Tag Archives: Lapidary

Catching Up on Things…

So, yeah. You may have noticed I’ve been otherwise occupied for some time now, as I’ve been dealing with a few real life issues in my family. But good news: we are out of the woods and into the light now. Sorry for abandoning you, but as they say: family first!
Last weekend, I was very busy teaching all-day and two-day workshops at BeadFest Spring, and I’m sad to report it’s going to be the last show of a 10-year run for that particular event. I must say I am kind of sad to see it go, because that’s how I made the connection with the publishing company I work for, I met my current boss, and got my “dream”job as an editor for Lapidary Journal.
I did love April in Oaks every spring — even when it rained, or snowed, or was too cold, or too warm — because I love meeting new students and starting the warm season energized, inspired and ready to work. But, don’t despair! The annual August BeadFest Show is and will still be on the books, and for sure I will be teaching there every year.
On that note, this is my usual post-BeadFest debriefing, where I answer any and all questions that came in after class from students (so far) and I will continue to add to it through the rest of the month to capture any stragglers. So, without further adieu…

Q: Hi Helen,
I attended your amazing cab making class on Saturday at Beadfest. I planned to order diamond drill bits from the company I usually order metals and materials but when I checked into it I learned that they are very weak on lapidary supplies 😦
Can you recommend a couple of suppliers and which bits you find to be the most durable and reliable. Also, do you have any experience with Diamond Pacific’s Pixie Grinder/Polisher. I know… it’s hard to take a lapidary machine named “Pixie” seriously… but now, thanks to you, I REALLLLLY want to work with stones and the big boy Genie is to much $$$ at the moment. My guess is I should save my pennies for the real deal and not mess with a machine built for rock hounds living in an RV. It’s definitely time for the Spirflame torch to find a new home and make room for new equipment.
Thanks a bunch!
— Gina

A: Hi Gina!
I Like LASCO Diamond for shaped diamond tips for the flex shaft, and the Crystolite brand “Triple Ripple” Diamond Drill Bits. I like The Gem Shop, Inc. and Kingsley North as a great all around Lapidary suppliers, and don’t forget — Diamond Pacific is a full service lapidary and jewelry suppler as well.
For my hands, the Pixie is way too small. I owned a used one for about 6 months, and like all DP equipment, it’s fabulous, really well made and durable. My only “problem” was the petiteness of it  — I could span 4 wheels by stretching out my hand from thumb tip to pinky tip, and needless to say, I went right for a Genie and never looked back. I will be teaching Lapidary again at BeadFest in August, so stop by and say Hi!


Q: Where do you get metal and tools?

A: My favorite suppliers for metals and general metalwork and jewelry making tools are varied. I do have regulars, though:

Metalliferous in New York is always worth the trip for metals, tools, beads, supplies, discontinued parts, findings, chain and other needs. the Store and Mail Order Department is at: 34 West 46th Street; 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10036

Allcraft Tools, also in New York is another not-to-miss vendor. They have a website in progress, however I always suggest calling: 800-645-7124. If you want to go, they are located at: 135 West 29 St.; Suite 205, New York, NY 10001

Rio Grande is a large jewelry supply house located in Albuquerque, NM. They have all the major brand name tools and are well stocked in precious metals and materials for the serious hobbyist to the professional bench jeweler. Their online store can’t be beat when you need something right now. Get on their mailing list for a thick fully illustrated catalog, and browse their giant library of tip and trick videos, tool use videos and instructional materials as well as call the live tech support team during the day. 800-545-6566


That’s it for the moment, guys! Thanks for coming to class and I’ll blog again as soon as I get my studio straightened up… Ciao!


Busy is an Understatement

Feast or Famine. This is the way of life for most creative people. Every artist that I know in every discipline constantly copes with waves of too much/not enough over the course of their career. This applies to everything: work, money, time, inspiration, sleep, raw materials, you name it. If you aren’t used to that too much/not enough rhythm, the artist’s lifestyle is bound to be too stressful for you.
I think it’s crucially important to find whatever balance you can and establish a boundary system of sorts — despite the fact that being undisciplined is more common to us creative types than the opposite.

Since the last time I posted here, I have fabricated 9 objects, taken a master class, tech edited 4 issues of the magazine and done the never ending onslaught of day job stuff, produced a series of set designs and illustrations for an immersive theater performance, pitched 9 newly created classes and created sample objects for them, packed kits for 3 Tucson classes, taken inventory for the 6 others and formulated a 2016 student needs shopping list for Tucson, traveled to the home office and back, oh, and also dealt with the normal life stuff: house, family, pets, laundry, garden, gym, etc.

