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Talent in Unexpected Places: Opal cutting with sandpaper and leather

Is this an opal? Yes it is!
The opal that Steiner cut

Yesterday morning I was sent an image on FB by someone who asked if the stone was a real opal. As you can see from the image I thought that it was and to me, it looks like Australian material rather than Ethiopian (I would need to see further images to confirm this).

The message then revealed that he had cut the stone himself by hand. At this point I was intrigued and a few more questions revealed that he had very little equipment and had “cut” it using only sandpaper and cow leather.

At this stage I was a little blown away but the next revelation really got me. His name is Steiner Florian and he lives in Indonesia. He is 14 years old and is obsessed with gemstones. He loves all gemstones and can’t get enough of them. Steiner is completely self taught when it comes to cutting and polishing and does so using only rudimentary equipment.

Steiner Florian - opal cutter in the making
Steiner Florian – opal cutter in the making

I started thinking about my equipment and the challenges we have using a multitude of wheels. Why, we are so lucky to have access to all the stuff and here is someone who doesn’t who is still making it happen. I don’t know if I would have the tenacity to try opal cutting with only sandpaper and leather. What about you?

I chatted some more to this young fella about opal and discovered that he was dying to cut a black opal but needed to save some money first. To encourage him and also to find out more I’ve decided to send him a piece of black opal to see what he can do.

This is so intriguing to me to see how he actually does it so Steiner has promised to try and video or photograph his process. I’ll keep you all updated on this one.

Leather similar to the hide Steiner uses to polish opal
Leather similar to the hide Steiner uses to polish opal

Do you have a story about opal or cutting gemstones you think I might like – I love these types of stories about how people make do and set themselves up.

Please email me or write in the comments below with your stories.

  • Dominik

    Cool story thanks for posting
    I know how hard this is because I’ve similar experience with my 1st opals .. but I was using dremel tool for pre-shaping rough and then finish by hand with sandpaper .. after cutting 2 or 3 stones I knew that I want to cut opals and decided I need machines ASAP 🙂
    it was very though work but good XP which is usefull with carvings…sometimes sandpaper it’s the only way
    Greetings and good luck to Florian

  • Robert

    I think that is Ethiopian opal
    1- more available in Indonesia
    2- cuts much faster by hand
    I cut and carve Ethiopian opals by hand for couple of years already, only started using dentist drill to get perfect polish in reasonable time. I don’t want to put link to my website here as it would be a bit cheeky…

  • Mike Kelley

    probably Indonesian opal, wouldn’t you think? locally sourced?

  • Marianne

    I think this is wonderful. I would send him some rough boulder/koroit material if I knew how?

  • psyron

    Steiner, awesome job buddy! It is people like you that show us what is possible with some persistence and resourcefulness. Keep it up!

  • Bill Goodwin

    Hi Justin,
    On the subject of using sandpaper and leather, have you seen the youtube clip below?

    • HI Bill yes I have seen this procedure and it is great for boulder opal

  • Marihope Durbin

    What a beautiful story!! Thank you so much for sharing it.

  • Craig Moore

    I taught myself to cut using a very similar method of leather (The back of my Oldest Leather Belt) and Tin Oxide With My Rubs superglued to the end of a gutted out Pen at first. The same way I’d heard of many Old Timers cutting under a Tree in the Fields (Maybe not using a Pen back then of course) I later Modernised to using Wet/Dry Rub Paper in 4 Grades, Diamond Oil Polishes in 12 Grades, Water and Felt to finish on. I think all up the materials to cut my first parcel cost me about AU$50!!

    Suprisingly I still have and use a small Points File for minor edge or high point tweaks on my rubs. Yeah! You read it right! With practice and care it doesnt chip or deeply graze the stone and is very effective

    All being Polished entirely by hand, it takes me an hour or so per Stone. Sometimes quicker if you can find a groove ☺ The finish Ive gradually worked to achieve on each Stone is very glossy and present little swirling if any at all on the face. Works Perfect!!!!

    • Blackopaldirect

      HI Craig yeah nice Steiner has made his video and sent it to me so I will post it soon

  • Graeme

    Amazing ! I certainly wouldn’t have the patience to work like this, however it’s a credit to this young bloke that with limited resources, he at least tries.

  • Paul O’Connor

    Have you worked with boulder opal? Boulder does not like too much water when you cut it. You have a rare talent, keep going.