Laurie Hall – The True Unseen Story

My Story, by Laurie Hall – Early in September, I received an email with a scanned image of an article from the April issue of the Thumblicker newsletter. The article was called Buying a Faceting Machine? What Machine? And it was a review of various faceting machines – written by Jeff Graham. The scan showed in handwriting, “not true” and pointed in reference to the review of the Omni faceting machine. I shared a few emails back and forth with the person who said, “not true,” and this article is the result of those emails. Laurie Hall, the designer of many faceting machines, as you will read in his story, is the person behind the email and the one who wrote his own story. This is being presented so that Laurie’s voice about the faceting machines he designed could be heard. “On the 30th June 2003, I closed down my business, R.L. & W. P. Hall after manufacturing faceting machines for 35 years and reaching the age of 80. Since then, I have designed two machines, the Omni for Charlie Musitano of Jersey Instruments in the US, and later the Xtra for Peter Tolputt of Unamit in Cairns, Australia. Both designs were based on an earlier machine, the “Cadet.” There have been unfounded stories circulating about these machines, and this is to set the record straight.” “Charlie Musitano did not purchase the patents of the Xtra. There are no patents. Charlie did not purchase the manufacturing rights of the Xtra. Charlie did not improve the Xtra. The Omni was on the Australian market before the Xtra was designed. I designed both the original Omni and the Omni-e. Charlie’s input was the digital angle read-out. I do not understand electronics. In the six years since Charlie undertook the manufacture of the Hall machine, I have not received a single cent.” – Laurie Hall

My Story by Laurie Hall I was born in Dalby, South Eastern Queensland on 21st November in 1923. My parents had a dairy farm, 30 miles west of Dalby. The Hall children were the first in the district to be sent to the city for higher education. Our father wanted us to earn our living with our brains, not our brawn.

After high school education in Toowoomba, I went to work for Toowoomba Foundry, manufacturers of Southern Cross windmills and engines. I served an Engineering Indenture, and though I received some practical experience in the shop, I spent most of my time on diesel engine design and research. I worked there for seven years. I arrived in Cairns, North Queensland, Easter 1947, 59 years ago. I was 24 years old. Accompanying me was Arnold Magarry, the assistant foreman of the moulding shop at the Foundry. We started our own jobbing foundry, “Magarry and Hall.” It was here that I acquired my pattern-making and moulding skills. We manufactured the cast iron soil pipe fittings for the sewerage of Cairns. My notable achievement was the designing, building and putting into operation a plant to centrifugal cast 6′ lengths of 4″ Cast Iron Soil Pipe used in sewerage installations. This was a success from the word “Go”, and it spun pipe for years until the business was closed down. The plastic pipe later replaced cast Iron.

I had always had an interest in astronomy, and it was while at our own Foundry that I built my first astronomical telescope, a 6″ f/8 Newtonian Reflector. Though this telescope has changed hands a few times, it is still in operation.

In 1966, I set up my own business, R.L. & W. P. Hall, in partnership with my wife, Winnifred, to make telescopes. With three young children to support, it was a bit of a gamble. We rented a 60 x 30′ workshop for 4 lbs ($8) a week. I built my own machines for grinding and polishing the mirrors. Sales were few. Amateur astronomers had their heads in the clouds and no money in their pockets. Then, a firm in Sydney, Amateur Astronomers Supply Co. started up. I wrote to them and suggested that instead of competing, we should work together. I sold them my two grinding and polishing machines, and they made the optics while I made the mountings and tube fittings. We were making 6, 8, 10 and 12-inch diameter telescopes. Still, I could not make a living out of them.

Then one day, Del Lavers, walked into my workshop. She had gone into an Engineering Supply place to buy pulleys and a belt to make a lapping machine for polishing rocks. She knew nothing about the speed required or the pulley sizes. They told her to go out and see Laurie Hall – he ground mirrors on cast iron lap plates. This was the first I had heard of lapidary. Del went home and brought back Sinkankas’s book. I looked through it and said I could make all that machinery. That started it. I made tumblers, flat laps, a grinder, a sander and polishers, trim saws and slab saws from 6″ diam. to 20″ diam. If you offered a client a 6″ saw they would ask if it would take an 8″ blade; if an 8″ saw would it take a 10″ blade: if a 10″ would it take a 12″ blade and so on. So, when I built a 20″ slab saw, I called it an 18.” I was flat out.

