Sealing Bone Scales – Take 2

Last time, we tried just filling the voids in the bone scales with wax. This gave us spotty results – literally. Working with a couple of different formulations of cyanoacylate, we’re at the point of – still looking.

Loctite Plastic bonding with separate accellerator pen

Good for intended purpose, not so much for ours.

We attempted to follow the luthier’s method of building up the material with the bone dust from sanding the bone smooth and used  Loctite Plastic Bonding System which had an “accelerator” in the form of a marker made for gluing difficult materials.  This didn’t work well at all.

Loctite Super Glue

Liquid – not gel. Wear safety goggles as the vapors burn your eyes!

Next, we attempted to use some more off the shelf superglue – Loctite Super Glue LIQUID (not the gel, as we want this to seep into the cracks and fill them in). Piling the bone dust up and squirting the glue on made – a mess, though it might look better once it’s sanded down.



powdered bone and superglue on the left, just liquid on the right

Powdered bone on the left, liquid alone on the right


While we were waiting we looked at the other side of the bone and decided to just lay the glue straight down on that side to see if it worked any better.  My thoughts at the moment are that either (1) the bone dust is too fine and can’t saturate well (like lumps in the pancake batter when you make it from scratch) or (2) I need an even slower curing superglue.



After letting it dry thoroughly, I proceeded to sand down both sides with 220 grit sandpaper, followed by 600, 1000, 1800, 3200 and finally 8000 grit pads.  Wiping some oil paint across the whole piece and wiping it off, I find that the bone dust side is just as bad or worse than the untreated area (center), but the right side where we used no dust is looking pretty good! After 30 minutes the glue is still somewhat soft for scrimshawing. I’ll be testing it for “scrimmability” later in the week and will update my findings.


Left=superglue alone, middle - no glue, right glue and bone

Here, the liquid alone was on the left, the “naked bone” in the middle, and the powdered bone/superglue on the right after sanding. the “clear” winner so far is the plain superglue



Posted in FYI, How-To, Reviews

Oso-Famoso – Scrimshaw from the Masters


Scrimshaw goldfish by Jesus Arich, shared by

Photo by Rob Johnson, shared by

Oso Famoso is a name many older “scrimshaw geeks” may remember, as he was one of the first to show and sell scrimshaw and fossil ivory online.  I especially remember the goldfish by Jesus Areck, and seeing the raw mammoth ivory so close yet financially out of reach for me at the time.  I’d frequent his site and pause for up to an hour just to look at the fine artwork he had there.  “I had started being a supplier of fossil ivories and scrimshaw artist’s representative in the early 1970’s. I would spend some weeks every summer on St. Lawrence Island, Alaska getting fossilized walrus ivory from the Yupik natives. I would provide material and money for various artists, mostly in Bellingham, Wa. and they would give me back what was generally excellent work.

Alaskan Native holding a ceremonial mask by Terry Nelson. Photo by Rod Johnson

Alaskan Native by Terry Nelson. Photo by Rod Johnson

“My mountings were mostly produced by Ken Fredericks of Bellingham, who is now deceased. I haven’t been active in commissioning scrimshaw in a number of years. …”

Oso: “Whatever is legally able to be sold is available for new ownership, and on the market. I am not seeking any business that violates existing law.” So – California, New York and New Jersey sales are definitely out, and you will need to check your local state laws to see if it’s legal to purchase any of these beautiful pieces.

“None of these pieces have been recently made. The artists include Chris Lehwalder, Gary Dorning, Heidi Robichaud, Jesus Arick, Kevin Pettelle, Kurt Sperry, Susan Ford, Scott Halligan, Scott Judge, Terry Nelson. The great majority of these pieces use mammoth ivory or fossil walrus ivory.”  Some of the pieces may not be available at the time of this publication since they will be sold, others may not be obtainable due to specific state restrictions.

I’ve got some small pics below the fold. Contact Oso for larger pics that really do the pieces justice

Anyone interested in acquiring any of these one-of-a-kind pieces may contact Oso at

Posted in Artists, Finished Goods

Alibaba’s Bone – Review of Ox Bone for Scrimshaw

(This article originally appeared in the April 4, 2015 edition of the newsletter)

Raw bone scale from

Raw bone from

While our dog is a bit upset he wasn’t able to participate in this article, he (and I) really needs more walks and less calories after our incredibly long winter and will get over it.

The easiest place to acquire bone was shared by one of our readers – they go to the big box store for pets and walk down the aisle until they see the nicely cleaned and bleached bones for dogs, picks one up and then goes about cutting, polishing and scrimming it. Smart! Most of the work I’m about to write about is done for you.

The second easiest way is to buy a soup bone from your local grocer or butcher. You can get stew or soup bones in various sizes but for scrimshaw you will want the one that flairs out at one end since this area is not only thicker but also has less voids where capillaries once ran.

