Back to Ganoksin | FAQ | Contact

Elk Teeth

Hi all, My neighbor has asked me to mount 2 elk’s teeth such that
they can be hung on leather cords; they will be worn by his 10-year
old grandchildren. In the spirit of being a good neighbor, I said
yes. Now I’m finding that the shape and taper of an elk’s tooth is
such that it is nearly impossible to make a decent looking bezel.
So, my thought was to drill a hole and line it with a tube rivet.
This could then be used to hold a bale for the cord. Does anyone has
experience with drilling elk/animal teeth? They appear very hard,
and since I only have one shot at this, I thought I’d ask for

Ron Pascho

Hello Ron: Elk Ivory is very drillable. You can work it with a file.
I made a ring once.

Hope this helps
Mike Mathews

Just a hint, drilling cutting, and grinding on teeth usually smells
really really bad! From personal experience. A little ol’ Amish
lady brought in some teeth from her very recently deceased
husband(recent as in they had just come from his funeral I think,
because of how the group of Amish were dressed. I bought them for
the gold, and when I smacked them with a hammer on a steel block to
get the teeth busted out, the smell was absolutely horrendous. I
have a pretty strong stomach, but it was bad enough that I
nearly vomited. Ed in Kokomo.

Ron, I have worked with elks teeth many times they are not really
that hard and can be drilled with a regular steel bit if you drill
trough them sideways though they will not lay right. The root of the
tooth is actually hollow.

The best way to mount them is with a cap. Use silver bezel and bend
it to the form of the tooth then solder it to a sheet and cut it out
solder a bale and glue the tooth into it. Don’t buff the brown off as
it is considered a patina. The eye teeth are ivory and I believe it
is only the bull elk.

J Morley

Ron, regarding mounting elk teeth… I’m back home in WY for
vacation and you see a lot of elk’s teeth here made into rings and
other jewelry. Before mounting, the root part is cut off so that you
have a slightly irregular cab with a flat back. A friend of mine here
makes elk tooth jewelry. His website is below for you to check out.

Donna in VA (well, in WY at the moment)

Ok, I wasn’t going to ask but I’m too curious, why would you want to
wear elk teeth around your neck on a cord (or any teeth/animal parts
for that matter)?

Your best bet will probably be a good hard drill (diamond, etc) and
start very small, and move up to the size you need so as not to
crack/shatter the material. Also you might want to drip some water
to keep it cool & lubricate.


Ron, I have made several pieces of jewelry with elk teeth and found
it no different than any other cabachon. I normally cut the root of
the tooth off and use only the upper portion of the tooth. Look for
an area than doesnt not have much taper, this would be near the crown
of the tooth. You can cut it with a jewelers saw and sand it with
sand paper. If you still think you would like to drill it I would
start with a small pilot hole and then enlarge it to the size you
would like. The tooth is actually Ivory and works the same. You can
polish it using Zam. Zam can be found at any lapidary shop or from
Rio Grande.


Hi Ron, I had a custom job a few years back with elk teeth. I used a
small diamond core drill to make a hole needed and kept it very wet
while drilling to lubricate, keep cool and keep the dust down. You
might want to add a nose plug, it was definitely smelly drilling.

T Lee

Ron, they saw and drill quite easily, and you can also polish them
with regular jewelry buffs. Saw off the root of the tooth and build
your bezel to fit over the flat top.


Does anyone has experience with drilling elk/animal teeth? They
appear very hard, and since I only have one shot at this, I thought
I'd ask for advice. 

Treat tooth and bone like a hard, somewhat brittle wood. Don’t
force it, or it will split down the grain lines. Just use a sharp
twist drill, and light pressure with moderate rpm’s.

Ron Charlotte – Gainesville, FL
@Ron_Charlotte1 OR

Ron Don’t drill. This is a long tradition with hunters (the eye
teeth of elk). It’s not something I’m personally acquainted with
(hunting, that is), but a customer asked me to do the same. You
can do a search, Google perhaps, and find a site that explains the
specifics. I did that and found a lot of info. Unfortunately,
It’s been a few years and I’ve forgotten the exact terminology, but
perhaps someone else on Orchid is familiar. But again there’s a
tradition that your neighbor would probably like followed even if he
doesn’t know about it.

Hope this is helpful
Kevin Kelly

    Ok, I wasn't going to ask but I'm too curious, why would you
want to wear elk teeth around your neck on a cord (or any
teeth/animal parts for that matter)? 

