Drilling a hole in 1850s Buffalo Horn

A client brought in a 1850s Buffalo horn pill box (shaped like a fish) from India and asked me to add a bail to it so she can hang it from a necklace. My plan calls for drilling one hole on the top of the pill box and gluing in a brass twisted wire bail (same design as on the pill box).
My concern about drilling into the pill box is chipping, cracking or breaking the horn. I will be wearing a mask with good filter since it is organic material.
If you have a reference to point me to or advice on how to proceed it would be greatly appreciated.
Regards, R Miller

Hi Ronda,

A lot of knife makers use horn. How they fabricate their scales may help. Try googling “how to make knife scales from horn” or something like that and you may find what you’re looking for.


Drill slowly and carefully. In fact, I would recommend holding a brand new sharp drill of the size you need in your fingers and drilling that way rather than using a flex shaft. You can also put a small patch of masking paper tape on the spot you want to drill,but make sure it’s not TOO sticky. I’ve done that with large pearls.
Use some beeswax for lubrication. Mainly though, take your time and drill slowly.

Here is a oxhorn drinking vessel I made a bronze cap for!