Deer antler is an incredible renewable resource that has a myriad of uses in the craft world. In this article, I will show you where to acquire deer antler, what can be made with it, and how to work with antler material.
Man was using antler during our earliest recorded history. It's served us well for survival and decoration. Even today you can enjoy the benefits of antler for many purposes.
Step 1: Where to Acquire Deer Antler
If you aren't a hunter, don't worry. There are plenty of ways to find deer antler. By deer antler, I'm primarily referring to the Whitetail Deer, although there are many types of deer spread across the world. Every year, around the January/February timeline, the male whitetail deer will shed his antlers. So every year they grow a new set back. Looking for antler sheds is perhaps one of the most rewarding things I enjoy doing outdoors. But I'll admit that they aren't easy to find. It helps to know a little about the habits of deer to know where to look. A few people have trained their dogs to find antler sheds and that may speed the process up. Sometimes the sheds themselves can be worth money.
If you don't want to scour the woods for deer sheds, there are many other ways to acquire antler. Here are a few I have used:
Ebay or Etsy
Craft or Antique stores
Deer processing shops
Step 2: What Can You Make - Letter Openers
You'd be surprized what you can make from deer antler. Since it is bone, it's a very tough material. The pictures above show some very useful letter openers I made. On my website, I have a detailed tutorial for making an antler letter opener.
Step 3: What Can You Make - Whistles
Whistles are so much fun to make with antler. Add a strand of paracord or leather for a lanyard. Carve an engraving on them. Go to Michaels or Hobby Lobby and you can buy other accessories to decorate your whistle. The shapes and textures of antler are what make it such an enjoyable material to work with. You can find a detailed tutorial for an antler whistle on my website. www.FourOaksCrafts.com
Step 4: What Can You Make - Bottle Openers
The bottle opener in the picture above was easy to make. You can buy the bottle opener kit from a store called Woodcraft. Just involves some drilling and glueing.
Step 5: What Can You Make - Writing Pens
This is my favorite way to use deer antler for crafts. However, it does require a wood lathe and some knowledge of turning. It also helps if you have a drill press. The pen kits can be purchased from a company called Penn State Industries. From the pictures above you can see there are many variations of pens you can make. On my website, I show you how to make some basic pens.
Step 6: What You Can Make - Pendants & Key Rings
In the first picture above is a pendant that can be used for a neckless or how about a boy scout neckerchief slide. This project involved the use of a Dremel rotary tool and some India ink. There is a whole artform out there around carving bone and antlers. You can make some very intricate designs from antler. Just go out to Pinterest and search for "Antler Craft" boards to get ideas.
The antler tips can also be used for necklaces, key rings, ceiling fan pull chains. Some people like to use them for decoration. I used one to decorate a hiking stick (picture 2 & 3). Other people like to take these antler tips and shape them into bear claws or an alligator tooth.
Step 7: Brainstorm Other Things You Can Make
The list goes on, but here are many more antler craft ideas you might want to consider:
Salt & Pepper shakers
Carvings & sculptures
Wine bottle stoppers
Handles for hiking sticks
Again, I encourage you to go out to Pinterest and look at the many "Antler Craft" boards.
Step 8: Tools You Will Need
Tool requirements will vary depending on the project. At a minimum you need a hacksaw, hand drill, epoxy, a file, and sandpaper.
If you need to do a lot of shaping and/or detailed carving work, I'd recommend getting a Dremel or some kind of rotary carving tool.
If you have a small belt sander, that is a big help also. I have a small belt sander I purchased from Harbor Freight for $50.
For things like writing pens, it definitely helps to have a wood lathe and drill press.
Make sure you get some training or experience before using your power tools, and be sure to read the manuals that come with your power tools to understand safety procedures and their proper use. Also, wear safety glasses and make sure the antler is secure while you work on it.
Step 9: Protect Your Lungs From Antler Dust
One of the byproducts of working with deer antler is the fine dust produced from sanding, cutting, or shaping. If inhaled, this dust can cause problems with your lungs. So make sure you have a good dust mask, or even better -- a respirator. I recommend getting outside when doing this work or in a well ventilated area. I also have a dust collection system. Wet sanding can also help keep down the dust.
Some complain about the unpleasant smell when cutting or shaping deer antler, but the odor has never really been strong enough to bother me. You will probably notice the odor more when drilling.
Step 10: Tips for Working With Deer Antler
Working with antler is not that hard once you get used to it. Here are a few tips to remember:
Tip 1 - The closer you get to the base of the antler (where it was attached to the deer) the more porous the antler. As you move toward the tips (tines), it gets more dense and less porous. Likewise, when you look at a cross section of antler, the center tends to be more porous while the outer part is more dense.
Tip 2 - Make sure you secure the piece in a vise before you cut or drill. The drilling part is where you will notice the most odor. When drilling down the center of a piece of antler, I prefer to use wide and fairly straight sections of antler. And it all depends on how deep the hole. Go gentle when drilling. Antler is tough, but it can crack or fracture if you stress it too much when drilling.
Tip 3 - Use epoxy or CA glue for glueing in components (examples - pens and bottle cap opener). CA glue (thin & medium) can be used to fill in porous antler. You can find CA glue at Hobby Lobby.
Tip 4 - Use 120 grit, 220 grit, 400 grit, and 600 grit sandpaper for areas that need to be smooth. You can dry sand or wet sand. One of the things I love about sanding antler is how well it polishes to a shine. I don't even have to put any kind of finish on my antler crafts. However, when working with very porous pieces you might want to use CA glue or polyurethane to seal the antler. The CA glue can also be sanded and polished after its set up in the antler.
Tip 5 - Using a small belt sander (like the one shown earlier) works well. It allows you to use both hands to hold the piece while you shape it.
Tip 6 - I recommend not sanding all of the antler. The texture and shapes of the antler give your craft a certain character or quality. I like that people can still recognize the antler.
Tip 7 - I already mentioned wearing a respirator, but don't forget to wear safety glasses while working with antler.
Tip 8 - When turning antler on the lathe make sure you keep your turning tools sharp. On the lathe, antler turns very much like wood. It will dull your tools quicker though.
Tip 9 - When carving antler, I highly recommend using less porous pieces. Use a Dremel or other rotary carving tool with the appropriate bits. Wear your respirator because you're going to create a lot of dust. But you'll be surprised at the intricate designs you can create with antler.
Step 11: Conclusion
Let's thank Mother Nature once again for providing this great resource we call antler. It's unique and it brings a primitive look to your crafts. In the picture above, you can see where two young male deer are growing new antlers.
If you'd like to discover more ideas for deer antler, I would encourage you to search on Antler Craft boards on Pinterest. You can also visit my website (www.FourOaksCrafts.com) to find tutorials on antler crafts.
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