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Cutting tagua nut beads

I went to the GLW show in Orlando on Saturday, and got lots of
"pretties" to work with in the coming months. One of the things I got
that I had not head of before was tagua nut beads. In looking on the
internet, it seems that some people cut these into slices and use the
slices. I’m wondering if anyone on the list has worked with these
before, and if so how do you cut them, and with what?

I love the way they look uncut, but want to try cutting one to see
what that looks like.

Any tips or suggestions would be welcomed.


Beth Wicker
Three Cats and a Dog Design Studio


A diamond saw works, but overkill…or you can cut em with a
bandsaw or hacksaw. They cut and carve very easy. bandsaw or
hacksaw. They cut and carve very easy. Looks like ivory when you
carve them. Hope this helps.

Bill Roberts

They have a texture that looks like soft ivory when finished so I
would carve them using tools that you would use for carving bone,
horn or ivory.


Hello Beth,

Go to the Orchid archives, I was brand new to Orchid and asked the
same thing around 8 or 9 years ago and had a multitude of great
responses. What a wonderful community Hanuman has created!


I know that back “in the day” they were just getting popular with
wood workers. Don’t remember the specific application but I am sure
they were cut with ordinary wood working tools. Check out the Fine
Wood Working web-site, might have some info. It’s been A LONG time

I took a workshop with David LaPlantz who taught tagua nut carving.
It is called vegetable ivory and will saw with a jewelers saw. You
can drill through the slices with regular little drill bits. I also
have some cheap needle files to work them up also. The tagua nut can
also be dyed and look really fun.

David LaPlantz has moved to the Santa Fe area of New Mexico and you
can google him and probably find some more info about the nuts. He
is a really helpful teacher.

Thornton Metals Studio

Hi Beth;

I’m not sure if you are talking about a raw tagua nut or something
that has already been formed into a bead. The raw material, the seed
of the South American tagua palm, comes covered in a brown skin, but
it is a solid creamy-white color inside. It’s about two inches in
diameter at most, resembling a pear in shape, with a hole where the
stem would be and a void in the middle which needs to be taken into
account in deciding how to use it. If you do cut it into slabs,
you’ll see what I mean. If you’re working with a piece that’s smaller
than that (3/4" or so) and a solid color, it has probably been
preformed into a bead already, and will be solid throughout, except
where a hole may have been drilled for stringing. If it’s another
color besides off-white, it has been dyed. This color may not
penetrate evenly throughout the material, so it’s probably best to
carve the undyed nut and dye it later if desired.

Tagua nuts have been used to make buttons and small carvings for many
years, and they make a fairly good substitute for ivory, although
they won’t take as high a polish. But it’s a good material to carve,
since it’s relatively hard, dense and grainless. If you want to cut
slabs, a small hack saw should work - the hardest part will be
holding onto the rounded shape (try gluing something on you can
grip). I’ve used carbide burs in a flexshaft to rough out forms, then
followed up with files, scrapers, and gravers to refine them and add
detail. CNC carving also works well, if you’re set up for that.
Polish with a white-colored compound suitable for plastic but be
careful not to overheat it.

Here’s a site which talks about tagua nuts and “vegetable ivory” in

Good Luck!

Andrew Werby

Hi Beth,

Tagua nuts are very hard to cut but I have cut them with a band saw
then sand and polish the slices. I then do scrimshaw etching on
them. They make beautiful pins and jewelry. You can only use the
slices closer to the outer edges since the middle of the nut is
cracked and hollow. Some people ground off the outer brown skin and
carve or polish before doing scrimshaw etching on the whole nut.

Hope this helps answer your question about their use.

Roxan O’Brien
Designs by Roxan

Hi Beth,

Tagua nuts are sold as a small scale substitute for ivory. They are
hard but easily worked using metal working techniques - the hardest
part is holding them for the first cuts!! Just use a hacksaw, files,
metalworking lathe etc.

Best wishes,
Ian W. Wright
Sheffield UK

Thanks to all who have responded - interestingly, when I Googled I
found out a lot about the nuts, but nothing on how to cut or carve

Lots of good tips now. Can’t wait to get home and try some of these

Beth Wicker who is still at Mayo Clinic with her husband, but
hopefully finally getting close to some answers!!!

Oooh! And!!

If you gently sand down the surface of the tagua nut you can get a
gorgeous pattern from the slightly recessed veins. Nut brown
fractals on an ivory background - lovely!

I always thought those sanded surfaces would make great cabochons.

Spider (wants to see pictures if you make any)

Wear a respirator, especially when using power tools. Tauga nut dust
is extremely irritatiing.

Also, the nuts are not necessarily white or ivory colored. I have
some that are orange.