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Tagua Nuts

My brother gave me a Tagua Nut that he purchased at a Woodcraft
store. Does anyone out there have any experience with these?
Apparently they are supposed to be an animal friendly alternative to

Marta Irvin in Sacto


Soak the Tagua nut overnight to loosen the dark brown skin and peel when away
when it has softened up. Then carve way using your flex shaft burrs, etc.
When you have finished, wax with either Renissance wax or a good butchers wax.

It’s quite beautiful and very durable.


You got it!! They work pretty much like regular Ivory. The only
trouble that I have had is that some have holes in the center, so if
you are carving or relieving them be careful not to break into the
center! Polishing them is easy and just like polishing Ivory. GL

Marta, The tagua nuts are way fun. I had one years ago and cut it
in half and d id scrimshaw on it. They are great to carve and are an
interesting mediu m. As a matter of fact, does anyone know where to
get some. It’s one of those things I haven’t thought of in years,
until you mentioned it. Thanks, Sharon

with power tools they will scorch like wood the nuts carve like
plastic with little to no chipping keep in mind ther is an irregular
void in the center of the nut. over time the white will yellow slightly
like ivory to speed this you can try soaking the nut in tea or coffee
checking periodically until desired color is reached
have fun the nuts are fairly durable and cheap

When I lived in Ecuador, tagua nuts, found locally, were used for many
craft projects…buttons, samll figures and faces carved cameo style
into the raw nut with the outer covering still on. They were also
called “tree ivory” and were abundant as well as fairly easy to carve.
Another source for the nuts is American Science and Surplus where
they sell for around $2.00 per nut. Donna in VA

Hi Marta,

I have used Tagua nuts in the past. They can come out look remarkably
like Ivory to me. They have a waxy white interior with very little
visable grain of any sort. I also drilled and inlaid them.

You are supposed to work them like wood, a very hard wood! I cut
slices out of them with a band saw if I remember correctly and then
worked it with a file and sanding belt. It will burn and turn
yellow/black like wood if over heated.

Good luck,


Dear Marta, The only thing I know about them is that the nut starts
out with a liquid center and then hardens as the nut matures. I
believe that some peoples eats them. I saw an article on them in a
copy of the Jehova Witness publication “The Watch Tower” that someone
brought me when I was inquiring about them. If I still had it I would
send it to you, but do not have it anymore. There is a vendor who goes
to the GL&W shows who carries it and I believe that they advertise in
Lap Journal. Sorry not to have been more of a help, Suzanne

My husband is a woodturner and has worked with Tagua Nuts for years.
They are close to the hardness of ivory (according to a friend who has
carved on both). They have the same coloring and yellow with age just
as ivory does. After rather extensive research we even had a flyer
made up to explain the similarities and differences between the two to
display along with the small Tagua vessles and eggs. They are indeed
animal friendly when used as a substitute for ivory. I have more info
on them if you would like. Just let me know. Cande Toner

Hi Marta,

I have played with tagua nuts a little. I used my Hi Tech All You
Need and got a really good polish on some of them. They are quite
soft when you get inside the outer shell so go slowly there. I
haven’t used them so far for jewelry and what I noticed, was that many
of the larger pieces looked more like plastic than ivory, but the
smaller stones were ok. Also, some nuts have better color and grain
than others being more creamy colored with a slight yellow cast while
others were just white. I imagine carving them would “hide” the
plastic look much more than the flat surface of a cab.


Nancy Bernardine-Widmer
Bernardine Fine Art Jewelry

Hello Marta,

I have not used these nuts for carving but have seen and handled the
finished items

They were very intricate and beautifully finished, made by a friend
of mine whom I unfortunately can only contact once a year.

Her technique is to leave about half the nut covered by it husk and
work tiny scenes and images into the exposed face… I do know that
the nuts have a central cavity which you will expose if you go in too
deeply, but you could work this to your advantage in some carvings.

