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Second carving

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Hey all, in my introduction I mentioned a tagua nut I've almost finished. Here are some pics...



Notice the crack...


I wanted to keep most of the "nut" shape.


The other end of the crack...!


Like I said, it's only my second carving so don't be too hard on me. It's very basic.. :unsure:


Does anyone have suggestions about polishing/staining/finishing? I don't feel like it's quite "done" yet. At this point, I've applied a 600grit wetsand and I am at a crossroad now. What can I do with a tagua nut aside from netsuke? ...Umbrella handles? Ocarinas? It's going to be a gift for my mom and it'd be nice if it was more than just a carving.


Any criticism is greatly accepted. I've clearly got a looong way to go in my carving! haha


Edit: Is it too late to try and bleach the nut and is that a good idea?

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Hi PR,


You made the tools work with the material and now you have a sense of how hard a material it is to carve. The natural color is pleasant. Don't try to make everything have a function just now because gaining experience with your first pieces is goal enough.


Learn about what netsuke are, how they function, how different sorts are made for different purposes, there is so much to learn before you actually set out to make a netsuke.


Use the SEARCH function to read about what others have done with tagua nut; there are discussions that cover some of your questions in the archives. After reading, you may be able to decide if you want to color the piece or move on to something else. You will also read about bleaching, and will maybe be able to answer your own question.


What is wrong with something being simply a carving? Such a thing as you have made could be just the thing to put in her pocket to rub and play with like some folks play with coins in their pockets. Handling in that way would add a patina over time.




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I like your carving.. its simple but shows that you put a lot of love into it.. so a good start.


Tagua once carved and polished to its natual white will darken to a rich light brown fairly quickly, a point that a lot of carvers seem not to be aware off when using this natural white as an integral element of a design.. say to mimic an egg shell, very effective when freshly carved but less so once the tagua turns brown.

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Hi Janel,


There really is nothing wrong with a carving simply being a carving, or a piece of art. But, I daresay, I'm not totally confident in my work so I like there to be more to my pieces than just my artistic ability. You're right, though, it is very nice to handle/rub due to its softness and smoothness. And it seems to be just the right size.

I'm fond of the natural colour myself, but seeing the stains you guys/gals put on your work makes me envious; they look so rich! And I've seen so many tagua that are pure white that I thought maybe there was something wrong with mine, haha. When I was searching the forums, there was information about using hydrogen peroxide (?) to bleach nuts, but there wasn't alot of information/concensus on the procedure. Likewise with using Procion dyes. I'll just have to keep researching, it's gotta be out there somewhere!

That goes for netsuke as well. I downloaded the netsuke pdf and I'll have to start reading.


Hi Clive,


Thanks for the compliment! I also like my carving, haha.. I did put alot of love and effort into it, for such a small thing. I'm sure you all understand the trials I went through trying to get the edges and surface smooth and the corners sharp. I knew that the tagua wouldn't last forever, but that might be part of the allure. Some things are nice because they last a really long time, eventually becoming antiques/heirlooms. On the other hand, some things are special for a limited time only, sotospeak. I like that.. you really have to enjoy it while it lasts.


Tagua probably wasn't the best material to start learning on, eh?... maybe I should try this popular 'boxwood' next.. nestuke style. :unsure:

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  • 3 weeks later...

Dear fellow member:

This is a very late reply to this topic...sorry I just arrived few days ago, ja, ja, ja....Dear member the Tagua artists are many in countries like Ecuador, there´s like a full developed tradition in many south american countries related to carve this nut called as ¨vegetal ivory¨. There are simple processes where they coloured the nuts, If you like I can ask but believe that are very easy processes, and it´s important pointed that Tagua nut as you said wouldn´t last forever, as I know insects eat the seed sooner or later, and also that Tagua is a very soft material as butter (never use diamond bits and higher speeds on a rotary tool with Tagua!!!). Maybe will be good teach carving with Tagua but on my opinion it´s better start with hard woods and another hard materials. If any member of the forum gives a practical workshop of miniature carving for kids Tagua can be very useful. Thanks and keep going with the carving my friend.....Sincerely yours,...ADRIÁN.

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Hello Adrián,


It sounds as though tagua nut is carved before it has dried. The nuts that I have are several years old and are very hard, and would not be safe for children to carve. Tools skid on these nuts when I carve them. Is it customary to carve the fresh nut instead of the long dry ones?



