Cuttlefish casting!

Now here is a fun technique that produces some equally fun results – cuttlefish casting.

Cuttlefish are marine invertebrates, specifically molluscs, and are related to octopuses and squid.  I think they are kind of cute!  But really, they probably have a “face” only a mother could love.  Cuttlefish have an internal shell, which is referred to as the cuttlebone in the pet industry and is used for caged birds to sharpen their beaks on (and as a calcium source).   Cuttlefish are short lived, and in some countries (warmer countries than here!) their shells wash up on the beach in the thousands.  As an aside, cuttlefish have also been found to be very intelligent – try to track down the show NOVA did on them a few years ago – it’s very interesting.

Cuttlebone with dental tools for carving.

For most cast objects you will have to saw the cuttlebone in half (one side is very hard, one side is soft).  Then you rub the soft sides together so that they are perfectly flat and fit together without gaps.  Now you are ready to begin!  If you have a specific item you would like to cast you can press it into the cuttlebone.  I’ve used a shell and brass templates of specific shapes.  You can also use dental tools or other carving tools to carve out your design (or to add a detail to your impressed design).  You can do this one one side or both sides of the shell (to add dimension).  One of the interesting side benefits of cuttlefish casting is that the shell has a very interesting texture that can be highlighted.  If you would like this as part of your design you can brush away the dusty, soft layer that is left after carving or impressing.

Once you are happy with your design, you fit the two sides together, tie it up tightly with binding wire and cast it.  This is (usually) a one off process as the area the molten metal touches will burn and change the design area.

If you want to try this at home you can refer, once again, to The Art and Craft of Making Jewellery by Joanna Gollberg.  It has a good overview.  Although I think it is important to add – you will want to wear a mask when you are flattening and brushing the cuttlebone, and it REALLY smells when you do the actual casting.  Use this technique in an area you don’t mind getting dirty (and smelly).

You can use this technique to create components for jewellery…

two castings on cuttlebone
A happy accident (left) and a shell casting made from impressing a shell into the cuttlebone - waiting for inspiration.

Or, you can cast with a specific piece in mind…

two pendants made using cuttlefish casting
The "Swirls" pendant (left) used a brass template and then I added the details with dental tools; the "Ocean Bubbles" pendant (right) used a template, carved details and fabricated details (the gold balls).
back of pendants
This is the texture you can get if you brush away the dust!

Finally, here is another accident (yes, they don’t always work the way you hope they will) turned into a ring…

top of a ring with cuttlefish casting component
The top of ring "Ocean dreams"
side view of ring
Side view of "Ocean dreams" ring.

This was one of the techniques we learned in first year goldsmithing!  Hope you enjoyed the show!

I hope New Year’s Eve finds you well, and All the Best in 2011!!

Valerie

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