one-of-a-kind handmade scrimshaw jewelry &c.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

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Shaun Slifer

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Shaun Slifer


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About 8BellsScrimshandry

Sales 83
On Etsy since 2016

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8 Bells, and a Little Scrimshaw History:

In the nautical lexicon, the chiming of the ship’s bell eight times signals the end of the night’s watch.

Scrimshaw is a slow, steady and meticulous process - everything I sell is hand-engraved using only a scribe and magnifying glass. Hours go into designing and crafting each piece, making everything I sell one-of-a-kind unique. I deeply enjoy every step of this process: some days are spent only on cutting and sanding new pieces and making them shine before engraving... other days I’m doing scrimshaw on multiple pieces at once, letting the natural shapes guide how the designs evolve from my sketchbook to the finished piece. I've been doing scrimshaw work for over eight years, focusing mostly on personal work or gifts for friends. I began to focus on crafting jewelry for sale in the late spring of 2016.

With a few exceptions, all the work of 8 Bells begins in raw form. Antler, bone, and tagua nuts are cut, shaped, ground, sanded, and polished by hand before I sit down to begin the engraving.

I put most pieces through a process of “stabilizing”, which fills the pores inherent in bone, etc. This helps to give a smoother surface to each piece, and insures longevity against humidity and moisture. I use a high-quality oil-based pigment to fill in and enhance the engravings, which is both durable and colorfast. All pieces are buffed and polished with a carnauba wax, and buffed with Renaissance Wax for the final shine and protective layer.

The term “scrimshaw”, while of unclear etymology, does occur in some English texts as a term for any craft work done for one’s own, at leisure (read: when not working for others!). This usually referred to any craft or utensil made from bone, antlers, and the like, but now mainly refers to the decorative art of engraving on these materials.

My guess is that people have been carving into animal bones since around the time we started hunting. In the US, we usually encounter scrimshaw only as a product of the whaling industry: a lot of men were needed to work on a whaling vessel, but there wasn't much work for them all until they found a whale. Scrimshaw was born as a pastime. However, the practice of engraving on bone, and then rubbing ink or carbon into the drawings, has much broader, older roots. Indigenous practices in far northern societies, notably the Inuit and Sami, pre-date the European and American traditions that the term "scrimshaw" usually refers to. In New England, and the Mid-Atlantic region (where I live and work) there is a particularly rich history of scrimshaw on powder horns (used in tandem with a musket) during early colonial times. I concentrate on a blend of styles and ornamentation from a variety of folk and nautical traditions, combined with my own unique illustrations.

What I particularly love about the history of scrimshaw is that the craft developed during leisure time, when work was over… or, sometimes, when work was supposed to be happening. There is a rich history of laborers finding something more fulfilling to do while on the job, or maximizing their down time in the production of something for themselves or their loved ones... my work as 8 Bells is a part of that history.

Shop members

  • Shaun

    Owner, Scrimshander

    All the work is done by me, out of a small, 1920s brick garage-turned-studio in Pittsburgh, PA.

Shop policies

Last updated on Sep 3, 2017


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Cancellations: not accepted

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More information

Last updated on May 11, 2022

Frequently asked questions

Custom and personalized orders

At the moment, I can't take on custom orders.

Care instructions

I finish all my pieces with Renaissance Wax, which is very sturdy, museum-quality stuff used to preserve artifacts. You should never use a cleaning chemical on any of the scrimshaw work I sell! If a piece loses it's shine, simply buff it with a clean cloth (or even the edge of a t-shirt). The sterling silver and stainless steel hardware can be cleaned as you normally would those metal types, but be careful not to get any chemicals on the scrimshaw area. Feel free to contact me with any questions!