Thursday, April 19, 2012

Ivory Leaf Button

I'm back making buttons. My supplies are cast offs and left overs from Kirk's knife business. Bits and pieces of a wide variety of materials from a selection of different kinds of horn, mammoth ivory, exotic woods, and even marble. Some of the material arrives in nice, neat, smooth slabs and some are rough cut pieces.

At the moment, I'm working on several pieces of mammoth ivory, though I've some water buffalo horn in the early stages.

Some of the mammoth ivory Kirk buys comes in neatly ground slabs and others come in a sections of a tusk or little chunks. The sections are never very big as it is very rare to find anything large after centuries of lying in the ground where the earth has done its best to reclaim it. We couldn't afford it anyway.
The supply of woolly mammoth ivory comes from the far north in Russian and Alaska where a few men scour the open tundra each spring for these treasures. Few want to go where these men travel.

It isn't necessarily a new area that they search each year. Let me explain. You know if you live in rocky country how the earth heaves with the freezing and thawing and a field or garden that was once clear of rocks seems to grow more over the winter. The same thing happens with mammoth ivory. New pieces spring up every year.   
This is the back side of the chunk you saw above. It is not suitable to make a knife handle out of because it is too small and the deep ridges are not flat enough. After staring at it for a week and searching the Internet for ideas, I've got a plan for it. But I can't start it until I finish with what I've already in the process of making and there are quite a few pieces in the works already.

 The first step to creating buttons is to hog off excess ivory. The pieces after all are chunks or knife handle thick.

Sometimes chunks of my skin go missing as my hands are often within a quarter of an inch from the whirling sandpaper belt. I work on four or more pieces exchanging one for the other in an order for the ivory gets hot quickly and you gets burn marks easily. Not to mention get too hot to hold.

The inner part of this tiny section of tusk is missing. I cut the most curved section off and ground and ground and ground the rest until I had a relatively flat back.

Taking inventory of what was left, I then created a leaf design I felt would complement the coloring of the ivory and best use the area available. 
I then used the belt grinder in an unusual way and rough ground the leaf. Now I've got to hand sand and use files on the edges, working my way down to finer and finer sandpaper which will make the leaf smooth. Then I want to carve leaf vein grooves adding detail. Not before Kirk and I repeat Kirk shows me how to achieve a more squared up button holes.  That is my weakest area I've found so far in this process.

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