They are very hard, more dense than ivory and withstand the ravages
ot time very well.

I suspect she uses a flex shaft with small tungsten carbide burrs.

I am sure you will find a great deal of info if you select a good
search engine and enter Tagua nuts + carving as there seem to be a
lot of sites with references to these things.

Good luck… Keith Torckler, Cornwallis, New zealand

You got it. Carve it or use it as an ivory replacement.

Forgot, They’re usually available at most Rock Shows! Dealers that
are selling rock supplies and jewelry supplies usually have some for sale!


I use tagua nuts to make pin, earrings or pendants. I do scrimshaw on
them. When you are finished it looks just like ivory. I am assuming
that these nuts are whole. That being the case, I use a band saw and
cut them in 1/8 to 1/4 inch slices leaving the dark outer shell on
the slice. You can take this off if you want. The slices are only
good until you start to get cracks and spaces in them. The center is
not usable. I then sand and highly polish the surface so I can do
scrimshaw. Treat it pretty much as you would a stone you were
cabbing. Hope this helps.

Roxan O’Brien

Looks like ivory, works like ivory. The only drawback is the fact
that you are limited to about 2 inches across the largest
cross-section on all but the largest specimens.

Ron Charlotte – Gainesville, FL OR @Ron_Charlotte1

Tague nuts aka vegetable ivory were used to make shirt buttons before
plastic changed the world. Each nut has a hollow in the middle
somewhere. Beneath the brown “skin” is an ivory appearing relatively
grainless material which is often sold to woodturners for making
minatures–vases, bowls, sculptures etc. It turns easily and takes a
fine finish easily. Sizes go up to at least 3" in length.I’vw turned
a few. Similar to palm nuts–or perhaps is a variety of palm tree
nuts. Probably about the same hardness as hard maple. Woodcraft sells
them primarily for woodturners but they could be carved also–w/
power tools or a talented carver.


The tagua nuts are way fun.  Does anyone know where to get some. 

Todd Schowalter, who is a fossil dealer at gem shows, is also a tagua
nut carver and you should be able to purchase nuts from him. His
business name is Fossils Plus: P.O. Box 50186, Irvine, CA
92619-0186; 949-643-2615, fax 949-643-8704.

Todd gave a program on tagua nuts for my rock club last November and
here are some excerpts from the program review in our newsletter,
written by Julia Varney (one of our members):

"The tagua nut, a cousin to the coconut, is a vegetable "ivory"
produced by a species of palm known as “phytelephas” which grows in
the rain forests of South and Central America. In the young and fresh
state the fruit is eaten by animals. When they fall to the ground,
the nuts decompose and new palms are “born.” When fully ripe, the nut
hardens and becomes a valuable resource which has been used
commercially for many years in the making of carved buttons, and as a
substitute for elephant tusk ivory.

“The tagua palm produces many spiny pods, each containing 5-6 nuts.
Nuts must be fully dry before being shipped out and the drying can
cause cracking, especially in the bigger nuts. The carver also has to
watch out for the small spaces which once held live embryos. Todd
uses a small, hand-held, battery-powered Dremel “mini-mite” tool with
various steel burs (first coarse, then fine) for his carvings. He
uses very fine (1500 grit), worn-out sandpaper for polishing, and he
warns not to get the nuts wet which could cause swelling and then more
cracking as they dry.”


I found another source on
Very beautiful work.



Forgive me for butting in. I also am trying to work/carve Tagua nuts

  • retirement activity - and would appreciate any additional
    you might be able to provide, including a source for
    larger nuts, i.e. 2-3". Thanks.

Joe Bokor

For those looking for Tagua nuts I know a dealer in Denver who has
them for 75 cents each. Right now they have 100 lbs instock. If
interested email me off line and I will give you the details. Put
tagua nuts in the subject line. If I do not know the sender I never
open the mail. I do not have time for spam or hidden viruses.

John Daly