Dopping a stone with wax is a valuable skill for any lapidary artist to learn. It will result in your cabochons being better overall finished products while saving your fingers from needless wear and tear. While the general idea of dopping your cabochon with wax is simple, it can feel daunting at first. I’ll share with you everything I’ve learned so that you can quickly learn the skill yourself.
To dop your stone with wax, first heat your dop wax and cabochon to about 150 °F. Coat the end of your dop stick with wax, then firmly press the end onto the back face of the cabochon. After shaping and pressing the wax into the stone, let it cool at room temperature or place it in a freezer.
These general steps are useful to know, but getting a really good seal with your wax usually comes down to the little details. Keep reading, and I’ll include all the little tips and tricks I’ve picked up and walk you through the process step by step.
How to Dop a Stone with Wax
Dopping your stone with wax is a bit of an art, but after you do it a few times it becomes second nature. Learning to do it properly is well worth the time and effort, as it will end up saving you a bunch of time and damaged fingernails while improving your end product significantly. This video I made shows the basic process, and I’ll go into the details of the steps in the rest of this article so you can do your stones like a pro.
Gather Your Dop Wax, Stone, Stick, and Heat Source
The first thing you need to do is make sure you have all of the appropriate materials and tools. At a bare minimum, you’ll need:
- Your preform cabochon (trimmed to its rough outline)
- Dop wax
- A dop stick
- A heat source like a dopping station or alcohol lamp
Your cabochon should, at this point, already be trimmed down to its rough shape. This ensures that you’ll spend much less time grinding and makes it easier to find the center of the piece when applying the dop stick. Ideally, the preform cab will have at least one flat face to which you can attach the dop stick with your wax. If the face you want to attach the stick to is significantly uneven you might want to grind it down before continuing on.
When it comes to dop wax, there are three main types to choose from. They are identified by their color, and the only real difference is that they melt at different temperatures. This is because some stones require that you work at higher or lower temperatures in order to avoid damaging them. Green dop wax is by far the most common and is suitable for almost all of the most popular rocks used for cabbing.
Dop wax is relatively cheap and can be used over and over again as long as you take care of it.
|Wax Type||Melt Temp (F)||Melt Temp (C)||Hi-Tech||Amazon|
|Green Dop Wax||150||65||Check Price||Check Price|
|Red Dop Wax||160||70||Not Available||Check Price|
|Black Dop Wax||170||77||Not Available||Check Price|
Dop sticks are nothing fancy – essentially just short wooden dowels. They can vary in thickness from a matchstick to half an inch in diameter depending on the size of your cab. You can just cut up a dowel from your local home improvement store or buy ready-made sticks like these from Hi-Tech.
Your heat source is entirely up to you, but I would strongly recommend investing in a dopping station specifically designed for this purpose. They are relatively cheap and make the process pretty much fool-proof. Stations like the DopStation from Hi-Tech are pretty much the industry standard now, and I have nothing but good things to say about mine.
The great thing about the DopStation is that you can’t overheat your wax. It heats up to the appropriate temperature and keeps it there. If you use something like an alcohol lamp you can easily overheat the wax which will make it lose its temper, rendering it useless. Plus, you can heat up your stones on the wide rim of the DopStation which helps the wax adhere. Which brings us to our next step!
Heat the Dop Wax & Your Stone
Now it’s time to prepare your wax by heating it up and melting it. Assuming you’re using a DopStation or something similar, you don’t need to use a whole lot. I usually start with about 1/3 of a stick of green wax and top off the reservoir as necessary.
Cut or break off however much wax you want to use, put it into the DopStation, then turn the DopStation on. It will automatically heat up to about 150 degrees Fahrenheit and melt your wax in about 20 minutes. I like to take this time to finish up any trimming on my preforms or get things organized around my workstation.
You’ll also want to place your preform cabochon on the edge of the DopStation reservoir in order to heat up the stone. Dop wax adheres to a warm stone much better than a cold one. This is a really handy feature, especially if (like me) you are sometimes working in cold garage. Once the wax is melted you’re ready to move on to the next step.
Pro Tip: Heat your stone as well as your wax in order to get the best seal.
Apply Wax to the Dop Stick
Take your dop stick and dip it into the wax, swirling the wax around to mix it up and get a smooth consistency. Twist the stick around and coat it with wax about 3/4 of an inch deep. You want to get just enough on the end that it starts a slow drip from the end when you remove it from the reservoir.
I like to drop a little bit of wax onto the back of my cabochon at this point, but this is completely optional. I keep the cab on the edge of the DopStation and just use the dop stick to smear some wax on the back so that it can start adhering to the surface of the stone. Then I will dip the stick back into the reservoir again to pick up a little extra wax before applying it to the stone for good.
Adhere the Dop Stick to the Stone
Now you’ll finally be attaching the dop stick to the back of the cabochon. Hold the dop stick perpendicular to the back surface of the cabochon and place it in the center of the shape. Press down firmly to establish a good seal. Some people, myself included, like to twist the stick a little in order to help things set.
