sailed. So the exporter went in search of another vessel. They booked the shipment on the SAF Marine Oranje, due to leave Cape Town September 11. didn't. Bad weather kept it in port until September 17, when it finally left Cape Town, headed for New York.

Geemineez. New York. That means it still has to come overland from New York to Tampa.

Finally yesterday I got a copy of the waybill, with the container number and the actual shipment number and now I can track the shipment.'s not that easy. It may be on an SAF Marine vessel, but it's a Mediterranean Shipping Company shipment. And since it's a LCL--Less than Container Load--I can't track it on their website. No, I have to call the company's Atlanta office and find out where the ship actually is.

As of today, my little load of rocks is scheduled to arrive in New York on October 3. Vanguard will pick it up on Monday the 5th and load it on an 18-wheeler that should leave New York on the 8th.

That will put it in Tampa between the 15th and the 17th. Barely time to get it sorted and into crates before I have to set up for the Tampa Gem & Mineral Show on the 23rd. Certainly not enough time to get many slabs cut.

Fortunately I found some great western material for terrific price that I'm cutting right now. Lizardstone, amethyst lace agate, wonderstone, Bagdad agate, and Disaster Peak picture jasper. That, along with what I already had, will make nice tables.

Now if we just don't have any more delays.........

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

African time

I should have remembered about African time. I ran into when I used to travel over there. Actually, "ran into it" isn't the proper term. More like had to live on it.

When I placed my order for the rock, the mine told me it would be shipped in late July. Obviously that hasn't happened!

Now they are telling me August 27. Aaaaaarrrrrghhhhhh!!!!! That puts it here in late September, which gives me just time to get some slabs cut in time for our club show. That is, if the weather cooperates. I can't cut anything when it's raining because the saw is too exposed on the front porch.

So my current emphasis is to try to cut slabs from some of an old collection I bought back in March. I have a good pile of rock sitting there to cut but it's raining every day.

Hopefully once the remnants of Ana get past I'll have some dry days...........

Friday, August 7, 2009

The bird has flown......

Which is to say, I made the payment for the African rocks this morning via wire transfer. No word yet on when they'll be shipped, but in the next few days.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Almost there........

I'm going to backtrack a little here. I've been talking about the shipment of rock I'm getting from Africa, but not how that whole thing got started. Someone asked me today how on earth I got into this, so I may as well go back to the beginning.

Back in the early 1990s, I traveled to South Africa four consecutive years to hunt and fish and gather information for stories. (As a writer, I’m always looking for something new to write about.)

Looking back over a distance of 15 or so years, I can’t remember why we ended up where we were, but we stopped by a wholesale gemstone dealer one afternoon. On the grass behind the building were piles of malachite and sodalite about 6 feet across and 3 feet high, pieces from fist-sized to the size of a flagstone, all just in big heaps.

I’ve loved both stones ever since, and in fact that afternoon bought gemstone strands of both. Little did I know at the time how much those piles were worth, or how impossible it would be to get malachite out of Africa today!

Several months ago, I made a connection through my fiance to the wife of one of his colleagues. She's from Kenya, and worked there as a prospector for many years. Somehow the three of us hatched the idea of importing a shipment of lapidary rock from northern Africa for sale here in the states.

We weren't able to get anything set up from northern Africa, so I started digging around and looking for my own sources.After many hours of research, and many e-mails, I narrowed my potential suppliers down to three, and then to two, and finally to one. I still may order from the second one, but one metric ton of rock at a time is enough!

I formally placed my order today--August 6--and it should be here around the middle of September. The rock will arrive in four 55-gallon drums, which will take up residence in my driveway until I can get them sorted out! Meanwhile I’ve been scrounging milk crates and every other hard plastic basket I can find so I can stack the rock on shelves in my shade house.

I've already written about the chrysocolla. I’ll also be getting blue lace agate (some with druzy), red aventurine, Orange River Voorsite chalcedony, 17 different jaspers, sodalite (couldn’t pass that one up), banded jasper matrix with tiger eye, and unakite. Malachite is unavailable due to the political situation in southern Africa at this time. :-(

But, the order is placed, the wire transfer goes out tomorrow, and the rock should be on the way in the next few days. I'll start putting it on line sometime around the end of September, both as rough and as slabs.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Africa rocks!

