Carving a Lattice and Acanthus Pattern on an Emu Egg Shell




I created this project with the amazing Faberge eggs in mind. My approach was to combine the precision and beauty of the famous Faberge eggs with modern tools and possibilities. I used an emu egg because of the natural layers and colors that it contains. Nothing on this egg shell is painted or dyed. This piece is meant to be contemplated up close.

The columns are stylized acanthus leaves carved in relief using the mainly the turquoise layer. The lattice is formed by removing multiple layers from around the outermost layer. The white negative space was made this way intentionally. I thought it would provide the best background for the darker colors of the foreground. In addition, when displayed where light is allowed to enter the pierced areas, that very light will show through the thin white portions of the design. I meant for this to give the effect of looking through a window where light penetrates a thin plant canopy and casts small light forms on the floor, walls and windows.

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Step 1: Safety First

I give the egg a quick wipe down with alcohol to reduce the chances of Salmonella existing on the eggshell. Then wash the shell in water and dry thoroughly. Be sure to wear a surgical mask to help prevent breathing the dust created. It is not healthy at all to inhale this stuff.

Step 2: A Good Design Starts With Basics

Begin by marking a grid pattern on the egg. This can be done by stacking various household items like books or blocks of wood. A better method is to use an egg marker. There are a few available which I will not mention by name as I do not want to show favoritism. However, egg markers are easily found through the International Egg Art Guild.

Step 3: Begin Drawing the Design

Step 3 is to draw the lattice pattern on the egg using the grid as a guide to keep the lines of the lattice evenly spaced

Step 4: Draw in Acanthus

After the lattice is complete, draw on the acanthus columns. I draw the pattern on paper first. This gives me a guide to use when getting the image on the egg. If a person does not think they can draw the things over and over the same then there are other options. I know many people who use a stencil film (I buy mine on-line from Profitable Hobbies) which can be run through a copier or printer and then applied directly to your project as it has an adhesive on one side. I have used it in the past and still do from time to time.

Step 5: Cut in Light Outline, Remove Drawn on Lines

Next, using a #171 bit in a high speed engraving tool, I lightly cut each line of the design that will need further attention later in the process. By doing this I am able to remove all the pencil marks before the egg shell becomes too fragile to be sanded or otherwise cleaned. The surface of the emu egg is not smooth, nor is it even in hardness, so be careful while marking the pattern so you dont end up with deep cuts. Another reason I pre-mark the design is the eggs can chip as the cutting bit is drawn through the shell. By making a first pass chipping is reduced.

Step 6: Begin Carving the Acanthus

The acanthus columns are now begun. They will be the thickest part of the egg after it is carved. By carving these first the shell remains as strong as possible while it is handled. I first carve with a #2 carbide ball burr. All the rough-out as well as the majority of the detail is done with this bit.

Step 7: Add Details to Leaves

Change to a #0.5 carbide ball to begin adding the undercuts and the finer details.

Step 8: Continue Detailing Leaves

Again move to a smaller carbide ball burr #1/16. This is used to finish the undercutting. It is really to small to do much carving of large areas. At this time, the flower is left alone as it is to be taken to the white layer.

Step 9: Time to Carve the Lattice Pattern

We now will begin the lattice. Because the outermost layer varies in hardness and surface texture, I will remove it before making the effort to take the turquoise layer away. I realize this is a lot of work but I do it so I have a much reduced chance of punching a hole completely through the egg. I use a #171 tapered flat carbide burr to remove the dark green layer. I do this by carefully following the outline previously drawn to roughly the depth of the outer layer. After the diamond shape is marked I remove the remaining dark shell just outlined.

Step 10: Remove the Turquoise Layer

Time again to change bits. Now I will use a fairly large carbide ball burr #6 to remove the turquoise layer. You will not be able to remove a small amount where the white layer meets the lattice. Dont worry we will take it out next. Care must be taken here as this burr is pretty aggressive for the small area and thickness we are removing. The parts of the shell that are to be pierced can be left alone at this point. I mark them with a Sharpie pen so I know where they are and so I wont waste time continuing to carve in areas that I will be removing later.