If you haven’t done so already, remove the cabochon from the edge of the DopStation at this point to let the wax begin to cool.
As it cools down, use your fingers to press the edges of the wax into the back of the cabochon. Gently shape it into a sort of trumpet shape, funneling upwards onto the dop stick and flaring out on the back of the cab. If the wax is too hot for you, you can use the flat of a knife to begin this process until it has cooled down enough for you to touch.
Pro Tip: Keep a small bowl of water nearby to dip your fingertips into before touching the wax. This will prevent burns and keep the wax from sticking to your fingers.
Once the wax is firmly pressed into the cab and in the shape you want, leave the dopped cab sitting on your workbench with the dop stick standing straight up. If the downward-facing side of your cab is uneven and won’t allow for this, you can also turn it upside down and stick the handle-end of the dop stick into a small bucket of sand. The idea is simply to let the wax begin to cool without the angle of the dop stick changing in relation to the back of the cabochon.
Let the Wax and Stone Cool
It is best to let the wax and the stone cool naturally, but we aren’t all that patient. After allowing the wax to rest for a few minutes I have been known to submerge my dopped cab in a small bucket of ice water for a few seconds to speed up the process. This isn’t recommended but is a common enough practice that I felt I should mention it.
Pro Tip: If you find that need to adjust your dop stick after the wax has begun to cool, you can re-heat the wax with a butane lighter until it’s malleable enough to move.
A word of caution – I wouldn’t recommend doing this with an expensive or delicate stone. Rapid temperature fluctuations can easily cause a piece to fracture and break, so it’s best to just allow for the extra few minutes.
After the wax is entirely cooled down, you’re good to go! You can now take your dopped cab and begin the grinding and polishing process on your flat lap or cabbing machine.
How to Remove a Stone From Dop Stick
Once you’re done grinding and polishing your cabochon, you’ll want to remove it from the dop stick. This can often seem challenging since the entire purpose of the wax is to stay stuck to the stone. However, if you follow these steps you can quickly and easily remove the wax from your cabochon with very little mess or waste.
Cool the Wax
The most common method for removing dop wax is to cool it down. Cold wax is more rigid and it loses its adhesive properties.
The most popular way of cooling your dop wax is to stick it in the freezer for about 10 minutes. This is my personal favorite because it’s pretty quick and clean. Some people choose to submerge the wax and cabochon in a bath of ice water. This is even faster, but might run the risk of damaging the stone due to the rapid temperature change.
Separate the Wax & Stick from the Stone
Once the wax is cold and hard, you can easily pop the cabochon off of the dop stick. The back of the cabochon should be almost completely clean of any wax, especially if it was smooth to begin with. If you’re having trouble getting the stone off of the wax try twisting it, or pushing it down on a table at an oblique angle to separate it from the stick.
Shave Off Any Excess Wax
If there is any wax left over on the back of the cabochon you can use a razor blade or a sharp kitchen knife to scrape it off. This is a lot easier to do if the back of the cab is flat, which is yet another reason to check for this before you even begin the dopping process.
You can also shave or break off large chunks of remaining wax from the dop stick. I like to do this over a piece of paper so that the bits of wax remain easily visible, making them easier to save.
Store Leftover Wax & Dop Stick for Later Use
Once you’ve removed as much wax as you can, dump it back into my DopStation wax reservoir for later use. This greatly reduces waste and will end up saving you some money in the long run. You can also reuse your dop sticks almost indefinitely as long as you take care of them.
Your wax should be reusable for many, many uses as long as you take care of it. Don’t expose it to any extreme temperatures, and when your DopStation pot isn’t in use make sure to cover it so that it doesn’t accumulate dust or other debris.
Can You Reuse Dop Wax?
A big concern that some people have about using dop wax is cost. Even though it’s not all that expensive to begin with, there is some concern about the recurring cost of having to buy more wax as you use it up making more and more cabs.
Dop wax is reusable for many sessions as long as it is properly taken care of. If stored near room temperature and kept free of dust and debris, dop wax can be used almost indefinitely. If it ever becomes overheated or contaminated then it may become ineffective and need to be replaced.
What if My Cabochon Falls Off the Dop Stick?
If your cabochon falls off the dop stick, it’s probably either because you haven’t formed a good enough seal or you’re applying too much sheer force while grinding your cab. Getting a good seal takes a little practice, but if you follow the steps laid out in this article you should get the hang of it pretty quickly.
Take note of how hard you’re pressing your cab into the grinding/polishing wheels. You should be applying enough pressure that some material is being ground away, but if you’re repeatedly having a cab break off of your wax you’re probably pushing too hard.
If you do have a cabochon fall off of your dop stick, you’ll simply need to re-apply the wax. Clean up the back of the cab as much as you can with a razor blade or sharp knife, then heat the stone up again. Apply a little more hot wax to the dop stick and the back of the cab and repeat the process laid out above. If you have repeated problems you may want to try using a fresh batch of wax.