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Safety When Cutting Stones

Safety When Cutting Stones

Posted at 9:35 - 24th November - Nick Alexander - Safety When Cutting Stones


Carving, faceting, and cabbing gemstones can be one of the best hobbies or professions you can have. It is so enjoyable to perfect your skills and create pieces of art out of what nature has given us. However, if this is a skill you'd like to acquire, it is crucial to know what safety measures to take before, during, and after cutting a gemstone. There are many gemstones that can prove to be harmful when cutting and sometimes can even be deadly. This blog will go over what safety measures you should take before cutting, what safety gear is of utmost importance, and what specific gemstones are dangerous.

Before You Start Cutting

Before you start cutting there are a few things you need to make sure you have. The list below can serve as a checklist when you are preparing to cut: You can also find these items Here

  • Safety Glasses
  • Plastic/Rubber Gloves
  • Filtration Mask
  • Apron
  • Eye Rinse
  • Ear Protection
  • Vacuum (If possible)

These few products should always be on hand before you start cutting to ensure a safe environment and work place. Without these items you could run into serious trouble while cutting and you would never want to endanger yourself or anyone around you.

Change your water!

Change all the water in your workplace frequently and keep everything clean. The best time to do this is right before you sit down to cut. By doing this you will avoid your water growing mold and bacteria build-up.

If you have long hair or clothes that are not snug to your body, then you need to make sure it is all tied up and out of the way before you start cutting. Getting your hair stuck in a flex shaft or cabbing machine could be detrimental. Long sleeves and loose clothing can be caught in different motors and burs. Wear the correct clothing when you are cutting.

The steps you take before you begin cutting are the ones that decide your safety. Put each one of the listed products on starting with your apron, then your mask, your safety glasses, and finally your gloves. Use ear protection when operating any heavy machinery or grinding on gemstones. We will go more into depth about what each of these products do and why they are important further in the article.

Injuries in lapidary cutting can be very serious but most of the time there is a simple solution to avoid it. Pay close attention to what is going on around you and your workplace while you are cutting and make note of anything you find that could be harmful.

What To Watch Out For While Cutting

There are various dangers that accompany the cutting process. One of the most obvious ones is the debris that comes off while cutting. This debris contains natural minerals and sometimes chemicals. Stone dust as well as organic material dust can be hazardous, even deadly. Tver, Silicosis, and Silicotuberculosis are noted as occupational disorders for people who cut and polish stones. Oils, lubricants, water, and soaps can foster dermatitis. The water in lapidary cutting systems often sits for periods of time and can grow fungus and mold. Lapidaries have even developed Legionnaires’ disease from their work. Which is why it is highly important to always wear plastic gloves and a mask. Plastic gloves will shield your hands from contaminated water and the minerals from the stone you are cutting. Allowing these minerals to soak into your skin will cause skin damage over time and even skin sensitivity. Putting lotion on can also help with hand dryness since the minerals will absorb the oils right out of your hands. Other solutions like Cerium Oxide may have a similar effect.

The type of mask you wear is also important. There is a lot that goes into the air and you want to make sure you have picked a suitable mask for the mineral you are cutting. For the most part, a generic disposable dust mask will do the job. Just make sure that it fits tightly and doesn't have any air gaps to let unfiltered air in. The grade of mask should filter out oil and dust particles. A mask that starts with the letters R or P will work just fine. For example, we use R95 masks. R means it is resistant to oil and will block out 95% of all dust particles. If your mask begin with the letter P then it will be oil-proof. However, it is important to know which minerals release dangerous chemicals in the air. That way you can be equipped with the right tools.

Cutting Edge Supply suggests that you wear a mask (NIOSH approved) with replaceable canisters that filter out all particles in the air if you are cutting any of the following stones. 

These minerals contain silica and inhaling this over a period of time may cause silicosis. Symptoms include inflamed lungs, dry cough, fatigue, loss of appetite, labored breathing and chest pain.

