It's always great to try out new techniques and materials. I've been practicing a new skill the last few days - drilling shells, specifically drilling abalone shell. You may have heard this shell called a paua shell, or sometimes mother of pearl. Abalone is any kind of sea snail or mollusk. Wikipedia says, "The thick inner layer of the shell is composed of nacre (mother-of-pearl), which in many species is highly iridescent, giving rise to a range of strong changeable colors, which make the shells attractive to humans as decorative objects, jewelry, and as a source of colorful mother-of-pearl." I love that - "attractive to humans."
My stash of abalone shell needed to be replenished, little tiny pieces that had been made into beads, drilled through the long way to accommodate wire or string. They made lovely earrings, and I was interested in incorporating them into bracelets, but didn't have enough. Unfortunately, I had bought them at a store in Albuquerque, and it was the last of a batch so I couldn't reorder them.
I accidentally bought some very large pieces, shame on me. The website description said they were random sizes, a total of 150 grams per package. One of the reviews, however (I always like to read reviews of things I'm considering buying online, don't you?), said that the problem was that too many of the pieces were very small. That suited me just fine. When they arrived - surprise! - they were very large, the smallest one more than an inch square.
Aha! A design opportunity! I decided to try out drilling the shell so I could attach it to things. I had already read about how to do it, and had seen a YouTube tutorial as well. I have to use a diamond bit, hold the shell under water, and drill release drill release drill release, etc., to keep the shell and bit from burning up. The water also keeps the dust down, which is toxic to breathe. I'm happy to say I was successful on the first try! The process does use up the bit pretty quickly, though. Two or three holes and the bit is "done fer." Luckily, the bits are not too expensive.
SO, here are a couple of experiments I have made with the drilled shell. One is a bracelet with the shell riveted onto it. I hope you can see the three silver balls in a triangle. Those are the heads of the rivets I made. The other is a prototype of a pendant. I made it in copper to see if I liked the idea before I made one with silver. The small spirals are another type of "rivet." They are hanging loose through the holes I drilled and then the crazy wavy wire loops under them to hold the shell. I like it because the wearer can string a cord or chain through any of the curves or spirals to suit her/his look. I'll post another picture (in the store!) once it's made in silver.
The logistics of riveting and manipulating wire and metal that is around an irregular shape, especially a relatively soft shape like this shell, presented some challenges. The ball heads and spirals took care of the problem on the front, but the back has to be secure to hold the shell tight and insure that the rivet won't pull through and off! Maybe sometime I'll write about all the crazy jigs and holders I have to invent on the fly to facilitate the process (for soldering, too). Anyway, despite all the hammering in the very close vicinity of the shell, nothing broken, no chips or scratches. Yay!
Final Note: Typical me. Now that I am enamored with the look of the abalone shell, I just had to look up how to cut the pieces of shell. I thought, "Wouldn't they make beautiful mosaic pieces?" Not original, I know, but I wanted to try it. After reading just two articles on working with the shell, I was convinced just how toxic the dust from these shells are. OK to drill, but not something I want to work with on a large scale sawing. I located several sources of where to buy the tiny pieces if I need them.
What is a dapping punch? A dapping punch is a tool that is used to bend metal. Some punches are pictured above. A flat piece of metal is placed over an indentation in a dapping block, usually made of metal or wood. The punch is then placed against the metal and struck with a hammer to curve the metal in the shape of the indentation.
I'm Cathy Burnham. My resume lists quite a varied work background: