Frequently Asked Questions

Scrimshaw is a specialty art and few people know very much about the techniques, materials and styles scrimshanders incorporate. The following is a list of the questions I hear most often.

Q : How is that you are allowed to work on ivory?  Isn't the sale of ivory illegal?

A :   I use 19th century or earlier antique ivory snooker and billiard balls to create my globes.  The invention of plastics around the beginning of the 20th century made the use of ivory for balls uneconomic and obsolete. 

Q :   How do you get the image onto the pieces?

 There are several steps I must go through to complete a piece.  First, the ivory is prepared if necessary so that there is a polished surface on which I can work.  I then use a machinist scribe (L.S. Starrett small) and an exacto knife (#1 handle and #11 blade) to inscribe scratches into the polished surface.  The next step is filling the scratches with the appropriate colors.  I use India ink for the black and oil paints for the colors.  The pigments settle into the scratches and the rest wipes clean off of the polished areas. An unfortunate side effect of this process is that any mistakes are there to stay.  The whole process is done freehand and one slip of the hand can destroy an entire piece.

Q :   Are the pieces fragile and difficult to take care of ?

A :   The ivory balls have survived for a century or more often having been put to hard use and are remarkably durable. 

Caring for your scrimshaw globe is very simple.  Try not to touch the engraved surface too much, as the oils in your skin can eventually cause the colors to turn yellow or tan.  If the piece gets wet, just allow it to air dry without wiping and it should be fine.  The piece can be cleaned with a very slightly moist cloth if necessary.  

I recommend keeping the pieces out of direct sunlight.  The pigments I use have been very carefully chosen with permanence as a priority, but sunlight degrades all pigments.

Q :   How long does it take to finish a piece?

A :   The pieces you see on this site took anywhere from around 50 to 200 hours.

Q :   The stands for the pieces are absolutely beautiful.  Do you make them yourself ?

A The mounts were all made by a couple of local wood artisans I employ.  Each mount is custom made and enormous care is given to complement the mount to the scrimshaw.

These are the questions I hear over and over again.  If you have any questions that are not answered above please email me at