  • Quartz
  • Opal
  • Granite
  • Brownstone
  • Sandstone
  • Slate
  • Jasper
  • Onyx
  • Soapstone

These minerals often contain asbestos which leads directly to Lung Cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma.

  • Greenstone
  • Serpentine
  • Soapstone

These minerals release cyanide in the air while cutting which may result in cyanide poisoning.

  • Abalone Pearl/Shell

This mineral will release hook like spores when cut dry. They will stick to your lungs and may cause health issues in later years.

  • Shell

These minerals are very high in copper oxide. This causes them to be highly bioactive and very dangerous.

  • Turquoise
  • Chrysocolla
  • Gemsilica
  • Malachite
  • Azurite

*This is not a complete comprehensive list of all the materials that are harmful. It is up to each lapidary cutter to do research into the material they are cutting to ensure their safety.*


If you are cutting any of the minerals on these lists then please take the necessary precautions to stay safe. Always wear a mask with adequate filtration. A vacuum with a HEPA filter is also highly recommended. A filtered vacuum will sit by your hands while you are cutting and suck up all the dust coming off of your bur and stone. By doing this you can cut down on the amount of particles being dispersed in the air. It will also keep your workplace cleaner.

One more danger to watch out for while cutting a gemstone are the larger chips and pieces of debris that come off while grinding. As you may know, these chips of stone can fly off and land right into your eye. Protective glasses will generally prevent this from happening. Getting a piece of rock in your eye can tear your cornea and cause loss of vision. If you ever feel something go in your eye, make sure to stop what you are doing and immediately go to your nearest rinsing station. Eye rinse is a mandatory item to have to ensure your safety while cutting. Don't wait until after something gets in your eye to try and find a solution to wash it out with. Seek medical attention when needed!

After Cutting

The vibrations from your cutting machines can be harmful to your hands and body over time. Whenever you are working with a flex shaft we suggest you grip it lightly and do not over work yourself. The vibrations off of the machine can cause a lack of blood circulation to your hands and feet. Take breaks when needed and listen to your body if it is hurting.

Doing hand exercises after cutting can cut down on arthritis and hand pain. Look up different hand stretches to do before and after cutting. This will help you perform better and reduce pain if you are working for long period of time. If you are gripping your stone or machine too hard for long periods of time, then your hands will want to lock up and get stiff. It is also important to work the cramps and muscles and not let them become a larger problem in the future.

Once you are finished cutting you should wash your hands thoroughly. Minerals, oils, or chemicals may get into your gloves while cutting and you want to ensure that they don't remain on your hands. The longer the minerals sit on your hands the more damage they will do.

Change your clothes and wash them. Rock particles stick to your clothing and will spread wherever you go. You do not want to spread harmful dust around you all day.

Wash your workplace after you are done cutting. By keeping your workplace clean you minimize the dangerous chemicals and minerals that sit around on your bench and floor. It is also easier to keep your polishing agents clean and uncontaminated. Do not dry sweep your workshop because you will just kick the dust back up into the air. Use a mop and water to clean your floors and wipe things down.

Final Tips

The cutting oil that many lapidary cutters use can be flammable. Look into what type of oils you are using to heed their safety precautions and dangers. Rags of oil left around can combust due to their retention of heat. Dispose of this waste in a proper recepticle that is meant for products containing oil.

Your machinery can be dangerous if you get it wet. When operating lapidary machines, water is usually close by. Don't ever get your machines wet and if you do, turn it off, unplug it from the wall and dry it as best as you can. Cutting Edge Supply suggests that you get a ground fault interrupter. This way if a splash of water gets on your flex shaft or cabbing machine, it will help prevent a short in your circuits or electrocution.

An open window or moving air around you is also important. You do not want this dirty air to sit in your workshop. Have a way for the air to travel outside or be filtered so that bad quality air does not build up as you continue to cut. A ventilation system can come in very handy. A dust hood and a few ducts to push out dirty air is one of the most efficient ways to take care of this.

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