Pyralin – aka Ivorine or Celluloid


Pyralin with india ink, sharpie and oil paint

Test with India Ink, a Sharpie and oil paint

Pyralin Stain Test 2 - only the sharpie ink remained when wiping off the unscribed surface.

Only the Sharpie remained when wiping off the surface with no scribing or stippling


Sharpie smeared with nail polish remover

Well, that’s a mess! No nail polish remover on Pyralin.


Oil paint and India Ink held fast in the scimshaw and stipple

Oil paint and India Ink held fast in the scimshaw and stipple.


Divot of pyralin removed from sample at low setting.

Pyralin and Dremel felt polishing don’t mix when you reach the critical temperature.


Renaissance wax wiped away after drying left the material pretty much as it was.

Renaissance wax didn’t dissolve the pyralin.

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Pyralin is the name of a plastic created in the late 1800’s based on nitrocellulose. Nitrocellulose, also known as celluloid (see “ivory boom“), was one of the most extensively used plastics of the time. DuPont had bought the Arlington Company and used the material to replace ivory in just about every conceivable accessory of the time including combs, mirror backs, shoe horns, other personal grooming aids and beyond.

It came in a variety of colors though it was most notably used to replace ivory, so the white/cream color is what is most prevalent in the antique shops.

Pyralin was also used in the manufacture of pens, Mah Jong sets, fishing lures,

Antique pyralin commands a high price in most places, especially if it is in excellent condition. Modern pyralin is more stable, but will burn completely if it comes in contact with an open flame, burning faster than acrylic (note: most plastics will burn unless there is a flame-retardant mixed in with it).

Pyralin (at least the formulation I received) has the classic smell of camphor when it’s sanded or heated. Anyone who was in a piano store in the 1960’s or ’70’s may remember the smell (or the taste if you were young enough to still be teething and decided to gnaw on the keys).

The material is quite flexible, and is softer than acrylic, corian and horn, but it is quite resilient.

Using a plastic cutting tool the material cuts quite easily.  A scroll saw cuts through it easily as well, making it suitable for inlay.

We found our sharpie again, and tested India ink, Sharpie and oil paint:
India ink and oil paint wiped away cleanly while the sharpie held fast on the polished surface. Using nail polish remover only made things worse, similar to ivory. though dulling the surface of the material as well as making a complete mess.


Scribing and Stippling
The material gives so easily with the Coulter Tool it is almost like pressing into icing. Placing a stipple-dot right next to it compresses the first stipple easily. This being said, the material doesn’t raise up around it so cratering is minimal. Scribing Pyralin is very easy, the material does not dust like corian, it also doesn’t leave curls like ivory.  This got me curious. I tried scratching it with my fingernail: this left no marks, which is why this material is so popular for piano keys – keratin (the material your fingernails are made of) doesn’t scratch it easily.

Out of the box, the material has a mirror like finish. Since we’d stained the piece with the sharpie, we went ahead and sanded it down with 100,150,220,600,1000 and finally 2000 grit sandpaper and sanding pads. We were able to get close to a finish like it had originally, but it was still somewhat matte, so we brought out the dremel…

On it’s low setting, things went well until we must have reached its melting point, then things went down hill fast. The dremel slowed down and lifting it we found a divot melted into the material. We tried it a couple of more times since it was a goner anyway, the material to the left is most likely cotton fibers, a key component of pyralin/ivorine/celluloid.

Takeaway: don’t use power tools to polish.


Renaissance Wax
We applied a liberal coating of Renaissance wax to both the sanded and unsanded portion of our sample and let it dry thoroughly (with the help of a blow dryer set on low), The material retained its lustre, while the sanded portion appeared only slightly more polished. We’re wondering if the wax had any effect. It would of course, protect the pigment in any indentations or incisions made during the scrimshaw process.


According to Mini Art Supply, the material “Can be mounted on acid-free foam core. Use 3-M Photo-Mount or 3-M Vac-U-Mount spray adhesive. These adhesives have been age-tested on Ivorine without adverse effects; other adhesives may chemically interact with the Ivorine.”

Cue stick makers recommend Duro Super Glue gel.


