View Full Version : Stag antler knife handles - Anyone got tips
I have made a few knives with wooden handles and now i would like to tackle an antler handle as i think they look really good when done right. I am making a full tang blade knife and have heard that antler handles can dry out over time and shrink. Does anyone know if this is correct or if the handle can be sealed.
Anyone done a similiar handle and have any tips on how to do it. I intend to just treat it as a piece of wood and fit it in a similar manner or is this the wrong approach.
Many thanks for any advice.
First of all, try to ensure that the stag has been seasoned, just like wood (although it's not seasoned inna same way EXACTLY) & is dry
Once fitted to the knife, stag (& indeed, ivory & other horns) will often benefit from a bit of baby oil rubed into the material, once or twice a year, apart from that, the only thing to keep stable is to store in a controlled environment (yeah right :roll: )
So, treat as wood, all the way & a SMEAR of mineral (I like baby oil for some reason :wink: ) oil & away you go.
BUT, of course, the caveat is:
NATURAL MATERIALS ARE PRONE TO MOVEMENT IN VARYING CLIMATES
& there ain't a lot you can do about it :cry:
Stag varies considerably from animal to animal. Premium stag can be very expensive, especially an even coloured, dense, nicely matched pair of scales. What are you looking for? Well think of it as having two parts, an outer shell of almost white, very dense hard boney material and an inner sponge-like cortex. Depending on the health, age and general wear and tear of the animal, the thicknesses of these areas can vary. What you would like ideally, is almost all of it to be made up of that white, heavy, dense outer shell.
The inner matrix is very pourous and crumbly and doesnt make for good anything. If you have to use a piece with the inner core evident, scrape it out and fill the cavity with epoxy, or if you cant hollow it out, pour in some very thin & runny cyanoacrylate (yup, superglue). Leave it to set and then use it as normal. If you happen to expose or beak through to any of that inner matrix while shaping the outer of the handle, you can fill it with superglue.
If you are lucky, or spend a lot of money to get the good stuff, there is very little you need to do. The outer hard white stuff, is very dense and hard, it's impervious to most things, though the surface finish can surely be harmed.
For finishing, remember that the textured surface or bark is highly prized and considered very beautiful by many. If you are shaping the handle, try and leave at least *some* of that brown coloured bark, both for grip and beauty. If your stag is very white and you would prefer a more aged appearance, you can artificially colour it with - wait for it - potassium permangonate solution. Yeah, I know it's purple, but when you daub it onto wood, antler, bone or whatever, it penetrates just beneath the surface and turns a rich brown. Then just give it a rub down which will lighten it, be selective and lighten the parts where you've exposed the white of the antler, and leave those areas of outer *bark* a rich brown.
To finish, a light coat of danish oil will have a tendancy to give that exposed white boney part a more subtle ivory colour which can be very attractive. The danish oil will also fill any micro-cracks, nooks & cranny and set hard. Then just buff it with renaissance wax and you're done.
Alternatively, you could give it an all over coating with superglue, some swear by it, but I think it makes it look "plasticky".
If done well, it can look very beautiful....
as well as being fantastically durable. In a similar vien, also consider Oosic (the fossilised penis bone of a walrus), it's expensive, but makes for a very unique knife - and something of a talking point..
I thought the inner might be a bit on the soft side i had considered the epoxy option but wasnt sure if that was a viable solution, at least now i know it is. I recon my main problem is going to be finding a piece which matches my blade handle shape well without exposing this inner core.
Thanks for the info on antler i wasnt aware it could vary so much.
I asked the sakme question last year on USN,
Some knowledgeable guys replied.
A word of caution, cut and grind the antler OUTSIDE. It F**king stinks!
First thing you might want to do is make a pattern out of paper (or cardboard- that would be better) of the handle, and then see if your antler will be wide enough to cover the handle. Assuming that it is, you can proceed. You would want to then cut the material in half lengthwise. Cutting any kind of bone or antler stinks, so be prepared for that! The insides of bone or antler is also porous- the more solid the better, but don't worry too much. With 2 handle scales cut, you then want to flatten the insides. Put some sandpaper on a flat surface and rub the scales on it. Flip the scales around once ina while to make sure you are making things flat and even- you may be putting more pressure on oen side than the other when sanding, so flipping the scales around now and then helps elimiante that. With flat scales, you can then do a couple of things. First, you can trace the handle pattern onto them and cut the extra material off, and then attach them to the handle. Or, you can just atttach the scales onto the handle, and then grind/sand/file away what you don't want. Either way works really. It may be most useful though to trace the handle shape onto the scales and cut them oversized a bit, and then fasten them to the handle. Make sure that the front of the scale is finished now with 400 grit sandpaper- once the handle is on the knife, the front is very hard to fix up without scratching everything else!
