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Hei Matau – Birthday #2

November 30, 2012

This is another pendant prepared as a birthday gift… It is a Hei Matau, a traditional Maori symbol, in the form of a stylized fish-hook. It is a charm of good luck and safe travel across the sea. This friend of mine just started scuba diving, and so this looked like an appropriate choice. This time, the pendant is carved in bone, since this is the material traditionally used for this kind of charms.

[Actually, this was the third birthday in the sequence, but the second gift has still not reached its recipient… so, in the meanwhile, to keep the blog going, I had to invert the order of birthdays]

Where did I found bone? On internet… as most of the strange stuff I buy. More precisely, on eBay. These bone pieces, “blanks” are they are called, are available from different sellers, on eBay or on different websites. While traditionally the material should be whale bone, it is somehow hard to be found, so I used this more readily available camel bone (at least, the seller declared it to be camel). Preparing a bone for carving at home _is_ possible and there are plenty of resources online to learn to do so. I wanted to start from something more ready-to-go because I just wanted to experiment with the material, without having to learn all the preparation process (there will be time, if I decide to continue using bone), and I had a deadline for the piece (the birthday).

I started sketching some designs, to study possible shapes… I picked two, with the idea of having a backup, in the case something went wrong (but, in the end, they both turned out really well). Then, starting from two rectangular blanks, I draw the chosen designs on them with a pencil, cut the blank to measure, and started shaping them with a belt sander and a Dremel. I finished carving the pendants with a combination of chisels, scrapers, cutters, files and some more help of the Dremel. It took some time and lots of adjustments because it was my first work using bone. Bone is much harder than Vegetable Ivory, but still reasonably easy to work with. When I was satisfied with the shaping, I polished it with the Dremel and polishing paste…

The basic shaping was easy. The harder part was to carve the decorations on top of it… I was constantly worried that the piece would break, or that the chisel would zip away, scratching the surface… In the end I’m pretty happy with the result. There is space for improvement, but it is definitely a start.

The final step is the leashing. Traditionally, this kind of pendants are attached (leashed) to a hemp cord with a specific, quite complex knot. I found a suitable waxed cord, and tried doing this “Figure 8” leashing, following some online tutorials… After some tries, I obtained this result: it is not perfect, but I’m still quite happy.

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