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Carving Horn


#1

Hail Orchidians!

The recent discussion on the horn mallet has encouraged me to voice
a question I’ve had on my mind for a while: have any of you tried
carving horn for use in jewelry (i.e. horn combs or brooches, a la
Lalique)?

I have some lovely steer horn that’s been sitting in the basement
for ages, waiting for me to learn what to do with it. I love the
depth, translucency, and organic warmth of the horn I’ve seen in old
jewelry pieces, but it seems that in the wake of plastics, no one is
much interested in working with it these days. I’ve read a little
bit on hornworking, but it all seems to relate to making spoons and
shoehorns via wooden molds and heating techniques.

Thanks in advance for sharing your ideas and experience,

Jessee Smith
www.silverspotstudio.com


#2

Based on my Scrimshaw training and experience: A word of caution when
grinding, polishing, carving and working with horn, antler or any
animal bones. Please use a respirator/dust mask at all times.
Breathing the dust can be toxic to your lungs or immune system. Don’t
touch your face while working with these materials. I’ve found that
Linde-A powder is a wonderful polishing agent for bone or horn as
well.

Stay well,

Margie


#3

I have the very vague thought that if soaked, it’s possible to slice
it lengthwise into layers but I have no real

marilyn smith


#4
 I have the very vague thought that if soaked, it's possible to
slice it lengthwise into layers but I have no real 

You can soak bovine horn and delaminate it, but it’s a touchy
process, and no two horns will behave quite the same.

As someone else has noted, when carving skeletal materials, do wear
breathing protection, especially for sanding or any power tool
operation. The dust from antler, horn, bone and the like is bad to
breath for a number of reasons.

Typically, think working wood, in terms of how it behaves. Sand it
out to your satisfaction (I generally stop at 400 to 600), then go
with tripoli followed by red rouge or zam (which is my preference).
When using power tools for polishing, use a very light touch,
skeletal materials will go from hot to a burnt spot with little
warning, plus they are very soft, relatively speaking, and it’s very
easy to obliterate your details.

Ron Charlotte – Gainesville, FL
@Ron_Charlotte1 OR afn03234@afn.org


#5
Based on my Scrimshaw training and experience: A word of caution
when grinding, polishing, carving and working with horn, antler or
any animal bones. Please use a respirator/dust mask at all times.
Breathing the dust can be toxic to your lungs or immune
system

As an old sceptic I wonder how long it will be before we are all
advised to wear respirators all the time, every day…

Whilst I wouldn’t question that the right respirator will give
protection from harmful particles to persons who may be susceptible
to sensitisation by them, I think we occasionally go too far. I well
remember surveying a ‘horn works’ here in Sheffield,UK back in the
’70s. This supplied all kinds of horn, ivory, bone and tortoishell to
the cutlery industry which was cut to size on the premises from the
raw material which was imported from all over the world. The cutting
shop was a long room with non-opening windows all down one side and
just a couple of ineffective window extract fans. When you walked in
the air was full of dust and it was difficult to see the far end of
the room. I commented on it to the two men who worked in there and I
was told that they were both in their 70s and had both worked there
since they were 14 and I will never forget the comment - ‘its this
dust that protects us, we’ve neither of us had a days illness in our
lives’!. How true that was, of course, I’ll never know and I don’t
suppose either are still around to ask but it just shows how times
change…

Certainly for grinding steel and for dry cutting stone you must
always use a suitable type of respirator but I have done quite a bit
of ivory and horn working and never even considered using one.

Best Wishes,
Ian
Ian W. Wright
Sheffield UK


#6

Hi Jessee, I’ve done a bit of work with horn though it’s not my
forte’. I know that horn can be carved using very sharp knives. I
emphasize Very Sharp for safety’s sake. Dull knives hang up
unexpectedly, then turn loose and can easily result in a nasty wound
or a ruined project, usually both. A great deal can be done with
files if you’re patient. Powered tools can be used as well but there
are some downsides I found the hard way. Horn is made of keratin,
same basic stuff as fingernails and similar to hair. Therefore, when
heated excessively, it raises new levels to the term “stink”. Slower
speeds will help to keep this minimized but not altogether gone.
Also, heat makes horn somewhat more plastic, that’s why it can be
molded warm. Too much heat can cause burs to clog (and stink). Horn,
grows in layers and can split unexpectedly or start delaminating
itself so caution is a keyword. I learned most of this in carving
powderhorns when I did historical re-enactments for the Fur Trade
era in North America. Horn can be a little hinky to work with but it
is a very versatile material so have fun. Trial and error is
priceless as a learning tool.

Mike


#7
Certainly for grinding steel and for dry cutting stone you must
always use a suitable type of respirator but I have done quite a
bit of ivory and horn working and never even considered using one. 

I agree that the paranoia about respiratory inhalations has become a
bit reflexive for a lot of people. However, in the case of skeletal
materials, for grinding and sanding operations, I recommend a decent
quality filter mask as a minimum. When I first took up working with
these materials, I found my self with unexpected blood in my
tissues, and far more frequent sinus infections. When I took
precautions, the symptoms went away. For ordinary knife work, I
don’t worry about it.

In addition, very often these material have been in contact with
offal and bodily fluids of the animals that they came from, and
blood is a very good culture medium, and all of these materials are
porous to some degree. Even with the bleach rinse I give the rough
when I get it, I know the limits of how much can be got to.

Ron Charlotte – Gainesville, FL
@Ron_Charlotte1 OR afn03234@afn.org