How to make a faux ivory/bone horn

I was introduced to a faux ivory technique in a Tory Hughes workshop a long time ago. I highly recommend taking a class from her if you get the chance.

I've modified the technique a bit. This technique takes advantage of the properties of translucent polymer clay, mimicking the striations seen in bone or ivory. If you do this right, people will have an extremely hard time telling this from the real thing.


    - 1 part white polymer clay
    - 1 part champagne (Fimo), buff or beige color polymer clay
    - pinch of of very warm yellow (orange-ish) color clay
    - 2 parts translucent polymer clay
    - burnt umber or burnt sienna acrylic paint
    - 240, 320, 400, 600, 1000 grit wet/dry sand paper
    - X-acto cutting tool with #11 blade
    - bench polisher or Dremel
    - cotton or polyester felt polishing disc

    - clean bucket or dishpan
    - thin, baked polymer clay pieces

1. Mix together equal amounts
of champagne & white to make the ivory color. You should now have equal amounts of ivory and translucent. (Do not mix these together.)
  2. Make an ivory and a translucent log. Wrap the translucent log in an ivory sheet. Wrap the ivory log in translucent. Reduce and lengthen until each log is doubled in length.
  3. Cut each log in half and recombine, maintaining alternating color pattern. Repeat the reduce, lengthen, cut, recombine process (about 4 to 5 times) until you can barely see the color variations.
  4. Now reduce the cane until it's about the thickness of a finger; cut a 3"-5" segment. Stroke and roll one end of segment until the end tapers to a point. Gently curve the tapered end. Note: The key to mimicking bone or ivory is to make sure not to allow the striations to twist or blend while reducing and shaping your workpiece.

5. Place pre-baked and/or raw clay pieces on the horn. You can also emboss, imprint with stamps, etc. Smooth away fingerprints, unwanted marks, etc. Place in cool oven, warm to bake and allow to slowly cool.

Baking will exaggerate the difference between the opaque and translucent clays. The striations will really stand out!

  6. Start with wet/dry sandpaper (approx. 240-300 grit), sand your piece under a stream of water. Next, use grits 400, 600 and, optionally, higher grits. If a water flow isn't your choice or not available, dip the piece and sand paper into a pan of cool water frequently. Let piece completely dry.

  Sanding Notes: Proper sanding can be a bit taxing and demanding on your patience, but vital if you want a great result after polishing.

  • You need learn how to identify which grit to start with for any specific item. For really rough clay surfaces, you may need to start with 120 - 240 grit. If you've gently smoothed with your fingers, you may be able to get away with starting at 400 grit.
  • But regardless of the grit you choose to start with, you should step up to the very next grit size, then the next, then the next. Don't skip grits, at least not until you've had lots of experience with the various outcomes.
  • Here are the grit sizes I've found with 3M wet dry papers: 80, 100, 120, 200, 240, 360, 400, 500, 600, 800, 1000, 1500, 2000. It is very important to stay within one brand of paper. Don't mix brands.
  • And you must make sure to thoroughly sand the entire surface with that grit before stepping up to the next grit. One easy way to tell is to coat the piece with a thin layer of acrylic paint of a contrasting color before sanding at that grit. When you can't see any paint remaining, you've thoroughly sanded at that grit level. But yes, you'll need to "paint" in between each grit level.
  7a. Using carving/gouging tools such as lino cutters or Xacto tools, cut or etch patterns into the horn. After completing all designs, smear burnt umber acrylic paint all over, making sure to get paint into all crevices. Cover the back, front and all sides. While the paint is still wet dry wipe off the excess. Let dry.
  7b. The paint will adhere alright by just applying and letting it dry. It will adhere much better, however, if you bake the item for about 10 minutes after applying the paint.  

8. Very lightly sand the entire piece underwater again, using the 600 to remove the desired amount of paint. The finer the sanding, the higher the shine when polishing. I prefer stepping all the way up to 1000 grit when I want a deep rich shine.

Let piece dry completely. Then polish using a cotton or muslin polishing disc until your piece has a high shine.

    Polishing polymer clay with a bench buffer

The polishing disc rotates at a very high speed. There are several things you should do to help improve your safety and prevent problems.
  • Wear safety goggles. Polishing with a high-speed disc produces a fine particle spray.
  • Make sure to get these out of the way: long hair, necklaces, scarves or ties or anything that could get grabbed and wrapped around the spindle.
  • Hold your piece (in the area shown by the heavy curved bar). If it grips your piece, it will snatch it from your hands and fling it. Let it. If flung, it will fling safely away from you, if you've held your piece in that area.
  • Move your piece towards the spinning wheel gently, slowly, smoothly, as in slow motion. Slowly gently reposition your piece, turning, rotating.... Slowly, gently, smoothly pull your piece away when you are done. Don't, under any circumstances, make quick, jerky motions. The wheel will grab and fling your piece when you do.
  • Keep the piece slowly moving underneath the disc. Don't allow the disc to polish on a spot for too long. A high speed polisher can quickly heat up a small spot on a polymer clay piece causing a dull smear instead of a high polish.
  • Don't bob the piece toward and away from the disc. That is a good way to cause the wheel to grab and snatch the piece from your hands.
  • If the piece is snatched from your hands, more than likely the disc will leave a dull scrape mark on your piece. You may need to sand and polish that spot again.
  • Try not to touch any freshly polished areas with your fingers. Those areas will be warm and soft and will easily take fingerprints.
  • Only polish around powered tools when you are alert and able to fully concentrate. If you're tired or distracted, you will have many project flings, damage and woes.
  • If you're wondering, there are two types of polishing discs you can use; muslin and cotton. Yes, they're both cotton products, but the cotton disk is usually much softer and produces a much higher shine.


  Polishing polymer clay using a variable speed Dremel

  • All the above polishing tips apply. However, because the dremel disc rotates at such a high speed and covers a much smaller surface area, you need to use ultra light pressure and steady hand.

Have a great polymer clay day. ;-)


Last update to this page: 25 Aug 02. Send comments, questions or suggestions to Desiree McCrorey.