How to carve tagua nuts

Written by darin mcgilvra
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Tagua nuts come from palm trees that are found in South American rain forests. These nuts can be eaten when they are ripe, but when they are allowed to dry, they become very hard and can be used to make carvings. The dried tagua nut is very similar to ivory, although much harder when it is completely dried, which is why it is also known as vegetable ivory. It is about the size of a small chicken egg. Tagua nuts have been used to make things like jewellery, dice, game pieces, cane handles and pipes.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

Things you need

  • Tagua nuts
  • Carving tools (hand or power)
  • Sand paper
  • Dye or wood stain
  • Epoxy or super glue

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  1. 1

    Sand off outer brown layer.

  2. 2

    Place in vice grips. This is optional depending on how you want to work. It is a good idea to use grips if you are using power tools.

  3. 3

    Shape out the figure you are want to make. Start with a more general shape and then work on finer details.

  4. 4

    Sand it down to get a final shape and to smooth all edges.

  5. 5

    Choose a colour for the piece. The tagua nut is very absorbent, so you can use any dye or wood stain. If you want to keep the natural colour of the nut, skip this step.

  6. 6

    Polish the piece. The "Woodturning with Grandpa Spragg" website recommends using a white polish compound on a buffing wheel at 3,400 rpm.

  7. 7

    If you are using two or more pieces that need to be put together, you can combine them using epoxy or super glue. Rough up the edges that are going to be glued with sand paper to allow them to bond easier.

Tips and warnings

  • Be careful of the little hole each nut has. Each nut is different, so it can be easy to accidentally carve into the hole and ruin your piece.
  • Incorporate the hole in your piece if at all possible. You will need to sand out the hole.
  • Do not soak a dried nut in water to make it easier to carve. This will make it become brittle and crack.

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