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Experiments with Alabaster

October 11, 2012

In a recent work trip to Volterra, while roaming among an old ruined building, I found a couple pieces of Alabaster. Curious as I am, I grabbed them with the idea of trying some carving.  Volterra is a town in Tuscany, world famous for its archeological importance and its alabaster workmanship, dating back to Etruscan age. Alabaster is a common find in the area, as a raw material but also as discarded pieces from workshops, or in old buildings.

Here are some results… They all turned out pendants. They are not bad, for a first try, but there is much room for improvement. I just experimented, trying to follow the shape that better flowed with the lines of the fragments. I’ve never carved before, so it was just a way to practice something I saw only in videos.

Problem #1: how to reduce the raw stones to usable pieces….  For this one, I’ve found no practical solutions, I just put the rock on the anvil and used a chisel to try detaching small, sensible chunks. The result was not a complete success, since the pieces you obtain are somehow random in shape and size.

The actual carving process was much easier than expected, with almost anything I tried it was possible to score the stone. Small chisels, scrapers, files, an old knife, even bare nails. To smooth it, normal sandpaper works well, and abrasive pads even better (they last much longer, especially wet ones, that can be easily cleaned from residues).


Problem #2: this thing is incredibly brittle…. Too brittle… It is good not to have to fins specific tools to score the stone, but it is not good when also your nails can ruin a piece, or the wonderfully carved piece you just finished breaks up when attaching a metal ring for using it as a pendant. I always knew alabaster was fragile, but the pieces i worked with were too fragile for practical purposes. In a more recent trip to Volterra, I examined alabaster pieces on sale in some workshop, and they were much harder: it is highly probable that the piece I found were discarded, low quality samples… So I bought a batch of small objects, to have some new (good) material to work on.. definitely, there will be a follow up


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