Pyralin/Ivorine can be a suitable alternative material for scrimshaw as long as you are aware of the following:

  • It is softer than many plastics when it comes to scrimshaw yet it resists fingernail scratches easily
  • Oil and India ink works well
  • Do not use any solvents, especiallt nail polish remover
  • Do not power polish – hand polish only
  • Renaissance wax does not adversely affect it, and would protect the scribed portions.

Best Uses:
Smaller jewelry, inlay on top of wood boxes, small folding knives or occasional use knives where you need a thin layer of material, book marks (instead of piano ivory tails or heads).

We purchased our material from, a company based in Canada with warehouses peppered throughout the US.

You can also find this material in sheet form at:

You can find this material at other piano restoration companies, and you may have one nearby.

Billiard and pen making enthusiasts can find a similar material in rod form at:, though we have not used this material and it may be a different formulation.  they also have “Ivorine-3″ which is linen based and may be unsuitable for scrimshaw due to the fact that it has a fabric in its makeup which might wick your pigment.  At the price for even one foot of this material, we’re not ready to test it at this time.

Ending Notes
While looking for celluloid earlier this year, we found that there were next to no sources for it when searching with the exception of a few musical instrument repair sites. If you know anyone that is looking for celluloid to restore their guitar, mandolin or banjo they may want to look here. The material appears to be similar by all accounts to celluloid offered by those sites and is bright white.

Posted in FYI, Reviews

Another Use for Poster Putty

Tipped ink vial (left) and one with poster putty on the bottom holding it fast.Found another use for “Poster Putty”.  We’ve been using it to hold scrimshaw material in place as we scrim, but when it comes to inking the little vials I like to mix them in often end up sideways (which is why I’ve been banished from the kitchen table for all things non-food).  A small dab of poster putty will hold the vial or anything else spillable fast, even if you bump into it. (small dab under the vial to the right).  Available at most pharmacies and at

Posted in FYI

Lucille Ball Scrimshaw by Jason Webb

Old dime to the left and Lucille Ball scrimshaw on the right by Jason R. Webb

Lucille Ball Scrimshaw on Mammoth Ivory by Jason R. Webb

The back of Lucille Ball scrimshaw with Jason's Signature

Back of Lucille Ball Scrimshaw

Jason Web sent me a picture of Lucille Ball he recently scrimmed on a mammoth ivory. For someone who seldom does portraits, Jason has captured her beauty and that mischievous twinkle in her eye on this beautiful monochrome scrimshaw.

Anyone who is a fan of Lucille Ball or a collector of fine scrimshaw who would like to purchase this one of a kind piece (he is going to mount it on a necklace) should email Jason at: The detail on the cheekbones as well as his triumph in capturing all of those curls is nothing short of astounding.  Larger pics can be seen at our site


Posted in Artists

Antique Shops Threaten to Leave NY and Other News

According to BusinessWeek, antique dealers are threatening to leave New York over the ivory ban.  Not that they want brand new fresh ivory, they have lots of antique ivory that will be reduced to next to nothing if they don’t do something about the latest state laws. (read more).

Aside from writing fiction (Samuel Shinpike – soon to be a series), we’ve been working with casein/galalith and have been pleased with the results.  We’ll be offering cabs here soon on our products page.

We’ve also been focusing in on scrimshaw techniques on our newsletter, so far creating  fur and whiskers.  We’ll soon be testing out cattle horn often used for powder horns as well as further focus on techniques to create finer scrimshaw.

You can get these exclusive articles by signing up for our newsletter which comes out approximately weekly.  We don’t spam, and we only want people who are genuinely interested in creating beautiful scrimshaw on alternative and eco-friendly materials. You can sign up below:

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Posted in FYI

Check Twice, Drill Once (preferably from the front…)

Casein Scrimshaw drilled at the bottom by mistakeI was setting up the “Sun Motif” scrimshaw I had created on a casein cabochon and decided I should go ahead and drill the one-off light house to put on a chain as well.  Carefully measuring I marked the back and drilled a hole through – on the bottom.  Oops. Oh well, sour grapes, we’ll see how it holds up to a second sanding.


