Making Hippo Tooth tone boards


Active member
Thought I'd show some of the process I go through with Hippo teeth to make tone boards. I bought a few a while back and started the process. Takes some time and effort (they're not complete yet) but I'll show how far I've gotten.
Stuck a AA battery in for size reference.


I don't get to hand pick these so I get some that won't work. They're partially hollow and sometimes to much so. My finger is in the same spot in the 2 following pics.



After cutting the hollow section off (or at least most of it) I turn them down to dimension. Then cut them to length... sounds like not much effort when I write it down like that but I have several hours in them at this point.

Here I've just turned them round and avoid rotten parts/worn etc. Try to get the best section of the tooth. They almost always have cracks and I fill them with super glue and put them in non stress area's (especially away from the ramp)


At this point they are turned to the 5/8" and cut to length. I'll try to cut the step down and o-ring grooves in a day or 2. I'll keep the post going if there's any interest.

Good deal Lockrotor, I'll keep taking pics! Got up this am and started back at it.

The next step I center drilled and then drilled my air channel (about 1/2" deep).


After that I turn my step down into the barrel end.



Then comes my o-ring grooves, I use a parting/cut off tool for that.




I may try to start the next step a little later today or tomorrow. I'll be cutting the ramps in.
Awesome to see this. Always been really impressed by your craftsmanship. Top notch for sure. I’d like to get a metal lathe sometime. And a mill but that’s way out! One of these days I’ll have to find some Hippo tooth but for now I’ll just watch in awe here!
Well I put in some serious time yesterday. I have to set up the mill and "square" the rotary table up. After set up I have a fixture that clamps/holds the tone boards. Since I don't want to shatter the hippo ivory I only take .025 off on every pass. I set the blank in taking into consideration any defect in the blank hoping to cut it out with the ramp and air channel.

I'm cutting the ramp here it's hard to tell the bit is stationary and the table is rotating.


I know it doesn't look like much work but here's about 10 hours of standing in front of the mill. 15 tone boards are 1 step closer.


The air channels will be next! (Hopefully tomorrow)
A great thread! I enjoy seeing how things such as this are made. Hearing from you with the time and materials you have invested, these are a bargain.

Buddy makes quite a few knives, all hand forged from raw materials. He got some more interesting wood for handles and scales. He has started stabilizing all of his material.
Pretty much just a vacuum pump and some bulk super glue. Interesting how much glue a small chunk of wood will absorb, adds to the weight too.
Don’t know if the hippo ivory would take much or not?

It just have to ask, machining those teeth. Does it stink to high heaven? I spun up some antler chunks for buttons on the lathe a while back, not pleasant. Reminded me of my youth working on a poultry farm, debeaking chickens, stinks like nothing else.
Thank you jsh! I've done some stabilizing in the past for wood and antler. Anything porous seems to benifit from it, like you said the stabilized material get's heavier. I'm sure the hippo ivory wouldn't take any of the resin. There are no pores for it to penetrate. When I started stabilizing the antler toneboards I could really tell an improvement on them (louder and crisper) Years ago I got a real good deal on some buffalo horn, the establishment had tried to stabilize the horn and it didn't take. There was a slight red tint that turned right off the surface.

You know when the dentist drills on a cavity and that horrible stink?... Yep that's exactly what turning it smells like! LOL it's hard to stomach sometimes!
On your table you have both X & Y on program servo? To make the tone board all the same? I bet it does stink. Great to see how it's done.
Servo... I'm the only servo on my rig! lol I'm using a Jet mini mill. Every point of it is manual. (same with my lathe all manual jet mini lathe)

I put the blank into the fixture and level it by eye... actually I set a piece of metal on it to lengthen the view (like a straight edge, side to side) but it's by eye. I have to square up the fixture to the mill so I cut a straight line, use an edge finder to then do a little math to make sure I cut the slot down the middle. I pretty much figure the depth by eye also.




Next I cut a slot (by hand) with the scroll saw and fit a reed for them, I usually do that after I've turned a barrel for one of them. I just like to get the "bulk" of this work done in advance.

I draw a line with a pencil of where I want to cut the slot, then carefully using a very sharp blade (ivory is very hard) cut the line. Sorry no action pics I've been taking pics with one hand while operating equipment with the other. I can't do that on the scroll saw! lol.


After buffing it out... BTW I put a finish on the toneboard while it's round but not on the ramp. I want the material to have it's proper sound. (Ivory sound like an ivory call, horn... etc).


I already had a barrel turned from a really nice piece of black walnut a buddy of mine on here and I cut in Beachgroove Tn. I'll post this call up for sale in the custom call section.



Ok I know you posted this a while ago but holy crap this is awesome! That is a pile of work into so e very beautiful calls. Hope one day I can get one for myself.