Re: Flat Lap vs. Wheel Style Lapidary Machines?
The more wheel/sanding drum positions on the arbor, the wider the spread of abrasive steps you can simultaneously run without having to stop and change wheels. A machine fitted with a lot of wheels, like a Genie or a Titan, can allow you to cab a stone all the way through from rough grind to polish without having to change the set-up.
That kind of efficiency can be important for commercial production, where time is money. However, you can also cut fairly efficiently on machines with less (or only one) wheels by working in batches - working that way you dop up and do perhaps a dozen or more stones at a time on each abrasive step in sequence before changing the wheel or lap to do the next finer steps.
If you are reasonably sure you are in the lapidary hobby to stay, standard advice is to buy as much machine as you can afford from the get-go. I think that is particularly sound if you aspire to do commercial work and cut stones for sale or to incorporate in jewelry you are selling. However, if your interests are more hobby/recreationally oriented, time is not such a critical commodity and a less expensive machine with fewer stations may serve you quite admirably. Many hobbyist lapidaries get by just fine on a wheel or flat lap type machine with a single station.
Everyone seems to develop different preferences and ways of working. There is certainly more than one way to skin this cat. A lot hinges on the types of materials you most frequently cut, the size stones you are making, and so on. Someone who only cuts opal or turquoise has different requirements from someone who only cuts agate or jade.
For general cabbing work I prefer hard wheels for the first several stages (80 - 240), and then diamond belts on expanding drums for successively finer stages all the way down to polish on 8,000 or 50,000 mesh diamond. I like having the trim saw as a separate, self-contained unit, but that is mostly a personal preference on my part.
For what its worth, I like Covington equipment. Covington equipment is made from metal, not plastic, and built to last. In my experience, Covington customer support is also excellent. I don't think you will regret investing in Covington equipment if you can afford it. Their product line is broad. Be sure and get a Covington catalog if you don't already have one:
Let us know if you have further questions, and Keep on Rock'n!
From Bob Keller - December 10, 2007 at 08:53:23