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Wooden Jewelry 1: “Shield” pendants

I am curious and always willing to experiment with new stuff… This time, to spice up my jewelry-making, I decided to try if hard wood could be a good material for small D.I.Y. jewels, like pendants, earrings and bracelets… In the second half of 2013 I did some experiments, and this is the first of some post in which I’ll show the results of my experiments.

To cut wood more easily and more precisely, and to expand my slow-growing arsenal of tools, I’ve bought a scroll saw. I was considering buying a band saw, instead, but I really love having ten (complete) fingers, so I decided for the less dangerous one in the pair. The good news is that this tool will be also useful when working with the other materials I use, like bone and vegetable ivory.


The simplest idea I had was to build up simple shapes, using different kind of hardwood glued together. I found in a local craft store some hardwood pieces, 5-6 mm in thickness around 6cm in width and veeery long (>2m). These pieces were not really cheap (5-10 euros apiece) but after a lot of experiments, different failures, at least 6 completed pendants and some earrings, I’ve used up less than a third of the material…

glued_smallThe process for these composite wood pendants was simple: starting from small pieces of hardwood, I cut matching curves and built up a “sandwich” of alternating hardwood. It may be as simple as a half-and-half piece, it may have a curved strip of one wood, surrounded by matching parts of another one, or it may be a zebra-like pattern of two woods (straight, wavy or zig-zag). I do not like the idea of a rainbow-like pattern with many colored wood, but may be good, depending on the project. The sandwich was then assembled using wood glue and clamped overnight. Be careful to smooth the matching surfaces, since the better they match, the better the glue will hold. Be generous with glue, the overflow can be later on removed without problems. once the glue is applied, it is necessary to keep the pieces tightly attached together, using woodcrafting clamps; leave the pieces clamped at least 4-6 hours  (but it is better leave them be until the following day) for a perfect setting.

Wood glue is amazing, once it is set, if you try to separate the glued pieces, you will probably end up breaking the wood elsewhere but NOT on the glued spot. While not optimal from the point of view of the gluing strength, it is a good idea to orient the fibers differently; in this way the two parts will reflect the light differently, giving the piece a lot more depth. Ideally, gluing an end-grain piece to an across-grain one is a very bad idea, but in this case we are working with small, extremely lightweight pendants, not building a piece of furniture (or a boat), and it is really not a problem! In this specific case, since I had a “curved strip” of one wood surrounded by a different kind of wood, I tried to match the orientation of the fibers surrounding the strip (above ad below), while having the strip orthogonal to that orientation.

Once the sandwich was ready, I sketched the shape on it and cut it with the scroll-saw.I decided that a simple “curvy” irregular quadrilateral would be a good shape for the “curved band” sandwiches. The result somehow looked like a shield (although, a quite irregular one). Using the belt sander, I then smoothed up the sides, also slightly correcting the curves to better suit my taste. I also flattened the backside and gave the front side a domed shape. Using sandpaper of smaller and smaller grit, and then abrasive pads, I smoothed the surface. To keep the veins visible and protect the wood, while keeping a natural finish, I used lineseed oil. This finish does require multiple applications, and lot of time is lost in waiting the previous layer to dry, but it is worth the time, both for the way the fibers are brought out and the extra-smooth way it feels when touched; the perfect choice for wooden jewelry.


To mount them on a string, I cut a couple of metal jump rings, and glued the ends on holes drilled with a small hand-drill point. In this way the string will have two points of anchorage, preventing the piece to swing from one side to the other when worn.

The two best specimen of this design are shown here in this post: the reddish wood is mahogany, the very dark one is walnut, and the last one is oak (rovere). As I said, arranging the layers such that the fibers are oriented orthogonally can produce amazing optical effects; this is clearly visible in the image below, where just by tilting the piece in front of a lamp, the two different hardwoods radically changes their appearance.



Home-made Vanilla Extract

Looking at some websites about cooking, I came across various people telling how easy it was to prepare vanilla extract at home, and how good it tasted. So, I decided to give it a shot, and proceeded to read a lot of those posts with advice on how to do it.

Instead of plain alcohol, and then dilute it somehow, it is much easier to start from a plain spirit like Vodka (obviously, the unflavored one), at 40% has a perfect alcoholic content for extraction and use in cooking and, plain as it is, it still gives a more round flavor to the extract. On this point, all posts were concordant. On the other hand the amount of vanilla beans with respect to seemed to vary extremely from one recipe to another, going from meager 2 pods to an astonishing half a pound per 700ml (which is the content of a standard vodka bottle). I was puzzled, and after some research, I decided to go for something in between the different recipes… 20 beans for 700ml of Vodka.

