Easy Scrimshaw for Beginners

Introduction: Easy Scrimshaw for Beginners

About: Son of a son of a sailor.

Scrimshaw, the etching or carving of bone, tooth , shell, or ivory (ivory may be illegal unless obtained before the laws were passed)
Usually done by sailors (1800's) on long voyages to pass the time.

Step 1: Get Some Scrimshaw Stuff to Etch or Carve

You will need something to etch or carve. Usually, shell, bone, antler, or ivory. I have tried, bone ,antler,  teeth, ivory, polymer (ivory simulation), shell and glass! I found an old piano that had real Ivory keys. What a find! Then I found some keys that look exactly like the Ivory ones, but they were polymer plastic look- alikes. You can test for real ivory by heating a needle, held with plyers till red hot on the end. Touch to the key and if it goes into it easily its plastic, the Ivory will not puncture or melt like the plastic ones. Also grind and edge,  one will smell like plastic and the other won't.

Step 2: Tools of the Trade

I made most of my Scrimshaw tools. Anything really sharp will do. An old record player needle, inserted in a wood scrap, is one of my faves. Old dental tools, big needles,  etc... If it works for you , then use it. But it must have a comfortable handle. Test stuff out till you find what works for you.

Step 3: Get to Work (its Fun)

Get comfy, some good lighting is essential, relax, you can't rush this! Choose a subject. Sailing ship, whales, seashore scenes, lighthouses, dolphins, mermaids, etc... Anything  that you choose. I did a Lion, in reverse Scrimshaw once. The background was black and the lion was white. See pict. 

Step 4: Blacken the Ivory

You must blacken the Ivory to see what you have etched. Shoe polish or soot & oil mix, or crayon will work. Remember once you etch its not eraseable. So sketch in pencil first and have pics and drawings at your side for reference.

Step 5: Blackened Ivory

Step 6: Get Some Pics to Look At

Get some pics of the subject you want to etch. The more the merrier. Remember you have to shrink it down to fit on your Ivory, shell, or bone. Steady hands and sharp eye! Practice on a scrap piece first. You will get better as you go.

Step 7: Rub Off the Black

when you are pleased with your work, rub off the black. See if you need more lines or dots or ?. Re- blacken and add what you need. Then remove the black again. If you are satisfied., drill a hole to hang on a necklace or leather , or mount on a wooden jewelery box, or inlay in wood of your choice. See jewelry box I made and necklace pieces.

Step 8: Expendables Logo Necklace Pendant

Step 9: Ship Necklace Pendant

Step 10: Ship & Lighthouse

This was a gift from my #1 son, nicely done!

Step 11: Sea Shell Relief Carving

This was also a gift (from Martha's Vineyard) to myself.

Step 12: A Happy Frog & Mushrooms

Step 13: Sea Shell Sketch (ready for Etching)

I sometimes skip the blackening part and sketch right on the piece itself.

Step 14: A Scrimshaw Piece for My Wifey!

I did this from a photo of my wifey's horse! It is on a slab of deer antler! Not too bad!

Step 15: A Happy Flying Frog!Last But Not Least!

I would really love to win this contest (Epilog Challenge -Laser Cutter Prize), . Can you imagine the things I could make? Santa's sleigh will be overflowing with gifts this year!  I will be so grateful, as will the gift recipients when I win! So please VOTE NOW FOR MY INSTRUCTABLE!   Enjoy, seek peace, Triumphman.


Please vote now, can you imagine the things I could make with the Laser Cutter?  I will be so thankful, as will the gift recipients this year! 

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    Question 1 year ago on Step 3

    Engraving Ivory on a 3018 Pro what bit would you suggest using and at what speed/feed? I have a very old piece that the scrimshaw wore off and would like to redo it but not sure what to select. There isn't a category for Ivory in Easel. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks!


    4 years ago

    Thanks for some basics, however it seems you are using "etching" to mean "engraving". Do you know where to find out about actual etching, i.e. using an acid to dissolve a pattern on it?


    6 years ago on Step 16

    GREAT Instructable !! ... I appreciate your simple/clean rendering style, and your 'Expendables Logo' example shows what talent you have ! And, I LOVE your bike... used to own a BSA 650 Lightning (same mechanicals) back in the day...

    Try using the same fast technique you used on the 'Expendables' piece of shaw.with COLOR.. and Google the avante-guard artist (Hunter S. Thompson's gonzo illustrator) ' Ralph Steadman' for some inspiration !

    Keep up the good work, my young friend.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    At what point do you describe the actual etching process?


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Wow, if I could win the Epelog Laser Cutter Challenge Contest I could make some awesome stuff! Please vote for my Instructable! Thanks.