Which Saw for Wichita?


Daniel Hogan

Steven Wichita is a rockhound. He has been gathering all kinds of beautiful rocks, geodes, and specimens. Now that he has all these rocks of all different types and sizes and needs to cut them into more manageable sizes. Because one is too big to fit in the truck. Another is about the size of a suitcase. The geodes he wants to make into bookends. Several he wants to cut into slabs and then cut those to make cabochons for his friends. 

So which saw do you need Wichita? 

As I always say, the right tool for the right job! Using the wrong tool can lead to disastrous results up to and including serious bodily harm! So before you start cutting Wichita, (YES! YOU!), finish this article first and always use the proper PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) associated with that job. 

Okay. Rant over. Let’s get started on the boulder. 

So in mines and quarries you will have boulders that can weigh several tons. Too heavy for that RAM 1500 you just bought so we need to cut it down. So the first saw we are looking at is a wire saw. The wire saw is a large motor on a track system that turns a large wire (although it’s more like a chain to me) that has segments with cutting edges. The wire is wrapped around the boulder with the track leading away and downhill from the stone so as the wire cuts, the motor is pulling away along the track pulling the wire eventually through the stone. A water supply is fed into the groove for lubrication and keeping everything as cool as possible. The machine rotates 180 degrees so you can cut vertically, horizontally and diagonally. 

Now for that stone that’s about the size of a suitcase. Let’s use the drop saw on that. These look just like your everyday mitre saw except they only cut at 90 degrees and they are a hell of a lot bigger! It also uses a water feed and that will help you get this behemoth cut down to more manageable sizes. The weight of the saw works it’s way down through the stone. Great for cutting it into manageable blocks. 

So now we want to cut those blocks into ¼ inch slabs for our lapidary friends. This is where the slab saw comes in. These saws consist of a stationary blade and a carriage system that are enclosed in a metal case. The carriage system consists of a vice to hold the stone and a rail that allows the carriage to be fed through the saw. There are two types of feed systems, gravity and power feeds, although you rarely ever see a gravity feed anymore. Gravity feeds used weights to pull the carriage through the saw. Power feeds use a threaded screw that pushes the stone through the saw. Many are direct drive with a small electric motor, others are pulley driven with a worm gear. (I use and prefer the latter but that is for another time.) These machines use a cutting lubricant to keep everything cool and cutting properly. (At this point I would go off on a tirade about using water, oil, diesel fuel, etc. but that will take forever so I will leave that rant for another article.) Each pass the carriage can be precisely moved in another ¼ inch (or whatever you desire) to get clean consistent slabs.

The slab saw is also fantastic for cutting those geodes! Steven can easily cut his to make a nice pair of bookends!

So now we want to take those slabs and cut them to make some cabochons. Now we have a few choices. The most common will be the trim saw, but you also have the choice of using a scroll saw or a ring saw too. Let’s look at these. 

The trim saw is a smaller version of your slab saw. Many are water cooled but some are oil cooled. Always follow the manufacturers recommendations (I mean it!) The small blade can make straight cuts quickly and you can rough out a shape in a short time. With practice you can hone in your detail and get a very nice looking preform. 

The scroll saw and the ring saw are both very similar. These saws are great for very fine detail work and minimizing loss of material. The blades are completely covered in diamond grit so they can literally cut in any direction. Forwards, backwards, sideways, slantways, you name it. Beautiful tight curves are no problem here. You can also do piercing pieces with a special blade you can add on later. Just drill a hole, feed the blade through and start cutting. These are water cooled and cut much slower. Impatient cutters will break blades pretty easily. 

So there you have it. What saw is the one you need? You should know a lot more after reading all of this. The right tool will get you the best results every time. With proper usage and care, it should last you a lifetime. I know that Steven will have a lot of saws. He has a lot of rocks. 

(Steven Wichita is a fictional character. Any resemblance to an actual Steven Wichita is purely coincidental. Now in the case that he does exist and he has all those rocks and all these saws, then he is obviously a really cool dude. )