Rocks & Gemstones

Beginning Rockhounds

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Red rouge powder can be used as a final polish when tumbling rocks. We have used it to get a glass like finish on apache tears/obsidian and agates as well as other stones. Red rouge is basically ferric oxide (iron oxide) or rust in the form of a very fine powder. As I said, red rouge works great as a final polish. Another benefit of using red rouge is it is relatively cheap compared with other polishing powders such as submicron aluminas (Raybrite TL), tin oxide, or cerium oxide. The place I buy grits and polishes from, sells red rouge powder for $7.10 a pound. That is cheap compared to cerium oxide at $34.50/lb, and tin oxide at $49.99/lb. And it is very cheap compared to the submicron alumina polish at $8.20/oz.
But there are issues with using red rouge too. It is messy. It will stain stuff red. With many rocks, this is not a big issue. The red rouge will stain the rocks red along various cracks in the rock. But if you now soak the rocks in water mixed with Iron Out, the Iron Out will remove the rust stains. But you need to be careful with the rocks you put into the Iron Out. Iron Out will also dissolve calcium, which makes up some rocks you might want to polish such as Labradorite (Calcium sodium aluminum silicate). We learned this the hard way as a nice piece of labradorite came out of the Iron Out looking kind of ugly. The red rouge will also stain your tumbler barrels, or bowls red. Again, this not a really big deal.
So red rouge powder is a cheaper way to get a glass like finish on many rocks as long as you are willing to deal with the mess.

I have really wanted to find some labradorite. It’s a very pretty rock. I had made a visit to a local lake where there was supposedly labradorite to be found, but there was very little access to the lake, and where we could get to, we found nothing but shale. And technically, taking rocks was forbidden anyway.
I had read there is labradorite in areas of the Adirondack Mountains, but we haven’t had a chance to go explore those areas yet. But I had also read that one guy had found labradorite on the beaches of Lake Erie near Saybrook, Ohio (Ashtabula County). He had even posted pictures of the rocks both raw and polished. I contacted him, and found that he had collected the rocks on private beaches. The labradorite is glacial till deposit. I searched Google Maps and found several parks in the area. The largest was Geneva State Park. I searched the park’s website and found nothing saying we couldn’t collect rocks.
We arrived Sunday morning, and were actually lucky that it was raining. It wasn’t a hard rain, but a light rain that was off and on. With the stones being wet, it actually made it easier to see their color and patterns. It would have been much harder if they had been dry.
We pulled into the Breakwater Beach parking lot and started walking along the beach. There were smaller rocks and pebbles near the water line, and my wife walked there. I walked a little higher up on the beach where there were fewer, but larger stones. I found a greenish blackish mottled rock fairly quickly that I was pretty sure was labradorite. It looked like pictures I had seen. We kept walking, picking up not only rocks we thought were labradorite, but rocks with interesting colors and patterns.
We walked the beach for maybe an hour and collected a bunch of rocks. Some, I am pretty sure are labradorite, and others might be. We will polish then and see what they look like. I have read the labradorite found here is not high grade. But it should still be fun to play with. I might try cutting a few of the larger pieces into slabs and polishing those.
I am not sure of the range that the labradorite extends. I am wondering if we explore the Lake Erie beaches in New York, if we would find labradorite. We might have to take a camping trip some rainy weekend. We are planning to take a trip to the Adirondacks later this summer to look for rocks, including labradorite.

