Tortoiseshell Box Conservation Series #2

The final steps for polishing up the tortoiseshell and water buffalo horn snuff box were fairly straightforward.  My practice for polishing tortoiseshell is entirely hand-work based.  I do not use power polishing at all, i.e. buffing wheels, as I believe they rob the tortoiseshell surface of its tortoiseshell-ness through heating then deforming the surface by rubbing against a high speed abrasive wheel such that much of the character on and just beneath the surface is obliterated.  I have seen too many beautiful tortoiseshell objects that were power buffed to the degree that they look just like molded plastic.  That is certainly not what I am ever aiming for.


My tools and supplies for bringing the tortoiseshell surface to where it is supposed to be are few and simple: a sliver of a felt buffing wheel, a shallow watch glass (although any small, shallow ceramic container will suffice), an eye dropper or pipette, alcohol, 1 micron metallography micro polish abrasive powder, and disposable cosmetics pads.


I place a small amount of the micro polish powder in the watch glass and add some alcohol to make a slurry and moisten the felt wedge.  I dip the wedge in the slurry and then rub it against the surface of the tortoiseshell.  I check periodically by wiping the area clean with a cosmetics pad, and when it has reached the desired sheen I clean off the area thoroughly.


As you can see, the result can be stunning!  It is difficult for me to photograph a really glossy object on my workbench.


One of the really neat things about this box is that after polishing, the grain pattern of the horn box has an iridescence that literally glows at certain lighting and viewing angles.


From other angles it just looks like a beautiful highly polished black surface.

And now this project is done.  On to the next one.