Introduction: Carved Vegetable Ivory (Tagua) Bracelet

Picture of Carved Vegetable Ivory (Tagua) Bracelet

You might be asking yourself "What the heck is Tagua?"

Tagua (aka Vegetable Ivory), pronounced /ˈtaɡwə/ or Ta-Gwa is a nut that grows in certain types of palm trees in south america. It's an awesome, super hard, natural material that is fun to carve. Before the invention of plastics Tagua was exported to Europe and the U.S. for the button industry. You can put it on a mini lathe and turn a bunch of buttons or little cups or whatever. Today Tagua is still used for buttons in the high end fashion industry( or so I read ). And is used extensively in jewelry making in Ecuador.

Just Google Tagua images and you'll see all the wonderful uses for it.

So I picked up some nuts up when I was in Ecuador because I was fascinated by the little carvings they would do with them. I talked to an artisan in Banos EC that has been working with it his whole life. His grandfather started the Biz years back and has passed it down through the family.

Step 1: Tools

Tagua Tools

Tagua is pretty easy to work with. You just need a rotary tool like a Dremel or a Foredom (Prefered...I need one of those. Hint,hint..nudge,nudge). You can carve it with chisels and such but it's super hard and you'd probably just get frustrated. The nice thing about Tagua is it doesn't really have a grain pattern so that makes it a little easier to carve than wood. You just have to be careful it doesn't burn.

-Sandpaper 220-400 grit

-Cloth and Jeweler's Rouge

Leather Tools-
-Knife- snap off hobby razors are good.

-Hole Punch- Rotary or I prefer the tubular kind that you hit with a mallet.

-Cutting surface

-Edge Beveler

-Saddle Needles or leather sewing machine

-Straight Edge

-Canvas- Just a piece of scrap for burnishing the edges

-Beeswax

Materials-

-Vegetable Tanned Leather

-1" Brass Buckle

-Leather Dye

-Wax Finish or other Leather finish

-Thread for hand stitching or for machine

Step 2: Open the Nut

Picture of Open the Nut

Usually you can feel the nut moving around inside the shell when you shake it. Just give it a smack on the side of your bench or with a piece of wood to crack the shell. You might need a flat screwdriver to pry it open but once you get it going it's pretty easy.

Step 3: Cut to Size

Picture of Cut to Size

You can use a vise or some clamps to hold the nut. Then use a fine tooth saw ( i like the Japanese style pull saws) to cut it in half or parallel to one of the surfaces. The nut obviously isn't a geometric shape but there are three relatively flat surfaces on the outside. The center of the nut sometimes has a crack in it from the drying process. Just keep this in mind for your design. Once I cut it in half I then cut it in to a 1 1/8" X 1 3/8" rectangle.

Step 4: Glue to Work Surface

Picture of Glue to Work Surface

Here you can use rubber cement or contact cement to glue it to your work surface to make it easier to work on. Glue the cut side down. Then I sanded the top flattish (is that a word?). I wish I had glued it up on a block to make it raised up. It would have been a little easier to work on with the rotary tool.

Step 5: Draw Design and Carve

Picture of Draw Design and Carve

I just drew the design I wanted with a pencil and started drawing. You can draw it on to a piece of paper and transfer it if you want but that's waaaay too much work.

Then get carving. I bought a set of cheap burs from Menard's that are okay for carving. And I have a few individual bits that are good for details. You can also make your own for super detailed parts by filing down small drill bits, like 1/16". Just take your time so as not to burn the Tagua. Use larger bits for the big stuff and tiny bits for the small stuff. Kinda logical, right?

Step 6: Sand and Polish

Picture of Sand and Polish

Use some 220 grit sandpaper and sand it smooth. Then use 400 grit.

After that it was pretty smooth but I wanted it shiny like I saw at the shops in Ecuador. The artist I talked to said they don't put any finish on it just polish. I don't have a polishing wheel for my grinder right now so I just rubbed some white jeweler's rouge on a piece of an old cotton dress shirt and rubbed until it shined.

Pretty cool!

Step 7: Drill Holes

Picture of Drill Holes

First I removed some of the thickness and made the backside a little convex to fit the curve of a bracelet.

Then at this point I still wasn't sure how I was going to make the bracelet or attach the carving to it. I had sort of an idea of running some thread through it so I drilled some holes through it. Tagua is a little difficult to drill because its kind of like a hard plastic. It gets hot fast and can clog the bit fast. so you have to just do a little at a time to not burn it. I drilled in from both sides to finish the hole.