One local, Mick Murray, was always asking me when I was going to make a faceting machine. I said when I had the time. When he asked again, I said to give me an order, and I would start on one. He said he wasn’t going to be the first. Then in mid -1967, Mr Rose, Vice President of a big American Construction Company, that was involved in projects around the world and had some interest in a mining project in North Queensland, walked into my workshop. I don’t know how he heard of me. “I’d like to have a look at your faceting equipment,” he said. “Haven’t got any,” I replied. I had a grinder, sander, and polishers on the floor and after looking at them, he said he wouldn’t mind having them in the United States.

I also had a row of telescope mounting that I had just assembled in the centre of the shop. After examining them, he asked if I had considered selling them in America. I said I had thought about it because of the Americans’ ability to pay, but, there was one thing stopping me, I might bite off more than I can chew. He agreed. Back to faceting machines, squatting down on the cement floor I sketched out, with a piece of chalk, the ideas I had. He said he lived six months out of the year in hotels around the world and wanted a small machine he could carry with him so that he could facet in his hotel rooms. He asked how soon could I have a machine made?, to which I replied that I needed an order to start. The cost? $150.00. He said to go ahead and make it.

At the time, I had not seen a faceting machine, only illustrations in the American Lapidary Magazine. While designing it, I would say to my wife, “How does the other fellow do this.” She said that perhaps they didn’t bother about it, it was the operator’s problem. I wasn’t game to doing this faceting stuff, but I worked out how to do it. I didn’t find out until later, that she was right. When I had the machine made, I thought I better phone Mick Murray and tell him. Mick said, “So you finally made one. What possessed you to do it.” When I told him that an American had said to go ahead and make one for him, Mick replied, “Just the foolhardy thing a Yank would do.” Mick came out and ordered one himself. Another local Tom Reide heard about it and ordered one too. Tom Reide comes into my story later on. (last page of the article) I had made 5 of these small machines and sold them all. Then I held my breath. Then one day a letter arrived, and from the postal stamp, I knew it was from someone who purchased one of my machines. I was frightened to open it. However, it was praise for the machine.

From what I had learned in making these small machines, I was able to design a larger one with a base plate size I retain to this day. The size was determined by the size of a carton we could get. This was the No. 2 small goods carton made for the Ross River meatworks. The meatworks closed down years ago, but luckily we could still get the cartons. The faceting machines took off. This first machine was replaced with the Mark II. I eventually gave up making all the lapidary machines and just kept to telescope mountings and faceting machines. Then, I had to give up the telescope work.

My son, Raymond, who had just finished serving a fitter and turner apprenticeship at the shipbuilders, North Queensland Engineers and Agents (NQEA), came to work for me. I introduced our Mark III machine, the 3rd design – not counting the original small machine. I had my own small aluminium and bronze foundry set up in the workshop. The two of us could not keep up with the demand. We were making four batches of 24 machines a year. A batch would be sold before it was started. Delivery was as long as nine months. I was working 10 hours a day, seven days a week, head down, tail up and GO! We had to give up something. We decided it would have to be the casting operation but, who could we get to run it? My wife came up with the answer. Give it to Peter Tolputt.

Peter served his time as a fitter and turner with Raymond, our son, and we had known him since his high school days. So, I suggested to Peter that he find a shed and we would pass over the whole operation, and he could make our castings in a weekend and that way he could use it as a basis for starting his own business. Peter accepted. He took a set of our castings into NQEA to show them. They were so impressed with them that Peter started making bronze fittings for the patrol boat contract they had.

Later on, I found I had trouble getting my castings, and as demand had eased off a bit, I decided to go back to making them myself. I took back a furnace Peter wasn’t using and made up new equipment using a new moulding method that Peter was using. May I diverge? Peter was involved in a court case involving a chap who got hurt in his workshop. Peter’s solicitor (attorney) told him he would have to close his workshop, or he would lose it. Peter said he was in the right but, his solicitor said it had nothing to do with right or wrong. They were going to court for a decision, and the magistrate would look at Peter making money hand over fist and the other chap with nothing. Peter would not accept this. It was brought to Peter’s attention, a case, where the plaintiff won on the defendant’s ability to pay. Peter decided to close his workshop and shifted all his machinery in his mother’s house. His apprentice was transferred to Mt. Isa Mines. Peter won his case, but it broke him. He had to sell some of his machine tools.

