Wonderstone is a name for more than one kind of stone.
If you find it in Utah (or even Nevada), it could be a volcanic tuff made up mostly of volcanic ashes that were fused together by heat and then compacted by the weight of other materials. It gains its beautiful wave-like colorful bands from mineral rich groundwater.
Wonderstone also appears to be the brand name for a kind of pyrophyllite stone which is used often by artists and carvers. It is softer stone (with qualities similar to talc) that is a consistent color throughout, often mined in Africa and India.
Interesting that these two distinct materials have the same name.
In this article, we’ll be exploring the version of wonderstone found in Utah and Nevada, as the wonderstone sold as a carving medium seems to be just branded with the name.
What Is Wonderstone Made Of?
Aside from the brand name wonderstone sold to artists, wonderstone is a “tuff,” which means that is a light, porous rock formed by consolidation of volcanic materials.
Wonderstone is also said to have a “rhyolitic composition,” which means that it has a lot of silica in it.
Wonderstone is known for its wave-like bands throughout the material.
It gets its colors (such as tan, yellow, maroon, violet, pink, gray and more) from impurities in the volcanic materials.
These minerals and metals (like the silica, pyrite, iron oxides, and more) which give the tuff its unique composition and appearance were brought into the porous volcanic material via groundwater seeping into and through the material at a molecular level over hundreds of thousands of years.
(This is very much like how petrified wood is formed).
Silica is a common name for a compound called silicon dioxide (SiO2).
If you didn’t know, silicon dioxide is a very common material, and is the base mineral for many of the familiar rocks and beautiful stones people like to collect, such as quartz, agate, jasper, onyx, opal, amethyst, and more.
The colors of the banding in wonderstone will depend upon what impurities is brought in by the water. Iron will often be the source of yellows and reddish colors, for example.
While most people would hesitate to call wonderstone “quartz,” they wouldn’t hesitate to call it a kind of jasper.
What’s the Difference Between Wonderstone and Jasper?
Chemically, there aren’t many differences between wonderstone and jasper.
The differences at the chemical level result from the impurities that cause the banding. These impurities will be unique depending on where the stone rests.
The primary way people probably differentiate between the two materials is the unique wave-like banding that is found in wonderstone, versus the less organized distribution of colors in jasper (chunky, irregular).
Onyx is another stone that is identified primarily by its color (meaning black with white bands in it), instead of by chemical composition.
The thing that makes onyx what it is (and special) is the black with white bands.
The secondary way people identify the stone as one or the other is where the stone was found.
For example, if you were to find a beautiful banded stone in Nevada (like at Lake Tahoe), Utah or elsewhere in the United States, you’d probably call it wonderstone.
But if you found the same beautiful banded stone in Australia, you’d call it Mookaite jasper.
How To Polish Wonderstone
Again, this is an important place to confirm which kind of ‘wonderstone’ that you are working with. In this article, we are talking about wonderstone composed of silica and other minerals. In this formulation, wonderstone is pretty hard, much like quartz.
The wonderstone sold as an artists medium is much softer and easier to carve.
The polishing techniques discussed for quartz-like wonderstone would probably not produce good results for the artist grade wonderstone.
When it comes to cleaning up wonderstone or trying to make it look pretty and shiny, you first really have to assess how “wonder-fied” the stone is.
If the stone is completely and totally solidified with minerals and metals, then polishing wonderstone will be very much like polishing jasper, quartz, or other similarly situated materials.
You could tumble it pretty easily with other stones of similar size and hardness.
As always, chemical applications will depend on the chemical composition of the stone, specifically the impurities in it that cause the colorful bands.
IronOut will hard the colorful bands that are present because of iron-type oxides, which you probably want to keep.
As for wonderstone that is less developed, meaning that it has some mineral deposits but not to the extent that a complete piece might have, you’ll want to proceed more carefully.
A piece of tuff is a porous and lightweight material. it is not very hard, and it could crack or even crumble if much energy was applied to it.
If your wonderstone is extremely coarse (meaning they have less silica in them), it will be very difficult to get them to a point where they are very smooth and shiny without the application of additional products.
The stone still has a lot of pores in it, which make it hard to get a smooth finish.
If your stone cannot be brought to a smooth finish, you could try using a resin or other sealant that would fill in the pores or cracks and give you a surface that you could then shine up really well and smooth.