Tagua Nuts revisited

Hello all:

Regarding Tagua nuts… Crosscut Hardwoods, or Emerson Hardwood Company
sells them here in Seattle for 90 cents apiece. I believe they can
place a phone order. They do have a website, URL not currently handy,
that lists contact phone numbers. Here’s a question I haven’t been
able to find an answer for. I have a bucket of tagua nuts I haven’t
been playing with because a few of my students have severe peanut
allergies. When I say severe I mean that it’s up to the staff to keep
one eye on everything else and the other on any tree nut product in
the building and we’d best not be bringing in any ourselves. The staff
nurse and the parents have no knowledge of tagua nuts and no idea
whether it would provoke a response. However, since any response is
potentially lethal, it’s not an area for experimentation. Is anyone
out there aware if tagua nuts are a trigger to such an allergy?

Thanks again, orchid.

Terry Swift
Vashon Island, WA


You are dealing with three very different botanical entities here.
Peanuts are a legume, in the same plant family as beans and clover.
They grow underground as the starchy seed of a bushy herbaceous [i.e. not wood forming] plant. A severe allergy to peanuts won’t be
stimulated by “tree nuts” such as walnuts, almonds, pecans, and
hazelnuts. However, people can certainly have serious allergic
reactions to tree nuts. But they would have to have two separate
allergies to react to both peanuts and tree nuts – they are not the
same thing at all. Tagua “nuts” are actually the seed of a palm tree,
and so are in a third, completely different category from the other
two. Much more like the pit in a date or a coconut than either an
almond or a peanut. I would be concerned if I had a serious coconut
allergy, but otherwise not. For further you should call a
good local allergy and asthma specialist in your area and ask their
opinion. Some additional working notes: Because tagua nuts are a seed,
the hard part of the nut is a starch. To work it effectively, you have
to file several holes in the brown outer covering and soak the seed
for several hours to soften it. The starchy nature of the seed means
that it burns easily if overheated by contact flexshaft burs or
sanding belts that are used at high speeds. This will smell like burnt
sugar [which it is], but isn’t toxic. Tagua is much safer and more
pleasant to work than bone or shell, but as with any small
particulate, wear a good quality dust mask while sanding, sawing, or
power carving the material. Tagua is very receptive to liquid dyes so
you can get terrific colors. I would strongly suggest sealing a
finished carving with either a hard carnuba wax or polyurethane spray.
I include tagua nuts in the supply packets for my flexshaft class
because they are such a wonderful way to learn to carve using burs.

So: go nuts!
Anne Hollerbach

 To work it effectively, you have to file several holes in the brown
outer covering and soak the seed for several hours to soften it. 

While I agree with the other Anne wrote ( I am no
allergist but what was stated does seem reasonable - but check with an
allergist to be sure), I had checked on a site mentioned in one of
the other posts on Tagua nuts and I believe it said they would soften
when soaked in water, no mention of how long the ‘soak’ might be.
Anne have you noticed any of this softening? When I worked with the
nuts I just ‘sanded and scraped’ the brown coating off.

This has been an interesting discussion and makes me want to locate
the stash of nuts I have and carve again.

Lorri Ferguson

Lorri and others,

I soak the nuts in order to get them softer so they will be easier to
work. A couple of hours is long enough – too long and they will
swell and crack. I find that when they have been soaked they are much
less brittle and more amenable to fine detail carving. They dry out
very well. I wouldn’t soak thin slices of nut, just whole nuts. And I
don’t think it would be useful to soak a nut that you intended to work
on a lathe. But for flexshaft carving, I find that it really helps. I
suspect that you will have to test a few and see what works best for
your particular project and the tools you are using. If you’re going
to shape the nuts with files and sandpaper, they should probably be
hard and dry.

I get my nuts for US$6.95 a pound [about a dozen] from Lee Valley
[www.leevalley.com]. Woodcraft also sells them in their catalog, and
several of the specialized woodworking supply stores around the
country carry them.

Anne Hollerbach