Back to Ganoksin | FAQ | Contact

Toxins in cutting rough - abalone

Hi All, On this subject I would like to know about the cutting of
abalone. I was told it has a toxic substance and is dangerous to
cut. Any advice is appreciated because I have put off working with
the abalone until I know the facts. Is there a reference for
materials that need caution when cutting them?


Marta, I have been working abalone shell for years, and as far as I
know, it is only dangerous to breath the dust from cutting and
grinding it. As long as you work it with lots of water, or if working
it dry, wear a good reporator (and clean up the dust afterward), it
is not really too dangerous.

Jack Reisland

Marta, I have cut abalone shells a number of times, both dry and wet.
My suggestion is to always cut it wet and wear a filter mask as the
dust from the abalone is bad for your lungs. It is an organic
material and can cause lung infection if you cut it dry and without a
filter mask. Some people will say that it won’t hurt you, but just
the smell when you cut it tells you that you don’t want to breath it.
Be cautious and use lots of water when cutting the shells.
Good luck, Kelly

Marta I was told ‘If it once lived it’ll kill you’ as a maxim for
cutting and Abalone falls into that category as far as I am concerned.
The danger is the dust so cut it wet and clean up completely before
the mess dries up. I use a particle mask since with my equipment I can
taste the material I am cutting because of the way the mist is
distributed. (Abalone isn’t unpleasant tasting but Malachite - yuch!)

Most anything dangerous can be catered for with the right
precautions, don’t get scared, just sensibly careful and enjoy - this
is supposed to be fun!

Andy Parker

 I would like to know about the cutting of abalone.  I was told it
has a toxic substance and is dangerous to cut. 

G’day Marta. The cutting of abalone produces a fine, very hard dust
and it is the inhalation of this dust that is harmful, producing
similar lung problems to that of silicosis from mining. Professionals
in NZ who cut large amounts of paua (our blue-green variety of the
shell) use a diamond saw with plenty of water to avoid dust and to
provide lubrication. However before the shell can be used for
jewellery and inlay, there is a hard crust of limestone shells (mostly
of other aquatic animals) to be removed and this is far more hazardous
than mere sawing. This must be done either with copious water
flowing, and being sprayed all over the place by the spinning
grindstone, or with very efficient suction ventilation with the inlet
very close to the point of grinding. One could use water when hand
sawing, but it would be difficult and messy. I have cut paua to use
for inlay using a fine jeweller’s saw, but it wears down saws quickly,
though saws are cheap. So most people including me use a light but
efficient mask, such as workers with fibre glass use, and good
ventilation. The wearing of a covering overall, cap and surgical
gloves is recommended when a lot of the shell is to be worked. The
dust can be very ‘itchy!’ This protective clothing must not be shaken
to remove dust but should be washed. – Cheers now,

John Burgess; @John_Burgess2 of Mapua Nelson NZ

John, Could the hard crust be handled by a sand blasting? Does it
matter if that sand then contains the particles, as it is always
enclosed? Thanks, Teresa

    John, Could the hard crust be handled by a sand blasting? Does
it matter if that sand then contains the particles, as it is always
enclosed? Thanks, Teresa 

G’day Teresa; I doubt it; it is usually quite thick (up to 3 - 4 mm
on some large shells) and very hard. Even the professionals grind off
the junk with a very coarse stone; but then perhaps sand blasting
might then be used to finish to the point where it can be polished. –
Cheers now,

John Burgess; @John_Burgess2 of Mapua Nelson NZ

Teresa, I hope you won’t mind if I also add my 2 cents here. The
"crust" on abalone shell is a mixture of original shell, and other
growths attached to the surface. It is usually all lumpy, with pits
and various hardnesses, not at all uniform. The idea is to clear away
all this stuff to get down to the inner layer of the shell that
contains the rainbow iridescence. Sandblasting would not evenly remove
all this stuff. It can be ground away pretty quickly with a very
course abrasive grinding wheels or belts until you get down to the
iridescent layer. Then finer abrasives, and a lighter touch are
needed, as the layers of iridescent shell will sort of de-laminate if
it gets too warm.

Regards, Jack

Hi Marta there is a place in Hawaii where you can buy laminated
abalone and paua shell at a very affordable price and you don’t have
to go through the time consuming and dangerous process of cutting
abalone by yourself. the laminated sheets come in different thickness
and beautiful colours. They have a wide variety of raw veneers. thin
laminates,of blue paua,donkey,green and red abalone silver lip, and
very thick paua panels in all the colours of the rainbow to choose
for, And you don’t need special tools to cut it, you can use a saw
frame, x-acto blade or even regular scissors with minimum or no waste
of material at all. I’ve been making some rings and bracelets and is a
pleasure to work with. The possibilities are unlimited and left to your
own imagination and creativity, The size of the sheets are 24cm x 14cm
(aprox. 9 1/4 x 5 1/2-inch.) And they even have paua shell flakes, Paua
powder and paua chips. Just take a look and enjoy the colours of
nature. Hope it help Marco