How to Make Bone Jewelry

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Carved bone jewelry is a traditional art form for many ancient peoples, usually tribal groups. African, Native American and South American tribes are well known for their intricate bone jewelry and beading designs.


Bone comes in many earth tone colors ranging from white to tan to black. It is also a very lightweight material and very hard. Fortunately, because bone is porous, soaking it in warm water helps soften the bone slightly, making it easier to carve. Cow and deer bones are among the easiest to obtain. The shin bones, or the lower half of the leg, are the preferred bones for most carvers. These bones have little flesh on them, and so are easy to clean. The long, straight shape also makes them easier to carve.

Things You'll Need

  • Pencil and paper
  • Warm water
  • Pot
  • Safety goggles and mask
  • Leather mat
  • Cutting board
  • Coping saw
  • 2 or 3 small chisels of different sizes
  • Etching knife
  • Hand drill
  • #60 drill bit
  • Coarse round file
  • 80, 120, 150 and 220 grit sandpaper
  • Sketch your design on a piece of paper. For a beginner, rounded spirals or circular designs are best.

  • Soak the bone piece in warm water overnight. Heat the water to about 100 degrees Fahrenheit, put the bone into the water and cover the pot.

  • Place the cutting board on a stable surface and lay the leather mat on top. Lay out your tools next to the board. Remove the bone from the water and dry it thoroughly.

  • Hold the bone down on the leather mat and cut the bone to a size appropriate for your design. Sketch your design onto the bone. Use the round file to file away large areas of excess bone so the piece begins to resemble the final design.

  • Chip away pieces of excess bone with the small chisels. Use a larger chisel to begin with, graduating down to the smallest chisel when most of the excess bone is gone. By this point, the bone should roughly resemble its final shape.

  • Use the etching knife to carve away any remaining bone that does not belong in your design. Carve away sharp edges and small slivers of bone to make the piece as smooth as you can. The piece should now match your intended design except for tool marks.

  • Put on safety goggles and a mask. Begin with the 80 grit sandpaper, and sand away all scratches and tool marks. Use the 120, 150 and 220 sandpapers in that order to polish the piece to a smooth gloss.

  • Use a hand drill to drill a hole for a cord in the top of the piece. Push the drill through slowly and firmly to avoid breaking the piece.

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