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.
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.
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. https://www.meteorites-for-sale.com/meteorite-cabochon.html 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.
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.
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.