The original tutorial was published here on Bone Jeweler.
This bone carving tutorial is a large summary of what you need to begin carving bone and similar materials. The hobby itself of bone carving holds an allure to many creative people and it is not uncommon these days to stumble into someone just starting in the craft. My own history dates only as far back as my mid-twenties, not yet ten years ago. I will share tips and tricks to carving bone here in this blog. I don’t mind giving beginners a leg up on their skills, as I had often wished I had someone guiding me back then.
In this large post I will cover:
- must have tools
- peripheral tools, and carving on a budget
- bone carving safety
- setting up a carving space
- bone carving materials and renewable alternatives
Step 1: Safety First!
Safety gear! Don’t even get started with out these two bad boys: hearing protection and a respirator. One will prevent you from going to bed after a long day of carving and laying in bed wide awake because all you can hear in the quietness is a high pitched whine “eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.” The other will help your face not be hit and keep your lungs clear of the harmful bone dust. They are both 3M products: a full face respirator, and hearing protectors. Remember to buy a few packs of filters. When I change my filters out, I write the date of when I installed them new on the mask. There is no hard and fast rule on when to change the filter, the best ways to tell are: is it becoming hard for you to draw breaths in the mask? Or are you smelling burning bone? Both signs mean the filter is finally clogged and ready to be changed.
Step 2: The Tools You Will Want for Bone Carving
A nice basic set up to start cutting your teeth on will cost you under $200 depending on what brand and accessories you want to start with. My entry could help you get started.
You don’t need much to begin carving. First, get yourself a Dremel or a Foredom: read that guide mentioned right above to help you decide.
Adding the flex shaft to the dremel makes it feel like you are drawing on the bone. It gives you some freedom in the maneuvering department.
Okay, you have the most important part: the engine. Now how about the wheels? I would recommend obtaining an assortment of the following: Lamps to see with. A carousel of carving burrs to help organize your burrs and have them easy at hand.
An assortment of sand papers running from 80 grit to 2500 grit. At 400 grit, I switch to water sand paper. I will run a tutorial on how to properly use sanding paper with bone later.
A jewelers saw with some spiral wax saw blades. The name is misleading, as the blades are capable of sawing anything from soft wax to hardened shell.
Liquid lubricant. Not only for the saw blades, but for the carving burrs. Everyone likes a little cool down during such heated friction. Seriously, the lubricant will help smooth the experience of carving. Otherwise, you will just prematurely wear out your tools.
See the large polishing wheel? I forgot, get some of those too! Polishing buffs and cloth wheels are a huge must have to execute the last two steps in finishing a pendant: polishing, and more polishing.
Just one more important thing: improvise where you must. I use a fan to blow the dust away from landing on me and clogging up in my filters faster than I’d like. This also helps by clearing dust away so you can continue to see your carving instead of having to shake dust off of it.
Try to have a dedicated carving space. This is quite important. In order to develop your skill, you should be able to be able to return to your projects on a whims notice. For most of my carving years, I was only able to carve 3 months out of every year. I carved in an outdoor shed that did not have heat. In 2013 I moved into another place and have my own tiny corner; it doesn’t take much space to carve but it does need to be comfortable.
Step 3: The Materials You Will Want for Bone Carving
These are examples of all the types of carving material I keep on hand to carve.
- My WIPs drawer (bottom) and skull drawer (top) keep my queue of pendants and skull (engraving) supply.
- Monkey skull, fresh nut and horn ring.
- Bear jaw bone and cougar jaw bone.
- Cow bone and three kinds of ivory (all legal).
- Water buffalo horn and human skull cap.
- African lion jaw and various types of antler.
Note also the colored pencils in the back ground (that would be your thinnest carving yet!), the cigar box and tagua nut. The tagua nut is a great alternative to ivory. Tagua nut resembles ivory enough that it is known as ivory-nut. Also recall that deer shed, or lose, their antlers every year. Can't get more renewable than that!
As you expand your carving skills you may also want to try giraffe bone.
Step 4: Remember to Enjoy
If carving is in anyway stressful, it may not be for you. If you've tried, share your results! And remember, you'll only get better the more you carve.