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Carving MOP

Hi All!

Does anybody out there know much about cutting, polishing and
carving mother of pearl? We just got a beach house and the shore is
loaded with mollusk shells! I just thought it would be an interesting
challenge (you know… for all the free time us jewelers seem to
have… hahaha!)

So, if you can either recommend a book or want to share some tips…
I’m looking forward to the challenges of learning something new!

thanks… tracey

tracey jenkins


I do not know what part of the world you are in, but if you are
considering carving Abalone shell, the dust can be toxic. Please do
a great deal of research before starting and use ample protection.

Vic Joyner

I have a couple of books somewhere I will find the referances for
you. Always wear a mask when carving shell because they can be
poisonous, eye protecton as well MOP is brittle. it is one of the
most challenging shells I have carved cameos in you can be almost
done and lose it lol like any natural substance hidden areas can
cause trouble.

be relaxed acept the failures as learning and be pleased when it
turns out. Good philosophy for carving natures bounty. After all your
material is free.

Also you wet carve shells cuts down on the dust. I will find the
books. They deal with carving ivory and shell and jet.

Silver & Cameo Heritage Jewelry

Hi Tracy.

First off, unless you are in the South Pacific, you do have shells,
but they are not MOP. MOP is a creamy white to brownish shell usually
about a foot or more in diameter that grows in the South Pacific. All
MOP are shells, but not all shells are MOP. Just labels and truth in
advertising. There are two main issues in cutting shells. One is
easy, and that’s that they put out voluminous quantities of dust when
they are sawn and ground. Abalone shell is poisonous, which was
discussed here and nobody really knows why, but it is. The others are
not poisononous, but the dust is still a major issue. The second
thing is that shells are just on the edge of lapidary in that they
just can be worked with steel tools, but only just. The best way to
cut them is with a lapidary saw and then wet grind them, as in
lapidary, which also takes care of the dust. They can also be cut
with a steel saw, like a jeweler’s saw, and ground and sanded like
wood. Be aware that they will load up a standard carborundum wheel
almost immediately if done dry. Plus there’s the dust. They polish
quite well after sanding with something like tripoli and Zam or such.
I used to do a lot of Dennis Edaakie type stuff - saw out a scene in
MOP and then inlay it. I’d use the lapidary equipment to saw the
rough and grind to shape, and then a standard jeweler’s saw and lots
of blades to pierce the inlay. If you want to pick up a few shells
and just do some few things with them, you can do pretty ok by
pretending it’s wood and working it accordingly. Use a fine blade on
a hacksaw for rough sawing, or a jeweler’s saw, maybe a stationary
belt sander, stuff like that. More than that and you’ll want a
diamond saw and stuff. Just watch the dust - it’s like talcum powder
and there’s lots of it.

Tracy, I can’t offer any tips on carving, but do want to advise you
that you should not breath any of the dust from the carvings. Be
sure to wear a m ask I understand that Abalone shell dust is very
dangerous to breathe. I am sure others who have more knowledge about
shell carving will be able to tell you what kinds of precautions you
should take when carving shells.