Walla Walla Community College classes foster a love of lapidary

Classes at Walla Walla Community College introduce students to the art of cutting, polishing and engraving stones.


WALLA WALLA -- A lapidary is defined as someone who cuts, polishes or engraves precious stones. Warren Rood is a self-made lapidary who is now sharing the craft of studying and manipulating rocks and stones with the community.

Employed at Walla Walla Community College as a graphic designer, Rood is now also a teacher through the college's Extended Learning department. Rood began teaching two introductory lapidary classes in the spring quarter called "Secrets of the Stones." One class was geared for Quest students, or those 50 and older, while the other was open to Club Ed adult learners. Both classes drew the maximum 12 students.

Working off the success of those classes, Rood will return in the fall quarter to offer "Secrets of the Stones" again, as well as an advanced lapidary class, and one focused specifically on making jewelry, or cabochons.

Rood said the classes emerged as a partnership between the college and the Marcus Whitman Gem and Mineral Society, which he has belonged to the past eight years. Extending classes to the community was a goal long in the making.

The classes are held in space in the college's auto technology building. A room is dedicated for lecture and discussion, while a larger back shop is where the hands-on work gets done.

Members of the Gem and Mineral society helped refurbish old machinery necessary for the precise polishing and sanding of stones. Rocks were also donated for students to work with and keep.

Several machines are set up in the workspace of the classroom to work on shaping and smoothing. The machines ranged from a diamond grinding wheel for deeper cuts to a buffing wheel for more precise polishing. The final stage of refining includes using cerium oxide on a leather wheel.

"That's what gives it that final luster, that brilliant polish," Rood said.

The machinery spins sanders, with water constantly dripping in to keep the rocks cooled. Students were required to wear aprons, earplugs and safety goggles around the machines, and to watch out for potential puddles on the ground from the water.

Alice Wilson, one of the Quest students, said she and her husband have collected rocks for a long time. She said her husband has made many bookends out of pieces they've found, and they even have a coffee table made from petrified wood. But Wilson had never taken a specific lapidary lesson.

"I wanted to do this for years," she said. She particularly wanted to learn how to make cabochons for jewelry. Making the cabochons from rough oval-shaped stones takes time and detail at several of the machines.

"I'm glad to see so many people interested and working in it," Wilson said.

On display in the room are pieces Rood has brought in from his own collection.

"These are mostly mine that I've worked on," Rood said about the rocks, representing a spectrum of colors and sizes. "They're at different stages."

Rock types in the glass case are labeled, and include agate, petrified wood, thunder eggs, jasper, opal and other minerals. Rood acquired the rocks through digging and exploration, like on a recent trip to Hampton Butte in Oregon.

"Once you learn these, then you kind of learn how to recognize them," he said.

Students learned by working on petrified wood, then thunder eggs, jasper, and finally cabochons, which are stones shaped for use as pendants or other accessories.

Getting to share his passion for lapidary with the community has been rewarding, Rood said. He guessed it had been as many as 30 years since such a class was offered in the community, and said it is the first time being offered at the college.

"I think it can be a very rewarding hobby for people," he said. "Once you get to know it and do it well, you learn to love it."

Maria P. Gonzalez can be reached at mariagonzalez@wwub.com or 526-8317.

For your info

For more information on lapidary courses through Extended Learning or to register, call 527-4443.


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