A friend of mine sent me a big box of deer bones she found in the forest near her house. Many of my friends have their ears gauged to a huge variety of sizes, so I made a few sets of tunnel plugs out of some of the larger bones.
Making bone plugs is easy, but it is time-consuming and takes a lot of trail and error. The end result is fantastic--hand-made jewelry crafted out of a natural material, and they make a really cool gift.
Step 1: Tools and Materials
Cleaned bone that is slightly wider that you want your final plugs to be
NOTE ABOUT CLEANING BONES: My favorite ways to clean bones are to bury the bones in the ground and dig them up after awhile, or to place the bones on an ant hill and let those creepy crawlies go to town.
Cleaning bones in bleach or setting them in the sun tends to make them brittle. Do not boil or heat the bones to clean them; this will make the bones absorb fats and oils, making the bones turn yellow and weirdly translucent.
Step 2: Bone Selection
If you have a variety of bones to choose from, look for a bone that is a little bit wider than you want your final plugs. The bone also needs to have an area long enough to make two plugs that is also fairly consistent in width. Plugs are half and inch deep, so you will need slightly more than one inch of bone that is the same size.
Use a pencil to mark off two half-inch sections of your bone.
Step 3: Cut and Clean the Bone
Using a jewelry saw, cut the bone straight across on your first half-inch mark. Go slow and let the saw do the work. This first cut will be difficult; you are cutting through bone and the gunky marrow inside. After you make it through, scrape out as much of the marrow as you can with a craft knife. This will make your second cut much easier.
Once you have a good amount of the bone hollowed out, make your next cut, set aside the separated piece, and scrape out more marrow. Make your last cut and marvel at your cool, rough bone tunnels.
Once you have your two plug sections cut, wash the plugs with soapy water and use a pipe cleaner to scrub out the inside of the plug.
Step 4: Shaping the Bone
Once you have cut your bone sections, it's time to start carving out the shape.
Larger bones will have a nice, big tunnel in the middle like the bone I used here, but thinner bones tend to have a smaller tunnel that is oddly shaped and off to one side. Both types make interesting plugs--the important thing is to work with the natural shape of the bone, taking advantage of the uniqueness of each piece. In the end, it is these variations that really make these plugs stand out from mass-manufactured bone plugs.
My bone pieces had lovely large tunnels and an interesting point at the top, which I wanted to preserve in the final product. I find it easiest to work on both plugs simultaneously so that they are as similar as possible in the end--I didn't do that when I was taking pictures for this instructable, but it makes things a lot easier.
Using a Dremel tool and a grinding bit, begin shaving away the outer-most layer of bone to reveal the natural color underneath. Slowly work from the outside-middle of the plug outward, creating a deep trench in a ring around the middle of the plug. Once you have a fairly deep ring around the middle, smooth out the sides so that the plug flares out from the middle to the edges seamlessly.
Use your Dremel to make nice, rounded edges on the ends of each plug. Work the tool around inside the tunnel if you have room--if not, roll up a little piece of sandpaper and rotate that around inside the tunnel of your plug to make sure everything is uniform in color.
If you are making the plugs for yourself, you can test out the sizing as you go to see if they fit your ears. If not, I've attached a printable gauge chart I found online. You can print it out and work your tunnels down to the gauge you need.
Step 5: Polish, Clean, and Enjoy
When you are pleased with the shape of your plugs, you can use smaller grit sanding and polishing bits on your Dremel to clean things up further and give your plugs a shine. I prefer to leave mine natural with some visible work marks, but it is entirely up to you. Give the plugs a wash with soap and water when you feel good about the final shape.
The bones also take well to dying with India Ink, so you can always make your new plugs jet black if you want. Just fill a bowl with the ink and let the bones soak overnight, and rinse the plugs in the morning.
Wear your plugs with pride, but be aware that your friends with gauged ears might be begging you to make them a pair too!