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Dear Janel:


Yes Tagua nuts are carved after a time when you check is really dried, many times Tagua carvers carve the nut not completely dried...the Tagua must be carved completely dried fellows!!!. The problem of hardness is different when you understand that one thing is hardness scales for materials (as Mohs scale for stones for example) and another thing is the hardness sense for each sculptor. A sculptor that carve pine wood and very soft materials must think indeed that Tagua seed is hard, but a scultor that use hard stones and hard woods watch the Tagua seed as butter. Related to kids yes I think we could use Tagua ¿Why? because will prepare the kid for Ivory and bone and If you put a little Tagua seed in a dwarf iron press, the kid with a rotary tool on low speed and with protection as glasses don´t suffer any damage, besides when you teach kids I supposed you don´t move yourself far from the kid in the workshop...it seems that you forgot my dear friend that in the past centuries many carvers, glass makers,metalsmiths, etc, as apprentices started in the workshops as kids. The safe materials or tools for children in my opinion doesn´t exist in the case of miniature carving, yes you can teach through materials as plastiline, gypsum, clay or mud but it will come the time to give a sharp knife and a piece of wood ¿Who between us don´t experiment as beginner an iron bit through the hand, a cut of the buril in the hand and many more logical accidents in the process of starting as sculptor? Accidents teach us in the process, sometimes is cruel because carpenter apprentices loose fingers in the machines, but to reach the mastership of a safe carver it takes before some accidental steps that allow us to recognize what we can do in the workshop to avoid accidents. A warm regard to you and your husband Janel, and wish me luck because in this days I start again to do artistical pieces. I always want talk with people and it doesn´t matter If we are disagree in any matter, at the end we are all brothers in the same carving path and the most important it´s don´t misunderstood the arguments, with you Janel I felt I can be disagree in many topics and we still will be friends, as malacologist I suffer people that If you are not agree with their theories or results they declare to you war and became enemies, I hope here people will be like you Janel.

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Sorry to be so late to the discussion, I didn't see this 'til now.


I started out carving tongua nuts. Mine, like Janel's, were very hard.


Tongua nuts can be bleached. I found that if you do bleach them, they become soft. I tried peroxide, days later there was still no effect. I pulled out the Chlorox (with about the same amount of water) and gave it a try and it lightened up after a day or so. After drying, it hardened up some but still was not as hard as it was in the beginning.


The problem with coloring tongua nuts is that they are so oily that they repel ink. Even when the ink dries completely, it's only sitting on the surface. I resorted to oil paints. I use a very limited palette of alizarin crimson, yellow ochre, burnt umber, black, and a touch of white which I thin with Liquin (a Windsor and Newton product). I find that these colors work well with the nut.


Now here the part that will make many cringe. As most of my pieces are jewelry and meant to be worn, I protect the paint with water based Varathane. Maybe this is why my tongua nuts, some as many as 10 years old, have not appreciably darkened.


I got a small box of nuts many years ago from a woodcarving place in Oklahoma. Some of them were ivory colored, others almost chocolate brown. Rockler sells these for woodturners, usually large, creamy white ones. So many of the larger nuts have big voids in the middle, I try to avoid them.


If you want to see a tongua nut that was bleached, go to "New Works" and look for Debbie K's posting and scroll down the page until you see the last mermaid, the one with the Llanite tail. This nut was much darker to begin with and there wasn't enough contrast between it and the stone so I had nothing to lose. I carved the piece first, then bleached it. It only bleaches on the surface.


Oh, by the way, I block out with the dremel and then carve the details with hand tools, microcarvers and an exacto knife.


Hope this helps.


Debbie K

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That was an excellent reply, Debbie! (even if it was a little late) ;) Very informative, indeed. Thank you!

After looking at your mermaid, it's great to see how close to the colour of skin tagua can be... Great work! I will definitely try bleaching one eventually. As soon as I get my hands on some more nuts. :o

...heh... anyway.


Thanks, Janel! You too, Polymita! I really appreciate your perspectives here. :)

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Sorry I missed this earlier.


I like the piece, and the way you have made use of the natural form of the nut. Well done.


I never really liked working with tagua nut. A few years ago I bought a bag of them from Lee Valley Tools, and did a few pieces from it, mostly brooches and pendants. I found it a bit too brittle for my liking, and was never really happy with the way the material finished or carved. I played around with various stains, and found that the dye stains, also sold by Lee Valley, when built up in layers and taken down with Scotchbright pads gave a decent color.



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Thanks, Phil, I'll have to bear that in mind if I tackle another one. I got my nut through a friend, but he got it from Lee Valley as well.


I'm wondering if the size of the nut is any indication of the strength of the nut? I noticed that a larger nut which I still have is more cracked and brittle than the one above. Whereas the smaller nut is quite solid and must have a very small cavity at its core.


I read somewhere that materials like tagua, left unstained, give the opportunity of added patina over time/use. Allow me to explain what I mean by "opportunity" (if you already know this, just ignore me); in my case, the carving was a gift which I gave to my mother. I told her that because she, herself, would add the patina over time, as a piece of art it was unfinished. In essence, I began the project and she has the opportunity to finish it -- so we are both the artists, in the long run. I think she liked that aspect.. anyway, I know I did.


As for the form of the nut, I really didn't want to take away too much of the shape, or she would never have believed it was a nut in the first place. LOL Once I had half of it carved, it felt like a good shape/size. And as Janel suggested, it might be used as a stress reliever, of sorts, so it needed a softer, smoother side (heck, I could use one, myself!).


For those of you who have worked with tagua, you have to agree that it has a very natural and pleasant 'nutty' smell to it when being carved. You can especially smell it in the early sanding stages. Sadly.. the smell fades considerably as it becomes more smooth... I guess that's normal, eh? I mention this because my mom kept trying to smell it when I said it was a nut. LOL But it's a shame the final tagua product doesn't have that added feature...

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