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Carving Mother of Pearl

All, I am building a special spoon shaped sterling box with a mother
of pearl carved spoon inside. The spoon bowl is so small, it is
meant to hold only one egg of caviar. What is the best way to carve
MOP? Flexshaft tools? By hand?

Karen Christians
50 Guinan St.
Ph. 781/891-3854 Fax 3857
Jewelry/Metalarts School & Cooperative Studio

Mother of pearl is quite hard, so carve it any which way you can,
but remember to do it in water. The dust is pretty toxic.

Brian Adam

Hi Karen, When working such a tiny object I would be inclined to
clamp the Mother of Pearl in a padded vise, and then carve it with a

Mother of Pearl is composed -mostly- of Calcium Carbonate. There are
also a few organic molecules in the mix - so you’d be wise to wear a
good “respirator” style dust mask while cutting. (MOP dust is
somewhat toxic; and many people are allergic to it.) Reduce the dust
with a slow water drip, such as you might find on a faceting machine.
Surplus IV tubing and Oxygen tubing are ideal for this purpose.
(Ask your pharmacist to order a 25’ coil of the latter. You’ll find
plenty of uses for the extra material.) Run a gravity feed from a
jug of distilled water. You can use a hemostat (or a clothespin) to
control the rate of flow. Take care to clean up the slurry before it
dries, so that you don’t wind up breathing it later.

MOP can be carved with Tungsten Carbide, Aluminum Oxide, Silicon
Carbide or Diamond. (Any abrasive flexshaft points which you have
on hand should do the job.) MOP is very sensitive to heat (which is
another good reason to cut it under a water drip.) It is also fairly
brittle. Let your cutting tool do the work. Use just enough hand
pressure to keep the point from slipping off line.

As always…when running a water drip, use only grounded electrical
tools. Keep the water drip below the level of the motor! Catch the
effluent in a plastic or hard rubber basin. Place your water
containers in such a way that, even if they tip over, the water can’t
reach either the flexshaft motor or any part of your electrical
system. Wear rubber-soled shoes. (I know, these are -really- basic
safety precautions. They’re not intended for you. :slight_smile: I mention them
only because this note will eventually fall into the hands of a

If I can be of further assistance, don’t hesitate to ask! Have fun.

Peter B. Steiner
Western New York, USA