After simmering the bone for about an hour and letting it cool, hand it to your four-legged friend to clean the meat out of it and move on to other things.  If they haven’t faithfully buried it, the bone should be stripped of most of the meat. Rinse and rewash it, or run it through the dishwasher for a few cycles* .

If you’re going to be gluing this onto or into wood, degreasing the bone is essential. There are two schools of thought when it comes to degreasing: BLTC and natural. BLTC (better living through chemistry) has you soak the bone in white gas or acetone (both flammable, use glass or metal containers and follow safety guidelines and common sense). The natural method is to soak them in a 50/50 mixture of hydrogen peroxide (topical 3%, not the hair bleach type) as noted in “Bonelust: Bad Words: Boil and Bleach“.  The third way is to let them sit in the sun and the rain to the oils work out naturally, though this can take several months.

After reading this I wonder if the ox bones I’ve received from Alibaba have been degreased? I’ll be dropping the rest of the lot in a 50/50 mix of H202 just to be sure.

The third way, which we’re finally getting to is to purchase the bone as knife scales.  You can get these from as I have, through Texas Knife Supply,
Amazon, etc.

Same bone scale after polishing.

“Alibaba’s Bone” after polishing

We started with the rough-cut bone, sanding and polishing it to 4000 grit, then coating it with Renaissance Wax and setting it aside for a week.  Two days is usually a sufficient rest period for sealing. You can also use beeswax, coating and buffing it into the bone. As you can see here there are micro-fine occlusions where capillaries were. When we polished the bone they became more apparent.  I’m curious if stabilized bone has the same qualities.

Marking the bone with various pigments including aquarelle pencil, India Ink and oil paint, I set it to dry for about 30 minutes.

Various pigments applied to bone scale to test for staining

Alibaba’s bone with various pigments.

All of the pigment wiped away with a damp cloth except where there were voids in the bone

After wiping off the pigment with a damp cloth, only the occlusions remain


Initially wiping off the bone left some of the India ink, but using a moist towel wiped the rest off easily.





Preliminary lighthouse drawing on bone scale

Preliminary drawing with Aquarelle pencil

Falling short of my goal to do a lighthouse per day, I have improved with the six I’ve managed to sketch, and the one on the bone I’ll count as my seventh (the whole family got sick one after another, and my dog quickly became jealous of the bucket that was my best friend for a couple of days). The aquarelle pencil marks the bone easily.


Lighthouse scrimmed into bone and stained with India ink

Initial scrimshaw of lighthouse

Using the tungsten scrimshaw bit from Coulter Tool the scrimming went easily. Coating the lines with India ink, I took a slurp of coffee and wiped it away, then used a dampened cloth to wipe away the excess. Most of the ink wiped away thanks to my impatience.  Next time I’ll ink it, walk the dog so it’s nice and dry, then wipe it away.


After adding more detail I switched over to oil paint to see if it would stand out better but it yielded similar results.

Having started on ivory, any occlusions like those in bone and tagua nut stand out to my eyes, though I’m starting to like the texture of the bone more now, kind of like moving from painting on smooth paper to canvas.

Second Scrim

After adding some detail, it was time to finish the article.


As the bone is too thick at the moment to just cut into cabochons, a cross-cut on the subsequent pieces will need to be performed as well as more sanding and shaping.  The material would be excellent for luthiers wanting to make nuts and other parts for their stringed instruments, and would do well for smaller knife handles, also.


Posted in Uncategorized

Perennial Scrimshaw Requests

37450005There are many things you can scrimshaw that your customers would cherish but the three perennial patterns in the world of scrimshaw: the ship, the lighthouse and the whale will be asked for again and again. For some like me, the lighthouse can be the greatest challenge with it’s symmetry and straight lines, while others find the clouds or the ocean with it’s many moods the most daunting. Still others find themselves caught up in the rigging like a shanghaied landlubber, overwhelmed by the many tenuous supports that keep the masts and sails aloft. Inevitably a request will come for your most challenging subject, so what can you do?

tall-ships-2-22-07_1 Practice, practice, practice. Not obsessively, but consistently – a drawing or a sketch every day – even a doodle-a-day, then move on to other things.  By incorporating this into your day you will be creating a small habit, a commitment to taking the time, how ever short to practicing and enhancing your art. I’m reticent to say “perfect” since that is not achievable as my inner critic is always quick to point out, but you also never reach the sun when you walk to the sunset.


FinYour subconscious will pick up subtle nuances and techniques that will allow you to master your subject if you keep at it and find at least one good point in every sketch you make. Keep them in a scrapbook if you can, not to look at this week or this month, but perhaps next month over a morning coffee to see how you’ve progressed. You will be surprised I’m sure at the difference five or more weeks of small consistent efforts will make.

I’m setting aside fifteen minutes to draw one lighthouse per day for the next thirty days. By day 15 I’ll be cursing the small landlocked lighthouse I see on my way to work and by day 30 I’m sure I’ll be rejoicing in triumph, choosing another subject several times during this small challenge.


