Tagua Nut Carving

I’ve always had a thing for palm trees, probably since they remind me of tropical places and surfy times.

It’s no surprise, then, that I freakin’ love Tagua nut anything, since it grows naturally from the Ivory Palm Tree.

Tagua was used in the old days like plastic would be used today: buttons, handles, knobs, jewelry, etc. were easily carved from this nut that resembles elephant ivory on the inside. So, after years of collecting various carved Tagua pieces, I had to try out carving some myself. Especially since non-biodegradable plastics seem to be forming islands in the ocean around us, it’s worth checking out for some hippie eco-fun.

I ordered some raw nuts from Etsy for about $1 each plus shipping, so it wasn’t a huge investment. Tagua nut harvesting is one of the few industries that encourages keeping rainforests around a little longer too….super hippie eco bonus.

One of the raw Tagua nuts I ordered

Tagua is supposed to cut similar to wood, so I used those type of tools for woodworking. I used tools like a scroll saw, sanding wheel, and drill bits that I already use for small wood craft projects:

My Dremel scroll saw

Since I didn’t want to saw my fingers off, using a vise was helpful- especially for cutting nice, even slices. You must either use a vise or glue the nut onto a steady block of wood to cut it. It’s just too small to try and line up under the saw with just your fingers….and keep ’em.

The hard rubber jaws of the vise are perfect for this work

Top view of the nut getting ready to be sawed in two

A nut slice…has a small void

Every Tagua nut potentially has a void at its’ center, which is something to consider when carving this. If the Tagua is dried properly during the harvest process, there is supposedly less of a void. So I’ve heard. This batch I received also looks a bit dark on the inside, so this Tagua might be older, but it’s still a beautiful color.

I made sure to cut and grind slowly, since Tagua burns very easily. And you can smell it when it starts to get too hot.

Sanding the exposed surface on the side wheel

Makin’ slices

I used a sanding bit to sand away the surface to make cool patterns

Tagua is delicate! I was too harsh with this piece

Some of the Dremel bits I played with

They polish up like little fancy bits o’ wood

Now, Tagua isn’t waterproof- it’s very porous cellulose, so it’s not a bad idea to coat pieces with a clear sealant. I like the paint-on varnishes better than the spray can type for these. When I tried using the spray can, the varnish left tiny little raised dots all over the surface. Bleh.

Here’s some of my sealed pieces using the better paint-on varnish:

Finished and varnished pieces

Since I already enjoy woodworking, I can totally see myself getting into this tropical craft that’s fun, sustainable, and reminds me of my favorite trees ever….

Christmas lights should be banned in Florida because it’s absurd

6 thoughts on “Tagua Nut Carving

  1. When I first saw your picture of the Tagua nut carvings on Instagram, I thought you ordered them like that! I didn’t expect to see the nut!! Once again, you’re incredibly talented. I’m always amazed at the creative work that you do.

    Liked by 1 person

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