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How do you make mother of pearl grips?

Discussion in 'Gunsmithing and Repairs' started by tex_n_cal, Feb 9, 2003.

  1. tex_n_cal

    tex_n_cal Well-Known Member

    This is a fun project I've had a hankering to try for a while. I'd like to make 1911 grips from abalone, which I gather is where "Mother of pearl" comes from. The grips are often seen on Ebay, but I'd like to try and make some that are a little more interesting.

    I've grabbed a large (9.5") abalone shell off Ebay, which I think may be big enough for the project. Hopefully I can cut pieces the right size out of it.

    One guy has told me "it's poisonous, you have to work it underwater". I would seem to me it would be pretty easily cracked, so I know care will be required.

    Anyone have experience making MOP grips? Any tips?


  2. Sven

    Sven Senior Member


    Contrary to some belief, Mother of Pearl is NOT poisonous. Several rumored cases cite Mother of Pearl as the cause of severe physical problems and even death. However, not one case has been documented or proven to be true. In nearly all of the cases I have heard, the complaining parties had many other serious health problems. Usually, preexisting asthma, emphysema or allergic reactions are the cause of any health problems associated with working with Mother of Pearl. Mother or Pearl is composed of 85% calcium carbonate, 12% conchiolin, and 3% water, none of which are harmful or poisonous. The possibility of an allergic reaction does exist, but normally isn't of serious consequence or life threatening. The typical symptoms that I have heard of are nausea, vomiting, headaches, coughing, and fever. For those who are allergic or have a reaction, these symptoms can persist for up to two days. I currently know personally of only 4 or 5 knife makers, of the 500 that buy Mother of Pearl from my company, who occasionally suffer from symptoms of this type. That puts the percentage of sufferers at about 1%. This is by no means a scientific figure, but it is simply to give you, the reader, an idea of your likelihood of becoming ill from this type of work.

    There is some risk involved! Ground fragments of Mother of Pearl are the equivalent of tiny glass fragments. As you can imagine, these fragments are not good for your eyes, nose, throat, and especially your lungs. Breathing pearl dust, like any other dust, can cause build up in the lungs, cause difficulty breathing, and shortness of breath. So be smart and buy a good filtration mask and wear safety glasses, preferably air tight goggles so as to prevent dust from getting into your eyes. Knife makers should wear goggles and a mask regardless of what they are grinding.
  3. Old Fuff

    Old Fuff Well-Known Member


    I read your post on working with pearl and have a question:

    I own an old .38 top-break Smith & Wesson that has pearl grips. One has a small chip missing on the lower/front corner. I would like to try and repair it. I considered grinding a small piece of pearl into dust (I understand the risks) mixing it with epoxe resin, and repairing the grip, but so far I have not been able to get the necessary material.

    1. Is this a practical idea? If not, what do you suggest?
    2. Would it be better to make a new grip? (I have done so before, but out of other materials.)
    3. Where can I buy the necessary pearl?

  4. tex_n_cal

    tex_n_cal Well-Known Member

    Sven, thanks for the link:D

    As I get further along, I will be in touch with them. Gorgeous stuff.:D
  5. Old Fuff

    Old Fuff Well-Known Member

    Dah ....

    So now I looked at the link too. I see there is a lot of things I don't know that I need to learn about working with pearl - and I will do so. Thanks.
  6. Alex

    Alex Well-Known Member

    The gun digest book of Pistolsmithing has an excellent chapter on making grips from mother of pearl. I would highly recommend you look this book up if you have any interest in that area.
  7. kimsonvu

    kimsonvu Well-Known Member

    Anybody know how to find Big Size mother of pearl blank is USA? I would like to import again to Vietnam too.

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