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Tony Guarnera

Carving Ivory

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I'm just really starting wood carving. Specifically a knife handle. I've been inspired by the handles that Don Fogg carves. However, I've always loved Ivory and was curious about how to carve it. Do you use rotary tools? I know they didn't have them for as long as ivory has been being carved, so what did they carve ivory with in the past, and what is used today? Thank you.

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Guest DFogg

Rotary tools, knives, scrapers, files the only caution is not to overheat ivory or it will check and crack on you. It carves a bit like hard soap with no worry about the grain like you have with wood.

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A few things to know about ivory, Whale`s teeth, they have a white surface enamel and creamy core (tend to ring split at their meeting point) roughly same hardness. Hippo tusk, has rock hard enamel covering surface about 1/64" thick, needs to be ground off, warthog has same down one surface. ( I have only carved a few of each, though I have carved about 50 whale`s teeth. So this is only an personal observation, others may have other experiences. Mammoth, mastodon ivory, sometimes you get really good quality, almost like elephant ivory. Sometimes you get crud (punky, soft, takes practice to know which) The surface that comes in contact with soil, clay, etc. can be stained with that material, blues, browns and black, etc. and can be really beautiful, though the blues tend to be gritty and hard (sparks fly with drill) the brown`s tend to be soft (you may get layers of hard and soft so you have to be gentle.) I rough out and preshape with drill then finish up with small knives and chisels sand paper, etc. I presently am looking at two spermwhale teeth, a fossil walrus tooth, about 5 lbs. of mammoth ivory, a small piece of hippo and a three inch piece of Honduras amber and am trying to get motivated. (maybe a leaf, though there are a lot better leaf carvers around, you may have noticed) There are sure some awsome carvers around this site.

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:)

 

        I'm just really starting wood carving. Specifically a knife handle. I've been inspired by the handles that Don Fogg carves. However, I've always loved Ivory and was curious about how to carve it. Do you use rotary tools? I know they didn't have them for as long as ivory has been being carved, so what did they carve ivory with in the past, and what is used today? Thank you.

 

 

I "d like to thank you both for the info. I asked because the one time I tried to use a very good but narrow wood chisel to try to enlarge a tang hole in some fozzilized walrus ivory I really mangled the tip of the chisel. I managed to enlarge the hole enough, but that chisel really took a beating. Maybe I need a lighter touch

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I wonder if a different tool would have been useful. I don't know what shape hole* you were working with, but a rounded tool for a rounded hole, even a ball burr, high speed carbide drill bit, diamond bits, there are a lot of non-traditional choices for those of us who have had no traditional training. (I live in the upper mid-west of the US, in a rural setting with a big city an hour away. My choices are local hardware tools, and useful wood tools if I order on the internet or travel to the wood working stores. No specialized netsuke-shi tools available to me except by photographs and imagination.)

 

One thing to remember, the sharpest tools make for the cleanest cuts and scraping. As soon as a tool seems like it is not doing its job, I'll swipe it on the whet stone. When serious repair needs doing, then it needs to be done, even when carving is more fun at the moment.

 

I have not put a tool to fossilized walrus ivory, though I did carve a walrus tooth, which might be considered fossilized, but the dentin was very wonderfully carvable.

 

My suggestion is to try to match the tool to the job. A wood tool won't work long on a piece of stone :) .

 

Would you be able or willing to put a photo on here to show us what you are working with?

 

Janel

 

* Sorry, you said tang. I am not a knife maker, so I don't know what a tang is. It is likely not a hole! So you probably don't need to use a rounded tool!

 

I have picked up burrs for cutting tile to use in my NSK microgrinder. That cuts hard stuff pretty well. Have a look at tools that work for other applications that might suit the material and shape of cutting you need to do. -J

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Hi,

I have worked a little with mammoth ivory and walrus ivory. I am not sure that 'fossilized' walrus really is - it is more just a term used to denote ivory pre 1972 to avoid CITES restrictions, etc. I tend to use power tools to work ivory. Dental burrs and a micro motor tool like NKS or RAM work very well for details. I have actually never used small chisels - though the chaps in Russia seem to and their work is spectacular. Apparently, one way to create these small chisels is to use everyday items, like a pump needle, or furnace injector and grind the ends to shape and then add a handle. As Janel says, use what you have, who knows, you may invent something new! :P Shane

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I have carved a few walrus teeth and I have been informed by some of my tree hugger friends that fossil walrus ivory is anything washed up on the beach. It can be thousands or just a few years old. Could it be a way around Cites? Probably. Nice work Shane. Just in case I upset anyone, You don`t have to be a tree hugger to believe in conservation.

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Have a look around this web site: http://www.kowakivory.com/index.html

 

I have purchased material from this fellow, and have had many answers supplied to my questions about the various materials he deals with.

 

Fossil walrus ivory and fossil walrus teeth are defined on the appropriate pages.

 

Janel

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Well, I checked out the Kowakivory site and I like it. Prices are good. Of course after looking at their oosic listing, I will never look at the 14 in oosic I have in the same light again. My wife is still laughing. :P

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Hahahaha, :PB)

 

You did not know! I'd like to see what you made from the oosik before you knew where it came from!