For some people its a spiritual thing. Assuming you hunted the elk
yourself, that is.

Not that stuff set in fancy silver rings, though. Don’t know why
anybody would want to wear that, but then most jewelry that other
people seem to like leaves me cold.


Ron, I’m assuming the elks tooth you have is one of the two
"whistlers", that is the two which have something of a brown pattern
on the end. Elks teeth are usually set after the root section has
been cut off making a sort of cabochon. Making a bezel for it then
is no problem. You can cut the tooth with a jeweler’s saw. If you
still wish to use a tube however, I would suggest you begin with a
fairly small pilot hole enlarging it with a couple of larger drills
until you reach the desired diameter.

Jerry in Kodiak

Sounds like it’s time for you to see your dentist.

I asked my dentist for used dental tools for years. And he gave me
lots of them. What he gave me were almost always the hand-held
picks,scrapers, etc but one day he asked if I wanted some of the
bits and burrs that he uses in his high-speed drill. “Sure,” I
said. So he gave me dozens and dozens of them. It turns out they
would otherwise be discarded after very few uses, sometimes after
one use only! They are a wonder!

I have only begun to find the potential in these little darlings,
barely scratched the surface (pun intended). But I have already used
them to carve bone, copper, silver, brass and a few other things I
have forgotten about. I didn’t get a how-to-do-it course with these
gifts, so I have been flying blind and feeling my way - but these
are better than any of the purpose-made “jewelers’” tools I have
ever used in my flex-shaft machine. Way way WAY better! In
general they cut faster and smoother and are very much less likely
to catch in the material and run wild. I have some old scars where
flexshaft tools have gotten a bit too much traction and run off the
road to hit the nearest object, usually one of my fingers.

Maybe tool designers pay lots more attention to dental tools than to
craftspersons’ tools because, let’s face it, a dentist whose tools
go wild inside a patient’s mouth is in much deeper doo-doo than a
jeweller who has scratched a customer’s wedding band. A question of
priorities, yes?

I don’t know much about the dental burrs yet, not even their proper
names. Some are carbide cutters and some are diamond-encrusted.
They come in various shapes; balls, end-cutters, conical,
cylindrical etc. They tend to be quite small and their shafts are
likewise small and some adaptations to your chucks or collets might
be needed. I have heard from a dental equipment salesman that some
are designed to cut best at very high speeds - up to 400,000 rpm -
yes, count those zeros - and others are designed to cut in the
20,000 to 30,000 rpm range. I can’t tell one from the other yet but
I believe a very small amount of education would help me - probably
by looking at the shaft of the tool an informed person can tell
which speed handpiece it was intended to work in.

No matter how hard the elk’s teeth, I’m sure one of these tools
would do the trick for you. There are long, slender tapered bits
used to drill down for root canal work that could probably go
through an elk tooth easily.

Your biggest worry might be heat - but you could probably do the
work while holding the tooth underwater in a small bowl since you
probably don’t have one of those fancy water spray gizmos that are
built into dental drills. That’d keep down the dust too. I keep
hearing that dust from bones, shells, and, teeth is particularly

I’ve been meaning to write a post about these tools for a while,
ever since I first tried them. I felt like I’d be giving away a big
secret, but I’m sure many others out there have tried them. I’d
love to hear of your experiences and comments about them.

Also - someone once told me that elks’ teeth had some particularly
powerful folkloric attributes - but I have forgotten exactly what
the supposed qualities are, also from which ethnic tradition the
belief stems. Any enlightenment would be appreciated. The person
who told me about this - 25 years ago at least - wore an elk’s tooth
hanging from a string around his neck. That tooth had a hole
drilled in it for the string to pass through

Marty in Victoria where July feels like October this week.

The custom with elk teeth from the hunters here in Colorado that I
have come in contact with want the top of the tooth cut off off, and
then it is like a cab. These were then set in a ring that had elk
heads on both sides, and the antlers held the tooth in.

Well, you could always wrap the base in a beveled piece of silver
(or whatever metal you choose) and solder a bail on the end. I
can’t believe there’s a tradition of wearing teeth… :slight_smile:


Elk teeth aren’t too hard. The only teeth that I know of that are a
problem to drill are shark’s teeth! I actually set some elk’s teeth
with a tube rivit through them a few years ago, if I remember
correctly. It’s a nice simple solution, and looks elegant. There is a
section in Dr. Erhard Brepohl’s book “The Theory & Practice of
Goldsmithing”, Pages 448-450, on the traditional European style of
setting red deer teeth, which are much like elk’s teeth. He shows how
they are often sawn so that the brown spot is on top, to make a nice
cabochon. If you have any trouble drilling, try starting off with a
round bur, to make a small indentation (no pun intended!) in the
harder outside enamel of the tooth, and then switch to a twist drill.
I think you’ll do just fine on this project. You can even solder a
jump ring through the tube if you want to chang the orientation of
the tooth as it will hang on the cord or chain. Just be careful not
to get the tooth hot. Good luck!

