How to Carve Shells

Written by lauren vork
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How to Carve Shells
An uncarved sea shell. (shell image by lena Letuchaia from

While natural sea shells have a certain beauty in their whole, uncut forms, the shell material itself is also beautiful enough to make stunning and interesting small carvings. Simple carvings of these types are easy to do with the assistance of a power rotary cutter and a hand-drawn pattern. Create flat carvings in any shape for use as pendants, earrings, beads or inlay pieces.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Power rotary cutter
  • Cutting wheel bit
  • Carving bit
  • Grinding bit
  • Firm-hold hairspray or white glue

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  1. 1

    Obtain the thickest shells you can. Usually, larger shells (close to the size of your hand) are more likely to naturally grow thicker. Thick clam, oyster and scallop shells are good options, as are conch shells, but avoid most cowrie shells as these are often too thin and will shatter rather than lend themselves to carving. Generally, if it's thin enough that you can easily snap off parts of the shell with your fingers, it's too thin.

  2. 2

    Cut the widest, flattest panels you can from the shells you have using a Dremel cutting wheel. With oyster shells, cut away the curled-up edges of the shell.

  3. 3

    Grind away any portions of the shell you don't want, such as rough spots or burs in a shape you don't like. Use a grinding attachment with a conical or cylindrical shape to smooth the shell's surface.

  4. 4

    Create a paper pattern for the design you want to carve from the shell. Draw the image you want on paper. If you draw in pencil, retrace the finished drawing in ink once you're done.

  5. 5

    Cut out the drawing and soak it in hairspray, then paste it to the shell while it's still wet. Let it dry. The pattern should stick to the shell even when touched and handled. If the hairspray doesn't do a good enough job, create a solution of two parts water to one part white glue and use this instead.

  6. 6

    Make sure you like the way the drawing looks as it conforms to the curves of the shell. If not, rethink your drawing according to these shapes and do a new one.

  7. 7

    Cut out the pattern shape using a thin carving attachment. Trace around the outside line of the drawing where it's pasted to the shell. If the paper starts to come away as you're cutting, stop the Dremel and repaste the paper with a little water.

  8. 8

    Wash away the paper and glue by rinsing the shell in water. If you had to use a lot of glue, let it soak for a couple of hours to fully remove the adhesive.

  9. 9

    Clean up the shape using a grinding bit. If the shell has any rough or sharp edges, use the grinding bit to soften them.

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