Sculpting Emu Eggs: The Color is in the Shell


Sculpted emu eggs

As the emu fad was passing in 1994, Chuck DeCourley and his wife, Sue, bought a pair of emus. He was looking for a marketable use for the eggs, perhaps something artistic, but simply painting the shells seemed too obvious. Then DeCourley learned of a unique feature of emu eggs — the shells are made of three distinct layers, each of a different color.

There are three primary layers in the shell of an emu egg. The outside is dark green. The middle layer is teal, and the inside layer is nearly white. Occasionally there is a fourth layer, which is thin and rather gray, between the outside layer and the teal layer. Carving the eggshells seemed to use the colors of each layer to the best advantage.

So in 1997, after doing some research, DeCourley purchased an engraving system. He taped a snowflake pattern onto an eggshell and started carving. That was a crude experiment, but it was the beginning of a hobby that has held DeCourley’s interest for more than a decade. In January 1998, DeCourley’s father, who was in a nursing home, suggested DeCourley try carving playing cards into an egg. That was supposed to be a practice project, too, but DeCourley was able to give the finished carving to his father for his 68th birthday. His father, being nearly blind at the time, was able to feel the precision carving of the egg and was pleased with the gift.

Getting Ready to Sculpt

To clean the eggs, DeCourley drills a three-eighths-inch hole into the large end of the egg with a diamond bit. Regular drill bits can cause hairline cracks that can’t be easily seen. These cracks would ruin the egg during the carving process. Eggs should be cleaned out when fresh or, at the very least, within three to four months of being laid. Some people use a sander to create a hole in the egg, but the holes generally get large.

Egg contents can be shaken out, or you can use an “egg-sucking bucket:” a vacuum device to remove the contents of eggs. After this, use a 25-percent bleach solution to remove the lining of the egg. Be sure to use rubber gloves when working with bleach, and avoid the fumes by working in a properly ventilated area. The solution only needs to be left in the egg for a few minutes, but then needs to be rinsed out thoroughly. The outside (dark-green) layer won’t fade if exposed to the bleach solution for a short amount of time, but if left for several hours will cause discoloration.

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