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 The Sphere Maker

The Sphere Maker

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 We make high quality and rare stone, metal, rock, gemstone spheres: rhodoschrosite, covellite, tiffany, flint, picture jasper, prehnite, turquoise, stichtite, gaspeite, silicon, Indian Paint, flowering tube onyx, larimar, jade, shattuckite, olivine, Sonora Sunset. Find rough, eggs, dino bone, gems.

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    Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

    Sia (starburst88z), February 1,2009

    (Not to be duplicated or otherwise used without prior permission from the author)


    Q. What is a (stone) sphere?

    A.

    A sphere is a geometric 3-dimensional object whose all cross sections are circles , i.e. a sphere (unlike a football) is a round ball.

    The name sphere is derived from the Greek word "sphaira".

    A sphere is also referred to as a ball, globe or orb.

    A stone sphere, unlike a volleyball which is hollow, is a solid sphere. The name "stone" sphere is collectively used here for spheres made of rocks, minerals, or fossils. A few other names also used instead of "stone" spheres are gemstone, crystal, and gem.

    Some relevant terminology:

    • Surface is the outside of a sphere i.e. the part we see, touch, and feel.
    • Center is an imaginary point inside the sphere whose distance from the surface of the sphere is equal in all directions.
    • Radius is an imaginary line from the center of the sphere to its surface usually denoted by r.
    • Diameter is an imaginary line that goes across the sphere and passing through its center. The diameter is twice as long as the radius i. e. diameter=2r.
    • Circumference is the line around the circle (surface) of each piece that results from cutting the sphere with a plane through its center into two pieces.
      • The size of the circumference of the sphere is the length of a string wrapped around it once or approximately equal to the diameter times 3.14 (or 2r X 3.14). For example a 2 inch diameter sphere has 2X3.14=6.3 inches circumference.


    Q. What is a reasonable unit of measure of the size of a stone sphere?

    A.

    • Often dealers use weight to define the size of a sphere. Stones spheres are no potatoes, so weight is not a good measure. Not only that, but weight is misleading; a heavy sphere is not necessarily a large sphere. This is because minerals have different specific weights.
    • The circumference is not a good measure either and tends to be misleading since it is a large number.
    • Words like big, massive, tremendous, large, very large, small don't mean much without knowing the diameter of the sphere.
    • The radius, or better yet, the diameter is a good measure of the size of a sphere.
    • Inches (") or millimeters (mm) are commonly used units for the diameter of a stone sphere.
      • Multiply the size of a sphere given in inches by 25.4 to obtain its size in millimeters. For example, a 2 inch diameter sphere is about 2X25.4=51 mm


    Q. How are stone spheres made?

    A.

    I have received many questions over the years of how we make our stone spheres.
    Dale makes our spheres but I get involved in selecting the rough rocks. I also admire them at every step of the spheremaking process and more so when they are finished. In this section, I use the word stone or rock collectively; we make spheres from most rocks, minerals, and fossils. Some other qualifiers used for spheres are gemstone, gem, and crystal.

    Stone spheres neither occur naturally nice, round, and shiny, nor are they made using a rock tumbler. Instead, they are made after a series of cutting and grinding steps involving manual labor, machine work, and a lot of time. One has to attempt to make a stone sphere to appreciate the skill, work , effort, patience, and the monetary cost that goes into it.

    Making stone spheres is a very labor intensive and tedious process. It requires skill, physical strength when making large and very large spheres, and a lot of patience. Skill is acquired through experience but if you do not have the other two, I say, do not bother, spheremaking is not for you. I personally have completed only one small sphere in my whole life! I still have the sphere and I am proud of it but ... that's it for me. Dale, on the other hand, has made thousands of stone spheres over the years. He has unlimited patience and during the tedious sphere machine steps of the process, he reads. He reads hundreds of books every year. If reading is not your favorite thing, then you can be making cabs while sphere machine sitting.

    Dale does not mass produce our spheres. He happens to be very effective and methodical and makes, relatively speaking, many spheres per year. However, each sphere is made with care and if at the early stages of the process it does not appear to be what he expects it to be, the sphere ends up in my garden as a decor object or it goes on scrap pile.

    There are various methods one can follow to make a sphere, and if the objective is to make an outstanding collectors' sphere, the result, no matter the method, is equally rewarding. I will describe in a general way the method Dale uses to make spheres and the one we were taught many years ago at our rock club.

      The major ingredients needed in spheremaking are:

      • beautiful rocks, gemstones, minerals, crystals, fossils etc.
      • rock saws with diamond impregnated blades.
      • hand grinders.
      • sphere machine (s).
      • grit and water.
      • polishing compounds.
      • love for rocks, skill, and a lot of patience.

    If you like to make a stone sphere and you do not have the equipment, join the rock and gem club in your area. They not only have all the equipment you need, but also they will teach you how to use it for your sphere project.

      The major steps in making a sphere are as follows:

    • Measuring and cutting
      • Measure the rock for the best possible sphere size (dictated by size and the quality of the rough rock) (photo #1 below).
      • Cut the best and largest cube from the original rough rock (see photo #2).
    • More cutting
      • Cut all the edges and corners of the cube. During this step, the rock cube changes into a multi-facetted object. There are overall twenty two cuts made before the next step (photo #3).
    • Grinding
      • Hand grind all remaining corners and high spots of the "multi-facetted" rock. During this step, the rock becomes round but lumpy (see photo #4).
    • Grinding in a sphere machine.
      • Grind the "roughly" round rock in a sphere machine using grit and water. This grinding process takes place in many steps, using different grit size at every step. You start with a very coarse grit and gradually go to a very fine one. Water serves two purposes; one is to cool the rock during the grinding, and the other is to form a paste with the grit and apply it uniformly over the surface of the rock to facilitate grinding.
      • The basic function of the sphere machine, and what makes the rock round, is grinding while rotating the rock in a random fashion.
      • After the last grinding step, the rock becomes round and very smooth but not shiny yet (see photo #5).
    • Polishing.
      • Polish the sphere (photo #5).
    • Admire.
      • Admire, admire, admire, show it to your friends and relatives, add it to your minerals collection or save it for a special gift.

    The above steps sound simple but the process (exept for the very last step just above) is quite involved. In addition, each stone has its peculiarities; there are soft stones, hard stones, stones that polish easy, others that don't polish at all, some scratch easily, some need pre-treatment or special treatment and so on. There is a lot to learn on how to work with the various stones and it takes years to master the process.

    I do not know much about mass production of stone spheres and I am not interested either. From the little I know, in one method of mass production of spheres, a block of rock is punched with a core drill to produce cylinders that subsequently are made into spheres. What is left from the original block of rock, looks like a large chunk of swiss cheese.

    The goal during mass production is two-fold: make the greatest number of spheres from a piece of rock, and as fast as possible. Since natural rocks are hardly uniform in quality, patterns, and colors, mass produced spheres are, at best, half a.. jobs.

    Dale's goal is to make one sphere from the very best part of a piece of rock, and give it all the time it needs to become an outstanding sphere. He would not have it any other way! he would rather quit making spheres than going into mass production.

    Steps of the spheremaking process in photos

    Photo #1: measure the rough rock

    Photo #2: cut the best cube from the rough rock

    Photo#3: cut to create a multi-fasetted rock

    Photo #4: hand grid to get a roughly round rock

    Photo #5: grind in the sphere machine and finish

    Photo #5 another view of the finished sphere