He got a job. Peter made three attempts to start up again. On his third attempt, I passed over my new foundry set up and got him making my castings. He has made them ever since. Then in 1979, there was a further slackening in demand. Raymond, my son, was not really interested in making faceting machines. His interest was in drag cars, rallying and ski racing. His mother and I assisted him in starting his own business, “Ray Hall Turbocharging.” This has been a very successful venture. Today, Ray Hall Turbocharging is the biggest fitter of turbochargers in Australia, it is recognized in markets all over the world. His website, turbofast.com.au, is number one on the internet.

Later, business picked up again for me, and I decided to get an apprentice to make things easier. My new apprentice was a good lad, but it ended up a mistake. I was having to work harder to make sure he had work. Then, another downturn, I brought out the “Junior.” It was a small, inexpensive machine. It wasn’t even painted – a bread and butter line. Things hadn’t picked up when my apprentice, Paul Rosman, finished his time and I had to let him go. However, he went on to better things, and today is flying planes for British Airways.

We sold a lot of Mark III machines. These were followed by the Mark IV, of which, only a few were made. Then came the Mark V. We sold a lot of these. Things were still slack, and I built the prototype of our Heavy Duty De Luxe machine. In September 1985, we set up our booth for the Facetor’s Guild meeting in Warwick, Australia. My wife, Winn, said she knew who to sell the Heavy Duty De Luxe to. She said she had been trying to sell this particular person a machine for years. After we had set up our display, I wandered off to have a look around. When I came back, Winn said she had sold the machine. She said she kept her eye on the door, and when this chap came in, she caught his eye and beckoned him over. He looked at the machine and told her to keep it for him. This chap was Eric Oliver of Rubyvale. He said he had to buy a new machine every year as he wore them out in commercial cutting. Eric has had our machine for 20 years, and he will still have it for another 20 years.

My son, Raymond, once told me that I should only be allowed to make the machines and nothing else. Winn really enjoyed these seminars – meeting people and selling machines. This was the last machine Winn ever sold. A week later, she passed away in her sleep. I believe she had just given up the struggle after three major open-heart operations in the previous ten years.

I was now on my own. I no longer had my helpmate, who, in addition to keeping house, kept the books and did all my running around for me. Our two daughters had moved and lived too far away so; I was left with no choice but to do everything myself, in the business and the home.

The first production De Luxe machine was purchased by Norm Coats, who entered the International Faceting Competition and won. Soon, I was getting more orders for the De Luxe than The “Junior”, so I decided to drop the “Junior.” Well then as soon as I did that, a scream went out all over Australia! Those little machines just won’t die. People are still using them, even cutting commercially on them.

Two other people I must mention are Don Henson and Des Stennett. After Norm Coates, Don won every International Competition with the De Luxe machine except three; two of which were won by Des Stennett with the Hall – 2000. A Swede won the other. Don Henson and Des Stennett have also won many of the National Competitions. An English client, using one of my machines, won the latest competition. My machines are also used extensively on the Central Queensland Gemfields where they stand up to the hard work of commercial cutting. Today, people are still using machines 35 years old. They won’t throw them in the rubbish bin and buy a new one. We should have made them with built-in obsolescence. (the state, process, or condition of being or becoming obsolete)

At another Faceters Seminar in Warwick, I met Milos Frolich. He was an engineer from Mt. Isa and had with him a faceting machine that he had designed and built. At first sight of it, I said, “That’s how faceting machines should be built.” But, Milos had departed from what was the accepted thing. The Gemax machine, which he later put on the market, was of a conventional design. Milos was overhauling faceting machines in his spare time. He showed me parts he had taken out of two well known American machines, Facetron and Facette, and if Milos had not put those in front of my own eyes, no way would I have believed it.

