Polishing Shells

Hello, I saw your posting about abalone shells. I want to polish
the shells that I have but I am not real sure as to what I need
to use to start with! These were harvested off the West coast
near Santa Barbara. I would like anything that you could tell me
about dealing with the shells! Thanks for your time, Stan

HI TheRe: Having worked with abalone before, first I will warn of
the dangers! The dust from the shell is toxic and will make you
ill, It also causes a lung disease. Anyway cut under water, use
a strong suction device, ar wear an Osha approved mask. I cannot
say enough about the saftey factor! So the cutting. A metal
cutting band saw works well although it will go thru blades
faster. that is to size the pieces, then I used a grinding wheel
to shape the rough, (silicone carbide works well) I use a very
fine stone, after shaping the pieces, I put them in a vibratory
tumbler and do the initial grit for 6 hrs. then I check and if
need be run longer, after that I check the pieces for unifomity
and go to the plastic media. I finsh with Rouge powder and
bamboo “matchsticks”, that should give you the results.
Ringman John Henry

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Hi Stan, It sounds like you lack lapidary equipment. You can cut
abalone with a bandsaw, hacksaw, jeweler saw(#8 blade or diamond
wire blade) or a separeating disc in your flexshaft. Sanding
sticks made w/ wet or dry paper starting @ 60-80 grit going
through 120,220,400 and 600. Polish with Zam, white or yellow
rough(Zam provides the quicker results.) Use sanding sticks WET
if posible. SAFETY NOTE: Wear a dust mask When working any shell
or stone dry. Clean up dust to prevent inhaliation. Prevent the
shell from over heating while working on it, it may begin to
flake apart. MArcus Amshoff email @marcus1a

Hi A couple of years ago, I collected shells in the Cape Cod area
and tried to polish them as they do in that area . They are
beautifully purple in gradients…I felt that the fumes were very
harmful. Adding more water etc, did not help. Later I met a
lady who was told by a doctor that polishing shells was making
her very ill. I guess with a lot of precautions, masks etc, you
may be safe… I would research it carefully. Elizabeth

Stan - about polishing shells - if you have a big enough
vibratory tumbler, I’d use shell shine, a crushed walnut shell
mixture with iron oxide (red stuff). that’s the brand name from
Rio, but nearly every catalog has the stuff. I’ve polished a
bunch of shells with it, and it looks great. The polishing
compound makes the shells kinda glow, and the shell stuff
smooths the surface. Judy in rainy Denver - @Judy_Hoch

Hi Stan

Polishing any shell and especially abalone shell is potentialy
dangereous. The dust formed in cutting abalone contains a
glucamite, a substance that is mistaken by the body for glucose.
It can be breathed in and also absorbed through the skin. It can
take weeks and months to purge it fom the body. Beside the
obvious potential for silicosis of the lungs, this compound can
lead to, among other health problems, serious heart problems
such as an irregular heart beat. When working with shell, cut it
with an abundant water flow. A respirator is also needed. To
guard against absorption through the skin wear a long sleeved
shirt and latex gloves. Some people say that a chemical guard
creme ( I believe Avon makes one) gives sufficient protection to
your hands. In any case it would be a good idea to apply such a
creme to all exposed skin surfaces. I hope I didn’t scare you too
much. Abalone is a beautiful shell, which by the way produces
gorgeous natural and cultured pearls.

Hope this helps, Tom Tietze

Hi Tom, Regarding your note about Abalone containing glucamite;
does the same hold true for pearl and Mother of Pearl? I
usually wear a mask if I am re-drilling more than 4 - 5 small
pearls, or wet sand to flatten mabe, but I certainly will wear
one at all times at your suggestion! Susan in beautiful
Coronado, Ca.

Hi Susan

I don’t know if other shell/pearl materials beside abalone
contain glucamite, but I would err on the side of caution. In
any case silicosis of the lungs is a risk involved in cutting
any of these materials. By the way, whenever I polish metals or
use pumice or rubberized abrasives I wear one of those 2 strap
Niosha rated dust masks. I know too many jewelers who do not
take precautions and wonder why they are getting sick with
bronchitis etc…

Tom Tietze

I’ve had really good luck polishing shells with my vibratory
tumbler. I used shell shine and ran for about 10 hours. got a
glossy smooth surface, and I didn’t have to breathe the stuff.

Anybody have any process for tumbling almost shiny abalone pieces? By almost shiny I mean, there’s a soft, almost matte surface that doesn’t look bad, it just interferes with the gorgeousness of the abalone colors. I recently acquired a substantial quantity of ab. shell pieces, cut into approx. squares and rectangles from an old collection and would like to brighten the pieces. I don’t want to expose my elderly lungs to hand polishing (I do have a dust collector, but still would prefer not to hand polish) and I don’t have a vibratory tumbler. Just an old-fashioned rotary tumbler and a magnetic finisher. I look forward to help with this from our Orchid community. Thanks.