How do you cure bone? As in deer antler? Bull horn? I am a sculptor and i am interested in a new medium… bull horn or deer antler. i was told by a friend that if i soak it in water with bleach, it would make the bone soft so that i can carve it, and then just dry it out and it would get hard again. i am obviously concerned as to the permanency of the process, because i want these carvings to last a long time.

Possible concerns:

  • is the bleach a good idea or a bad idea?
  • is this going to work?
  • is just putting it in the sun going to dry it out?
  • can i put it in the stove with the light on?
  • would it be better to leave the stove on really low overnight?

I am not sure if my source for information is someone that can be trusted, therefore i am not sure if this would work. thanks in advance for any help that you may give me, or resources that i may be able to use.

We had a sculptor in our area who carved very intricate wildlife relief scenes in deer and elk antlers. He didn’t treat the antler in any special way. He used dremel and dentists drills. For finish work he used pre- dulled bits so they wouldn’t bite into the work so readily.

This advice is sound. I am a carver, have experimented with antler. Best tools are dremel type grinder with different grinding burrs. Small files can also be helpful. I would not soak the antler in anything before carving, it is likely to result in a mess. Haven’t tried bleach on antler but would be concern it could even cause damage.

Antler carves easily with power tools but you will want to WORK OUTSIDE or use a very good dust collector. Also WEAR A MASK, the dust kicked up in power carving antler is not good for your lungs. Practice on ends/broken antlers till you get the feel for it. Some antler is more porous inside than ather and does not take carving as well. If you get a piece like this, shallow carving in the surface can still
work.

I don’t know of anyone carving bull horn. I’m not sure it is suitable for carving beyond etching in the surface. Sheep horn is a good media (like bighorn sheep) but not sure how easy these are to come across. I’ve seen some beautiful work done in antler, it is worth trying if you have access to the material. You might want to try Tagua nut (vegetable ivory)as well. It is hard but can be carved with a knife. I have tried soaking it (some recommend this) but do not like it, I had better luck with it dry.

I think there’s a difference in the content of antlers and horns. Antlers are bone, horns are keratin. Keratin is the same stuff that makes hair and fingernails. Not sure it makes much of a difference. I thought I had heard some types of head ornaments on animals were the same material as hair. Had to look it up to verify it. Bulls horns are made of keratin, Deer antlers are made of bone, as examples. Probably makes a big difference in the way they carve.

I’m not sure how you “cure” deer antler…or why you’d want to. I’ve done quite a bit of taxidermy work in the past, and deer antler never gets treated for the mounts. It’s stable. you find them years old in the wilds. Rodents do chew on them for calcium, but they last for years otherwise. Cow horn,on the other hand is bone inside a sheath. When it dries, the sheath or outer shell can be slipped off the bone underneath. But again I don’t think it needs any type of treatment.