We have been working with a sheet form of casein for several months now and so far it’s the best alternative material we’ve found. Made in England, the material comes as either one extremely large sheet, or the company is kind enough to quarter it so you can save on shipping, plus it’s easier to handle.
Each quarter sheet comes with one rounded corner and one side that is rough and one side that is smooth. Out of the box it is not scrimshaw ready, but it does sand and polish easily, giving off a bone-like smell when cutting and sanding. I’d asked for a material safety data sheet and they had sent me something similar which I may be able to dig up if you need.
When it comes to scrimming, it is about as dense as ivory and scribes easily once you’ve sanded and polished it. It takes both ink and oil paint very well, and sharpies tend to stain.
Like most sheet-form materials, this should be stored laying flat. I didn’t do this and came up with warped material after about five months. Laying it flat will allow it to settle back down. All of my material began to get a slight bow to it with the exception of the paper micarta. Interestingly, the material scorches easier than some of the plastic, but doesn’t catch fire if you put a flame to it. I had a couple of thin scraps along with some pyralin which is pretty close to cellulose nitrate. The acrylic and pyralin burned, pyralin quite fast, but the casein just went out with a scorched end. I also tried doing an “iron on transfer” using an image created on a laser printer to see if that would work (I think it was the day I was wearing my lab coat: whenever I’m wearing it the dog runs off, my wife sets the extinguisher near me and says she’s going shopping with the kids). The initial cost may put some people off, but it’s a lot of material: one sheet is 40cm x 50cm (15-¾”x19-½”) – cut down as I’d gotten them they’re an easily handled 20cm x 25cm (7-¾”x9-½”). I tend to use a scroll saw to cut the roughs out then sand them to their final shape. Much harder than other companies poly “ivory alternative”, it’s worthwhile to start with a sharp blade.
Our initial purchase cost us a bit over $100, and we’re just about in need of another order (I had sent ¼ sheet to a friend of mine to test but family matters and other obligations have taken precedence), so I’ll be reordering again. Emailing an enquiry or phoning them, GPS is always pleasant and friendly to work with. The material is available in sheet, rod and bar form depending on your needs.
You can see their offerings at these two sites:
They offer many different materials for luthiers, knifemakers and craftsman. Let them know scrimshaw.com sent you.
This article was originally posted on January 31, 2015 in the scrimshaw.com newsletter.