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Adventures in Woodworking: The Mighty Tagua Nut.

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Mar. 2nd, 2012 | 06:40 pm
music: Animal Nitrate - The London Suede

Pop quiz: What grows on a palm tree, is edible when immature, and used as an ivory substitute when mature and inedible?

The tagua nut. I found a specimen for sale in the school museum store. Okay, actually it was a free sample they gave away with a vegetable ivory ring that they were selling. I bought the ring so I'd have a free tagua nut to carve at.

I'm currently in a woodcut class, and I wanted to sign my prints with a seal - basically, think my own personal version of the Japanese gago-in, and I wanted to make mine from tagua.

Experimentation in the woodshop told me a single tagua nut wouldn't give me the seal I want - basically a fingersize stamp - so I bought some pen blanks to make handles with.

This is the result.

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Mind, I did pay a price for this. It turns out tagua nuts are also very hard to clamp because of their irregular shape and routing is NOT A GOOD IDEA because the nut will come flying out of the bench clamp, the Dremel will tip, and the router bit will bite into any available finger, causing some pain and bleeding.

However, out of adversity comes triumph, and I've now figured out how to work with these verdamnt things.

- Mel

PS: They smell like popcorn when you sand them.

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Comments {4}

Hyacinth Girl

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from: eustacia_vye28
date: Mar. 3rd, 2012 01:13 am (UTC)
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Ooh. Those look so pretty. :)

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only love .:. only sky

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from: notalwaysweak
date: Mar. 4th, 2012 08:59 am (UTC)
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They are super pretty.

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Vattelapesca

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from: vattelapesca
date: Mar. 22nd, 2012 03:29 am (UTC)
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Beautiful, and impressive. How did you manage to cut them? Tagua has been endlessly frustrating for me because of that...

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Mel Wong

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from: chn_breathmint
date: Mar. 22nd, 2012 03:40 am (UTC)
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From my experience: Carving and whittling knives don't work well at all as tagua nuts lack a grain to whittle with or against.

Fine jewelers' saws and tiny saws for miniature woodwork carving work well for roughing out of forms, though.

For cutting-down and shaping engraving bits and a flex-shaft Dremel work best, as do specialist engraving tools. Refining can be done with needle files and fine-grit sandpaper.

Routing bits are not advised as the nut is resistant enough to the kinds of cuts routers make that even the most secure clamp won't hold them. (Even after you sand the sides down so that they're flat.)

They do scorch easily if you let too much heat build up when you're sanding or engraving - the telltale smell is an odor like burnt popcorn.

Some carvers like to soak their tagua to make it softer so they can use knives and other carving tools, but if you dry them out too fast after that they're prone to cracking. Me, I just use my Dremel.

- Mel

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