Some Knowledge

Some possibly useful information.

How to Carve Jade

with 23 comments

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.

About these ads

Written by Bill

April 1, 2008 at 11:01 am

Posted in art

Tagged with , , , , ,

23 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. I’m interested in finding a resource that details the methods used to make the intricate and
    often very convoluted jade objects that come down to us from ancient times. It is difficult
    to conceive how these intracies were achieved with merely carborundum ‘sand’.

    It seems there is very little in the way of scientific method being applied to explain the
    extant jade artifacts, at least in terms of reproducing any sample.

    It is certain that various materials were sought that might scratch jade in the earliest phases
    of research by artisans.

    It seems likely the use of the scratching material on the tip of a stick and the use of the ancient
    drill (bow string wrapped around the stick or the same principle as the lathe) along with
    ‘templates’ and several people working together at once would be part and parcel to this.

    I’m just speculating, but I’m trying to find some reading material that has to exist that covers
    these speculations.

    I’m trying to find out about carving stone of all kinds, but a comprehensive manual of ancient
    methods seems to be difficult to find. Someone must have thought about this before me, right?

    Please email me with educational material at:



    June 27, 2009 at 12:08 am

  2. I enjoyed reading this, there is not much good information out there on carving jade. I have done some wood carving and wanted to branch out, I find jade carvings to be exquisite and found it difficult to find good sources of information so I want to say thank you for posting this!


    December 4, 2009 at 6:51 am

  3. I have recently become involved with a group called S.C.A. (Society for Creative Anachronisms). In this we aim to see what it was like to live in the early renascence period. There are many things we are collectively learning about the way they lived, tools they used, and so on. One thing I wish to do is work with stone carving. I have done a bit of research and found your article very useful. Thank you.


    September 10, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    • You are welcome Anton. There is not a lot of information on carving jade on the net. I learned how to do this by taking my rotary tool with a cheap diamond bit and just working the stone. Thanks for the nice comment.


      September 13, 2010 at 6:29 pm

  4. we have collection of power tools at home coz my dad loves to collect and buy power tools “

    Activated Carbon Filter :

    October 30, 2010 at 9:23 pm

  5. Dear Mr. Remski,
    Thanks for sharing what you have discovered! There is little enough out there to be found! There is a place called “Jade City” in Northern B.C, where nephrite jade is mined. It is sold in Vancouver, B.C., as well as the site where it is mined. I am looking for the peculiar “Chop” saws that are boom mounted or in a supplier for the diamond-impregnated wire blades. The boom saws have a motor way in the back and it looks like two pulleys with belts that run all the way up to the water dripping blade. Looks as though it’s mounted on an arbor/mandrel with another set of pulleys at front.
    Yours, Grant Crawford/ Sculptor

    The Sculptors Studio

    November 8, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    • I have this block of jade that my dad got from a guy who had a mine, probably this one. It is 10 inches by 12 inches by 8 inches. I need to find someone to either cut it up or even more preferably, find someone who can carve it. Could you do this?


      March 16, 2014 at 9:07 pm

      • I just don’t have the tools to carve something that big, or the time anymore. Perhaps some other reader of this blog can help you. Good luck.


        February 24, 2015 at 4:26 pm

  6. i m the artizen of carving on gem stone

    moin khan

    June 8, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    • do share! no other person will ever create tne same art…even if 1000 people did the exact same project with thw exact same mediums…so share ur knowledge and watch it grow <3

      mindy hall

      September 13, 2011 at 12:41 pm

  7. have great collection of Big Sur jade cultivated in 1979 @ Jade Cove…metamorphasis time!

    mindy hall

    September 13, 2011 at 12:44 pm

  8. hi!
    learned quite a bit about working jade, my slab saw was way to slow and underpowered to get nuch done in a day, going from 3/4 hp to 2 hp and upping the saw speed really moved things along 10 times faster. A drip over yer handpiece diamond bits is easy to see through, fastest carving is with ultra high speed compressed air handpieces. need a fairly serious compressor to have a 100% duty cycle with even the small (1/8 or so) handpieces. use diamond polish to get the glassy polishes, work up with ultra fine wet or dry automotive sand papers 180 to 2000 grit and THEN polish! saves a lot of diamond dust! Lv y’all! good fortune to ya!

    Sunshine Jim

    December 13, 2011 at 12:34 am

    • Thanks for the comment Jim. Jade is just a tough stone and it takes a lot to get through the stuff. It’s a bit like carving cast iron.


      December 17, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    • Slow is the key word for working Real Jade, Hard stuff, working fast ruins material and tools……….~~~~~~~~*BB

      Bay Blues

      April 4, 2013 at 3:43 pm

  9. I carve jade, commonly known as greenstone or pounamu in Hokitika on the west coast of the south island in New Zealand. I use a flexishaft dremel or Foredom type handpiece with a variety of diamond coated drill bits and burrs. Some shaping is done on circular shaping wheels. I continuously drip water onto the surface of the jade as I work. For polishing I use carborundum stone and diamond coated pad followed by a succession of wet and dry paper on a rubber backed disk or wrapped around a spindle for tight places. The polishing takes the most time for larger items but it is what marks the difference between high quality and poor quality.


    December 30, 2011 at 4:16 am

    • is it possible to do colored engraves on jade?


      December 31, 2012 at 2:34 pm

  10. Nephrite jade has asbestos like particles that float in the air even if you are working under dripping water so unless you are so old it doesn’t matter do wear a particle-dust respirator as uncomfortable as they are.
    Vinegar in the water when polishing with diamond pastes, tin oxide, or cerium oxide helps.
    Those overhead swing saws you saw at Jade city are custom made by local welder-machinists and it’s important to keep those big blades going slow so they don’t start hydro planing on the water lubricant or they won’t cut well. I just built a 36 incher and it was an education.
    Im waiting for the snow to melt so I don’t get a mountain of ice when I turn it on.

    Jules delaney

    March 11, 2012 at 4:32 pm

  11. Hi thank you for an interesting article. I am doing a course in Jade carvering in Greymouth New Zealand and love the stone.

    Lyn Kingipotiki

    August 28, 2012 at 8:05 pm

  12. Hi are using WordPress for your site platform?
    I’m new to the blog world but I’m trying to get started
    and set up my own. Do you need any html coding expertise to make your own blog?
    Any help would be really appreciated!

    chinchilla cages

    August 7, 2013 at 3:18 pm

  13. Modern Jade Works.


    August 8, 2013 at 10:34 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: