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Gourd Cleaning

Green Bullet  Cleaning Exterior      

Cleaning the exterior and interior of gourds can be, and usually is, a tedious task. The hard, outer shell is covered by a very thin skin that must be removed.

You can scrape off the skin right after the gourd is harvested. This is called green cleaning. I use a leather-working knife which is about the size of a paring knife and has a very rigid, short blade and a wooden handle. Having the blade semi-sharp works best for me. I work with the green gourd on a couple of wooden slats on the rim of a large plastic garbage can filled with water and a little dish washing soap. The water allows me to soak the gourd for a while and to rinse it while I'm scraping. It doesn't take long to get the feel of the blade as you slice away the green or white skin. After the gourd is green cleaned, it must be put aside to dry. I hang gourds in the rafters of my work shop for the winter. Green cleaning seems to shorten the drying time significantly.

Partially Cleaned Gourd
 

Green Bullet  Dry Cleaning

Another method is to scrape away the outer skin in the spring after the gourds have dried. To do this, it helps to soak the gourds for an hour or two. I use the same knife and the same garbage can full of water. A brass scouring pad is a useful addition to the process. Remember to keep it wet - it is an effective tool.

Scraped gourd
 
Green Bullet  M is for Mold

Mold is good! Whether they have been green cleaned or not cleaned, all gourds will mold while drying. The mold leaves some beautiful designs on the gourd's hard shell which results in an interesting mottled appearance. When it is time to create a work of art from your gourd, the mold can be easily removed with that dandy brass scouring pad and water.

If you want a dried gourd with no mottled appearance and a uniform palomino color, green clean it and then, while it is drying, spray it occasionally with a diluted bleach solution to prevent the mold from growing.

 

Moldy gourd
 

Green Bullet  Cleaning Interior

The first and most important thing to remember is that gourd dust, includung mold dust, is BAD! VERY BAD!

I recommend that anyone who intends to cut open a dried gourd and start cleaning it out wear a dust mask. Buy a good mask that will fit your face - not one of those 98 cent ones that are displayed near the paint. If you breathe much of the gourd dust you will be coughing, wheezing and clearing your throat for days. No telling what continual breathing of that stuff would do to your respiratory system.

It's a great help to have the gourd you are working on resting on a pillow. This allows you to hold the gourd securely at any angle. I use an old pillow from some long forgotten couch.

Cutting a gourd open can be done using several types of saws. A coping saw or hack saw works well for small gourds. I have a band saw with about a 7" throat on it, which will lop off the top of small to medium sized gourds very neatly. This is a bit dangerous since you are moving the gourd across the blade very quickly and holding the gourd in an unstable position. For large gourds I use a mini electric jig saw. This little saw has a very thin blade and easily cuts straight or curved lines that are penciled on the gourd. This is the perfect saw if the top you're cutting off is going to serve as the lid on your finished work of art. To get the saw blade through the shell of the gourd before starting the cut, I drill a 1/16th" hole very close to the pencil line. This allows me to force the saw blade into the gourd before pressing the ON button. A little plastic wood hides any evidence of the tiny hole I drilled.

Dust Mask
 

Green Bullet  What's in There

Gourds are full of pithy fiber and seeds like a pumpkin. I use various types of homemade scrapers to remove the bulk of this dry material. One of my most useful tools is a small wire buffing wheel attached to a drill bit extender with a wooden handle. I use this to remove, by hand, the remaining fiber that clings to the inside after scraping. I have found that using a wire wheel on an electric drill inside of a gourd can be dangerous. That wire wheel, spinning at high speed, can grab that gourd right out of your hands.

A gourd pot with a small neck, i.e. one to two inches, presents a different cleaning problem. You need a narrow scraper to get down in there. How about a table knife bent ninety degrees at the end and sharpened with a grinder? That works for me. To remove as much of the remaining pith as possible down in there where you can barely see, I use the time honored "agate swirl" technique. First I dump a handful of sharp edged agate chips into the gourd. Then I grasp it by the neck and swirl the chips around at high speed for several minutes. After that, I dump the chips and fiber out into a flat pan and blow away the fiber with an air hose. I dump the chips back into the gourd and repeat the procedure until the inside is as clean as I want it. If you don't have a mountain of agate nearby as we do, try using a handful of roofing nails. These take a little longer, but they work.

Gourd cut in half
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