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

Gene Moberg - May 1999 - Replica of General Custer's House

The craftsman of the month for May is member Gene Moberg, of the Bay de Noc Gem and Mineral Club, Rapid River, Michigan. He likes to hunt for interesting houses on his rockhounding trips, and then make lapidary replicas of them during his leisure time at home. The one featured here, which weighs two pounds, is Gen. George Custer's home at Fort Abe Lincoln, North Dakota.

Here is how Gene explains his technique:

"When I see a house I like, I take pictures of it from all angles and pace off the size (for a sense of scale)."

"Draw your house project on graph paper to the desired scale, being sure to include windows and doors. My preferred scale is 1 inch equals 10 feet."

"You'll need a slab saw, trim saw, faceting machine, assorted hand tools, small files and a good epoxy."

"Start by making the foundation and first floor. I use four turns on the feed screw of my slab saw (about 1/8-inch thick). Also, using the same slab or thickness, cut enough 1/8-inch-by-1/4-inch strips to build up the foundation three thicknesses all around. This makes it look like cement-block work. I use a 4x.012 gem saw for all my trimming."

"Make sure the foundation and floor are square. I use a ripple disk on my faceter to square everything, because it cuts fast and covers the whole surface at once. I like to use five-minute epoxy. A piece of glass serves as my work surface; it is flat, and the epoxy doesn't stick to it."

"After the foundation and floor are epoxied together, put this section on the ripple disk and square it all together again, because you will need the sides free of glue when you set the walls in place. The walls are made of marble because I find it easy to work with."

"Set the slab saw with three turns of the feed screw and cut quite a few pieces. Each side wall is made of several pieces. The first will reach to the tops of the windows and doors."

"Next, mark windows and doors. Cut down to the bottom of each window with several cuts. Break out the little pieces and file the bottom of the window with a small file until it is flat. Place another slab of the same length of wall that covers the window and extends high enough to either reach the roof line or the second-story window (whichever suits the design you've chosen)."

"Make sure the walls are the same length as the foundation. Lay the pieces face down on wax paper on the glass work surface, make sure everything fits, and glue them all together. (The glue will not stick to wax paper.) Do all the rest of the walls the same way. Square the walls on the ripple disk, making sure they fit the foundation before you glue them in place."

"If you want a light inside the house, now is the time to drill a 1-inch hole in the floor. Hobby shops sell a low-profile snap-in light with a four-watt bulb. Just the ticket."

"Each part of the house needs its own foundation. Always work from the inside toward the outside. I use card stock to set the walls. It is square, and if you get epoxy on it, you can use the other side or switch to a new piece."

"After all four walls are up, cut your window glass pieces a little larger than the openings, and glue them in place, using epoxy sparingly. For windows, picture-frame glass works very well."

"Cut slabs for the roof out of any solid-color hard material. I used jade for this house, to match the color of the roof on the original house. Two and a half turns on the feed screw make a slab about .045 inches thick. Use card stock to make templates for the roof sections. When the template fits, trace it on the slab and cut, leaving enough extra material for grinding the roof angles. You don't want more than a fine line where the roof pieces come together. Use the ripple disk to make this cut."

"Then cut the window trim, porch posts, etc., out of roof material. I don't like to use more than two colors on something this small."

"Keep in mind that glue will not stick to an oily surface, so use plenty of soap and water to make sure everything is clean before you glue."

"Spray the finished project, when it is dry, with a good-quality clear finish that will not darken over time."

"Don't expect your first attempt to be perfect. This is my 13th house and I'm still improving. Have fun!"


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