Fossil Ivory question

I have acquired a lot of fossil ivory that I would like to carve
into and slice… Are there any hazards to working with this
organic material or tricks to know?? Also, how do you polish it?
Will heat/friction cause it to cleave or shatter or burn? This
is all new to me… I have cut stones, and metal but nothing like
this…And I know that abalone shell is dangerous and you should
only cut it under water… so I am wondering if fossil ivory might
also have some drawbacks. Thank you in advance for any and all


Joan, The stuff can be polished rather easily using alumina oxide
powder and water. wet sand with silicon oxide wet and dry
sandpaper. start course say 320 and work down to 1200 grit. Then
start using the powder with wooden sticks I use popsicle sticks
with pieces of wood glued to them… works for me…

Best of luck…
Could you inform me of a source for some of this material???
Beg… Beg…
Bob Parsons

I have carved some ivory (in the '80s) and yes there are
dangers. The dust is very bad for the lungs and one should use a
very good mask or respirator. As to polishing avoid any heat and
if I remember correctly we used Zam as a polishing compound. Of
course you will use very fine sand papers first. Even rubbing the
surface with your fingers will polish to some degree.

Hope this helps

Hi Joan,

I don’t know if “fossil” ivory has the same health hazards as
the carbonate materials (shells and coral), though it may well
have. However, you must be careful not to get it wet, because
it will crack. I cut a piece on a diamond lapidary blade (using
water as coolant) and although it did not appear until my
carving was complete, the drying process yielded several cracks.

Furthermore, these cracks absorbed dark color from the abrasive
I used (tripoli and rouge) . Piece was ruined. I would use
white compounds (it is very easy to polish). The material is
very soft…I believe it is really “permafrosted” rather than
fossilized (as we usually think of this term when it comes to

It has beautiful grain patterns. Just make sure to start out
with non-cracked pieces.


Can also be easily polished with cratex, and then with light
blue, and then light pink silicone wheels…Easy.

Lisa, (baby chicks are now adolescents, and really butt ugly)
Topanga, CA USA

Rob I have several pounds of legal, pre-ban African Elephant
ivory, in various sizes appropriate for jewelry and small
carvings. Were you looking specifically for fossil ivory - or
would you like to try some contemporary, solid material? If I can
be of assistance please contact me at @Pete_Steiner . Hope
this helps. -Peter-

Hi fellow orcadians, i had the chance a few years ago To
observe a fossil ivory bead making operation. The ivory was
treated much Like a hard plastic, cut into small square lengths
and then cut on a lathe, The polishing process was pretty
simple. It used a vibratory tumbler with Different plastic
media, the process ended up with a polish using pieces of Bamboo
called shoestrings and a non oxide polish compound. The last
step was To flush the tumble with clean water and a small amount
of detergent. The Finished product had a nice shiny finish. When
i cut ivory i always use water As the dust is not good. Being a
soft material caution must be used when you Get around oxide
polishes, it absorbs the oxide and it can stain. Back in the Old
days i used a grinding wheel with a vacuum attachment and
finished with Sand paper and zam 1200 is as high as you should
have to go. have a nice day, ringman john

For final polishing, finishing of fossil ivory, I have used and
thoroughly appreciated “Fabulustre” a solid cardboard contained
tubular 1, by GFC, Carlstadt, New Jersey, 07072. It is
available thru Indian Supply or Rio Grand and, no doubt, other Suppliers. Try it!

Elizabeth, Your ivory piece probably cracked from the heat of
cutting, rather than from exposure to water. I’ve often used
water when grinding ivory, and never had a problem as long as the
material remained cool. -Pete

Hi: I forgot to say that I use water sparingly and do not soak
the pieces, when I do the rough cut I only use enough water to
make a paste like material of the cutting dust, the newt time
water is applied is after the finish tumble after the material
has been burnished by the shoestrings, I r your Ivory is old and
dry you can soak in a light oil like mineral oil or a vegetable
oil to replenish the natural oils that are lost through time, no
matter if you are using cracked and dried out Ivory it is
substandard anyway. Ringman John Henry

Joan - If you don’t want to work the ivory wet, and it is a
little messy unless you have a plastic shielded setup, you
can  clamp a vacuum cleaner hose so that the hose picks up
the dust from the operation, you can slice it with a hacksaw,
also use the vacuum. If you have a small diamond saw 6 to 10"
with oil, it doesn’t hurt the ivory. Polish using Zam and a loose
wheel with a light touch. Jack Burton