Most of this recent wave of stuff has reached the finish line, and I can see an open space on the horizon. Yahoo!

Bring on some famine, because I sure need it now. I look forward to my famine times — however brief they may be — because those are the places of possibility. Where I think, dream, begin and push. I start to build an energy bank for the next wave. Having those calm, empty, famine spaces is essential for me, so I have disciplined myself to black out sections of my calendar specifically for the purpose of having open space. I may or may not go anywhere or do anything particular during those times, but if I don’t create that space and protect it from intruders, I know I will self destruct.

So here is a trick for you — if you are also a member of the feast or famine crowd. Trust me and try this. The crazy holidays are coming. Don’t feel guilty, just do it. Block off three days of your choosing and then don’t let anybody schedule you for anything. Except you. Guard those three days and see what happens to your head when you know they are there to depend on and that you can trust yourself not to surrender them to anything or anyone. And then, once you have spent those three days doing exactly what you felt like, take a look at how proud of yourself you are for defending your right to open space.

Then, make a habit of it.

See you next time!


Speed shopping in the desert: Tucson 2014

A Tucson 2014 haiku:

New stone was desired
Too short time; distant travels
Winter delayed me

For some reason, my area of the country has been cursed as the dumping ground for winter’s fury. I was looking forward to Tucson just to get warm, but even there it was chilly. There was such a short time on the ground when I got there that I power-shopped with the cold efficiency of a leopard pouncing in from the underbrush to make a kill. Boom! Kent’s Tools and the acquisition of stuff for 80 student kits was conquered in less than an hour. One thing I have learned about going to Tucson: a strict budget tied to a well-organized shopping list is king.

Sadly, this year I didn’t have lots of “funny money” to spend — it was all business for me. But, that didn’t stop me from looking — which is one of the last remaining free things left in the world. It felt great to walk around in the midday sun, check out some “new” cutting rough at Electric Park, see some interesting tools (check out my May/June Cool Tools & Hip Tips column for more on that) and catch up with my friends.

Usually, I try to find a “trend” when I get to Tucson, but this year it was too short a time to tell, so I motored through my visit list and did the best I could in the time I had. Getting an extra day because of snow didn’t hurt, either, but there is never enough time it seems.

Here are some photo highlights from my adventure. Enjoy!

Diamond Pacific Lapidary, Helen Driggs

I always visit the big tent at Electric Park to see what’s new and amazing at Diamond Pacific Lapidary.

Momma Javellina and her babies, Helen Driggs

At the new “Rock Show” I saw these recycled steel Javellinas (collared peccaries for you nature geeks). They were so cleverly done — I have yet to see live ones, though.

The Jewelry Makers Field Guide, Helen Driggs

I can never pass a bookstore without stopping in — and was tickled to see my book, front and center as a “special selection” at the Barnes and Noble on Broadway.

Raptors on the Volleyball court, Helen Driggs

Yes, you can buy a dinosaur in Tucson. Here’s a fine selection of life-sized raptors to choose from — for the garden, maybe?

The "club show" feature fantastic mineral specimens, Helen Driggs

I had just enough time to visit the “Club Show,” aka The Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. The earth makes beautiful things…

Palm Trees and Blue skies: Inn Suites is always a great show for lapidary and mineral collectors.

Palm Trees and Blue skies: Inn Suites is always a great show for lapidary and mineral collectors.


On set: Michael Boyd’s DVD

Last week I was lucky enough to hang out in Colorado with my teacher, mentor, and close friend Michael Boyd during the filming of his upcoming IWP workshop video: Basic Lapidary for Jewelry Makers. It was really fun for me to finally transition to the behind-the-scenes video workshop team, rather than be in front of the camera yet again. I really am much happier when I get to wear my editor’s hat at work!

Here's Micheal Boyd at the Diamond Pacific Genie.

Here’s Micheal Boyd cutting some Montana Agate at the Diamond Pacific Genie.

The shoot went very well, and Michael’s video will be a really great resource for anyone looking to add lapidary to their skill set. Truly, the best part of the experience for me (well, besides doing a good job on the work part of the week) was catching up with my pals, Ryan Gardner, Nancy Blair, Joe Korth and of course, Michael — because I didn’t make it to the CoMA Conference last year.

It took us two lunches and a dinner to catch everyone up on news, show reports, new stash additions, Tucson, gossip and all that stuff, and after having gone “underground” for nearly a year while I worked on my book, it was so much fun to be out and about with my tribe again. And, yes, the margaritas at Jorge’s are still as great (and as potentially dangerous to your navigational skills) as I remember.