Now the Arclite has several holes in the handle. You'll want some kind of pin material to help hold things as well. Go to a hobby shop and find 1/8" diameter brass rod. Any kind of metal rod or good wore will work as well. You'll also need some epoxy- 5-minute will work, but slower curing stuff gives you more time to play, and it is actually stronger. K, you have 2 options again! Either you can predrill the scales and attach them, or you can take your time and attach the scales one at a time. I'll describe the latter method. So you would coat epoxy on one scale and clamp it to the knife. Make sure the scale is exactly where you want it- I hope you finished the front of the scale!! In a few minutes, you'll have soem epoxy squirted out of the front of the scale. it is best to clean that up right away with a paper towel or whatever that has some nail polish remover or paint thinner on it- just wipe away that excess. it is easier to clean up wet eopxy than cured epoxy. Put it away to cure for a day.
The next day you are going to do 2 things. First, drill pin holes through the handle scale from the knife side out. In other words, drill through the holes in the handle and out the side of the scale. There are 5 holes to choose from on the Arclite (the 6th is a lanyard hole) so pick whatever hole and pin combo you want- 2 or 3 is nice. Use a 1/8" bit (or whatever bit matches the thickness of your pin material). If your scale material covers up the lanyard hole and you want that hole opened up, drill it out now too. If you have needle files, file it clean as well. K, now you are ready to put on the other scale. Clamp the other scale in place exactly where you want it, and drill the pin holes. You'll drill from the already attached scale through to your clamped scale. The already attached scale acts as a drill guide, ensuring things are lined up. With that doen, unclamp the scale. Cut your pins so that they are a bit longer than the thickness of your handle. Have a hammer (ball pein is best) ready and something to hammer against (small anvil, or some hard metal surface). What you will be doing is gluing on the other scale, inserting the pins, and hitting the pins with the hammer. That will expand the pins a bit, giving you a mechanical hold on the scales along with the chemical hold of the epoxy. So, coat your pins with epoxy and insert them into the scale already glued on, from the tang side of the set-up. Then with epoxy coated on the handle and the remaining scale, push it over the pins and clamp the rig together. Go to your peining set-up and hit the pins. Do not hit them like Thor hitting a bad guy! You will split your handle scales and you'll be SOL! Go light at first and watch the pins- see the metal move a bit. SO pein the pins on the one side, flip and pein the other side. With your clamps still on, put the rig away to set for another day.
With that all done, you can clean up the scales on the edges (the top and bottom, not the sides). Use a file and then sandpaper. Clip off the tops of the pins if you can, and use a dremel or soem rotary tool to grind down the very tips of the pins flush with the scales. Usually people leave the sides of antler and horn scales as is. I am not sure if it requires some kind of oil, so I hope some other member can fill in the gaps in this story.
I hope that helps! Good luck.
Just a couple of tips to add to karl's discertation:
depending upon how porous/solid the flats of the scales, it won't hurt to 'stabilize' them with thin ca (superglue).
before you epoxy the scales, put a nice coat of paste wax on those front edges. any epoxy that squeezes out will be easier to wipe off.
file a groove or two around the pins near the center, then clean them with acetone. do NOT touch them with your hand after that. this will provide a better grab for the epoxy.
peening the pins is optional. i never do it, as i use a drill bit .002 larger than the pin stock. there are tools called pin spinners that will put a rounded head on the pin (as in a lot of european stag handles), or grind them down per karl's suggestion.
for finish, light buff and wax should do it, although some rub in mineral oil.
My knife didn't turn out so good, but It works, and I'll know better next time!
Raz thanks for taking the time to post that reply, a bit of a mammoth one and much appreciated.
I think i am the right guy to be working with antler as i lost my sense of smell in an accident some years ago so the smell shouldnt bother me :-)