I have been asked how I got the finish on the whale bone carving in my photo gallery so I thought I would discuss bone carving in general, including finishing.

I usually work in bleached cattle bone. The traditional way uses chisels and scrapers, but I use a jeweler’s saw to cut out the profile. Then I use a combination of chisels, files, and a rotary tool with cutters and engraving diamond tips to shape the piece. The smooth finish is obtained by using very fine wet/dry sandpaper and hand rubbing the piece until all tool marks are gone. The traditional pieces usually consist of beautiful whale tails and other distinctive shapes made into jewelry. I have made shark tooth and other pendants as well as a bone butterfly on a wooden stump. Presently, I am working on a dragon. Bone carving is not my major focus at this time, but when I need a break from other mediums, I get out the dragon and do a little.

Some tips:

Bone Carving

Bone Carving

  1. Bone dust is dangerous. Wear a good mask, eye protection, and have a dust collection system, especially if you are using rotary tools for cutting or sanding. I made a down draft table for my work with rotary tools. There is an odour produced when power cutting bone.
  2. Have a light touch. Just a little heat can scorch and discolour the bone.
  3. Dogs love bone! I once made a coral scene out of a cattle bone. The piece squared on the end then stood up so the hollow honeycombed center section was vertical. The sculpture had weeds climbing out of the base exposing the honeycomb coral looking lattice in the center. Fish were carved on the vegetation as it rose out of the coral. The finished work was about 5 cm in diameter and stood 12 cm tall.  I proudly put it on display out of reach of my dogs in my living room. It did not last long. On arriving home from work the remains of countless hours of work was visible in the carpet. They had missed a tiny carved fish – the rest gone. The only thing I could figure out was the cat must have taken exception to it, batted it onto the floor where one or all of our 3 dogs made short work of it. Of course, no guilty party would step forward. Put bone carvings in a cabinet or glass case.

Next time – What I Find When I Walk My Dog