Walla Walla man's love of gems, minerals rekindled by visit to show

Warren Rood is eyes-deep in rocks and minerals, and has been since attending a local gem and mineral show.



Warren Rood holds a rough piece of glass up to the light in the basement of his home.


Warren Rood laughs as he displays his fingerprint on the smooth, oily surface of a freshly cut piece of rock in the basement of his home. Rood is busy handcrafting polished pieces for several display cases at the upcoming Gem and Mineral show.


Holding a mineral from, and reflected in, one of his display cases, Warren Rood moves a piece around in the sunlight to let the small crystals sparkle.

WALLA WALLA -- It's hard to believe that Warren Rood has only been seriously practicing lapidary, the art of shaping stones, for six years. His basement is packed with intimidating machines that cut and sand, and boxes upon boxes filled with rocks line the bookshelves. In the corner of the living room stands a display case filled with skillfully polished gems and minerals so dazzling they seem manmade.

While at Pacific Union College, Rood, now 54, took a class in lapidary. He found the process of making gems enjoyable, but did not explore it further for lack of access to the necessary equipment. Twenty years later, Rood took his sons Jeremy and Jason, then 8 and 10, to the Marcus Whitman Gem & Mineral Society show, where he rediscovered his love of gemstones.

Rood and his sons joined the society and found that going on the digging trips was a good family bonding activity. As time went on, his sons' interest in rocks faded, while Rood's steadily grew. These days, working in his rock shop is one of Rood's principal hobbies.

One of Rood's specialties is making "free-forms," or rocks that are cut and polished in a sculptural manner. He has a work table scattered with free-forms in various stages: some entirely uncut rocks that he intends to start shaping, some with jagged cuts, some rounded but lacking the shiny finish, and others that seem more or less complete but have still not met Rood's standards.

Rood's current project is to get ready for the upcoming show put on by the Gem & Mineral Society, for which he is creating a display case of dinosaur bones he purchased at an estate sale. To a person with no background in geology or paleontology, the bones appear to be just another assortment of rock; with the help of Warren's eye, the intricate cell structure and the story behind how the bone came to look as it did become apparent.

While showing off his collection, Rood constantly had a spray bottle filled with water in hand. By wetting the raw surfaces of natural rocks, he previewed what the gem will look like when it is finished. While it seemed colors were Warren's primary attraction to the gems, he clearly thought equally about how shape will affect the beauty of his finished works. "I just try to get something that's a pleasant shape, something that's kind of unique. It's kind of an aesthetic thing; it's almost like sculpting," said Rood.

Rood estimates that each free-from takes approximately 20 hours to complete. In total, there are six steps: the initial cut, followed by grinding, three stages of sanding, and finally a run on the buffing wheel to give the rocks a glossy finish. In addition to the standard equipment, Rood's rock shop is stocked with a vibratory lap, which uses chemicals and vibration to smooth down flat surfaces, and a 24-inch saw he likes to call "Big Bob."

So what does Rood find so fascinating about all this grinding and polishing? For one, it provides quite a contrast to his professional life. "It's quite different from my work. I sit at a computer all day, so it's nice to have a hands on activity. It is very soothing," said Rood.

When asked what he loves about gems, he responded without hesitation. "It's so cool because you start out with something that's ugly when you look at the outside, and you cut it and open it up and all of the sudden it's gorgeous. The neatest thing about it is it's like you're discovering something that's been hidden all these years."

In Rood's shop, with a musty mineral scent lingering in the air, surrounded by the fruits of hours and hours worth of labor, Rood's enthusiasm for his particular hobby seems perfectly natural. And it doesn't seem his passion will wane any time soon. "How many pieces are out there that are lost? It's my job to find them," said Rood.

Iris Alden can be reached at irisalden@wwub.com.


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