As a spirit, I used a plain Vodka; do not go for one of the very cheap brands, use something you would not be ashamed to use in a cocktail. Finding good vanilla pods was just a matter of find an organic shop nearby. They had organic vanilla pods, pretty fresh (judging from the date on the package), at a reasonable price (2.7 euro for 2 pods). I sliced the pods lengthwise, scraped the tiny seeds inside (where most of the flavor is) and put all inside a 1 liter bottle, then chopped the beans and added the pieces too. Finally, I added the vodka and shook well.

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The mix has to be shaken frequently (2-3 times a day) for the first week or so, then shaken not so often for the rest of the time. Keep the bottle in a dark cupboard, away from light, possibly without extreme temperature changes. You will see something floating on top of the liquid (look the dark patch in the photo of the green bottle), do not worry, those are some of the seeds and the other stuff inside the bean which is floating, it is NOT mold. The longer it is left maturing, the better, three months at minimum, but six months is much better. You can open the bottle and smell/taste it, to decide when to stop.


So, I waited six months, and then filtered it (two times) using a cloth filter and then a paper filter, to remove as much as possible the seeds and small particles and placed the filtered liquid in a new bottle for storage. The remains of the beans has to be thrown away, there is nothing more left to be used inside.

Since 700ml are a lot of extract, I prepared some small bottles to use them as a gift to friends which loves to cook; I added in each small bottle half of a pod, to decorate and give it an extra kick. While I still have to test it in a proper cake, I tasted it, and tried using a drop of it to flavor my tea… and seems to me quite good. It is still possible to appreciate the initial vodka flavor, and does not taste like the super-strong super-sweet artificial flavor (vanilline), but is more round and aromatic.


Next time I’ll try starting from a white RUM… I much prefer it to Vodka, and I do believe the flavor works better when preparing a cake…

Two Green Pendants (vegetable ivory)

I gave another shot at carving vegetable ivory. This time, I’ve tried with a more “round” design… ending with these two shapes, one which gives me an idea of an egg (?!?), and another one that I’m not even sure what is it…

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This time, instead of just polishing them (or using ink), I tried some wood mordant. I’ve read some instructions about dyeing vegetable ivory.. so I’ve followed the I found some GREEN mordant in a local store in powder form, to be mixed up with water. I prepared the solution, heated it up (the instruction I’ve found said that mordant works better when warm), put the pieces in and let it stay completely submerged for one hour (moving it every now and then, to avoid the same part rest on the bottom).

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After the hour, the pieces had reached a nice color… but it was bit flat. So, after having the pieces resting and drying for one day, I gently applied with a brush small amounts of mordant solution around the edges of the lowered areas of the design. In this way, the additional color rested in these areas, making them darker, bringing back some three-dimensionality to the pieces. I finished by polishing them, obtaining a nice, smooth and shiny surface.

egg_C_small  greens_finished_small

The green color is really nice, and it helps defining the shape of the pieces. As a bonus, on the smaller one, it also brings out the grain and veins of the vegetable ivory with a really cool wavy effect. Good… two more fancy pendants for my gifts…

3 hours Hei Matau

This summer, I had some spare time while at home with my parents, and I wanted to see how much time it would take to make a bone-carved pendant. So, I picked one of my last bone blanks, and started drawing on it a simple shape. After some tries, I decided for a quite simple hei matau. I know, I’ve already posted about a Hei Matau in this blog… But here, the idea is a different :).

I then cut the blank with a jeweler handsaw (ending with some small scraps I’ll try to use in future projects, and used files to straighten up the borders (and sandpaper to clean the surface). I did the final shaping of the piece, rounding of the bottom and definition of  the edges using again files and sandpaper. At the end, I polished it. Polishing was the only step in which I’ve used the rotary tool to buff the surface with polishing compound, all the rest has been handmade.

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While I was working, I documented the process in real-time with these instagram photos :), but i forgot to take a phot of the polished piece…

Doing all the steps at a good pace, but without rushing it, from drawing (correctly) the design to the end of polishing was a bit more than 3 hours… Let us say 15-20 minutes drawing the design (different tries), half an hour cutting (including the change of a broken blade), plus another 20-30 minutes refining the edges. One hour shaping edges and round areas and another hour polishing.

