Introduction: Carve a Traditional Maori Hook Necklace From Bone

Picture of Carve a Traditional Maori Hook Necklace From Bone

Make sure to check out my blog!

 This is a Maori hook I carved from cow bone. Carving bone is a pretty slow process...I carved this over the course of two days.

Carving a personal 'totem' like this is kind of like a journey. It's a very personal experience...
After all the time and hard work invested, and holding something so pure and beautiful... something that you carved, is an experience everyone should have (but so few do).

Before you carve your Hook, I recommend reading up on Maori culture. It's very fascinating and helps give you the inspiration you'll need for the 'journey' ahead.

Step 1: Pattern

Picture of Pattern

 Drawing a Maori hook is INCREDIBLY difficult. I recommend Googling "Maori Hook" and tracing a design you like. Cut out the traced hook, and transfer it to the bone blank (in pencil).

When picking a cow bone to carve, make sure it is white as paper. If it is in any way translucent or yellow, it contains grease. Grease will wreck your carving! Do not carve greasy bone!
You can get bone from PetsMart. It's in the form of cleaned bone dog toys (the ones made of REAL cow bone). You may even have a bone in your yard, dropped by some else's dog (or your own!).

From here on out, safety glasses are a must!

Step 2: Rough Carving

Picture of Rough Carving

 I did this with a band saw. You could use a jewelers saw, but this is faster.
My blade is too wide to cut out the middle part, so I'll remove that with a jewelers saw in the next step.

I drilled a hole so I would have to remove less material with the jewelers saw.

Step 3: Cutting Out the Inside

Picture of Cutting Out the Inside

 Use a jewelers saw to cut out the inside bits that you can't reach with a band saw..

Step 4: Cleaning Up

Picture of Cleaning Up

 Used the saw to refine your cuts. Remove jagged bits and "dead end" cuts.

Step 5: Removing Extra Material

Picture of Removing Extra Material

 Use a 1.4'' drum sander to hog away extra bone. The idea is to hide the outline of the bone... make everything rounded and smooth. Even the back!

You should wear a respirator for this. Bone dust can hurt your lungs!

Step 6: Cleaning Up

Picture of Cleaning Up

 Use a small Dremel cone-shaped sander at HIGH SPEED to bevel and further refine the shape.
Remove EVERY LAST tool mark!

Step 7: Hand Tools From Here!

Picture of Hand Tools From Here!

 The rest of the steps should be performed with hand tools.
Specifically, files. Lots and lots of, triangles files and chain saw files and miniature files.
Shape and curve it...round every single plane and angle. This thing needs to look like it grew off a tree or something. Perfectly smooth, slick, and a fish.

You will also need to define the barbs. See the photo...

Step 8: Sanding

Picture of Sanding

 Remove all file marks leftover from the previous step. This will take some time...when you're done, remove the sandpaper marks with some fine wet dry sandpaper (I think i used 600 grit?).

The wet dry will get the hook really slimy and maybe even grimy. Gently wash the hook with warm water and shampoo/softsoap. After you wash it, it'll be insanely slippery (even when dry!)...I don't know why though. Don't drop it, or it'll crack.

Step 9: Burnishing

Picture of Burnishing

Use some pieces of a brown paper bag to polish the hook. This prepares the surface for the next step.

Step 10: Polishing

Picture of Polishing

 Use car wax with abrasives in it. Put the car wax on a soft felt pad and rub everything down. It'll look pretty bad until you wash it.

After you wash it, polish it with a towel (like a beach towel). After you use the towel, use a clean piece of felt, then a piece of paper to finish the shine. At this point, it'll look shinier than's unreal.

After it was all shiny, I drilled a hole in it. As far as the tying of it, you're on your own. It's pretty easy to figure out of you look at my picture. There are about 4,000 ways to do you'll definitely figure one out pretty quickly!

For some reason, I cannot catch the shine with my camera! I assure you, though, it's like a mirror!


Mistwalker (author)2011-08-07

I've always wanted to make one of these, and finally got a rotary tool and bits, and decided to get it done. I looked over this instructable, though I don't have the same tools, so much of it didn't apply. Took me three days or so to do this one. It's made out of a cow femur I purchased at petsmart.

I didn't use any particular design, though it was influenced by ones I've seen. I sketched it out myself. Actually, over and over again, as I worked the bone down. It changed a bit as I worked with the bone. Turned out well, I think.

nepheron (author)Mistwalker2011-08-07

WOW! Awesome job! Amazing design...go carve some more!

Mistwalker (author)nepheron2011-08-07

I will indeed carve more. I have plenty of femur left. I was intending to string it with hemp cord I have, but I couldn't find it. So, I looked up a video on how to make rope, and I went and cut some willow branches, and used the bark to twist my own cord for it. It turned out pretty well, considering I've never made rope before. I'm quite proud of this, considering every part of it is something I made myself.

nepheron (author)Mistwalker2011-08-08

Nice job with the willow bark twine!

Mistwalker (author)nepheron2011-08-10

I carved another one today. My rotary tool crapped out at the end of it, but it's OK, it's still in warranty. I think I might make more of these, and sell them online someplace. The design isn't based on anything in particular. I just sketched out some designs on paper and picked the one I liked best.

nepheron (author)Mistwalker2011-08-11

These carvings are really fantastic! The rotary tool's field array probably shorted (that's the case 95% of the time). It's happened to me - just crack it open and pull out the coil of copper wire and examine it for a short. If the short is visible, bridge it with a wire of similar diameter.

I'll post a picture later of how I strung up mine. It might help you decide how you'll do it.

Mistwalker (author)nepheron2011-08-11

Well, no, it didn't crap out entirely. It was just making a horrible grinding noise and wouldn't maintain speed. I think the bone dust wore out the motor bushing. It's still in warranty, though. I'm taking it over to the Black & Decker service center tomorrow and they'll mail me a brand new one. I haven't heard of any other similar problems with this particular rotary tool, so I think I just got a dud. All the same, I'm going to buy some filter material and wrap it around the intakes (checking to make sure it doesn't overheat), and I also plan on getting a flex shaft attachment, so I can hang the tool up high away from most of the dust. I'll be back to carving bone in about a week's time.

Mistwalker (author)Mistwalker2011-08-30

Got my replacement rotary tool, got a flex shaft attachment, and started carving again. This one isn't quite finished, but it's looking pretty good. Thought I'd share it.

This time, it isn't a hook, though the shape is similar. It's a representation of a Maori spiritual figure, called the Manaia, who was meant to have the head of a bird, the body of a human, and the tail of a fish or a whale, though representations differ quite a bit. The bird head represented the sky, the human body the earth, and the tail the oceans. The Manaia was considered a guardian of sorts, and a messenger to the spirit world. It's a fairly common Maori carving.

I think I might do a Maori Tiki next, though I'm not sure.

nepheron (author)Mistwalker2011-09-04

Wow that's fantastic! After go to Hawaii, I've been in Maori production mode. I learned how to do the proper lashing technique and how to weave the rope. So my workshop is now full of carvings and hooks soaking in white gasoline to remove the grease and whiten the bone. Carving is a blast! I'll post some pictures soon and probably a way better instructable covering a new carving technique and the lashing method.

StevenH238 (author)nepheron2017-04-16

May I ask what plant you are using for your cord? Cordage is kind of a fascination for me. I can enjoy talking about making string and rope for hours.


Pretty obvious why the ladies love me, right?

Mistwalker (author)nepheron2011-09-05

I've carved a couple more since then, one is a Maori twist style pendant, and the other isn't terribly related to anything Maori, though it is informed somewhat by the style. It was just something I sketched that I liked the idea of. I've been trying each time I carve to do something I haven't done before. I'm getting much quicker at it. Though, I'd be quicker still if I didn't have to cut out the initial shape with cut off discs. It's slow, makes a lot of bone dust, and the discs shatter and the pieces go flying in random directions.