The sun came out better, checked and sure enough, I’d marked it at the bottom instead of the top.  Think drilling face-up should be my preferred method.

Sun motif scrimshaw on casein

Posted in Projects

Ivory Ban News: Ivory (including mammoth ivory) Illegal for Sale in New Jersey

Ivory Ban News Update:

Sadly, mammoth ivory got the ax as well as elephant ivory. This same knee-jerk reaction may hit New York as well. see MongaBay for more…

You can’t hide an elephant (or ivory clad bagpipes) under your kilt and cross the border…

US Fish and Wildlife confiscated two bagpipes from a pair of 17-year-olds who were to compete on an international level. Ivory harvested since 1976 is banned in the U.S. … – read more.

Posted in FYI

Ivory Alternative – Piano Key Tops: Some Aren’t so Great for Scrimshaw

Abandoned Grand Piano

Photo Credit: Rick Harris on

Reclaimed Piano Keys…


Reclaiming piano keys have been a great way to utilize a resource that would otherwise curl away on abandoned pianos or get put into the trash after being replaced.  They are often chipped, discolored and are otherwise useless for their intended purpose.  Sadly, they are from elephants and though long-since dead, are unsellable in today’s market or will be soon.


Piano key ivory is thin, usually 1mm thick but made great bookmarks or when glued to the outside of a box or zippo lighter made a great miniature canvas for the modern scrimshander.

So far, we have only tried one supplier of alternative ivory keytops and frankly we are not impressed.  While the material looks alot like ivory keytops, they fall short for our use.

The piano keytops we purchased online probably work very well for replacement keytops and would blend in quite well with little effort, so realize it’s not a slight on their intended purpose, but for scrimshaw, they are soft – too soft for anyone who wishes to create a treasure to sell or give as a gift.  That being said, they are very inexpensive and would work great for beginners or the young if you were to create a class project that students or day campers could try their hands at and would give them a treasure of their own design.

alt-piano key ivory and other alternatives lovingly scribed by my 10 yr oldMy set of keys have been used by my industrious daughter to create a bagful of her own scrimshaw, and she has had a great time working with it. She also found my other material including some very nice mammoth ivory which now has her beginning scrimshaw art carefully tucked away, since she created them and presented them to me for my birthday.  Can’t get angry for that, it was a thoughtful idea, and I wouldn’t sand them down if they were the last pieces of mammoth ivory on earth.

If you need piano key replacements or an inexpensive miniature alternative ivory “canvas” for busy industrious hands you can pick them up here:

Ivory Ban News

iKnifeCollector has introduced two bills to protect knife collectors from the ivory ban
Legislation to stop the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from seriously harming millions of Americans by unnecessarily banning interstate commerce of decades-old legal ivory and products containing legal ivory, such as ivory handled and ivory decorated knives, was introduced in both the House and the Senate. Representatives Steve Daines (MT) and Jeff Miller (FL) sponsored H.R. 5052, and Senator Lamar Alexander (TN) sponsored S. 2587. These bills complement a House appropriations bill passed out of sub-committee on July 9th that would defund Fish and Wildlife Service’ enforcement of its irrational new ivory policy that needlessly punishes innocent Americans, while allowing the Administration to protect African elephants and other wildlife from poaching.

Please CALL or EMAIL your Representative and Senators TODAY and ask them to Co-Sponsor H.R. 5052 and S. 2587.

Find your Representative:
Find your Senators:…nators_cfm.cfm

From iKnifecollector

We’re on vacation for a week, may bring some tools and pieces to pass the time. I’ve been working on a couple of cougars, one on “Alternative Ivory” and one on Tagua nut, So far, they’re shaping up nicely, though a snack on a chewy granola type bar has cracked one of my ivories and will be going to get the rest of it extracted later today…

Coming up soon: Casein Revisited: we’ll be reviewing casein made in 3mm sheet form from England (it’s on a tall ship making its way across the “pond” as I write), more ivory alternatives and then we’ll be starting to focus on techniques in the newsletter.  Any suggestions, any frustrations you may be experiencing either starting or finishing a piece of scrimshaw? Write to “” and we’ll be glad to help

Posted in Uncategorized

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