Mirror Polishing Machine designed and built by Laurie Hall

I was later told that American manufacturers considered faceting machines “hobby equipment” and they did not have to be too fussy about them. I now have a poor opinion of American machines. The Ultra-Tec, I understand, is considered the faceting machine in America. Yet, it has never proved to be better than a Hall machine in the International Faceting Competitions. In my opinion, for what it is worth, Australian faceting machines are the best in the world.

The Australian Faceters Guild and its members can take a lot of the credit for this. Their high demand for greater degrees of accuracy pushed the limits. This high demand and the fitting of tenth-degree verniers, dial gauges and variable speed motors have pushed up the price of machines. The Mark V machine was replaced by the Hall-2000 using all the components of the De Luxe machine but on the smaller base plate. How did it get its name? I was on my own at the time, and a couple, Bob and Ruth Graham used to ask me up to their place every Sunday for the evening meal. One Sunday, Bob had announced that they came up with the name for Laurie’s new machine. There were two salesmen and a manager of a public utility present, and I was told to keep out of it. (Bob once told me that I may be able to make machines but, I didn’t know how to sell them.) One of them, Don Lister, came up with the name, Hall-2000. All agreed, and that was it.

The Hall-2000 has been a popular machine, and it was later updated with an expanded protractor scale giving large easy-to-read and set degree readings. I believe it is very well known now that I have never faceted a gemstone in my life. Someone came into my workshop a few years ago and told me that he had been advised not to buy a Hall machine. “Hall has never faceted a gemstone in his life and would not know the first thing about making machines.” Whoever said it must have been out of touch and not aware of all the competitions my machines had won. A few other comments have been made, “everything Hall made should be thrown in the rubbish bin. Hall machines are useless.” Well, I guess you will always have the doubters and those you just cannot please.

Back to Tom Riede. Tom bought many machines from me, getting a new one every time I updated. He moved down to Victor Harbor in South Australia. My daughter, Leslie, was working in Melbourne, and I visited her, and we went over to Adelaide to visit my sister-in-law. While there, we visited Tom Riede and he said that things were said and it had gone on long enough and he faceted a stone for Leslie, while we watched. So, this was the first time I had seen a stone actually faceted – 19 years after I started making these machines.

With Winn gone, I needed an interest, so I decided to go back to telescope optics as a hobby and make optical flats. Optical flats are the hardest optical surface to produce. Of 6 and 8” diameter and flat to a couple of millionths of an inch, one can spend months of spare time on one of these. Just the thing to keep me occupied. So, I got busy setting up an optical shop with grinding and polishing machines and the necessary testing equipment. This took me 8 years of my spare time. I actually didn’t have too much spare time, I was keeping pretty busy. Then I picked up 2 Australian Astronomy magazines in a news agency. Glossy publications and plenty of advertisers. If interest could support these, then having all the equipment, I decided to make telescopes again after 30 years.

I registered a business, “Astrotel.” I made several telescopes and sold them. But then, an American Manufacturer slashed the Australian price, and the venture was no longer as attractive. It affected others, also. I was approached by 3 other southern firms about making telescopes for them, but by then, I had lost interest. I went through a bad period. I lost interest in everything and the will to work. Everything was an effort. I stopped making the De Luxe machine, though it was selling well. It was getting too heavy for me to handle in the workshop. Also, a trim saw preformer and polariscope. I then decided I would make only 20 Hall-2000 machines a year. I closed down “Astro-tell” and sold it off at an attractive price. I sold a lot of my 8” mirrors around Canberra. They were computer tested to be perfect and near perfect. But what impressed them most was the beautifully smooth surface, true to the edge.

I had been making faceting machines for 35 years. I was getting old and tired of making them. They are not easy to make. Why am I still working at this age? Because I have spent my whole life making things, not making money. If the purpose of working was just to make money, I would have been bored to death and considered my whole life wasted. I have not made enough to retire. But as I have lived simply, I have managed on the faceting machine sales. I don’t mind working, I prefer to work because I want to, not just because I have or had to. When I reached the age of 65, I decided to keep working until 70. At 70, I decided to keep working until 75. At 75, I pushed to go on to 80. I turned 80 in November 2003. I closed my business on June 30th earlier that year. I had stopped making machines. There are other factors also, one of them being my failing eyesight. What was to become of the Hall Faceting Machines? I didn’t know. I could not see anyone taking them over.

