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Cameo Shell Carving


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Aloha kakou,


As of late, bone and ivory have pretty much been my medium of choice. However, I was recently gifted a few carnelian and queen conch shells and I was curious if any of you have experience working with this material. My late grandmother owned a shell shop in Waimanalo in the late 70's and early 80's, and I remember growing up with all kinds of large display shells and coral fans in the household, as well as seeing her wear her exquisite cameo jewelry on occasion. It kind of inspired me to try my hand at making a pendant in the cameo style. I like how the varying thickness and opacity of the material creates an almost translucent quality in some of the pieces I've seen. I must admit, I have very limited experience working with shell (usually I will use shell like paua or something similar primarily for inlays in bone pieces). Just looking for tips on what tools work best with this material, or any general tips for helping to create that iconic carved relief motif.


Prepping untreated whole shells? Which sections of the shell yield the best color layers? Finishing and polishing techniques? How to tell a good shell specimen for carving v.s. a poor one? You know, stuff like that. Any input helps.


I was given a few shells and have a decent amount of material to practice with before I attempt any masterpieces, so even tips for practice techniques would be welcome.





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Hello Maka,


I am not a carver of shell, but have learned over the years that shell dust is especially bad to breathe, so work the shell wet and dispose of the slurry in a safe manner.




yeah i have a really good industrial grade respirator i use when carving anything, bone included. thanks for the tip!

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