Not bad, but I can still improve…

I Taw a Putty Tat

Ahem.. I was saying… I Thought I Saw a Pussy Cat… but, actually, I did not…

A colleague got married few months ago . The happy couple asked, as a wedding present, a contribution for their honeymoon. In the office we raised some funds, but we wanted also to give something more “tangible”. so, we decided to get them two trolleys with a matching design. We thought it was easy… She loves Tweety, and we found a canary-yellow trolley with a Tweety design on it; however, when we inquired if there was also a Sylvester black trolley to make a couple, the answer was, sadly, no. Nor it could be possible to trace a Sylvester trolley anywhere… Not even a Sylvester sticker, a Sylvester decal, a Sylvester cardboard print, a Sylvester napkin, a Sylvester whatever.

sylvester_materials_small sylvester_baselayer_small sylvester_nose_small

So, after some planning, I decided to step in, and propose to buy a black trolley, and make a Sylvester sticker with stencils, adhesive plastic sheets and a lot of patience. So, I searched the web for a suitable image of Sylvester face, printed it on paper, and used it as a reference for tracing its contours. Stencil stickers are simple: you just have to divide the image you want to copy in layers, one for each color, cut shapes from the adhesive plastic stickers and layer them one on top of the other, until the image is reconstructed. In this case, since the base color of the trolley is black (as the cat), i could use this as the black layer for the body, but when cutting the white layer, I also had to add an outline for some of the black parts of the figure. On top of this large and complex shape, I added the white eye, the ears and the red nose. I had to cut _a lot_, using a sharp hobby knife.

By trial and error, I discovered that the easiest way to transfer the layers from the sheet to the object is by using paper tape. Since there are a lot of small details and islands in the design, having a way to keep all small parts in position is a great plus. So, after cutting, lay down some masking tape IN THE FRONT of the adhesive sheet; then reverse it and peel the backside protection. In this way, even an extremely fragmented design will be a single coherent sheet, easier to be placed and flattened on its final destination. After placing it down and pushed firmly on the target surface, the masking tape will peel off easily, leaving the stencil intact.

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After laying down all the layers, I added an additional transparent layer for protection. I know….With the way the trolleys are generally handled, the decoration will not last a lifetime (a cat may well have 9 lives, but its image does not).. however, it was a good present, and has been appreciated by the happy couple.

sylvester_finished_small sylvester_present_small

Oh boy…

It has been AGES since the last update… what can I say… time has not been on my side. I’m not apologizing or anything, it’s just a matter of fact: I haven’t had enough time to prepare photos and texts for this blog, in these last months. Work, family, work, and other stuff absorbed me quite much.

The good news is that, while unable to post more projects, I carried on making/crafting/assembling things. So, I have plenty of things to show…. when?


Two Vegetable Ivory Pendants

Here are two more vegetable ivory pendants, both finished quite recently. I’m slowly getting the hang of tagua carving, but it still takes ages to complete one. One looks like a skeleton fish, the other one… I’m not really sure what it does look like but, still, it’s not bad.

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The fish is the second half of the first nut I carved (here), and it was a pure experiment, I just wanted to use it as scrap material, and kept carving to get the feel of it. However, at one point, the thing started looking like a fish. So, I decided to make it a piece. I left some scratches here and there, I believe they add to the “old bones” look.

skellyfish_C_small skellyfish_B_small skellyfish_D_small

The other one comes from a very thin nut (it is basically the whole nut, with just the back part scraped away). Again, I carved without a precise idea, and this is the result, after some time. In this case, some of the curves have been defined initially using a belt sander and a rotary tool.

esprit_D_small esprit_C_small esprit_B_small

This time, I tried adding a bit of color to the pendants: when the pieces were almost ready to be buffed and polished, I started coating the entire piece with brown drawing ink. I let it dry and then sanded the entire piece with a very fine grain abrasive pad. I repeated the process 2-3 times, and then, after a final ink coat and almost no sanding, started polishing it. The polishing removed the ink from all over the raised areas, but let the ink define details. In the second pendant, I tried giving some texture on the two round notches: with files and a scraper, I created some parallel scratches, which were filled by the ink, creating a nice effect.

Sprouting @ home

I’ve not been very active in my D.I.Y. projects, lately. However, I managed to try something I was curious about since a long time: sprouting seeds at home. Why sprouting? because sprouts are good eats. As an addition to a salad, or just by themselves, they have a freshly crunchiness that is a joy for your mouth.


You may find soybean sprouts in many markets, but is also possible to sprout your own seeds at home with a sprouting device. Different sprouters are available in stores but, before buying one, you may want to try a simple DIY one to see if you like sprouting & sprout eating. For a simple home-made sprouter, you will need:

  1. a glass jar; the one I used is a 1 liter jar with a wide mouth. A wide mouth is good for aeration of the sprouts.
  2. some sort of mesh, plastic or textile, with holes small enough to keep seeds & sprouts in but large enough to easily drain water and let air enter. I used a piece of one of those bags that are used to protect delicate clothes in washing machines (flexible and water-resistant).
  3. something to hold the mesh over the jar mouth; elastic bands are fine.
  4. a support, to keep the jar.. ajar… hehehe… well, seriously, in order to help draining excess water, the jar has to remain tilted around 45°. I used a plastic CD container, cutting it on one side.