Step 8: Make the Bracelet

Picture of Make the Bracelet

I had some scraps of veg tanned leather that I had already dyed laying around so I just used that. The overall width of the bracelet is 1 3/4" and it tapers to a 1" strap on the buckle and billet side. The overall length is about 10 1/2" with the last 7/8" folded over for the buckle. Still just making it up as I go here....Cut it with a straight edge keeping a lot of pressure on it so it doesn't slip.

I used a 12mm hole punch to start the taper. Guess it's not really a taper but oh well.

Then I cut the strap end with an end punch but you can do it with a knife too. I marked the

Step 9: Skive

Picture of Skive

Skive, pare or reduce the thickness on the flesh (backside or wrong side for those that sew) with a sharp knife. I like using a round knife for leather working. This reduction helps the bend and allows the buckle to work properly.

Step 10: Sewing Channel and Bevel

Picture of Sewing Channel and Bevel

Cut a sewing channel around perimeter except at buckle end. Bevel edges.

Step 11: Add Logo

Picture of Add Logo

Wet leather where your logo will go if you have one :) and clamp it down with a c-clamp. Leave it for a half hour.

Step 12: Dye and Burnish

Picture of Dye and Burnish

I wanted the leather darker than it was so I put some darker leather dye on it. Finish the edges at this point with beeswax and then burnish or buff with canvas and a lot of pressure. The friction and wax make a nice edge. I usually do both sides starting with the back. Lay it flat on a piece of granite and rub.

Step 13: Make Little Frame

Picture of Make Little Frame

Here I was trying to figure out how to attach the Tagua carving and had an idea to make a frame. So I cut out the center to recess the carving and dyed and burnished edges. Then I cemented to the strap.

Step 14: Sew

Picture of Sew

Cement the buckle on and then use stitching chisel to punch the holes in the sewing channel. You can also sew with a machine. I saddle stitched it.

Step 15: Attach Carving

Picture of Attach Carving

First I marked and stabbed the holes for attaching the tagua to the bracelet with a stitching awl. Then I cemented it to the inside of the frame. Then I sewed the carving to the bracelet running the thread through the holes I had drilled and doubling them around the frame through the holes I made. Then I cut the tread a 1/4" long and melted the ends to the back of the strap.

Polish it up and here you can be done if you like. Like I mentioned before, the tagua doesn't need any protective finish. Just polish it with jeweler's rouge and you are done. Or....you can stain it.

Step 16: Stain

Picture of Stain

I used some wool dye to add some depth to the carving. I don't know what I prefer. Sometimes I look at the pics of pre staining and wish I had left it, other times I like the depth it gives. Anyway...I stained it then sanded some of it off and polished it again.

There you have it. Vegetable Ivory is really cool to work with. If you can get your hands on some try it.

Cheers!

Comments

Tightliner (author)2015-04-23

You have inspired me. I have never heard of the tagua or vegetable ivory before but I know of it now thanks to you. I do carvings with a very small dremel like tool (400XS engraver from scmsysteminc.com) and I love fine details. I had to find and order some of these nut right away because they look like an great material for my style of carving. Thank you so much for this.

BruceE3 (author)2015-04-22

Gratz

ArticAkita (author)2015-04-10

Actully tauga does warp if wet & tweak carvings, 3D figurines do depending what you made & what its intended use is...its a fun medium to try carving on! I still have several in my desk! This instructable inspies me to go whittlewith my dremel! Love the tree btw! You also could check out Treeline carvers supply they carry tauga nuts & Boone trading co. Ivory distributors has books on tauga nut carving too netsukes & such.

askjerry (author)2015-04-07

I've worked with them before on my lathe. They cut very easy and machine well. I like the look of your hand carved artwork... very nice. It is also a very good tutorial in leatherwork. (Something I have not done yet.)

Thanks!

Phiske (author)askjerry2015-04-07

Thanks for looking. I'd like to see a tagua turning instructable!

I will post one this summer- I need to get my lathe out of storage & Fire it up.

askjerry (author)Phiske2015-04-07

The trick is mounting them... a friend of mine who does lapidary (rock cutting) uses a special wax to hold his pieces into place... this also works to glue the nut to a dowel for turning. Or you can use epoxy.