 

Janel

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Actually Janel, I did know what it was B) . It was what they were selling them as, Hmmmm. I didn`t know it was also a ( marriage counselling site, too strong a word?) :(:P I usually keep mine on the table when I am demonstrating carving techniques and when people ask what it is, I tell them. I work on the (if you don`t really want to know, don`t ask) school. I am still trying to decide what to carve out of it., pretty coarse grain on outside., and my knife making skills are non existant. Did you know that the French aristocracy, among others, used weasle penis bones as toothpicks in the 17th century? There`s that hmmm again.

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Oh My!

 

The little piece of oosik that I carved seemed almost petrified. It was very hard, so the carving I did was minimal. Do you have the whole bone?

 

This is the page for the little piece I carved:

http://www.janeljacobson.com/carvings/310.html

 

The porous core offers some interesting potential.

 

Happy imagining!

 

 

 

Janel

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I "d like to thank you both for the info. I asked because the one time I tried to use a very good but narrow wood chisel to try to enlarge a tang hole in some fozzilized walrus ivory I really mangled the tip of the chisel. I managed to enlarge the hole enough, but that chisel really took a beating. Maybe I need a lighter touch

Hi Tony,

I have worked quite a bit with fossil (not fossilized, there's a difference) walrus ivory and love to carve it. If you are trying to make a hole for the tang of a knife I have found the best way is to use a drill press and drill the required depth, making several holes in a line that can then be joined to make one to match the shape of the tang. If you have a narrow rasp (from Lee Valley Tools) they work well to do any final shaping; better than a chisel and harder to mangle!

Good luck

Tony

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Guest ford hallam
Hi,

I have worked a little with mammoth ivory and walrus ivory. I am not sure that 'fossilized' walrus really is - it is more just a term used to denote ivory pre 1972 to avoid CITES restrictions, etc. I tend to use power tools to work ivory. Dental burrs and a micro motor tool like NKS or RAM work very well for details. I have actually never used small chisels - though the chaps in Russia seem to and their work is spectacular. Apparently, one way to create these small chisels is to use everyday items, like a pump needle, or furnace injector and grind the ends to shape and then add a handle. As Janel says, use what you have, who knows, you may invent something new!  :( Shane

 

Hi Shane,

 

i`ve also been wondering about this so called fossil ivory, I thought "fossil" implied a certain degree of petrification ( ie; turning to stone ). Anyone have any acurate info on this?

 

Ford :rolleyes:

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Guest ford hallam

Just had a quick peek at the site janel highlighted. According to their explanation mammoth ivory is only "partially" mineralised ( turned to stone ) as a consequence of being locked in the permafrost. So it appears its not a "true" fossil.

 

Ford, :rolleyes:

 

who`s talking to himself `cos everyone over the pond is still abed. Lazy so and sos

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Hi Shane,

 

i`ve also been wondering about this so called fossil ivory, I thought "fossil" implied a certain degree of petrification ( ie; turning to stone ). Anyone have any acurate info on this?

 

Ford  :rolleyes:

Hi Ford,

Fossilized, as you probably know, refers to an organic material that has turned to stone whereas "fossil" basically means it is ancient, pre-history. I work a lot with mammoth ivory and fossil walrus, neither are in any way fossilized, in fact, apart from colour changes are probably identical to when they were first laid down thousands of years ago. Fossil walrus ivory is controlled under the CITES agreement (because there are still walrus around) but mammoth ivory is easy to export. Thought I would just throw that latter bit of info in.

Tony

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Hi,

I have worked a little with mammoth ivory and walrus ivory. I am not sure that 'fossilized' walrus really is - it is more just a term used to denote ivory pre 1972 to avoid CITES restrictions, etc. I tend to use power tools to work ivory. Dental burrs and a micro motor tool like NKS or RAM work very well for details. I have actually never used small chisels - though the chaps in Russia seem to and their work is spectacular. Apparently, one way to create these small chisels is to use everyday items, like a pump needle, or furnace injector and grind the ends to shape and then add a handle. As Janel says, use what you have, who knows, you may invent something new!  :rolleyes: Shane

Hi Shane,

Good to see another "northener" signed in!

Tony Painter (aka Beringia!)

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Some of the simplist chisles easily made are from those old blunt needle files you may have lying around. Grind the end down at an angle and you have an instant chisle. Different shaped needle files are great for a range of chisles. I find grinding off the file marks a help for a smmoother blade. I still use the same needle file chisles I experimented with about 8 years ago. The triangle shapped file makes for the most practical chisle, good for undercuts.

Peace, Brett

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Very interesting, Brett! I've found a triangle shape to be helpful for undercuts as well, having shaped one side to be rounded which gives two curved sharp edges and one nearly straight edge. My three sided tools have a variety of sizes and degree of angle at the tip. I will now see something else when I look at the needle files that are not doing the job any more and will see more than a dead file. Thanks for the insight.

 

Janel

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