How to Carve Jade
There are two types of stone known as jade. There is nephrite jade, which is the traditional stone used for a great variety of items, and there is jadeite. Jadeite is a translucent stone that often takes on a glassy appearance. It is mainly found in Burma. Nephrite is a softer stone with a greasy luster. Both types of jade come in a great variety of colors besides the standard green. The color of jade can range from green, to red, to yellow, to white, to black, to lavender. Jade is a fine-grained stone that can take on a lot of detail when carved.
The old way of carving jade was to wear it away with carborundum sand and a soft tool. This required many hours of hard work. The modern method is to use a rotary tool with a diamond bit. Diamond tools are commonly available at woodworking supply shops, as are the rotary power tools. You will want a tool with a flexible drive shaft, as this makes it easier to hold the tool for the long hours you will spend carving.
Jade is available in slabs from rock shops and over the Internet from lapidary supply houses. The kind of stone you get will depend on what you want to make and how much money you want to spend. Small charms and trinkets can be cut out of slabs of sawn jade. Larger pieces like bowls and full figure sculpture will require larger pieces of stone, which can become quite expensive. If you are just learning how to carve it is best to start small and not worry about ruining an expensive piece of stone. Nephrite jade is easier to carve than jadeite, so it would be a good idea to start with the softer stone.
Mark out the outline of your piece on the slab of stone with a colored pencil. Use a color that shows up well against the color of the stone. Use a diamond cutting wheel to cut out the outline of your piece. You will want a plastic tray of water to work in. Water removes the dust generated by the tool and prevents stone dust from getting into the air where it would be inhaled. Go slowly and be patient in cutting out the outline of your piece. This is only a rough cut and will be refined later.
Once you have a piece cut out chuck a medium sized cylindrical diamond bit tool into your rotary grinding tool and begin to refine the shape of your piece. Use a slow cutting speed and keep the tool submerged in the water so that it cuts cleanly. A slight pressure is all that is needed to abrade away the stone. The water will become cloudy with stone dust, so it will be necessary to lift your work out of the water regularly to see how close you are getting to a final shape. Change the water often so that you can see what you are doing.
When you get down to smaller and smaller detail in your work you will need to use smaller and smaller bits. It is important to have a good quality flexible shaft tool for your rotary cutter so that the bit will be centered and will not skip across the face of your work. Use gentle pressure and smooth strokes of the tool to cut the details of your peice. It takes a long time to make any kind of jade carving, even with power tools. If your design has a lot of fine detail you might spend weeks on a single piece. Be very patient and do not try to rush your work. Stone is brittle and too much pressure can crack a piece you have spent many hours on.
When you are done carving your piece it is time to polish it. You should have been using finer grained tools as you approached a finished form. For large flat pieces you can use a progression of wetsand papers to get a smooth finish on your piece. 1000 grit paper will leave a good polish on the stone for polishing compound to buff out. Use small pieces of sandpaper held in hemostat clamps to get into tight spaces. You might also want to try a composition silicone buffing tool in your rotary device to polish small areas. The final buff will be with polishing compound on a cloth buffing wheel. Go slowly so the piece does not heat up too much and crack.
Jade is a beautiful stone to make small pieces of jewelry and trinkets out of. It is said that jade will bring integrity and longevity to the wearer. Whether this superstition has any truth is besides the point. Jade is an attractive stone that can be shaped into any form with the proper techniques and patience. A few simple tools and time and dedication, as well as some amount of skill, will let you make just about anything you want out of this fine stone.