Sunday, May 2, 2010

Oh, Abalone!

Abalone cabochons, round or oval; natural or dyed shades of blue, green, red or pink. I use them all the time - they give focus, color and a little iridescent bling to the mostly neutral tones in the shells that I find. I found myself in earring mode on this hot sticky afternoon....

It's tough to find two shell shards that are the exact same shape, size, color and texture, so the abalone and the sterling silver wire wrap is what "brings it all together," creating a more or less matching pair.

I thought I'd do a little "how-to" post. Unfortunately, I can't take pics of myself making them, so you'll have to use your imagination a bit. The trick to combining just about anything with seashells is - glue. Shells can't be soldered, fused or baked in a kiln. It's pretty much glue or drill them and wire wrap. I do both - but today's project is glued - with E-6000. Now, I know there are purists who say you have to use epoxy, but I am not one of them. E-6000 is a great glue - IF - you give it plenty of time to dry and cure. I find that pieces that have been cured for a few weeks are very strong.

Glueing on the little earring bail and the abalone is pretty simple. Just dab on the glue and position it where you like. The E-6000 is very forgiving - it dries slowly and allows you to play around a bit - but it does get messy. Much better to lay it all out before the gluing begins. The sterling silver wire is a bit trickier to do.

I used 24 gauge dead soft wire and wound a piece approximately 4 inches long around a mandrel to make about 4 coils. Slide it off the mandrel, being careful to not allow it to loosen, or the wrap will be too big to fit snugly around the cabochon. Holding the wire coils tightly with one hand, use your pliers to wrap the two loose ends around the four coils. This gives it a look kind of like a coiled rope. Each piece will wrap a little differently, and that's part of the charm of this technique. Then position it over the cabachon - to check for fit. Ideally it will snap down snugly. When you are happy with the way it fits and looks, take it off and carefully apply a strand of glue around the cabochon. Fit the wire back on. If you don't have a real snug fit you might want to clamp it until it's dry. Check for excess glue - it's easy to scrape it off at this point with your fingernail.

For an oval cabochon, I just use pliers to carefully squeeze into an oval shape. You can use this technique for pendants and bracelets - just about anything. Here are a couple more pieces I've created with this technique:

It's really not too hard a technique to learn. Play with some craft wire first. If you don't have a mandrel - try an ink pen, sharpie, anything round or oval that you can wrap around. A good source for abalone cabochons is

Have Fun!