You have seen innumerable delicate figurines of ivory which is sourced from the extinct mammoth tusks, but do you know how the artists carve it? Learn more about working with mammoth ivory. Traditionally, artists only carved the inner core of the tusk but more artists today start with the outer layer of tusk to conserve the ivory. The next step is to measure and cut the ivory tusk as per the requirement.
The artists start with making primary cuts with the band-saw or a cross cut wood saw. Finer cuts are made with the jeweler’s saw. But artists that work on ivory without the use of machines, use hand tools produce exceptional carvings. When smaller pieces of ivory are carved, the ends are filed to smoothen it out flat so that the artist can hold the piece in the vice. The large or full tusks are gripped and held tight by the carver’s feet. A rough drawing is created in pencil over the ivory surface. Then the artist uses a chisel to etch a rough outline by gorging out a delicate outline with woodwork tools. They take care not to crack or break the ivory. As mammoth ivory is hard, it is essential to use quality blades but the artists ensure that too much pressure is not applied as antique ivory is brittle due to the lower amount of moisture in it.
The next stage is when the master artists take over and start with the fine carving. A careful study is made of the drawing and rough outline. Using an awl, chisel, file, burin and hand drill. Some of the expert carvers are able to remove the cracks and blemishes using some of the carver’s tricks leaving no traces. The artists who use traditional methods use culm sheath of the bamboo which is soaked in water to give the mammoth ivory the pristine finish. Then the pieces are wiped clean with a soft cotton cloth.
Other who tend to use more modern tools, prefer using tiny electric dental chisels, carvers carve the ivory just like it is done in woodworking. There are some ivory carvers that use fine steel wool after sanding to give it a matt finish but others prefer using jeweler rouges which are put over the ivory using a cloth wheel over a bench grinder for that perfect gloss finish. Most of then only use a white cloth wheel and white rouge otherwise the color tends to be transferred over the sculpture. If you are looking to see some exquisite mammoth ivory carvings, check out http://www.mammothivory.info