While I was there, I cut into some of the new “K2 Blue” material, fresh out of Pakistan via Tucson, I had a heart-to-heart with my mentor about the new body of work I am beginning, and caught up on what Michael has been up to himself — including some gorgeous new pieces with luscious gold spirals and incredible surface textures.

Ryan Gardner is Michael's apprentice and as usual, he is an incredible help at the shop.

Ryan Gardner is Michael’s apprentice and as usual, he is an incredible help at the shop.

Keep an eye on the IWP store for Michael’s video — due out in August 2013. There are also some sequels planned for Michael’s first video, and hopefully both Joe and Nancy will be onboard for some filming and perhaps some projects for Lapidary Journal as well in the near future.

In the meantime, I will be on the road again next week to do more behind-the-scenes work for three more filming sessions in New England with three well-known metals artists. I don’t want to let any corporate secrets out, so … more on that later.

Be sure to check in at the IWP store for news and previews about the workshop videos, and I will be writing about my behind-the-scenes experiences here as the summer goes into full swing.

2014 promises to be a great year — as far as workshop videos go.


Restoring normalcy

It was great to head out to the Tucson Gem and Mineral Plus Shows just after finishing the heavy lifting of getting most of my book completed — well, virtually completed — because the mental and physical break of being somewhere different allowed me to slip gently back into my “normal” life and routine.
The funny thing is, I feel like a stranger in it.
In Tucson, I made my regular contacts, found some new tools to write about, taught some classes, found some gorgeous new rock to cut into, and met up with friends and colleagues I haven’t seen since, well, last Tucson. But as I went from show to show, I experienced a strange sense of detachment to everything normal — mostly because the huge project that has consumed me for a year is gone now.
It was truly a strange feeling to not have to think about that content anymore, and now that it is gone, I realize just how much of my life it took up. The great thing is, even though I was sleeping in a hotel far from home, I clocked at least 9+ uninterrupted hours per night — something I haven’t done since I started writing the book last winter. I have a habit of waking in the night to deal with whatever is on my plate, and writing a book is like an endless buffet — there are just too many plates. Let me tell you, sleep is a good thing. Because, each day, I felt better, stronger and more “me”.
The experience of writing this book has taught me something valuable about long term projects and what they can do to your “normal” life. I am very proud of the work I did, and as I read some of the in-progress edits of my work, I don’t remember the experience of writing those words so long ago. What I do remember is the constant pull of the content, the desire for it to be good, as perfect as I could make it in the time I had to produce it, the intense focus required of a complex project and the hope that someone out there would value it once it became an actual thing you could hold in your hands.

Some sweet Hornitas Jasper at Tucson Electric Park.

Some sweet Hornitas Jasper at Tucson Electric Park.

In a way, this book writing experience was like parenthood — you pour lots of effort and hope into something and eventually you must let it go its own way in the world. At that moment, you stand there alone, unburdened, and wondering what you are supposed to do next. So, in Tucson, I bought some rock. I walked around alone and thinking and I made a very simple plan.
I spent this past weekend cutting some stones, and I made some sketches of what I want to make — now that I don’t have an agenda or the expectations of anyone but me for my work again. No agenda is good. Because I can remember this strange state of “normal” once again.

Today’s tip: Use your phone camera to take “notes” when you are at a gem show. I clicked off shots of the names and localities of much of the cutting rough I purchased in Tucson, so I didn’t have to write notes with wet and dirty fingers after grubbing around in slab bins.


Lapidary work in my PJs

Sometimes, I wake up in the wee hours of the day because I forgot or neglected something important I was supposed to do. After I toss and turn a bit, engage in a few OCD what ifs and figure out how to deal with the issue, I’m awake.
May as well get up, right?

Here are my preforms after the first two wheels on my grinder. Jasper, turquoise, lapis, agate and andalusite.

This morning it was a screwed up caption for a project in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist. Luckily my obsessive brain woke me up and I caught the correction before we went to press. So then, I made a strong pot of coffee and went to the studio. My Tucson rough was there on the bench, bagged and sorted, so I figured, what the heck? Doesn’t everybody work in their PJ’s at some point? I knocked out a few preforms, cleaned up the Genie and took off my rock-cutting-stained wet jammies and socks, took a speedy hot shower and zipped into the office.  Life is good.

Todays tip: After you cleanup the lapidary grinder or flat lap, reassemble it and run the motor for a few seconds to dry off your wheels. Dry laps and wheels are less likely to rust on you.