I need to learn how to tie Maori knots, too, and also learn a proper polishing technique that works for complex surfaces. At some point I want to get a better hanging flex shaft tool, like the sort jewelers use.

You should post more of your carvings. If you want, I could show you some sketches of designs I've done. Might give you a few ideas.

brianfss (author)Mistwalker2012-03-22

You need to do your own instructable. Your work is excellant. Love the designs. can you give us an idea of the dimensions?

Both of your carvings are beautiful! Thanks for the inspiration!

nikora (author)Mistwalker2012-01-02

man i am really impressed with your work, keep it up

StevenH238 (author)Mistwalker2017-04-16

Hi. I've been making my own cordage for a long time, and just wanted to let you know that my two favorites are the inner bark of walnut trees, and the outer sheath of grown stinging-nettles. Stinging-nettles are found almost anywhere there is a stream or river. To use stinging nettles, cut off the leaves near the stalk while the plant is standing, then cut the plant off at the base. Use a washrag or other piece of cloth wrapped around the stem, to handle it. Then, use the cloth as if you were polishing the stem. Rub the cloth back and forth a few times, from top to bottom, and the "stingers" will be gone. After that, you can strip off the outer covering. Twisted into cordage, it is very long lasting, and easy to work. Once you have the cordage made, you must use it while green, because it "sets" when dry.


I love to see folks making things. It's kind of my religion.


Best wishes!

potatoperson (author)Mistwalker2012-06-18

the willow branch cord is really clever! i think i'm going to try something like that soon.

greeneyedJill (author)Mistwalker2012-01-15

Beautiful! You did awesome.

tipigeon (author)2016-03-28

Hey i really like this instructable but i haven't tried it yet, i don't think i can get the right bones for this, how exactly did you get this one?

Corinbw (author)2015-05-11

in a few minutes I am headed over to a meat shop where they cut some femur and hip bones for me. I am excited.

angelnz (author)2014-03-02

I use 'Brasso' to give it a high gloss finish. Never thought it would work, but my father uses it for his carvings too, comes out great :) I love making bone carvings, can't wait for summer so I can sit on the front deck and carve to my hearts content :) MistWalker: You have some awesome designs, and good quality carvings, you must be a natural :)

paracordperson550 (author)2013-12-30

This is the one I made but it didn't turn out so well

BATbuilder (author)2013-02-22

very interesting you really do this with a dog bone

cykovisuals (author)2012-03-16

Do not inhale bone dust, it is bad for you. If using a rotary tool, always wear eye protection AND a filter mask, you can get them from the hardware store for a few bucks.

Travpena (author)cykovisuals2012-12-29

it also smells terrible

builderv (author)2012-03-01

this is cool i will do this project soon good instructions good job

Dutch56 (author)2012-02-06

I just stumbled upon this 'ible. When I saw your first photo I thought you used jade and then I noticed the section of bone that you drew your design on.

Having been a butcher in the past, another fairly flat bone to use would be the shoulder blade bone that is found in chuck roasts or 7-bone roast or you can use the bones from beef short ribs-most measure about 1 1/2 inch X 1 1/2 inch and are fairly flat with just a slight curve.

Now I just have to clean my work shop so I can get access to my band saw and drill press. Bring on dem bones

greeneyedJill (author)2012-01-15

I love the way your hook turned out! Can I do the same thing with wood, using the same tools? I would prefer wood over bone. Thanks

nikora (author)2012-01-02

Maori carvers are able to use or wear their work but the rule is that you must always give your first away. awesome carvings by the way. going to make one for my daughter soon of a mania.

anibioman (author)2011-12-25

this is really cool i think ill make one for my brother when his birthday comes around (april) that is a really nice shine on yours.

b_l_87 (author)2011-11-20

i made this for a friend of mine.

nerd12 (author)2011-11-11

This is good but do you really want to put a ornament which was worn by blood thirsty, flesh eating cannibal on your skin. it might not be a tooth but it still symbolizes them.

nepheron (author)nerd122011-11-11

yes. 42.

nerd12 (author)nepheron2011-11-11

???? do you mean you made 42 pendants? you must seriously like them. the shaolin monk still beat them.