My shipment from Africa is almost on the way. There was one material I wasn't sure about ordering, and the mine owner, Paul Lee, gracious sent me a generous sample of it. It's sold as African Turquoise, but without actually having my hands on it and having it tested, I couldn't be sure what it was.

When it arrived, I sent one piece to a gemologist I know in South Carolina--John Rasmussen of Rasmussen Gems & Jewelry--and kept the other piece to play with myself.

The guys around the club thought it was true turquoise, mid grade, that should be a good seller. I tried polishing an end of the piece I have, and it does take a nice polish.

John did some chemical testing on it, and found that although it has a strong resemblance to turquoise, it's actually chrysocolla, and a high grade chrysocolla at that.

I changed my order--I'm getting three times what I originally planned to order. I've already had several people say they want to buy some of it. Now I'm worrying about whether I've ordered enough!

I'll be sending the payment this week, and it will ship in just a few more days. The waiting is almost over.........

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Off to school!

William Holland, here I come!

I found out a couple days ago I received a club scholarship to a week at William Holland School of Lapidary Arts. I had to be sure I could schedule it, and have my dogs and my son covered, before I could commit, but everything is lined up and I'm going to the cabochons class the week of September 6.


In return, I will come back and teach a minimum of 30 classes at the club.

I've already kind of started getting into what must be done. The president and one of the board members had a piece of equipment torn down, and on Saturday morning I jumped into helping with it. I've already figured out that lapidary equipment isn't rocket science; it's more just common sense. And the more I can learn, the more I can fix--plus the more of my own I can fix.

Now I need to find somewhere close to William Holland where I can go dig rocks. We get out at noon on Wednesday and have the afternoon off, so I want to go somewhere I can do some rockhounding.

Monday, July 6, 2009

All sorted out.......

After weeks of having boxes of rocks just sitting around in my office I finally have them all sorted and catalogued and put away. Well, more or less. The ones I'm still cutting are in a flat box until I have time to get a full day to sit on the porch and cut slabs on the small saw.

Now if it would just stop raining I could uncover the slab saw and cut some of this picture jasper I unearthed in one of the boxes! Four rocks, all different, each one a different color, and I have no idea which picture jasper any one of them is.

I'm in a holding pattern waiting for my supplier in Africa to have my order ready. He's sending me a sample of African turquoise to have analyzed so we both know exactly what it is. The gemologist I've talked to is guessing either real, honest-to-goodness turquoise or azurite; it will be a couple weeks before I know. Just in time to finalize the order, I think.

I do know it will have two kinds of picture jasper in it. Fun stuff. The picture in this entry is Kalahari picture jasper. I haven't had time to cut any of it yet, but I'd like to find the time.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Thar's coins in them thar rocks......

Yesterday was my first experience with selling rocks and slabs, and I thought it turned out rather well. It was Tampa Bay Mineral & Science Club's monthly rock exchange day, and I took a box of slabs along.

I couldn't believe it.......I made $41.50! Sold some cheap stuff for 50 cents, and one really nice piece of what one of the instructors thought was Coyamito agate for $15.

I think I need to be a little less cavalier about all the rocks I scraped up off the guy's garage floor at Easter, because that slab came out of that mess. There's turning out to be some really, really nice stuff in all of it, like the piece of agate in the picture. I don't know what to call it but "ribbon agate," because it looks like it has an orange ribbon running through it. There's a lot of that kind of thing.

I can't wait to get some of it on line and see how it sells.

I have my order for the African material ready. I'm just waiting for details on one thing he sells--I want to be sure what it is. Then we're ready to roll.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

African rocks

Well, it looks like the African shipment I've been working on is really going to come together. I have the wholesaler lined up, I have the Customs broker, and I'm waiting for shipping information.

I know I'm going to order some nice picture jasper, and some Orange River chalcedony. I'm not sure what else yet.

I expect it to arrive in four 55 gallon drums that will sit in my driveway until I have time to sort them out. But that's a couple months away yet.

But I'm eagerly waiting.........