Step 11: Touch Up the Edges of the Lattice

When all the diamond shapes are roughed out to the white layer we change burrs yet again to a #699 tapered flat carbide cutter. The end of this burr is flat so it can be stood straight up and it will cut like a router bit. This burr is used to remove all the turquoise layer that remains next to the lattice lines It can also be used to remove any remaining large pieces of the turquoise layer.

Step 12: Finish Removing Any Signs of the Turquoise Layer

After cleaning up all the diamond shapes between the lattice lines the burr is changed to a green conical sanding stone. We now remove the small thin portions of the turquoise layer that remain in each of the spaces between the lattice. And to smooth the white surface. BE CAREFUL!! Not much thickness here for errors.

Step 13: Completion of Flowers

13. Time to finish the flowers. The center is left alone in the dark outer layer. The petals are carved with a #4 carbide ball burr by first removing the dark layer. Second, strokes are drawn from the edge of the center circle to the edge of the petal through the turquoise layer down to the white layer. We dont need a lot of precision here in the stokes except to avoid cutting to deeply and breaking through. The randomness of varied stokes will more closely match those created by mature.

Step 14: Undercutting the Flower Petals

When you are satisfied with the petals of all the flowers, change to burr back to the #1/16 and undercut the petals.

Step 15: Time to Punch Some Holes

Time to remove the pierced portions. Either the #699 or the #171 can be used for this. The end of these bits will cut so they can be carefully pushed straight through the shell then drawn along the edges of the design that are to remain.

Step 16: Beginning to Prepare the Egg for Display

After you are satisfied with the carving and cutting portion of this project, prepare a solution of bleach and water. You will hear many different ideas on the correct proportions of bleach to water. I have used straight bleach and a mixture as diluted as 50/50. Obviously the diluted solutions will take longer to accomplish the task at hand. We are going to remove the film that is inside the egg. If you are patient enough you can put a piece of dental floss in one hole and out another to help you put the egg in the bleach. I just use a rubber kitchen glove since it gives me more control over how the egg enters the liquid. This process will raise a strong bleach smell as the bleach eats away the proteins. I wait until the surface of the liquid no longer has any bubbles or foam on it before examining the egg for any remaining inner film layer. (Steps 16 and 17 can be ignored if you choose not to pierce the shell.)

Step 17: Wash, Wash, Wash

After the film is removed, wash the shell thoroughly with lots of water. The point is to be absolutely sure all the bleach is removed. Allow the shell to dry over night then you can begin applying light layers of polyurethane. Don’t hurry here as a run or drip will be basically impossible to remove.

Step 18: Time to Finish the Egg for Display

Find a stand that you feel is appropriate to your work. I use a super glue style adhesive to hold the egg in it stand. My opinion offered here is to choose something that will compliment the design and not overpower. After spending countless hours creating your project, it seems to me that saving a few pennies and putting your work on the cheapest base you can find is detracting from your work of art.

Step 19: Photo Time

Photograph you project to your hearts content

Step 20: Protect Your Hard Work

Glue the stand containing your egg shell to the center of the base that comes with a glass dome.Place glass dome over the entire project. I use professional modeling clay to hold the dome in the base. The clay never dries and will hold the dome in place nicely. Never pick up this display by the dome, always the base.

Step 21: Review

In review:
• Wash the egg
• Draw a grid
• Apply the design
• Outline the design
• Work in layers outside to inside
• When finished (if pierced) remove inner film with bleach
• Be sure to wash away any bleach
• Save your project with a protective cover ie. Glass dome

Step 22: Final Insight


The Forbes Fabergé-Style Egg Contest

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    120 Discussions


    10 years ago on Introduction

    All I can say is "Wow!" repeatedly! I first ran across your egg carving work on flickr and needless to say, am happy to have found this eggcellent tutorial! Now I've got something else to do with all those eggs!! ~Blinky the beading emu herder

    6 replies
    Brian Baityblinkypoet

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I am pleased that you found the instructions worthwhile. Do you have many eggshells just lying around? I am always lookng for good sources of quality eggshells. There are many available that are not what I would prefer to work with. Thanks for checking out the stuff on Flickr and for your complimets.

    blinkypoetBrian Baity

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    lots! unfortunately many of them go to waste since we don't have the time/manpower to drill & empty all of them. We also have rhea eggs. What is meant by quality? smoothness of shell, shell thickness, hole size, etc? And would you be interested in putting carved eggs up for sale on the web at all?