I was made a life member of the Australian Faceters Guild for my contribution to faceting. The top faceting award was named The Laurie Hall Trophy. Not bad for someone who has never faceted a gemstone in his life and wouldn’t know the first thing about making faceting machines. Some have told me, I am a legend.

Guess what happens next – I designed another faceting machine! Small and inexpensive. I guess it could be the best machine I have ever designed and I wish I had designed it 30 years ago. But, of course, there are the 30 years experience behind the making of it that makes it the best. The story behind this machine: I have always had to wait for castings, and while waiting for them for the last batch of Hall-2000 machines, I designed a small machine using no castings, fabricated out of aluminium stock. Still waiting, I built one. This machine created some interest. It used the same dops, locating and locking system as the “Junior.” Looking in a cupboard, I found about 200 dop blanks over from the “Junior” which was enough for 25 machines. Over the next year, I built these and quietly sold them at a very attractive price. That was the finish.

While I was building the last batch of Hall-2000 machines, I received an email inquiry from a Charles Musitano, in Alabama – USA, about the Hall-2000. I replied that I was closing my business down and if he wanted one to get it quick. He phoned the next morning and asked that since I was closing down my business would I consider granting him a license to make the Hall-2000 in the United States. He offered to pay royalties. I said he didn’t have to pay me anything, there was nothing to stop him from purchasing a machine and copying it. He said that was unethical. He asked for a set of castings to copy. I said that the Hall-2000 was not the machine he would want to get into. I suggested he make a small machine. He took my advice, and I sent him drawings. He wanted extra refinements and changes. Some of these were: a variable speed motor – forward and reverse, rack and pinion for running the head up and down the post and a digital read-out of the angle. He made up the electronics, sent them to me, and I designed a new head, as well as incorporating the other features he wanted. This machine he called the “Omni.” We imported 8 of these machines and sold them.

My son, Raymond, agreed to add to his business, Ray Hall Turbocharging, to be the Australian distributor of the Omni machine. Actually, Raymond didn’t want to have anything to do with it. He had enough on his plate. Debbie Evans, who manages his business was going to handle it. Perhaps, because I am old and not born into an electronic age, I did not like the “Dancing Digits” as I called them on the Omni and I considered the head too complicated, both mechanically and electronically. If anything went wrong, it would have to come back to me. But it was the only design I could figure out. Well, I told him to scrap it and build the Xtra. We had problems with the Omni machines. Perhaps it was just teething problems. I told Charlie I had more trouble with these machines in this short time than I had with all my other machines in 35 years and I sure didn’t want to see another one. I was finished with them.

Charles made Jeff Graham as a US distributor. Jeff purchased a machine, cut a stone on it and wrote it up on the internet singing it’s praising. Charles told me he considered it an excellent machine, and he was proud of it. The only problem was the man who designed it, didn’t like it. The other thing, it only accommodated 6” lap plates were, in America, 8” inch laps are the accepted thing. We later altered it to take 8” laps. Then Charlie got on to a relatively inexpensive encoder and, I designed a new head incorporating it. He made the electronics. He is calling this machine the “Omni-e” (e for encoder). I was most enthusiastic about this. It was a simple design and, simplicity means reliability. I could not see anything going wrong with it. Charlie also is going to make the Xtra and call it the “Omni-m” (m for mechanical). I also designed for him a “cheapie” as he wanted to compete with the Graves, the cheapest machine on the American market. I told him that, in my opinion, the Graves was rubbish and if he wanted to compete with it, he had to turn out rubbish also. Don’t put my name on it. After all, the Omnis were sold in the US, Charlie put the Omni-e on the market.

Here is some feedback: “Spoke to Charlie last night about this machine.. it is fantastic.” “I told him this: “If the US Military were in the business of cutting gems, THIS is the machine they would be using. It’s tough, stable, smooth and very very durably built. All in all, at first glance and after playing with the bits for a while, I can honestly say this is high-quality merchandise, well machined, well built, well designed and well-executed. I have some knowledge of this, as my father was a machinist for 40+ years and he taught me a lot of what he knew.” “I e-mailed Charlie and told him he was on a good thing, good luck to him and go for it. Forget about the other two machines and concentrate on this. I was most enthusiastic about this machine and told him we wanted one as soon as possible. Though I asked him several times, we never got one. He must have decided he would sell direct to clients in Australia and started advertising in FacetTalk.” (Australian Faceters magazine)

When I finished making the 25 small machines, that was definitely the finish. For a couple of months, I did nothing. This was not easy. Then I heard that Peter Tolput, (Unamit Cairns) who had been making my castings for years, was looking for work. I suggested he take over making the faceting machines.