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Boy, rocks will fool you. I've slabbed some really nasty looking rocks and had them be gorgeous inside, and just this week slabbed a big rock I thought was going to be great but it's not what I thought it was.

The Tampa Bay Mineral & Science Club has this rock pile. People toss stuff out there and others of us dig through it.

Two Saturdays ago I was digging in it and came up with about a 15-pound black rock. One of the instructors said he thought it might be black jade, so I carried it and several smaller rocks home and slabbed them to see what was inside.

I could just barely vise the big black rock, and it took me three days to break it down completely into slabs. The more I cut, the more I felt that it's not jade but flint. And when I took some of the slabs in to the club last night, the instructor looked at it and agreed with me.

So now that begs the question, how will it polish? It's a deep enough black that it still might make some nice cabs. But goodness, I have a lot of it!

Then there was this other rock. Heavy for its size but not heavy enough for hematite. Yet the rust lines in it indicate that it probably contains some hematite.

This one generated some head scratching. Finally Greg and Charlie, after studying the slabs and conferring over them, came up with the idea that it's probably a meteorite that someone tossed into the pile without knowing what it is.

They want me to polish a piece of it so they can put a drop of nitric acid on it and see what happens. I don't know the "whys" yet, but I'm going to try to get one small surface polished tonight and then see what happens. This could be cool.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

For want of a nail......

Sometimes it's the little things that get you. Like a set screw.

Sometime during the night it dawned on me that if the drive motor had quit the whole slab saw would shut down. So it had to be something else.

It also occurred to me that the drive motor is attached to the driveshaft with a single set screw.

So a while ago I pulled the housing for the drive motor off.


I was correct--it was the set screw.

I took the housing off and the bushing just fell off the end of the driveshaft and into the housing. I cleaned it up with Shooter's Choice degreaser, put it back together, and it's out there chewing on a really neat piece of agate that is dendritic on one side like Montana, and grades into a golden amber on the other side.

The one problem with all of this it that the thing is so old that a little oil seeps through on the driveshaft and lubricates everything, including the set screw. So it's not a question of "if" it happens again, it's a question of "when."

The distance between the motor and the cabinet of the saw is also so tight that you can't get a regular Allen wrench in there--it really needs one about 6 inches long.

I didn't have any Loc-tite, so next time I go to Home Depot I'll get some, and also look for a long Allen wrench in the right size so I can get some torque on it.

While I was at it, I took the tumbler apart. That one's easy. The motor is shot. No biggie--$14 at Graves. Cheaper than buying it from Lortone.

But that said, I surely do like my Lortone equipment.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Busted Again

Well, it looks like my old Lortone slab saw is down again. By the time I can afford a new one, I will have taken this one apart so many times I'll be able to build one!

This time it looks like the drive motor has gone bad. I have no idea what it will cost to replace it. I'm going to take it apart tomorrow in the daylight--I can think of one thing that might be wrong that I can fix--the Allen screw on the shaft may have worked loose. If that's not it, then it's a new motor.

It's a good thing I'm handy with tools!

In the beginning.........

OK, let's start with: I love rocks. I remember being about six or seven years old and reading a magazine article about mining opal in Australia. The idea of digging something so beautiful out of the ground, one small rock at a time, fascinated me. I wanted to go to Australia and own an opal mine!

When I went to college--Florida State University, class of 1975--I majored in biology but I had to take a few other courses in other sciences. I chose a geology course, thinking I would learn something about rocks.


It was about planetary formation and plate tectonics and stuff like that, and after the first two weeks I was bored to tears.

Then real life intervened and I was busy making a living, and fast forward to four years ago. I happened to be in Michael's and saw a tumbler kit for sale and bought it on a whim to tumble some rocks. It was a miserable failure, but it whetted my appetite for rocks again.

So I got on eBay and bought a Lortone tumbler and some tumbling rough and got started. Now I have five Lortone double tumblers and ten tumbler loads going at any given time.

Then I found the local gem and mineral club--Tampa Bay Mineral and Science Club--and started learning wire wrapping. It wasn't long before I was cutting cabochons and learning silversmithing.

Then some equipment became available and I bought a very old Lortone 12-inch slab saw and a used Lortone combination saw/cabbing unit.

See how this thing kind of snowballed?