    Brian Baityblinkypoet

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I will address quality first. Maybe I am expecting too much but I would like to see a hole 1/4 inch or less to drain them. Also, when the hole is placed in the end for draining it seems that more eggs are cracked than I would have thought. The crack is often undetectable until one starts working with the shell. If I can handle the eggshells before I buy them I inspect them very carefully by sight and sound in an effort to detect cracks. Again addressing the drain hole, most eggs have an obvious top and bottom. I would like to see the hole in the bottom (the wider end of the eggshell). in a perfect world I would like to find thick shells as well. Since I like to carve them in relief, a thick shell would be the greatest find. Smoothness could be addressed as well. Not so much for me as I like the natural look the bird and nature think an egg should have. Since I don't apply paint or images the smoothness does not matter to me as much. I am sure other egg artists would feel differently on the smoothness issue. I am told some egg folks sand the outer layer before beginning their projects. Second, I am saddened that there are eggs going to waste. If I lived close enough I would be willing to drill and drain them so I could get a good product for a good price. I am in the Salt Lake City area and I have not yet found a good local source. I have to mail order them and pray that I get shells I like. Rhea shells are also nice to carve. I hope to do more in the future. Take care and thanks for the continued interest. I am enjoying chatting with you and a few of the others that are now communicating with me. Brian And for selling my eggs, yes I do intend to sell them. I have sold quite a few simple designs locally. My greatest fear for some of the more intricate pieces is delivery method. For this egg to be delivered to New York City, I flew there and delivered in person and again a flight there to bring it home. I could not find any shipper that would take on the task and allow me to insure it. I guess I could build stronger designs but that would bore me. I am already working on a new design that will push far beyond what I have already done in complexity and fragility. I am willing to take commissions too.

    texasladyBrian Baity

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Hello there
    I, too, am an egg shell carver. Ostrich, Emu and rhea. May I make a suggestion for your mailing of eggshells?

    I wrap mine in bubblewrap, place in box and put peanuts around bottom, sides and top.

    The I take a box a little larger. Place the first box inside, bubblewrap around the first box, top, sides and bottom.

    Your eggs should arrive safely.

    I have mailed mine as far as Japan - from Texas - and did not have any broken.

    Let me know when next you mail an egg and how it arrives - if you use my method.



    Reply 2 years ago

    hi m beginner og egg shell carving plz suggest me to get good tools for egg shell carving

    rk80930Brian Baity

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    I have several emu's and eggs that I can afford to get rid of. I do have a source that comes to the salt lake city area at least once a month. They would transport them for me to you. Let me know what you think. I am not great on extended web sites, so using my regular email will be best.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Excellent work of art... you mentioned a high speed engraving tool but did not mention at what speed say like 20 k or 25 k RPM to work on eggs


    4 years ago on Step 22

    I have been trying to decide what kind of high speed tool to get. I am a hobbyist and certainly not at your level and may never be. Could you recommend a good tool to start with? You work is truly beautiful! Thank you for sharing.

    Hello ! I really want to try this egg pattern. I have a Dremel tool, and I am not sure if the bits used to create this are that of Dremel. Is there a conversion chart or a way to figure out what i need? Thanks! Great work!

    1 reply

    Hello Debbie,

    I do not know of a conversion chart. you could easily get the burrs I used from Profitable Hobbies (800) 624-7415. I am told there is a collet that can be purchased as well which will allow the 1/16th inch burrs to go directly into the Dremel tool. I have not confirmed this because I do not own a Dremel tool and I personally would not try to carve eggs with a Dremel tool. I have a different slow speed tool and I have done a little work on eggs with it and I do not like how it performs. Good luck Debbie, I would love to see how your project turns out. and thank you for your kind supportive words.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Phenomenal work and instructions! THANK YOU for sharing with the world! It was no small commitment of time to share your talents and skills with everyone. I for one, and very grateful!


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Hi, just had to drop my "I'm in total awe" comment here as well :)
    I get all warm inside whenever I encounter a situation where talented people are also able to produce a polished realization of their beautiful vision, and here I just melted. You have marvelous skills, thanks for sharing :)


    9 years ago on Step 22

    This is one of the nicest examples of egg art I've seen in a very long time. You should be very proud and pleased with this, excellent.... standing applause...