Inlaid Shibuichi “Slimy Snail” Hobo Nickel Tutorial

Starting a new project, a Hobo Nickel with a shibuichi Japanese-style snail inlay.

I’ve been watching Ford Hallam (…/) make his lovely metal inlays, and have been taking his advice to “steal with my eyes.”  I think I’ve broken the code, so I’m trying it with this snail.  I’ll discuss the technique further as the project unfolds.  Here I’m sawing out and filing a tiny snail from a self-made plate of shibuichi (75% copper and 25% silver).  Note the tiny vise I use to hold the snail for careful filing.

I cut it out with a jeweler’s saw and 2/0 blade (actually several of them, since I had to attack it from several directions because of the length of the shibuichi plate, and I broke a blade backing out – I seldom break blades in forward gear, but reverse sometimes gets the best of me…)

One of the problems I’ve always had with this style of inlay is getting a clear and close outline of the inlay transferred to the substrate because I couldn’t hold the inlay in place and trace around it without things moving, and then requiring a lot of adjustments to the inlay pocket.  I’ve even superglued the inlay in place, then scribed around it, but removal is a mess.  However, I saw a beautiful clamping fixture designed to fix all that – unfortunately no longer manufactured.  So, this is my (rather inelegant..) solution, but it works like a champ.  I use the clamp fixture both for tracing the inlay outline and permanently seating the inlay in the substrate..

There’s been some interest in the inlay hold-down clamp I took my inspiration from

buy generic levitra

, so here are some images of it.  Much more elegant than my cobbled-together solution.  Photos courtesy of Mike Dubber and Brian Marshall, the clamps actually manufactured by Ray Letourneau.

Here’s how I begin the inlay process (upper left) – using a flat graver, I drive it downwards (slightly inside the lines) at about a 45 degree angle, pushing up a little mound of metal and continuing to move that mound until it it slightly beyond (outside) the inlay line.  I repeat this all the way around the edge.  In the past, I’ve cut around the inside edge of the inlay pocket with a v-graver, then removed the interior waste material, but getting a good fit was difficult.  This new method (new to me…) solves those problems, needing only minor adjustments.  I then remove the interior waste material as per normal (flat gravers and carbide burs).  Two rounds of waste removal seemed to make the proper depth.  Next, I’ll seat the inlay and push the nickel edges up tight against the shibuichi inlay

, fixing it permanently in place.  I believe this is the method of the ancient Japanese metal artists.

Got the snail inlay installed in the nickel.  You can see the before and after, using a punch to move the nickel “piles” back into place to contact the shibuichi inlay.  The hold is solid, permanent and strictly mechanical – no glue or solder.  Now I have to begin simmering turkey necks for tomorrow’s world famous gravy – hope everybody has a wonderful Christmas!

Finished carving and texturing the snail with flat gravers and carbide burs.  Next will be creating the background by removing the Indian head, in a logical sequence.

The Slimy Snail Hobo Nickel is complete.  I slipped in a simple background and texture and patina.  Shibuichi snail, hand engraved and inlaid into a 1929 US nickel (5 cent coin).

Thanks for Looking!

Tom Sterling

This entry was posted in Carving, Hobo Nickel and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *