Serving The Meteorite Community Since 2002

Meteorites in Everything

During the last fifty years of collecting and working with meteorites, I have done many fun things with them. As I cut and prepared them pounds of dust were created. I have made it into pigment for art paints. I put the powder into my handmade paper for the specimen cards of my collection. I did that years ago. I still have many sheets of paper so I no longer make more paper. I have used the cutting dust as the colorant in glazes for ceramic work. I have made things from the meteorites themselves too not just the waste dust. I thought this issue that I would take a look at some of the things that have been created from the meteorites which passed through my hands in a half-century.

This image shows the sheets of handmade paper I still have. I mostly just write the specimen information on round-cornered cards today. But a couple of hundred specimens have ID cards made with handmade paper. I included iron grains as well as the cutting dust. The iron grains rusted and stained the paper uniquely and interestingly which I thought was very cool. I made wooden frames to hold the paper pulp with window screen attached to one side. I used the paper saved from the mail we received. I shredded all our mail from a couple months with my crosscut shredder into tiny pieces. Then I pulped it with water in an old blender. Once it was goo I poured the glop into the big wash tank from my darkroom. I just stirred the pulp up and dipped my screen in, shaking it a bit while still in the tank to make an even layer of pulp. Then lifted the screen out to drip and dry a little. I put a thick piece of felt cloth on top of the wet pulp to absorb the majority of the water. When it was dry enough I removed a sheet which I hung to finish drying and then repeated the process. I made a nice even thickness cardstock that I cut down to print in my printer. The paper has bits of color from any pieces of colored paper I shredded. Tiny bits of plastic from the windows of envelopes and meteorite dust and nickel-metal grains. Many of my printed specimen cards are attracted to a magnet. It was a fun project.

As I have mentioned on a couple of occasions I had a tough time growing up and was on my own at 20 years of age. It was arts and crafts that helped to supplement my income while going to college. Art had been my refuge while still at home in that bad environment. And I had a small homemade diamond saw even then that I used to cut rocks for my silver work. I was cutting meteorites too even in my late teens. So it has always been just part of my nature to try using everything around me in my artwork. About the only thing, I never put meteorites into was leaded glass work. But I did make a Tiffany-style lamp out of thin specimens of indochinite tektite.

Meteorite dust had quite limited applications as a pigment for me back in the past. I think I could get a wider pallet of colors today. I get bright orange dust from Al Haggounia, I get a rouge red almost hematite-like dust from a few of the really old weathered meteorites. I was getting about three shades of brown only long ago. Unfortunately, I have no samples of that old artwork to offer here. And painting only one or two pictures a year now it is unlikely that I will try to make meteorite paints again.

I have more uses for the meteorite dust in my ceramics. I have made many pieces with glazes utilizing meteorite dust. Mosaics have been a favorite place to use the meteorite-colored glaze and meteorite-colored clay. At my peak of ceramic production in the 1990s, I was using several different clays. Today I use just a generic white body clay that is inexpensive. I am far from a supplier now. When we were in the South Bay area of LA I was only about a thirty-minute drive from a great pottery supply company. Now living in the mountains of central California there is no place near and everything has to be shipped. Clay is heavy, it costs more for the shipping of the clay than the clay costs. So I modify the simple clay with additives when I want. I sometimes grind up old bits of broken work and kiln explosion bisque and put in bits of crushed glaze tests. And of course, add meteorite powder if I want to color the body. I use the meteorite dust like a Mason Stain. Sometimes I add the meteorite powder to the clay as a layer brushed onto a flat pancake of clay and then just work it a little so the meteorite colors the clay as swirls in the finished piece. The one drawback to using the meteorite dust is nothing made with it can be used with food. I am really afraid of the nickel in the meteorite dust and of course who knows what might happen with dust from Martian and Moon meteorites. We don’t want to start a mutant zombie outbreak because of a mars meteorite glazed coffee mug.

This mosaic was created a few years ago. In addition to meteorite dust used in the glaze and clay, the whole mosaic is tiles of meteorite names. The terracotta-colored tiles which are the most numerous have meteorite dust in the clay giving them their color. The glaze on all but the few white tiles with regular colors is a glaze made from meteorite dust. The meteorite dust varies from batch to batch depending on what meteorites were cut before the dust was collected from the bottom of the saw. Each batch is a mix of many chondrite stones. The martian and lunar dust is collected from the saw after each stone and the saw is washed clean before the next stone.
The brown color of the tile where the astronaut’s bootprint appears was glazed with dust from a moon meteorite.
I have enjoyed using fountain pens all my life. And when I found a store that sold the metal mecahical parts for people who make them out of wood and other materials, I said I could make one out of meteorite clay and use lunar meteorite dust in the glaze. And here it is. It can use ink cartridges or a bladder ink filler. And surprisingly it’s not very heavy to write with.

