Cutting shell

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Cutting shell

Postby Doug Shaker » Mon Dec 05, 2016 8:51 pm

I have a small pile of abalone shells in my back yard. I have a cousin that loves to dive for abalone and only does so legally, and sometimes the shells make their way to me. Most of them are now holding things around the house or back yard - clothes pins - that kind of thing.

Has anyone ever tried cutting their own shell for inlays? I am interested, but I'm kind at a loss as to how one might start.
-Doug Shaker
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Re: Cutting shell

Postby Barry Daniels » Mon Dec 05, 2016 10:23 pm

Yeah, did it once. Big mess and won't do it again. The way the pros do it is to use a wet grinder which turns a dusty operation into a muddy one. First cut the shell into pieces and then grind them down to an even thickness of 0.060" or 0.040".
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Re: Cutting shell

Postby Gordon Bellerose » Mon Dec 05, 2016 10:43 pm

Barry has the basic technique down.
Shell dust is toxic, so if you are going to try and cut and flatten it, please wear good breathing protection.

Cutting it requires a saw with a thin blade, like a jewellers saw, and a piece of plywood with a narrow channel cut into it.
Place the piece on the plywood, and use the saw in the channel, turning the shell as you go.

Not an easy task, and possibly a lot of wasted effort. It would be easier just to order inlay material.
I don't know who everyone else orders from, but I use DePaule Supply from Vietnam.
They have a location in Oregon.
I need your help. I can't possibly make all the mistakes myself!
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Re: Cutting shell

Postby Alan Carruth » Tue Dec 06, 2016 2:49 pm

According the an article by Chuck Ericson, AKA 'the Duke of Pearl', shell dust is not toxic in the sense of containing poisons. It is unhealthful to breath, as is any dust.

It's a lot of work to process, that's for sure.
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Re: Cutting shell

Postby Bob Francis » Tue Dec 06, 2016 7:48 pm

I had always understood the problem is that shell won't dissolve in your lungs.
It is like breathing stone dust.
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Re: Cutting shell

Postby David King » Wed Dec 07, 2016 2:08 am

You can buy a thin kerf 6" diamond circular saw blade for cutting stone. They aren't expensive, someone gave me one and I built a miniature wet table saw around it. I use that saw all the time for cutting CF and trimming inlay.
Here's a selection of blades you can look at, lots of lapidary places sell them;
It would probably fit into one of the cheap tile-cutting table saws you see in the big box stores and from harbor freight.
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Re: Cutting shell

Postby Doug Shaker » Wed Dec 07, 2016 5:39 pm

Thanks for the reminder about using a tile saw. It turns out I have a cheap tile saw in the garage I could try to use.

I am sort of wondering how to tackle the job though. Maybe
- figure out the most flat parts
- use the tile saw to cut those out
- saw the useless stuff off the back.
- flatten show-side as needed
- thickness sand back side to get to desired thickness
- repeat to exhaustion

Does this seem about right?
-Doug Shaker
Doug Shaker
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Location: Palo Alto, California

Re: Cutting shell

Postby Randy Roberts » Wed Dec 07, 2016 9:22 pm


I gave a go at this many years ago with Paua my sister brought back from New Zealand. I used it in a guitar I made for her.

The only reason I can see to do this would be for sentimental reasons. (And you may find those sentiments changing as you get farther into the project <g>)

As to the steps, that sounds about right... especially step 6.
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