Ps- that was a reference to discovery science channel deadliest warrior.

CosmicBrambleclaw (author)2011-07-11

Sweet tutorial :3 I think I might make a Manaia necklace with this picture then maybe a hook after that :3

doomsdayltd (author)2011-07-11

personally i love maori's, but people need to look into what they are and there history. There's many different maori's all made of bone, jade, or exotic Hawaiian hardwoods. Now this necklace that you made is representation of an old new zealand tale of a man who caught the largest fish in the world with a bone and woven fish hook. Because of this tale the maori fish hook presents prosperity, fertility, and safe passage over water. Lastly the maori is to be crafted by someone and then given to someone for a special meaning or occasion, meaning they must not be worn by the craftier.

Travpena (author)2011-06-29

Were do you get your bones? I'm having trouble finding the right kinds and also most of the ones I do find have meat on them.

sonofspikerr (author)2010-10-13

is it possible to make this out of wood? Because i dont have access to many cow bones... I tried in industrial tech, but the bandsaw was dull and wouldnt cut right

not in my opinion, ive done a lot of carving, and even when i used superhard woods like black walnut and hickory the hook split in some way, tried 4-5 times before chisels and files were flying all over the shop.

haha ok :)

nepheron (author)sonofspikerr2010-10-13

Traditionally, these hooks were carved entirely by hand using coral and stone tools.
However, there is a material out their called Faux Bone
( .

It's a plastic that looks just like can carve it with a hack saw and an Xacto knife

Unless the wood you use is extremely dense, the hook will be very fragile. Ancient Polynesians had access to wood...but they didn't use wood because it's not strong enough and would break along the grain.

sonofspikerr (author)nepheron2010-10-14

thanks! i'll keep trying to get a bone ecause these are amazing

Tape-structable (author)2011-06-14

My attempt. It was initially very "meaty" as in there was more "bone" on it than what you see now. And I put bone in quotes because it isn't bone, but a plastic poker chip, with the word 'dealer' on it. Next attempt will hopefully be with real bone, or at least a nice wood. Thank you for your inspiration!

Tools used were:
Utility saw
files of various sizes
craft knives (x-acto)

DONT USE WOOD!!!!! it split apart everytime i tried to carve the contours, like 5-6 times before i rage quit and threw tools all over the shop.

nepheron (author)The Metal One2011-06-25

Use green applewood or some other tight grained wood that has not been kiln dried. Make sure your tools are sharp!

Rough carve it as best as you can, then let it dry. After it's dry, sand and file the contours to get smoothness.

nepheron (author)Tape-structable2011-06-16

Awesome job! Cool idea, using the poker chip!

The Metal One (author)2011-06-24

try doing a maori "tooth" design, less challenging but with the same amount of satisfaction. :)

Skwaab (author)2011-03-25

This was great, my first was terrible, but i'm gonna have to have another go.

anyone else think the burnt bone smelt like cool origanal doritos? ;)

jamiec53 (author)Skwaab2011-05-08

Are you supposed to sniff it...

bendog38 (author)2011-04-18

Can I use wood? Bone just isn't my medium.

nepheron (author)bendog382011-04-19

Wood is also a traditional Maori hook material, go ahead!

About This Instructable




Bio: Travelling since 2013. I'm currently in Australia for some reason. --- I’m Calvin Drews, and I love to learn, experiment, invent, create, repair, and ... More »
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