Peter Tolput, I mentioned earlier – I had given him the bronze casting part of the business. He is quite capable of building faceting machines to the standard required. He gave it some thought and decided to take it on. I told him to start making patterns, and I will get into running all the repetition work through on my capstan lathe. We built 12 of these machines. They had a fixed speed motor with belt change and an angle stop indicator light – to keep the price down. But, we found that prospective clients did not like the belt change and wanted variable speed. So, we changed the motor to variable speed, fitted a dial gauge and called the machine the “Hall-Xtra.” As of 17th June 2006, we made and sold 48 of the different versions of these machines. They have been well received. They are simple and easy to use, and nothing will go wrong with them. Ray Hall Turbocharging would be the Australian Distributor for these machines as well as the others. I was using an American motor and speed control on the De Luxe and 2000 machines. I was told by Australian Baldor, who supplied these, that I was the only one in Australia using the control and they were stocking them just for me. When I closed down my business, I let them know, and they stopped importing them. Three years later, we needed them for the Xtra, and we were fortunate; they still had a few in stock. Charlie Musitano said he could make them cheaper than buying them, so we got a couple of lots from him. Then he had a stroke which, put him out of commission for some time. I then approached, Mark Harriss, who played around with electronics and asked him to make them. I gave him a KBC control to copy.

I decided we would fit a digital read-out of the angle to the Xtra. This makes the head easier to make—no need for a protractor or angle indicator. Mark Harriss had me fit an encoder to his 2000 machine several years ago and at that time encoders were very expensive. He had retrieved one from some electronically controlled machine that was scrapped. I asked him if he could develop a digital angle read-out for the Xtra machine. He gave me a very definite “Yes” with no hesitation and no doubt. I took his word for it. Perhaps, the biggest mistake I’ve ever made. Peter built and sold 20 of these machines before we scrapped them and went back to the protractor and dial gauge. We had to bring all those machines back and correct them or change them to a protractor and gauge! We imported and sold 8 of the American Hall-Omni faceting machines. I had more trouble with these machines than all the machines I had built over 35 years. I told Charlie I didn’t want to see another one of them. 

Hall Faceting Machines have won every International Faceting Competition in the last 20 years, except one, won by a Swede. Four different faceters have shared the honours. The machines have won a similar number of National Competitions. Naturally, no other machine can make this claim. Not only do they have the precision for competition cutting, but they stand up to the heavy continuous commercial cutting on the Central Queensland Gemfields, where they are the preferred machine. An optical shop selling telescopes and optical goods started up in Cairns. One day I went to have a look at it. A woman asked if she could help me. I said I was just looking and I was Laurie Hall. “Oh,” she said. “You are a legend” ~ A legend twice while I am still living – However, I may have fallen off my pedestal or was pushed. Some person phoned Peter Tolputt and wanted to order an Xtra machine. He didn’t want one made by Laurie Hall ~ he’d heard they were no good. He wanted one made by that “new chap.”

The finished machines were delivered to Ray Hall Turbo’s and I packed and dispatched them. We handled the advertising on those as well. I can’t remember when, a couple of years ago, I decided I wanted to be finished completely with faceting machines. Debbie said that they were finished with them too. We passed it all over to Peter Tolputt. He was to promote them, manufacture them, dispatch and invoice them. This, Peter Tolputt has been doing and a good job of it. To see and read more about Laurie Hall’s castings, telescopes and more about the things he has made then check out this website: www.turbofast.com.au Jeff Graham of “Just Ask Jeff,” www.faceters.com, passed away earlier this year. The website is still up and running.

Footnote: If you are interested in Laurie Hall’s story and his faceting machines, and would like to know more then please contact us.

VFG Logo (Victorian Facetors Group)

One Response

  1. Tony
    July 15, 2020