Once mounted, nothing special... just treat like you would plastic.

Jerry

The Rambler (author)2015-04-06

I feel that I often find myself clicking on something on the main page that looks really cool and then, once it's loaded, looking over and going, "Oh of course it's by Phiske." Haha This is, as usual, fantastic. It makes me wish I could get my hands on some Tagua to play with.

Phiske (author)The Rambler2015-04-07

ha ha! That's funny. It just means that there is some contest that I really want to win when I post. Thanks for always clicking!

The Rambler (author)Phiske2015-04-08

Hahahaha, too true! I feel bad but whenever I have something to post I always think, "maybe I should wait until there's a contest I could win..."

I get them thru Amazon fairly easily.

Wow, just searched for them and you're right, they're all over Amazon, and for really good prices. Amazon never ceases to amaze me.

Phiske (author)Silvester105282015-04-07

What do you use them for?

Silvester10528 (author)Phiske2015-04-07

I just tinker with carving them. The last batch I purchased were large, I wanted to slice them into disks to carve medalions, but they all have very large voids in them - the void seems to be proportional with the nut, so large nuts have large voids and small nuts have small voids.

lazemaple (author)The Rambler2015-04-07

Lee Valley sells it! $13.20 a pound or $39 for 5 pounds

http://www.leevalley.com/en/wood/page.aspx?p=32719...

The Rambler (author)lazemaple2015-04-08

Thanks for the heads up! That seems incredibly affordable. I may not be able to resist getting some of this to tinker with.

Tarun Upadhyaya (author)2015-04-07

Loved the design :) Thanks for sharing.

kruth1 (author)2015-04-07

Nice Tutorial! I have a lot of Tagua beads from a company in Ecuador. They are lovely and so nice to just feel!

Phiske (author)kruth12015-04-07

such a wonderful renewable material. Amazingly strong.

Thanks for viewing!

spark master (author)2015-04-07

Easily one of the best instructables on leather or Nut/Bone carving I have seen.

It almost makes me want to pull out all my tools!

Phiske (author)spark master2015-04-07

it's all about the pictures for me. I think good pics make my not so great explanations understandable.

Thanks for the high praise!

DarnellMoonda (author)2015-04-07

This is beautiful and you did a wonderful job. Think I prefer the stained nut. Would love to try craving one of these nuts... looks like it would be endless fun. Thank you.

Phiske (author)DarnellMoonda2015-04-07

thanks! I'm really happy how it turned out. I think I might be hooked on carving tagua

️Roy Glen Gilliam (author)2015-04-05

I use the tagua nut in my pen making protects. It is often a well sought after - hard to find nut in the United States- I've seen it in only a few shops in the US - http://www.texasknife.com/vcom/index.php
And
http://m.woodcraft.com
If anyone's seen them at another place then let me know?

tzny (author)️Roy Glen Gilliam2015-04-07

A couple of folks above pointed out 2 more sources - amazon.com and leevaley.com

I recently got some whole polished ones from amazon and they look great. Now I just need to make something out of them.

Thanks, Phiske, for a great instructable!

Corinbw (author)2015-04-06

oooOOOoooh I like it!!! This just looks amazing, Makes me want to get some Tagua also. great design. I love the sheen on the white parts

Phiske (author)Corinbw2015-04-07

It's amazing how it shines when you buff it. I need a buffing wheel for my grinder. Thanks for looking!

The Green Gentleman (author)2015-04-06

Wow! Gorgeous instructable, and great product! I was just talking with an artist at a craft fair about carving Tagua. This is like fate!

That's weird!

Thanks for the comment.

NathanSellers (author)2015-04-05

This is beautiful. Well designed. So cool that out is made from a nut.

Phiske (author)NathanSellers2015-04-05

Thanks! Yeah, it's such a cool material. It cuts so nice and I love the sheen you can get just from polishing. It's amazingly tough too.

️Roy Glen Gilliam (author)2015-04-05

I like your leather making skills, how long have you been working with leather?

About 5 years or so. I'm a carpenter by trade but have been doing leather on the side to supplement my income. You can get tagua super cheap in Ecuador. I got like a dozen nuts for $1. I'd like to see the pens you make. My Dad turns a lot of bowls on his big lathe. I've turned a few things but haven't been able to practice much.

Thanks for the look and the comment!

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