Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Another attempt at a comb.

I spent a good part of October trying to make myself a comb after I gave up the idea of finishing my book of sonnets (which is still progressing, if very slowly.) I found and fell in love with this 16th century Italian ivory comb at the Met.
Its the only one I've found so far that is painted. Many of the others I've found have cast gold decorations (these are often liturgical combs,)some carving and inlay, or are just plain. Getting the two sided comb with variated teeth is something I have not managed quite yet. The first attempt at that was rather sad.
This one is actually the 3rd attempt. The first two didn't get this far. I spent hours on it sanding it only to have teeth break. I tried a hack saw first but had large chunks break out. Then I moved on to my Dremel and a carving bit. Obviously that didn't work very well either. There was less initial breakage, but it just doesn't look right and the teeth still broke when I attempted to sand them smooth. After getting this far, I came to the conclusion that there were 3 things wrong. The blade on my saw wasn't sharp enough. I needed to use more clamps, and my wood was too thick.

After looking at a couple of tutorials, I tried shaping the wood so it was more of a wedge shape tapering to a point at the edge of the teeth. Splitting it worked well for this. It worked really well, but I have not figured out how to taper the top and the bottom in order to do the double sided comb. I used a carving knife rather than a saw, and I clamped the blank in place so it wasn't sliding about. That got me a nice little comb. I think its a good start, but I have to figure out how to get the correct shape. Since I'd spent more than a month on it and not finished the Realm of Venus Idle hands Competition I just wanted to finish something before I gave in to discouragement. Therefore, I moved on to painting.

The ivory Italian comb has plants and animals painted on it front and back. The description also states that it has a heart enflamed in the center of one side. I decided to use my krin heart in the center, paint the floral and vine design from the bottom and to add some birds. I've always loved peacocks and with the color scheme of my dress it seemed natural. I based the shape on this window design from Packwood House in Lapworth, UK. the house is dated from the 16th century. The peacocks also bear a resemblance to those in Byzantine illuminated manuscripts, so they seem a bit Rus flavored, making my persona happy. I inked the design in, added a bit of color with gouache, gilded it a bit with some gold leaf, and then went back in with some more black ink. Its sealed with olive oil and beeswax since its intended for use in my hair. I tried it out yesterday and it combs rather well, even standing up to some rather nasty knots and a bit of candy cane tangled and stuck in my hair thanks to my twins.


  1. wow, that came out really even. What kind of wood did you use?

  2. The city had cut down a bunch of old trees over on State Street, and left the logs for scavenging. I'm not really sure what it is. I hadn't expected it to go this well to be honest.

  3. Hmm, I wonder if the trick is that you need to working with green wood?

    Anyway, it's beautiful!

  4. Aurora, I'm sure part of it is the green wood since the dry wood is so much harder, but I know Mike at Spanish Peacock makes combs and he does it with exotic hardwoods which aren't really commercially available green. I'm sure that a lot of the problem is my tools. I WILL get this figured out-- eventually.

  5. Happy holidays, Hastings!

    I've been pondering your comb project since I first learned about it during the IRCC and I'm still stuck imagining any comb I made breaking apart as soon as I tried to run it through my hair. I doubt I'll ever get together the courage to make a comb but that doesn't keep me from being how does the grain of the wood interact with the cutting of the teeth?

    I guess I'll have to go look at those tutorials, and finished combs. Thanks!