As much as I have tried very hard to figure out uses for the waste dust from cutting the meteorites I have done much more with actual pieces of the meteorites in jewelry. I am pretty much self-taught in silversmithing and goldwork. I learned to use a torch from my father when I was about ten years old and he taught me more as I grew up. I made my first silver soldered pieces around the time I was 12 with an ancient Prestolite torch. Some were a little crude at first too. Later I graduated to an oxy/acetylene Hoke jewelry torch which made a tiny precision flame. I don’t use that now it seems a bit too hot at this point and I am just using acetylene alone.

My father was from the midwest and poor as a child so was my mother who came from a very large family. Though he was better off than many during the Great Depression. There was a gas pipeline running through the farm property and his parents got some money from the oil and gas company for that. They had several ponds on the land with fish and my grandfather was working for the railway during those bad times. But my father had no spending money. So he figured out whacky ways to make a little money. One of them was to walk along the railroad track and pick up the babbitt that would melt out of the wheel bearings of the train cars and sell the lead alloy metal. It was enough to buy some penny candy. He never had a finger ring from a store as a young man so he took a silver coin and drilled a small hole into it and beat the silver with a hammer until he turned the coin into a ring. He taught me how to do this when I was young and I made many coin rings as a kid. I used pieces of metal shaft and the old sockets from a ratchet set to chase the silver on. Pounding for hours with a small hammer the silver would get wider and the hole larger. I would go up to the next size socket repeatedly, spinning and pounding, round and round. Finally, all the flat coin would be formed into a band. I could then decorate or profile the sides with a file and finally polish it. I used a lot of old US coins in jewelry as my source of silver. Now it is all sterling of course. That was my start in jewelry making and silversmithing. My father was a strict man, brutal occasionally, but his creativity and problem-solving skills were passed to me I guess and they have served me very well in life.

When I got older I can say that I did become a real craftsman with silver and ended up working part-time for a while at an artist colony in Orange County, California. Artists came on the weekends and set up in a courtyard area to paint, throw pots, or do what they did. There were several permanent stores around the courtyard and one was a jewelry maker. I was painting there on Saturdays and selling leather and silverwork made at night after my regular job and school. But, I was unaware that it was wrong to sell jewelry since the jewelry maker’s store was one of the providers of the free weekend courtyard space. I was paid a visit by the owner and he was nice but let me know that I could not sell my silverwork. He offered me a part-time job to help around his shop. I got to learn how to use some real equipment. It was my first exposure to a rolling mill. I have one of course now in my studio and am always thinking I should get a better one but never seem to put in the order for it. Once my life settled down a bit in my mid-twenties I began adding to my meteorite collection and space rocks began finding their way into my silver work. I had become a good gemstone maker. I had made hundreds of cabochons by the time I was high school age. And I was doing some stone carving and faceting as well. I have made thousands of cabochons by the time of this writing and no longer do any faceting. We always have my cabochons for sale on the website if anyone gets the urge to make a ring or pendant with a meteorite gemstone. The majority of the gemstones I’ve made in the last twenty years have been from meteorite material. But there have been a few batches of other stones. Batches of ruby, Preseli Bluestone, and K2 Jasper cabs snuck in there for sterling silver gifts at Christmas times.

There is a lot of my life in this image. It spans about 40 years. The only thing not made by me is the Fukang pallasite cabochon in the far left silver ring back row. I got that jewel in Tucson only several years ago. I have made many hundreds of pieces of jewelry in my life. I don’t wear pendants, bracelets, or earrings so I don’t have specimens of any of those to show. These are some of the things I made for myself over four decades. A couple shown were total experiments. The right ring in the front has a large cabochon of indochinite tektite. The stone in the ring on the left in front is not a meteorite but is Preseli Bluestone from the same source area as the smaller uprights at Stonehenge. Across the middle are cabochons of ruby, moldavite, indochinite tektite, and an agate made when I was a kid. The other dark stones in the pieces are cut and polished NWA 869 or similar stable NWA meteorites. In the back row are two gold rings. The gold ring on the left has a large domed rectangle of ruby. It is one of two identical rings from wax models I cast out of 14-carat gold scrap. That is why they have a bit of rose gold color. Its twin, two rings to the right has a kind of ancient Roman or Egyptian style stone of NWA869. And I don’t want to forget the etched Gibeon iron cabochon in the silver ring on the far right back row.
I do the meteorite cabochons in batches of thirty to fifty gemstones. I use both scrap and deliberately cut slices. I mark the stones with my aluminum pencil using a template most of the time. I do some freeform shapes also. I make true cabochons not what is often seen for sale which are sort of imitation cabs. There is a big difference between taking a slab of rock and making some oval shape and grinding off the top edge at a 45-degree angle and throwing them in a tumbler until the coarse grit rounds off the edges. To me, real cabs have high polished completely domed tops with no flat spot in the center. They have a foot around the edge to go into a setting and a flat bottom. No rounded bottom edges from tumbling that are weird to set and not less well polished from tumbling for too short a time without proper media and polishing compound. I don’t take any shortcuts with the cabs and they are polished to a water-wet finish on hard felt with 100K diamond mesh polish. They are a pain to photograph for our catalog because everything reflects off the stones.

The meteorite portion of my life has been connected to the business for the last 25 years or so. And in the pursuit to find new ways to sell some of the material I have found myself learning new things. We acquired a few large stone meteorites during the early years of the NWA explosion of space rocks. They were much larger than we would ever need to supply slices to meteorite collectors. It is from these that the cabochons have mostly been cut. We thought several years ago that people might be interested in simple beads made of meteorites. I had never done much drilling of stones. But to make beads I was going to have to learn how to drill hundreds of perfect holes. Diamond drills come in a wide variety of styles and sizes. Some are simply piano wire dipped into diamond powder other have flutes and more permanently attached diamond grit than just being plated on with nickel. It took a while to find the correct drill and learn to use it. One can not just drill right through the rock. Because the drill bit needs to be immersed in a coolant and when the drill reaches the back of the bead it often breaks out a chunk. So holes have to be drilled halfway and the bead flipped so the drill can do the other half. Of course, the holes need to meet perfectly in the middle of the bead. It took a while to figure out fixtures that would hold the bead centered under the bit and keep it underwater. Just a few modifications to the rock drill press machine and I was ready to mass-produce meteorite beads. After about a hundred and fifty cabochons and several hundred one-centimeter cube beads, we have used up all but about 1500 grams of one of the big meteorites.

This is my bead drilling rig after a little work. I made the simple wooden base and mounted the drill press to it. The drill press comes with a rather small metal base that allows nothing to be added to it. I made a platform out of an ABS ¼ inch sheet and glued a short section of a large ABS plumbing pipe to make a water reservoir to keep the bit cool. You can see the fixture I created for the bead to rest in while it is drilled halfway and then flipped over. The position of the square hole the meteorite cube sits in is adjustable and lockable with the two stainless steel screws.

This image is of a batch of beads coming out of the ultrasonic clearer after all the lapidary work is done. They have been cut into cubes and drilled, then preshaped by smoothly rounding off the corners with my flat lap. They are tumbled in coarse grit until they are smooth and all grinding marks are gone. Then the beads are tumbled for two or three days in 220 grit to remove all the coarse grit features and then tumbled to a pre-polish at 600 grit for 5-7 days. The batch has to then be hand polished with 14,000 mesh diamond paste on a felt pad. Finally, the beads are put into the ultrasonic cleaner to remove any compound from polishing. They were ultrasonic cleaned between each grit during tumbling too. It is a lot of work, so it is good that I love all things lapidary.

I recently organized my meteorite collection and got it out of the boxes it had been in since we moved. It is nice to have much of it alphabetically arranged in drawers now. Some meteorite specimens are in display cases and out all the time. Others are on a sort of 31 flavors rotating basis where I change them occasionally. The personal finds are all in one display case and stay out forever. But I did something interesting with the lunar meteorite displays. I made little ceramic medallions to include in their Riker cases. I took a carved moon face made of bone that I had gotten years ago at the wholesale show in Tucson. I made a negative by pressing it in clay and I fired the negative. Then I took the negative and ground it perfectly round and without excess material. I mounted it on a dowel with epoxy. It became the master negative tool for making positives just like the carved bone original but in clay. I fired and glazed a batch of these positives. I gave them a white Moon face and a black sky circular background. One went into each display of a Lunar meteorite. I am trying to come up with some idea for a similar ceramic medallion to use with the Martian meteorites. But have not thought of anything good yet.

I have managed to mix meteorites with nearly all my hobbies and jobs for decades and it has made all the things more fun. I don’t know what new whacky idea I will come up with next to enhance my meteorite and hobby experience but I know it will be cool.

This issue marks twenty years of Meteorite Times Magazine. We have covered a great many topics with all the authors during that time. I want to just take a few words to express my appreciation to all the contributors who have given time and thought to articles over the last two decades. There would have been no magazine without their hard work and enthusiasm. I know that Paul and I look forward to the future and more interesting and exciting meteorite times.

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