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Abalone shell toxicity?

Hi Folks, This is one of those subjects I didn’t pay attention to
because I didn’t need the info then! Now, I’ve acquired a few
lovely abalone shells, and don’t want to use them or pass them
along until I know if there are any special precautions to use in
cutting them or any toxicity associated with abalone shell in
particular. I know a mask should be used, and I know they should
be cut wet, but that’s basic procedure anyway! (And I’ve been
advised they smell terribly, so do it outside!)

So what else should I know?

Thanks in advance!

| Carol J. Bova @Carol_J_Bova |
| |

Hi Carol! My name is Rebecca and Before I started smitthing I
built guitars both on my own and For Gibson and Tobias Bass Co.
I have used Pearl and Abalone Shell for many years for guitar
inlays and to answer your question the best I can… Both are
dangerious if you are breating the dust in directly. The problem
is the fine dust will collect in your passage ways to your
lungs…get moist…harden…and eventally close them up
completely… Hummm sounds pleasing I know. Anyway if you are
cutting big pieces use a very wet saw and if you can do it
outside it is better! Or have some kind of vacumm rig set up by
where you are working. Your ears will hate it but your lungs will
thank you. I dont think either smells that bad unless you are
grinding them dry( which will create heat and break them) Then
Again I worked with bone for along time…so you be the judge. For
small delicate pieces you can just use your jewelers saw and
blades … the dust wont be that much and with a mask on you
shouldent have to worry…

Hi carol,

You hit it in a nutshell, all the do’s and don’ts, that is,
however the one thing that I can’t impress upon my students
enough, is the fact that you are dealing with decaying organic
matter and that it is imperative that one does not inhale even
the most miniscule particle!

Abalone, or Paua as it is known here in New Zealand ranges in
colour from deep blue/pink to greens/yellow/pink, and produces
the most exquisite " landscape " jewellery.

I am aware that Abalone from the East coast of Africa is very
pale pink, I am very keen to obtain some to work with. What
colour range, is the shell you are working with? I would like to
hear a little about your work.

Regards Brian


You’ll want to have a way to cut down on airborne shell
particulates. I remember hearing (on this list, maybe?) about a
workshop-full of mother of pearl inlay workers who ended up with
nasty lung problems from inhaling the particles. I’m sure
someone here can either corroborate or debunk that story for us.

The workers in Polynesia who carve mother of pearl shell use a
vacuum hood right in front of their work (at the back of the
bench), with goggles, masks, and ear protection. This is
assuming that you’ll be working with power tools. I have no idea
if you can hand-saw abalone.

They mark out the pattern they want by either scribing it on the
surface, or using magic marker, and polish it off when they’re

If you don’t have a vacuum setup, my cheapo solution would be a
shopvac hose clamped down on the bench, at 10 or 11 o’clock (to
your sitting at 6 o’clock, with 9 at your left and 3 at your
right), assuming you’re right handed. I wouldn’t hang it down,
or place it above bench-top height, to ensure that it won’t pull
the particles up (and into your lungs…)

As far as I know, well cleaned abalone shell (soap and water, no
acids) shouldn’t pose any toxics, since it’s just a form of
calcium carbonate (at least if it’s the same as pearl oyster
shell, which I think it is).

Closing off with a flashback to an old topic: Make sure your
bench area is always well ventilated!

Have fun, and take pictures if you can…we’d love to see what
you come up with.

Kat Tanaka

When I was in stone cutting class a zillion years ago, the word
was…avoid abalone unless you can work with it under water.
It’s considered death!

   If you don't have a vacuum setup, my cheapo solution would
be a shopvac hose ..... 

Kat - What a great idea that was. I don’t work with the shells,
but I do sift and clean enamels and am always concerned about the
overhead vent that I have - whether it’s enough when I’m firing
(or even soldering, for that matter) or as you mentioned - do you
want to pull those particles from the bench across your face and
up (even tho I also wear a fume/particle mask). I use a shop vac
to clean my bench afterwards, but I never thought about running
it from the side while I was working - duuuh, as my 10 year old
would say - thanks for the bright thought !!!

Laura Wiesler
Towson, MD.


No applause, please, just send money! Ok, I’m kidding about

I’m glad you found it a useful suggestion. Careful though, it’s
LOUD, and if you don’t put in a filterbag, you’re going to have
the smallest particles venting out again. This is assuming that
you’re using a ShopVac™.

I just discovered the filterbags for the ShopVac (found them at
the local Target store) and they’re great. I’ve decided to go
get a separate unit for my bench, that way I can save scrap more
easily and not worry about what else would be going out for
refining…In the house, I’ve switched to a vacuum with a HEPA
filter, and I’m much happier.