Cutting the shell

Holy Abalone.  I’m really nervous about doing the inlay for this table I’m building.  I’ve never done inlay on a real project, and this feels fairly risky.  It could ruin the table or it could make it great, and the difference is how nicely the inlay fits.  So, I have to either do it or not, and I’m going for it.

The first step is to cut out the 32 little pieces of Pau Abalone for the petals.  The shell blanks are maybe 3/4″ by 1″ or so — they are irregular shapes.  I cut the pattern out with a scalpel, leaving the line.  I also quickly realized I don’t have enough shell for the job.  Rats.

Some of the patterns cut out.  The inlay goes on the front faces of the legs -- only four sides total.  8 unique pieces per inlay design, 32 pieces total then.

Some of the patterns cut out. The inlay goes on the front faces of the legs — only four sides total. 8 unique pieces per inlay design, 32 pieces total then.

I super-glued the patterns to the shell, trying to orient as many per blank as I could — while avoiding the boring areas of the shell.  This stuff is really pretty, but a bit spendy, about $50 per ounce and I’ll need a bit over one ounce…assuming I don’t screw any up.

Patterns glued down.  At least patterns for three legs, more Abalone is on it's way.

Patterns glued down. At least patterns for three legs, more Abalone is on it’s way.

I have two options for cutting these out.  I could use a jeweler’s saw and bench hook, or the chevalet.  The problem with both is hanging onto the little pieces of shell.  It’s really brittle, and using the jeweler’s saw I’ve had pieces snap off, plus I’m more comfortable with the chevy.  But how to hang onto these?

I made a cup of skull & crossbones espresso and thought about it.

Pirate Espresso

Pirate Espresso

What if I glued the little shell blanks to something so I could hang onto them?  I had a scrap of 1/8″ plywood in the shop, leftover from god-only-knows-what.  I tried gluing a shell blank to the plywood, and cutting the whole affair out.

Blanks glued to thin plywood

Blanks glued to thin plywood

On your mark, get set

On your mark, get set…

and go!

and go!

It actually works pretty well.  The wood gives me something to hang on to, and does a nice job supporting the shell so it doesn’t crack while I’m sawing it.  I’m even using the coarse 32tpi blades, look at me go!

The trick here is to use a glue that just barely holds the shell to the wood.  Duco seems to be the ticket, it dries pretty quickly and with a little care seems to hold the shell well enough to cut, but still pops off easily.  It’s the same stuff I’ll use to hold the cut shell in place on the leg to scribe around them.

Duco, cheezy glue is the key

Duco, cheezy glue is the key

The sawing goes fairly quickly, when I get a little block of shop time I should be able to knock these out in less than an hour.  This is also pretty low risk, I might ruin $5 worth of Abalone with a bad cut, but until I take a router to the table legs I’m safe.

The first three petals cut.  I'm not exactly on my line in a couple of spots, but since each one gets scribed and fit individually it's OK as long as the shape is not distorted.

The first three petals cut. I’m not exactly on my line in a couple of spots, but since each one gets scribed and fit individually it’s OK as long as the shape is not distorted.

I need to figure out a few more things before I pick up the inlay router, so I have a few more experiments to try still…

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Cutting the shell

  1. Ron Covell

    Joe – It’s really interesting to see how you work through these issues, one by one!

  2. Nice solution Joe. Wow, that is pricey stuff. The craftsmanship of risk can have a high cost, but a priceless reward. Best of luck on this!

  3. Paul K. Murphy

    Are you buying your shell already thicknesses and cut out, etc.?

    • oh, absolutely. Processing the shell myself is of no interest to me. It comes at about .050″ thick in random shapes.98% of it is good usable material.

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