(Along with the great images from the talented photographers above, I’m including this link to an excellent book about habits. I’d listened to it via Audible and it helped me understand habits to the point where I could “break” a couple of persistent ones. I’m going through it again to now instill some better habits like the one above.  It’s not so much a “how to” book but a history of habits and many of their disasterous shortcomings. Worth the read/listen.  You can find it at your local library or pick it up on Amazon or Audible)

Posted in FYI, How-To

Canadian Scrimshaw Artist Wanted

We just received an inquiry about an interesting project for a scrimshaw artist in or around Nova Scotia:

“… Hi,

I live in Nova Scotia (Canada) and am looking for a scrimshander who can do a traditional 19th century monogram on top of an old wooden pocket watch box. (There’s a small ivory plate in the middle of the top cover that was intended for just such a monogram.)

It’s a very small job, but I’d like it to be completely in keeping with the style of the pocket watch box, which was made in the mid-1800’s. I’d like to get it just right.

Can you recommend someone close by us? If there’s no one here in Eastern Canada, we do often travel down to Maine and Massachusetts.

Thanks for your help!


Interested scrimshanders should contact Catherine at catherine.mckinnon[at], replacing the [at] with the proper @ (writing it this way helps keep spam out of Catherine’s mailbox).

Posted in Artists, FYI Tagged with:

Lighthouses, Ghosts and Selling Scrimshaw

Point of Ayr Lighthouse, Wales

Photo Credit: Lukasz Lukomski, cc-sa-3.0

“A scrimshaw without a story is just scratches on bones.” – Saul T.; Sailor


Okay, I made that up, though if you think about it awhile you’ll find it’s basically true. Visiting an old whaling town and walking the decks of the Charles W. Morgan and learning her story, most people would be compelled to pick up a memento of their vacation. Memories of a trip to the cape with a loved one could be revisited with the bracelet or the key fob.

While most of us don’t live in Mystic seaport or on Cape Cod, if we’re creating scrimshaw to sell at a craft fair or on line, a memorable story about the subject of your work is far more interesting than “I saw a picture of a ship and I scrimshawed it.”

A story for every piece would be next to impossible for most of us, especially if you’re selling multiple pieces such as jewelry, but for some of the larger pieces a story can be compelling and may bring you more sales, giving you something to talk about. With jewelry, many pieces should be without a story – so people can make their own. Scrimshaw of a twelve point buck will illicit hunting stories, a modern ship or boat the stories of that time on that shore when that thing happened, a rose the love interest or the lover who presented it, or perhaps the silent look into the distance, hopefully with a slight smile.

I’d come across a picture of a lighthouse on the Point of Ayr in Wales. The first article was of the hauntings and got me intrigued. The pics were clear and great for creating some scrimshaw from. The next article described a couple who had come there on their 50th wedding anniversary and asked the person who was painting it to take their picture, as this was where they had their first kiss. Ah, memories.

Scrimshaw based on the Talacre lighthouse.I based my scrimshaw on this picture, adding a ship in the background and a seagull, leaving the rocky outcroppings aside. After I’d finished it, I looked back at the pictures I’d seen and found there was one I liked a little more than the first, so I’ll probably scrimshaw the second view shortly. The first one was head-on, the second you can see the stairway a bit better and I find it more interesting, and I’ll also review the stories and find a few others so my mind and my mood are on the subject.


Posted in FYI, Projects Tagged with: , ,

Mystery Artist 20 – Two Teeth from “Mageee”

From Florida we recently had an inquiry regarding two scrimshawed whale teeth, from what appears to be two different artists.  John writes:
“… I came across your website looking for some info on two pieces of Scrimshaw Art that my father left for me when he died. I know nothing about the art, so I figured I should find an expert.
Is there anyway you can help me identify these two pieces? Artist, medium, worth?
I will eventually sell them in case you do that. Thanks in advance for any help you can lend me. …”

Below you can see the artwork and two drastically different teeth – one very pointy and one very rounded. Both could have been from the same whale, but it’s doubtful.  The first tooth has the initials “E F” while the second has the interesting signature of a number and a seagull, which should lead us to at least the second artist quickly (we hope):

Rounded whale tooth with a ship and a lighthouse scrimshawed on the one side.

Whale Tooth 1 from Mystery Artist(s) #20


Base showing the nerve cavity of Mystery Artist #20 - the rounded whale tooth with the ship and the lighthouse

Base of Mystery Artist 20


Left side of Mystery Artist #20 tooth #2 showing a ship

Left Side of Mystery Artist #20 tooth #2


Base of Mystery Artist #20 tooth #2 showing the nerve cavity

Mystery Artist #20, tooth #2 base


Opposite side of Mystery Artist #20 tooth #2 with the signature 140 and the seagull

The mysterious signature “140” with the Seagull


Sperm Whale Teeth, Oxford

From, a photo of the lower jaw of a sperm whale with the different shapes of it’s teeth

Any ideas?  Feel free to comment below, we hope to find more information about the artist(s) if at all possible.

Posted in Mystery Artist

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