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Ivory Substitutes

Since we’re still talking about this, I should point out that the
tagua nut, while the most commonly used, is not the only species of
palm nut that is used for carving. There are various types that grow
around the world, which all have somewhat different properties,
colors and sizes. I’ve experimented with a range of them, and my
favorite is the Caroline Islands palm nut (Metroxylon amicorum),
which comes from Ponape island. It’s considerably larger than the
tagua nut (Phytelephas aequatorialis) but has a bigger void in the
center. These are dark on the outside and an attractive cafe-au-lait
color on the inside. The material seems a little harder, and it takes
a better polish, plus I liked the color better. Other palm nuts of
interest to carvers, turners and jewelers include various species of
Doum nuts (/Hyphaene ventricosa, etc. ) / from North Africa which are
smaller but whiter in color, Betel (areca) nuts, Rapphia nuts,
Bismark palm nuts - the list gets pretty long if you include the less
common types. While none of them replicate the doubly-spiraling
crossing lines of proboscidian ivory, some have interesting patterns
of their own, which can be used to decorative effect.

Andrew Werby