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Cutting Ivory

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  • Cutting Ivory

    My son-in-law and I are are working on Ivory key tops for piano keys, it is legal Ivory with documentation to prove it. Said work being done on a B'port, in a vise. Ivory splinters rather easily and we can't have that. It will cut very nicely when cutting with the side of the endmill, but this reduses the chances of a square setup, again not acceptable.
    Have run the gamot of cutters, speeds and feeds etc. We are now fresh out of ideas. Any ideas would be appreciated. TIA

    Paul G.
    Paul G.

  • #2
    Why not try abrasive methods instead such as diamond burrs or ruby carvers. Ruby carvers do not clog like regular stones but are difficult to find. does have a small selection.


    • #3
      I used to work for a company making piano actions and keyboards.
      Although when I worked there we used plastic for the key tops our old ivory shop was still there.
      The Ivory was cut on a vertical reciprocating saw, like a cross between a band saw and a donkey saw. For some reason that no one knew, although this had a 16" blade the machine was enormous, it must have weighed about 10 tons.
      We used an of the shelf power saw blade but it was sharpened on the T&C grinder from new, front and gullet to get it really sharp and then each tooth was stoned.
      The idea was not to get any scratches on the ivory as the saw went thru.
      All the ivory was just sawn under water as a coolant and to wash the chips away. The smell has horrible. The key tops were then racked up on the roof of the building to bleach, they were then polished and matched.

      We did the odd set while we were there as although it's banned there are exceptions.
      You can use ivory for church organs, they are not banned.
      We held about 4 ton of ivory in bonded store, all bought in the 40's and 50's but couldn't use any because of the ban.

      Did I mention I made a nice chess board while I worked there

      Sir John , Earl of Bligeport & Sudspumpwater. MBE [ Motor Bike Engineer ] Nottingham England.


      • #4
        You know, I wonder if Hogue made Ivory grips for handguns back in the day? Family ran buisness, you should call them or write them to see if they recall how they machined the ivory to profile? If not them, some one else should know.


        • #5
          I remember reading an article sometime back about the cutting, or grinding of ivory. This can release anthrax. The article went on to state that at one time anthrax was referred to as "knife makers disease". The article said that much of the shaping of grips, and handles was done by grinding which released the spores into the air that can lay dormant for years. I was surprised to hear this, as I had never heard of it before.


          • #6
            I use very similar material (walrus ivory) and the way I cut it when I want flat survaces is to glue my slabs with cheap epoxy to a backer of ply wood. Then I use my table saw. The blade I use is a very high grade blade made expressly for cutting plastic. This is not an ordinary blade. I am left with a very fine finish which I can then buff to a finished surface. Any additional shaping is done with hand rasps. I remove the epoxy with a boiling water dip. The adheasive becomes soft. Any cracks that the epoxy fills are buffed and blended in.


            • #7
              "Did I mention I made a nice chess board while I worked there "
              How about a pic of the board?
              please visit my webpage:


              • #8


                • #9
                  heat may also be an issue. I read about how the natives worked abalone to shape. One pass only on the abrasive, then the next piece. The artisan would have maybe 12-15 pieces in process at the same time, and just rotate through the batch. More than one stroke and the piece would get warm and warp. I don't know if this applies to ivory or not, but something to keep in mind.
                  I'm here hoping to advancify my smartitude.


                  • #10
                    Thank you gentlemen I will post some pics as soon as I can.

                    Paul G.
                    Paul G.


                    • #11
                      Anthrax in Ivory? Is this for real? Anyone else heard of this?

                      I did a quick search on knife makers disease. Nothing.

                      I use a lot of Ivory and this concerns me if true.


                      • #12
                        It's for real. It is also called "woolsorters' disease" as it can be carried in wool or hides.


                        Here is an extract from the following report:

                        "B. anthracis has a nearly worldwide distribution, existing in the soil in the form of extremely resistant spores and causing infection in humans and in farm and wild animals who have grazed on contaminated land or ingested contaminated feed. Under natural conditions, humans acquire anthrax infection (usually the cutaneous form) from contact with infected animals or contaminated animal products, such as hides, wool, hair, and ivory tusks."

                        Link to report (warning, heavy reading):


                        Free software for calculating bolt circles and similar: Click Here


                        • #13
                          Thanks Evan. I appreciate that information. I'll keep it in mind when handling and working Ivory from now on.