Hand polishing opal without machines

Hand polishing opal without machines is simpler than you might think; with some sandpaper, a knife hone, a piece of leather, and a bit of elbow grease, you could uncover a gem!

Hand polishing opal without machines is simpler than you think; with some sandpaper, a knife hone, a piece of leather, and a bit of elbow grease, you could uncover a gem!

Hand polishing an opal without machines is a great way for budding opal cutters to try their hand at something new without investing in expensive equipment. Now that we’re spending more time at home, cutting by hand can also be a meditative process for opal lovers who enjoy slowly watching color unfold.

Today, I’ll be cutting a Lightning Ridge opal and polishing that bad boy up without using any machines. This piece is a nobby with a blue color bar that looks like it’ll turn out a treat.

After today’s video, you’ll understand how to polish an opal at home, cut it by hand, what tools to use, and I’ll share how long it takes.

We ended up with a gorgeous black opal with blue-purple color that you can check out here.

Cutting by hand is not for impatient cutters, and I’ll show you why, so grab a cuppa and let’s get cutting!

Time to practice your opal-cutting skills

Learning how to polish an opal at home will take a lot of practice, so once you’re done watching our video, you can check out some of our other top tips below. 

As you’re practicing your opal-cutting skills, feel free to check in with this post to make sure you have all the steps down pat! While it may take a bit of elbow grease to master the art of opal polishing, nothing is more rewarding than knowing you can polish an opal right in the comfort of your home.

Choose the right tools for cutting and polishing an opal 

Those just starting to learn how to polish an opal at home will be surprised to know that you’ll only need a few pieces of equipment. 

On that note, learning about sandpaper grit and knife hones can be intimidating for those who have never tried hand-cutting opal. Here are a few rules to keep in mind: 

  1. Find knife hones that can be wet with water. Some knife hones rely on oil to get the surface wet, but the problem is that opals can be quite porous. Corundum knife hones last quite long, making it perfect for beginners who’ll need a bit of trial and error! 
  1. Make sure you’re working with different sandpaper grits. If you stick to just one type of sandpaper grit for your project, you’ll most likely end up ruining the opal entirely. 
  1. Work with the right type of leather. Like sandpaper, leather can be hard, soft, or somewhere in between. It’s best to ask for advice from someone cutting opals for a long time when deciding what kind of leather to use. 
  1. Keep yourself clean. Last but not least, you’ll want to ensure you’re keeping your workstation clean while working on cutting and polishing that opal! Our top tip? Keep an apron on so that your clothes don’t get dirty from the dust. 

Manage your expectations when cutting and polishing opal 

As we mentioned in the video, the process of cutting and polishing an opal takes a lot of time. If you’re starting to figure out how to polish an opal, you should expect the entire process to last up to five hours on your first try!

As with anything, you’ll eventually speed up as your skills improve. Since you’re working with such a delicate piece, you’ll want to spend time with it. Plus, going slower means you can gradually see the colors of the opal change before your eyes, just like magic!

The best advice for how to polish an opal is to start with lower-grade stones. Beginners need to get comfortable with hand-cutting an opal, so working with a high-grade stone right off the bat can make the process more stressful than enjoyable. 

Chat with us to learn more about opal-cutting

Our goal at Black Opal Direct is to teach more people about the ins and outs of opals! Aside from styling opal pendants as jewelry, we also think there’s a lot of joy and wonder to be had simply by learning more about opals and where they come from!

11 thoughts on “Hand polishing opal without machines”

  1. I’m a complete novice with a love of opal. I would love to start with some hand polishing/cutting. You mention in your video a starter kit but I didn’t see one on your website. Is that something you still offer? And if so, what is the cost? Can you also please direct me where I might buy some of the tools you use in this video?

    Thank you,

  2. Your video was awesome and very educational, although I am in Canada I hope to find a knobby at a local rock and gem store. Where would you recommend finding sandpapers with such a high grit number? Have a great day 🙂🇨🇦

  3. Hi Justin, which grit knife hone do you recommend? And is the only benefit of using a knife hone as well as sandpaper that you do most of the rough work on the whetstone without it wearing out? Thanks!

  4. Does the grit of the whetstone make a difference? I see there’s different grits available online and it’s a little overwhelming.


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