Craftsman of the Month
Cover of Rock&Gem V1N1 March-April 1971

Michael White, DDS - April 2000 - Serpentine Fairy Pin

The Craftsman of the Month for April is a dentist by the name of Michael White, who lives in San Francisco. He carved this lovely fairy and, when you think about it, all dentists are sculptors on a small scale. Mr. White simply took what he already knew and applied it to develop larger-scale sculpting skills. Here is his story.

"I learned casting skills in dental school, but only started carving stone last year. This angel pin is about 3.5 inches high and is carved from a small boulder of serpentine.

"The first thing I do when starting a carving is to use a diamond saw to make a few shallow notches in the stone. Then I pour plaster around the stone, in the shape of a brick to make the resulting block easy to cut. Then I use the saw to cut slabs the approximate thickness of the finished piece. This one was about 1/2- to 3/4-inch thick. I draw the design on the slab next. I found the fairy design on an old Christmas card. I try to anticipate how the design will work in the stone before I start, but flaws and color changes in the material often mean adapting and making changes.

"I like to work for only an hour or two at a time. That way I can get a fresh look at the piece when I start working again and see how it's progressing. Often, I'll look at the piece between sessions and make notes to myself or pencil marks on the stone for changes I want to make when I work on it again.

"A piece like this takes about 20 sessions of cutting. Then I fashion a pin mechanism out of stainless steel wire. A resin is used to fasten the ends of this at the indentations I have already cut for them in the back of the piece.

"For cutting and shaping, after the rough cut with the diamond saw, I use a high-speed dental drill at 400,000 rpm, with diamond bits and water spray. The water eliminates dust, keeps the work surface clean and cool, and makes the abrasives last much longer.

"The diamonds come in every imaginable shape, and are available for about $3 from any dental supply catalog. For the non-dentist carver, old dental units are often available from local suppliers for practically nothing. A basic unit (about the size of a shoe box) with a pedal control can be had new for about $600, plus another $130 for the high-speed hand piece. The hookup to an air compressor and water supply is then about the same project as installing an icemaker in your kitchen.

"The diamond saw I use is an MK 100, which is the standard for wet tile saws. They can be rented by the day from most tile suppliers.

"I can be reached by e-mail at if you should want more information on how to acquire the dental instruments I used for this fairy."

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