– M’lou Brubaker, Jeweler
Goodland, MN

I live in Wyoming and I do quite a few elk teeth, claws and horn.
Yeah, beats me why people want to wear dead animal parts on their
person, but people have been doing that for millenia, as well as
fossilized dead critters (shark teeth, ammonite, ammolite,
crinoids). If they want most of the tooth, it’s usually cut off just
below the shoulder, removing most of the root. I use a 2/0 blade in
my jeweler’s saw. If it’s to be bezel set in a piece of jewelry,
then just the “cap” is used, which is the upper 1/2 to 1/3 of the
tooth. Using a bit of dop wax and a dowel rod with the tooth stuck
on the end will help you to hold onto it. Let’s presume you’re doing
most of the tooth for mounting.

Cut off the root part, remove the debris (if there’s tissue on it)
and save it for carving or using in lapidary inlay work. Since
you’re using more than just the cap, you will have a hollow space in
the middle of the main part of the tooth, with the dead tissue from
the dental pulp inside. You have to get rid of this, or the tooth
will wind up stinking. Easiest way is to give it a session in the
ultrasonic, but if you don’t have that, then repeated boilings in
water and pull it out with a needle. Once the tooth is clean, fit it
for a bezel with the fit being at the widest part of the shoulder.
If you don’t have bezel wire high enough to accomplish that, then
make or buy housing strip, which is wider than bezel wire, and 26
gauge makes it sturdy. Attach the plate to the bottom of the bezel.
Add a bail to the plate to hang on a chain or cord.

Smooth any imperfections in the tooth with an extra-fine Cratex or
pumice wheel. Stay away from the eye end. You still have it mounted
on the stick with dop wax. Wear a mask so you don’t inhale the ivory
dust–not good for you. A little water will keep the dust under
control. Rough up the inside of the bezel and the part of the tooth
that will be inside the bezel. Mount the tooth in the bezel with
glue. I like Epoxy 330, as it’s not water soluable and gives a
secure mounting. For added security, you can drill straight through
both the bezel mounting and the tooth with just a regular drill at
slow speed, and then insert a piece of wire to rivet it. Cut off the
wire with just a little extended out from the hole, rivet it, file
it flush to the bezel. Now polish the metal as you normally would.
Polish the tooth with a bit of Zam on a loose muslin wheel to make
it shine. You don’t want to polish the tooth before you do your
mounting, because it will get slicker than snot on a doorknob and
you won’t be able to hang onto the little sucker.

If you should happen to remove a bit too much of the brown patina, a
dip in strong tea or coffee for 30 minutes will bring it back.
Aren’t you glad you used the Epoxy 330 now?

Hello Ron, I’ve been out of pocket for quite a while and am catching
up on all the Orchid postings.

I mounted a whole elk tooth as a watch fob. My customer did not
want the root cut off, so I made a sort of cone in 18K that closely
fit and concealed the root. The cone was textured to resemble tree
bark, and gold wire and leaves were soldered to the bark in
vine-like fashion. The ivory of the tooth was exposed at the end of
the cone. As the tooth root is hollow, I drilled into it from the
root tip (phew), filled the cavity with epoxy, and screwed in a
bail with a spiraled end - rather like an eye bolt. When the epoxy
set up, the spiral was secured inside the root, with the bail above
the small end of the cone.

I think cutting off the root would have made the project MUCH
simpler - just like setting a cab then. Let us know how you
complete your elk tooth project. Judy in Kansas

Hello Marty, You are exactly correct regarding the use of dental
burrs. In another life I was a dental assistant. The burrs are
used only a few times and at the first indication of dullness, are
discarded. I’ve gotten several burrs from my dentist, and they are
useful. No real secret here. If one is lucky enough to get an old
slow-speed dental drill (the ones with pullys and articulated
"arms") they are really nice for jewelry work. I’ve not been so
lucky, but I keep my eye out. I recall in the past, someone shared a
website with used dental equipment. Most all of the tools transfer
to crafting jewelry.

Judy in Kansas