Carving is by far the most popular form of art for jade. It is carved into statues, incense burners, rings, urns, incense burners and any other item that one can imagine!
Chinese jade carving is accomplished using a foot powered reciprocal treadle so that the hands are free to do the carving work. Modern methods have not replaced manual labor! Abrasives are hand made by crushing, grinding and sifting quartz, garnets, almandine and ruby, which are mixed with water to create a paste. Yellow sand (primarily quartz) is a rough grinding compound, red sand (garnet, almandine) is for circular saws, Black sand is an emery for lap wheels and such, jewel dust (ruby) is used with leather wheels for the final polish.
These methods have been in use in China for centuries and are still being used today, not only in china but also in most of the other Asian countries where labor is inexpensive and machinery is very costly to build or import, utilize the simple Chinese ways.
Nott describes in his book Chinese Jade the methods used to carve and polish jade in China, which I will quote:
"The crude block of jade is first sawn round with a four-handed toothless iron saw worked by two men, to 'strip off the peel.' It is next roughly shaped with one of the circular saws, a graduated series of round disks of iron with sharp cutting edge, fitted to be mounted on the wooden axle of the treadle and put by it into vertical revolution. The prominent angles left by the saw are ground down and the piece is further shaped by a set of small round iron rings mounted in turn on the end of the same horizontal spindle, after which the striated marks of the grinding are removed by a set of polishing wheels worked in similar fashion by the rocking pedals. The object is now shaped ready to be carved in artistic relief with the lap wheels, or to be pierced through and through with the diamond drill, and subsequently cut in open fretwork designs with the wire saw, the wire being inserted into holes pierced by the drill for the purpose." (Nott, 1962, p. 3)
"The lap wheels, which are little iron disks like small flat headed nails, and are called nails by the Chinese lapidary, are hammered into the hollow end of a light iron spindle which is kept in motion by a leather strap worked by the treadles. The diamond drill is worked by hand and is kept in revolution by the usual string bow wielded by the right hand of the operator, while he holds the jade in his left; the cupped head piece of the drill is fixed above to a horizontal bar, on which a heavy stone weight is hung as a counterpoise to give the necessary pressure (Nott, 1962, p. 3).
It is unbelievable that these intricate carvings shown on this page could be accomplished by such crude methods! The Chinese lapidary is a true craftsman that must have much patience and skill to create such beautiful work.
copyright 2000 © C. Lee Sneed. All rights reserved.