Geneva State Park Beach

Geneva State Park Beach

Geneva State Park Beach

Geneva State Park Beach

Geneva State Park Beach

Geneva State Park Beach

Lake Erie Beach Rocks, Saybrook, OH

Lake Erie Beach Rocks, Saybrook, OH

Lake Erie Beach Labradorite, Saybrook, OH

Lake Erie Beach Labradorite, Saybrook, OH

My wife and I were visiting North Carolina to do some rock hunting. We had spent some time at Emerald Hollow Mine which is basically a tourist trap with a salted creek. I wanted to look for some native stuff. I had read about various places in the Blue Ridge Mountains. There are many mines there. Some charge, some are free. We decided to try Ray Mica Mine. It was free and from pictures I found online, had some interesting looking rocks. We park at the end of the Ray Mine Road (GPS coordinates: N 35 53.240 W 82 16.732). We grabbed a couple rock hammers and started walking up the trail. The trail crosses the creek. I left my wife to explore the creek. She was probably not in shape to climb up the hill. Digging is not allowed in the creek anymore, but I was told you are allowed to search for rocks already exposed.
I saw a guy up in the hill digging. I climbed up. The trail continues around and up the hill, but I took the direct route. There were two guys up there digging under tree roots. The one guy suggested digging down and in. I didn’t feel like going back to the car for a shovel just yet. I headed up the hill a little ways and started digging under a tree root with my rock hammer. The dirt was loose and easy to dig. I found lots of rocks, but no beryl. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was looking for. I had seen pictures though. I heard a whoop from down below and I made my way down to see what they had. The one guy had found a rock with a two, or three beryl crystals in it. The other guy showed me a nice beryl crystal that was free from any rock. I got some pictures of their beryl. They said I want to look for rocks with quartz and feldspar in them. If they had just one or the other, they won’t have beryl in them.
So I went back up to my spot and dug some more. After a while I was getting hungry and wondering how my wife was doing. I went back down to the creek. My wife had walked the creek as far as she could go and not found any beryl either. I said I was going to go down to the car to get a sandwich and something to drink. I was planning on grabbing the shovel. But my wife was tired and wasn’t up for anymore here. So we made our way back to the car and left.
I would have loved to have had more time here. Knowing what I know now, I would have brought a shovel, and a bucket filled with water from the creek to rinse off rocks. I would have planned to spend more time there. The two guys I spoke too had found beryl, but they said they had also had days where they dug all day, and found nothing. So be aware, it is not guaranteed you will find beryl here. I did find some interesting specimens of mica.

Ray Mica Mine Hill

Ray Mica Mine Hill

Ray Mica Mine Bank

Ray Mica Mine Bank

Ray Mica Mine Beryl

Ray Mica Mine Beryl

We had been to Emerald Hollow Mine three years ago. We had seen the show Cash And Treasures and were intrigued. We had no luck digging, but found lots of rocks in the creek. We saw how the one little field where school children dig was salted with stones. We learned later that the creek was salted too. But we had fun. We were planning another trip and decided to visit Emerald Hollow Mine again.

We arrived on Wednesday morning. We paid for creeking permits which were only $8 each, and then screened our complimentary buckets. Then we headed down to the creek and start digging and screening. There were A LOT of school kids, but they were mostly at the upper end of the creek.. We found a bunch of cool rocks. Unfortunately my mp3 fell off my belt into the water and died. After five hours, we called it a day.

We came back the next day, first thing in the morning. My wife stayed and screened the buckets, and I headed right to the creek. I could tell the creek had been freshly salted with new rocks. There was only one other couple working the creek. I just walked down the creek looking through the water, and picking up the mostly easy to see stones. When I reached the bottom of the creek, I tuned around and walked back up. I had filled a gallon sized bag with rocks and was started on another bag. When I hit the top of the creek, I took the rocks to the car. Then I got my polarized sunglasses and headed back down to the creek. The polarized sunglasses made it much easier to see through the water. I made another pass to the bottom of the creek and back and found more rocks. At this point we had a lot of rocks. Among the rocks we found or think we found in the creek were quartz, rose quartz, smoky quartz, amethyst, sodalite, jasper, red jasper, moonstone, appetite, aventurine, unakite, amazonite, agate, citrine, tourmalated quartz, rutilated quartz, and who knows what else. But I was pretty much done with this place. It was fun like and easter egg hunt, but after a while it got old just picking up rocks that someone had thrown into the creek. We probably won’t come back here again.

If you do go the Emerald Hollow Mine, get there first thing in the morning before all the people are there. Then just walk the length of the creek looking for rocks lying on the bottom. Look for rocks that stand out. The red and green rocks are pretty easy to see. The agates look white of the bottom. The blue rocks sometimes look black under water. Just for rocks where the color looks out of place. If you still want more, dog and screen rocks from the sand on the bottom. You will find lots.

Emerald Hollow Mine Sign

Emerald Hollow Mine Sign

Emerald Hollow Mine Sluicing

Emerald Hollow Mine Sluicing

Emerald Hollow Mine Creek

Emerald Hollow Mine Creek

Emerald Hollow Mine Rocks

Emerald Hollow Mine Rocks

Emerald Hollow Mine Rocks

Emerald Hollow Mine Rocks

Emerald Hollow Mine Rocks

Emerald Hollow Mine Rocks

When I was out in Nevada and California, I collected many pieces of agate and chalcedony. Many of the pieces were small, but some of the pieces were larger. Too large for my wife to use for making jewelry. I considered breaking the pieces with a sledgehammer to make them smaller and more usable for jewelry. But I decided that if I cut the pieces down into the thin slabs, that would make much nicer pieces.
I started investigating rock saws, but found they cost a lot more than I could justify spending. But I found that some people had used tile saws to cut rocks. These were much less expensive. But would they hold up? I started reading reviews of various tile saws. I could get a 4 inch tile saw, but it wouldn’t cut as thick of rocks as I wanted. So I started looking at the 7 inch models. There were various brands available, many for less than $100. One of the saw that actually had the best reviews, at least in the cheaper price range for which I was looking, was the Chicago Electric 7 Inch Portable Wet Cutting Tile Saw from Harbor Freight. At 3/4 horsepower, it sounded like it had a pretty strong motor. I could get the saw for about $60, and would have to buy the diamond blade separately for $20. I was a little leery after having such bad experiences with the Harbor Freight rock tumbler. But reviews of the Harbor Freight tile saw mentioned people using them for years.
I decided to give it a try. I bought it using the 20% off coupon from the Harbor Freight mailer. I also bought the extended warranty which saved me when I bought the HF rock tumbler. The first saw I bought was DOA. The motor wouldn’t turn. This didn’t give me a good feeling. I returned it to the store. They said they sell lots of these, and they never had seen a problem like this. They gave me another saw and I took it home. This saw worked. I got it put together and the blade installed.
There is a water tray that slides underneath. I think this could have been designed better as it is difficult to put in and take out when it is full of water.
The saw worked great for cutting rocks up to a little over an inch. The motor has plenty of power and I have rarely had issues with it slowing down even when pushing the rock into it with pressure. It is important to keep the water tray full. Water tends to splatter around a lot. You need to keep the tray topped off so the blade stays wet. If the blade starts to dry out, it cuts much more slowly and the blade will wear out faster. You will also need to empty the tray every once in a while if you are doing a bunch of cutting as it will fill up with sludge.
You will want to use eye protection as water with rock dust will be flying all over the place. Also use ear protection as this can get loud when cutting rock. My ears were left ringing after spending close to an hour cutting rocks one night.
One limitation of the Harbor Freight tile saw is that you are limited to using the diamond blades from Harbor Freight. The arbor on the saw is 1 inch, and this seems to be unique to the Harbor Freight saw. But I have cut a lot of rock using the one blade so far. The blade was $20 and if I use the 20% off coupon, I can get another one for $16. Maybe they go on sale now and then too. I don’t know.
The blade is kind of thick, maybe over an 1/8th of an inch thick, so you will lose a bunch of material in cutting.
You will want to use this outside, or in the garage where you aren’t worried about things getting wet. A lot of water will splatter around this saw. I have been using it on my work bench in the garage and it has left puddles of water underneath that I have to soak up afterwards. I am now waiting for warmer weather so I can use it outside in the driveway.
But I have gotten some very cool slabs of agate and chalcedony by using this saw. These have turned out to be some of the nicest pieces from the stuff I brought back. We just polished them using our Raytech vibratory tumbler and they are amazing! My wife is having fun making jewelry from them!

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