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The first experiment was mung beans (small, green sweet beans). Many organic/vegetarian/vegan stores have seeds for sprouting, in small packs. These, however, can be costly (considered how small is the amount); you may decide to try sprouting dried lentils, dried beans, and most of the seeds that are also sold to grow vegetable gardens. Just try to get organic seeds, to avoid eating all the chemicals in non-organic seeds. A final advice, in a jar sprouter, it is not possible to sprout very small seeds (like cress) because they are too small, and would require a mesh too tight to be efficient in draining and aerating (for those seeds, you will need a plate sprouter).

sprouterA_small sprouterB_small

Sprouting 101: if possible, in all steps, use non-chlorinated water; I have a water filtering carafe (that I use for drinking) and used filtered water. Soak the beans overnight in water (8+ hours). Rinse the beans; they have probably grown in size, and shed some skin (remove it, if it is so). Put the drained seeds in the jar, close the mouth with the mesh, secure the elastic band, put the jar over the support, and everything over a plate (to collect the remaining draining water). Wait. Then, once or twice a day (I did it before leaving for work in the morning and when I got home in the evening) pour water in the jar (above the level of the seeds), let it sit there 30 seconds, and slowly agitate the jar for another 30 seconds; then drain it through the mesh. The jar should NOT be in direct sunlight, darkness is even better in the first few days. After a day or two, you will start notice very small white sprouts emerging. After 4-5 days your sprouts will be ready to be eaten. do not let them grow after they start changing color, eat them before. During the hot season, this process is fast; now, in winter, since I generally keep my house a bit on the cold side, it took one week from start to eat. I used just half of a 90g pack of beans; it looked like a small amount at the begin, but the jar was quite crowded at the end (and you do not want the sprout to suffocate).

I really enjoyed the process of seeing the beans sprouting and growing, and the sprouts were crunchy, extremely fresh and really tasty. I’m growing a new batch just now 🙂

An ambient lamp (using Christmas lights)

An extremely simple project, but with a really useful outcome. Remember all those Christmas light decorations that have been plaguing all the shops/supermarkets since November? chances are they are still there, but on 50%-75% sale. The perfect time to buy one (long) strand of small lights (possibly led, to save electricity), and stuff it into a simple glass vase, possibly without decorations (a basic geometric shape like a cylinder, a box, a truncated cone will do nicely)… what will you obtain? a wonderful ambient light!

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I’m not the kind of person turning my house in a freak light-show for the seasonal holidays… but I’ve always appreciated the availability of cheap lights. The simple geometric shape of the vase and the random tangle of wire and lights make this lamp a simple but effective way to add some ambient light in a room… This lamp produces a subtle lighting with a nice random pattern, enough to brighten up a dark spot in a room, or to give a contrasting illumination to an element of furniture.

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If you are able to find them, there are also light strands which have a clear/transparent plastic wire covering (instead of dark green, like I used)… They will be almost invisible with the lights on, and will give the lamp the look of a vase full of fireflies (oooh.. nice). With dark green wires, it looks more like a strange light-emitting plant (which is not bad at all). Try to avoid those light strands with a flashing circuit at the end: when turned on, they generally have as default a very annoying flashing pattern, and this makes more complex to use them as a lamp. Colored lights are also an option, if they fit well in the color scheme of the room. As a final idea, you can also use a large glass jar with a lid… this is even more glass-jar-of-fairy-fireflies-like.

Bone Twisted Pendant – Birthday #3

This is the last of the three pendants prepared as Birthday gifts… As said in the last post, this was the second one I prepared, but due to problems in the mail delivery, only now reached its destination (I was getting worried it got lost somewhere, and that I should have to make another one). The shape is a Maori Twist, or Pikorua… A traditional shape of Maori culture. The pendant has been carved in camel bone. I was happy with the result, and she was happy of the gift (here is a photo she sent me)…


As I’ve already said, I bought the bone blanks on eBay… they were good quality, but a bit thin… So, even if the shape turned out well, it was not possible to carve a completely three-dimensional piece. Ideally, where the design overlaps, the carving should have an empty space separating the two “leaves” (and not being like a bas-relief like in this case).

twistA_small twistC_small twistB_small

Anyway, the carving process is the same described in the last post: sketch the design on a blank, cut it, roughly shape it with a belt sander, drill the holes, and then finish carving it with files, chisels, scrapers and a dremel tool. Finally, polishing it. The string, in this case, is simply a double waxed cord.