Cutting Elk's ivory tusks

Elk’s Ivory tusks or teeth best way to cut them for bezel setting.

Hi All,

I have never worked with Elk’s Ivory tusks and I have a customer
that wants me to cut them down. They want them bezel set on a watch
band. I thought I would cut them on my 4 inch trim saw. I use oil for
coolant on my saw.

I am looking for advice if this is not the way to go.

Thank you ahead for your help.

Ken Moore

Ken- I have made my share of items out of teeth and tusks over the

Back in the old days guys would bring in the teeth from Elks they
shot for us to make earrings out of for their wives. Well hell! You
can’t luuuuv a woman more than that now can ya? As the shop apprentice
it was my job to clean the dead flesh and blood from the teeth and
then grind and shape the tops so that they could fit into a gold cap.

Peeeeeyeeewww!!! Trust me it’s gonna smell really bad. I just used
a normal jewelers saw and grinders, mizzy wheels, files and
sandpaper. I’d get it down to about a 2/0 emery and then polish with
crystal polish or Zam.

I would not use oil as a lubricant. I may stain the material. Just
use water if you need to.

They usually ended up looking like white turds set in gold. I sure
hope yours looks better.

Have fun and make lots of jewelry.

Jo Haemer

Cutting things like bone and dentine, think of it as a hard, brittle
wood; so abrasive cutting techniques may not be your best choice.

Ron Charlotte
Gainesville, FL

Most people I know who cut antler use a band saw don’t know if that
would work on teeth.

I do these quite often. What works for me is drawing a pencil line
around the top colorful part and the using a cut off disk on the
flexshaft. Use water and a vacuum. Do not breathe in the dust. It is
bone so that crap will get in your oil and your lungs. They are tough
and will catch a blade so be careful. SD

One of the best ways to cut an elk tooth is to take a fine tip
marker and draw a line on the tooth where you want to cut it at and
then put the narrowend in a wooden ring clamp, tighten, and take
your jewelers saw and saw at the line. Then to make it flat, rub it
on an emery board untill it is flat and to shape the side use a
cratex wheel, probably the blue one, on a foredom and grind the
edges to the shape you would like and to create a nice color take
the tooth and put it in a plastic bag with some chewing tobacco and
a little water and seal for a week or two. Then you can make a
beatiful piece of jewelry with it. Terry

Suggest you contact Mr Bobby Mann President of Washington DC GIA
alumni association Washington DC chapter He is the worlds leading
expert on ivory and teaches classes on such.

Lee Horowitz

Thank you to everyone that chimed in on this.

Many of us in the Rocky Mountain West were brought up big game
hunters and getting an Elk is one of the biggest prizes. These tucks
are the trophies my customer’s first Elk and I don’t want to mess
them up. Thank you for all of the warnings and suggestions. I will
soon take that leap of faith and proceed to cut the tusks. I never got
an Elk myself and I gave up big game hunting 30 years ago. Now if I
go hunting I use a camera to show the shot that I had. It is much
less work.

Cheers to all,
Ken Moore

Since this subject seems to have run its course without anyone
mentioning this (as far as I have found), let me just add that elk,
deer, moose, caribou, reindeer - don’t have tusks, they have antlers.
And before someone gets the idea of killing a bunch of elk, deer,
etc. in order to sell their ivory to China - their antlers aren’t
made of ivory, they’re made of bone.

Well, the north american elk have two teeth in their mouths that for
as long as I have been a Coloradoan and I was born here in 1949,
have been refered two as tusks. They are covered with an Ivory like
substance. They are about the size of the end joint of your thumb.

Actualy I cut them today using my regular jeweler’s saw.

I don’t think that deer have such a tooth.

Yes, deer elk and etc. Have horns or antlers. There is an asian
market for them in apothacary use.

Most elk hunters enjoy the fine tasting meat and the bull elk’s
tusks are too precious to sell to Asia.

This is just my 65 year take on north american elk’s tusks.


You’re a bit confused about basic physiology of elk. And what this
discussion is about. Elk have two teeth, the upper canine that are
called bugle teeth. Even scientists call them ivories. It is just
these two teeth. They are thought to aide the elk during rutting
season to bugle when they blow outward. The origin of these teeth
were once thought to be the remanents of tusks ie the saber tooth
cats of old. Over time they became to be just canine teeth.

Antlers are not the same thing as the ivories of the bugle teeth.
Antlers are grown yearly from fixed points on the skull. Again for
the later in the year rutting season. Yes the antlers and the teeth
are not the same.

But the discussion to clarify it was about the two upper canine
teeth called by most hunters, the bugle teeth. Only those two teeth
are ivories in the real sense of ivory. The rest of the teeth are
just normal teeth like we have.


“Many scientists believe that the elk’s ivory teeth are the remnants
of tusks from the elk’s prehistoric ancestors and that they used to
be 6-8” long.

Elk are one of the few creatures that possess both antlers and
canine teeth, also called “ivories”, “buglers"and"whistlers”. These
teeth are located on the upper jaw near the front of the mouth. Elk
are the only North American animal, aside from the walrus, that have
ivory canines."

Elliot Nesterman

deer, moose, caribou, reindeer - don't have tusks, they have
antlers. And before someone gets the idea of killing a bunch of
elk, deer, etc. in order to sell their ivory to China - their
antlers aren't made of ivory, they're made of bone

And antlers are shed each year and grow back so it is not necessary
to kill the animal to harvest them.

Jerry in Kodiak

What they are referring to is the back 2 teeth called bugler teeth,
I wouldn’t call them tusks. They are ivory. Has nothing to do the

Again be careful when cutting to use ventilation cause bone dust is
bad news. Keep it wet otherwise.

I second the ventilation suggestion. And it really stinks-- smells
like a really bad day at the dentist.

Janet Kofoed