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When I first started knitting miniature garments, I tried making my own buttons out of wood and fimo but the results were clunky and out of scale so I figured I'd stick to what I know and buy buttons from people who were clearly much better at it than I.  They are wonderful buttons but I am ready to try to make buttons for the garments I am making.  I am creating a vest right now and the ivory fish buttons would be perfect for it.  The problem is, my workshop is filled mostly with needles and thread--I don't have a lathe or too many fine cutting tools.  Does anyone have any tips for me on how to start making some really fine little buttons out of ivory, bone or wood that I can make with simple tools? Helpful tips would be where to procure the materials to make the buttons from and what tools I would need to use.  I have attached some images of buttons I really like.

 

Thanks!

 

Althea

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MissyBoling

I love those fish buttons!  I just got some old ivory piano key covers on ebay.  (Search for vintage piano keys because people don't usually use the word ivory in the title, and make sure they're not fake ivory.)  Luthier supply places such as www.stewmac.com have mother of pearl and other thin inlay materials.  The only way I know to get thin bone is to slice dog bones with a hacksaw, file one side flat, then thin it down with a cutter on a drill press.  Hopefully someone else can help you with that one.  For the smallest drill bits for making holes, machinist supply places have the smallest and best quality - even smaller than #80. ( www.mscdirect.com)  Gravers from places like Rio Grande or www.metalliferous.com might be one option for some of the fine carving, and they also have good quality fine files for shaping and smoothing.  There are people on the forum that make their own mini carving tools, and I'm sure they'll chime in.  A pair of parallel jaw flat nose pliers is very handy for holding tiny pieces.  Regular action pliers don't grab the tiny piece well, and the piece tends to go flying, never to be found again.  Holly and boxwood will hold the finest detail (of the woods) when doing very tiny carving.  Cutting the small pieces will be best done with a jeweler's saw, and Rio Grande has the best blades.  I would use a blade somewhere between a 4/0 and an 8/0 depending on what you're cutting.  Stewmac has a platform with a v-cut for sawing, or you can make your own.

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Thanks Missy-I'm trawling ebay--is $30 ish for a lot of 40-50 pieces a reasonable price?  I love working with ivory but have had very limited experience.  I took Steve Jedd's scrimshaw class in Castine many years ago and I really loved it--I attached a couple pics of a box I made in that class--looking at it with the naked eye it looks pretty detailed but blown up I see I could have been MUCH more precise!  Gonna have to work on that. 

 

I love how fine ivory can be polished and how much detail can be carved into it. I had a fine jewelers saw around here somewhere but it's been so many years since I used it, who knows what nook and cranny it's fallen into!! I should probably just get a new one--it's ether that or clean--UGH!

 

For the fish button attempt, do you think the designs should be carved into the big piece of ivory first and then as the final step, cut out the fish shape?  I imagine I would also have to thin the ivory down a bit first. Thanks for the input!

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MissyBoling

Oooh, amazing box!  I think that's about what I paid for my ivory, but I would guess the price varies.  You can do a search for finished auctions only and see what the final prices were.  As for the carving, I'm going to let someone else answer that.  My experience with carving is next to none compared with my experience with the jeweler's saw, and I'm no expert with the saw either.  :-)

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Bill Hudson

How about forming a long stick to the shape of the fish and then carving the detail end face of it and then slice one off and do so with the next one. That way you have something to hold on to while making them and the fishes are the same size and shape..

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ElgaKoster

Althea, I think first practise with making say 1/6 scale buttons, 1/12 buttons are so tiny you can scarcly see them. If you want to carve the buttons I would do that first and then saw them out. I have a lovely collection of antique buttons and have thought about making miniature buttons too, just never got so far.

For making round buttons out of wood I would try and make a hole saw similar to this one, I came across a website some time ago where a guy made smaller hole saws than this one but can't find it now brass would probably be too soft for the harder woods.

http://www.airfieldmodels.com/information_source/how_to_articles_for_model_builders/tools/razor_hole_saw/

Good luck with the button making!

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So Bill, do you mean slice a long flat piece and carve multiple fish along it's length and then cut them?  Trying to visualize the technique. 

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Wm. R. Robertson

Just a quick response..... Here is a plate from Diderot showing button making tools, I think I even see the fish button....... And a photo showing some of the button bits from the Dominy shop, these would have been used in a brace and is what cut out the buttons in the pictures you posted above.

This sounds like a fun thing to make.... Just wish I had the time to do some now, but really need sleep!

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ElgaKoster

On the Dorset buttons, here is a tutorial, I am sure there are many more on the internet, you will have to either make your own little metal circles or see what you can find at jewelry supply shops.

http://www.rachelclare.co.uk/?p=169

If I remember right one of the British miniature magazines had an article on making them in 1/12 scale, will see if I can find it for you.

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Bill Hudson

 

Quote) "So Bill, do you mean slice a long flat piece and carve multiple fish along it's length and then cut them?  Trying to visualize the technique."

 

 Please excuse the drawing and printing, both were made @ 5:30 am BC  (before coffee  :lol:) but maybe you get the idea?

 

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Bill Hudson

For making round buttons out of wood I would try and make a hole saw similar to this one, I came across a website some time ago where a guy made smaller hole saws than this one but can't find it now brass would probably be too soft for the harder woods.

http://www.airfieldmodels.com/information_source/how_to_articles_for_model_builders/tools/razor_hole_saw/

Good luck with the button making!

 

More BC drawing.

 

I have made and used these little saws many times, mostly for tenions on the end of wheel spokes and I have also used them for cutting out little discs of shell. if you sharpen them right to start with. Because the button material woul dbe so thin almost any wood or bone type material and I suppose plastid and shell should cut well.  Most important is to be sure the straight side of the tooth (cutting side) faces the direction of the cut. A slight set in the teeth works best sith most of the set on the outside away from where the button blank would be cut.  Too much inside set cpould make a rough edge on the button.

 

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ElgaKoster

Thank you Bill, I was pretty sure one of you must have done this before and would give us a bit more information, hope you had your coffee by now!

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These are such helpful tips and I love the pictures and links!  Bill H--you diagram helps me visualize it much better--question is, how would you shape the stick?

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Wow, so interesting!  I was given a few vintage piano keys.  I wanted to cut them up for inlay and in the process I ruined some of the pieces  :(  then I was reading about inlay and cutting ivory, mother of pearl and metal etc.by putting it  between scrap wood  and then cutting it.  I did that with my trusty micromark table saw and voila I got wonderful thin sliced pieces...........now I have to make something with it LOL  However this would work to make small square buttons.  

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MissyBoling

How big are you thinking of making these fish?  1/8" long would be 1 1/2" in 1:12, and I'm thinking that would be the maximum.  I would draw a fish on each end of an 1/8" dowel, then flatten each side of the dowel slightly on sandpaper guaging your progress by the fish on each end.  Then use a tiny gouge chisel to carve out the area near the tail on each side, and a v chisel to cut out the area between the tail fins.  You wouldn't necessarily need to shape the whole stick at once.  You could just shape the top fish.  I do see a drawback with using a dowel though, as the side of the fish would be end grain.  I'm curious what the experienced carvers would say.

 

This has turned into a really interesting thread!  I'm fascinated by the button bits, but it looks like the buttons would end up with one hole in the middle.  My mind is spinning with ideas for button cutters now!

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