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Horn Handle Replacement (pic heavy)

Jaron Martindale

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Hello All! :)


I was asked by a coworker if I could replace the horn handle on a family heirloom type machete (I can't remember if it's father's or grandfather's...).  Obviously I was skeptical at first, thinking a custom machete may be more worth it than just new scales, but if it has sentimental value who am I to deny the restoration of something precious.

After the machete was brought in I was much more impressed!  It is a large "whale-shape" machete  that looks to be just under 3/16" thick with an obvious hardening line and aluminum pommel (I'll grab photos later today), and a Leather sheath made from what I guess to be 8/9oz saddle leather that is beautifully decorated and has "Guam" stamped on it a few different places.  Unfortunately the Weevils, or some such burrowing pest, had burrowed and "weeviled" their way through the beautiful horn handle leaving sharp-edged gouges that made the handle unusable.

the old scales.jpg

(photo of after I had drilled out the aluminum corby-style bolts.  This is the nicer side by the way AFTER the customer had attempted to fill the voids with sawdust and glue...)


The customer believed the handle to possibly be water-buffalo horn, and hoped for a similar replacement but was understanding that it may not be possible due to the larger shape and size of the handle.

With some Help from the incredible @Alan Longmire I was able to source some whole horns from Hide and Fur, and began the process of flattening them.  Alan was incredibly helpful and patient with my questions, and a big shout-out to Hide and Fur for fast processing and shipping!:D


First I cut the horn in half, and at the suggestion of Alan I melted some Lard (4lbs) and soaked the halves around 300 deg Fahrenheit for 10-15 minutes until pliable.  I used a propane camping stove and a candy thermometer to monitor the temp.  Then I clamped them between two pieces of wood and let sit for 24+ hrs prior to un-clamping.

to be flattened.jpg melting lard.jpg the flattening jig.jpg

It took a few rounds of flattening because I was flattening from half-round (and I'm new at this), and I even tried flattening using a dry heat in a toaster oven after watching several videos of people doing it that way thinking it may be cleaner and less set-up.... After attempting both methods, I much prefer the Lard method.  The dry heat was just about as stinky, but the horn was MUCH more pliable with the liquid lard.  I mean, the horn didn't fit in the pot I was using at first but after a few minutes it began to soften like wet noodles and eventually slipped below the surface of the liquid lard.  I am seeing a few small voids/separations in the horn as I grind into it and I suspect it was a consequence of the dry heating and flattening...:wacko:  I'll be filling those with epoxy after speaking with the customer.

I asked the question about doing this inside the house, so I will pass along Alan's eloquent warning, "Do not under any circumstances do it in the house!  The smell is best described as hot wet barnyard funk, and depending on where the horn came from and how old it is, it can range from subtle yet persistent to full-on two-week-dead-feedlot.  You've been warned!;)".  He was right, and I'm glad I found a spot outside with good ventilation and an old pot my wife hated (its non-stick and the plastic is peeling off.  We didn't know it was nonstick when we got it...)


After getting the Horn Scales flat it became apparent that the thickness of Buffalo horn available to me was nothing compared to the beasts of yester-year in Guam, so we worked out a nice laminate style to include some black micarta and green G10.  I glued everything together using a generous amount of Devcon 2 ton 2-part epoxy with a few drops of black ink, and I gently clamped everything together for a day before separating it from the plywood.

flattened horn.jpg scale layering2.jpg

gluing scales.jpg scales glued.jpg scale end cuts.jpg

(The customer is retired military, and we work at the same Sheriff's Office, so the Black/Green combo was a no brainer :) )


I then took to work removing the old handle scales, hoping to keep them intact, either for a restoration down the road or for personal use later.  I was able to drill out the aluminum corby-style bolts and removed them with some gentle prying.  It appeared no glues had been used to secure the original handles, only mechanical means via the corby-bolts, making the removal much easier.  It looks to me that this may not be the first time a replacement has been done; there were 2 "extra holes" in the tang...I also located what looks like a maker's mark, "JFL".

I gave the tang a quick once over with a gentle wire wheel, countersunk and filled the holes we would be using w/ peined over brass, and then drilled my holes for the stainless steel corby-bolts.

raw tang.jpg makers mark.jpg tang w brass inserts.jpg




The handle scales were then cut and roughly shaped, and then attached with more Devcon 2 ton epoxy which is now drying before final shaping and finishing!

scale dry fit.jpg scale glue-up.jpg

(notice the handle scale has ONE pin off timing each....thank goodness I'm grinding those off....)


I will post photos after they are finished so you guys can see the beautiful behemoth that this "machete" is. :D

Thank you for wading through my rambling.:P

Edited by Jaron Martindale
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28 minutes ago, HSJackson said:

I read somewhere about using synthetic motor oil instead of lard to keep the smell down.  Never tried it tho. 

I'm not sure how that may work..but it may work, lol!  As someone who previously went the route of used motor oil for quenching blades(it was dark times folks...) I can't imagine it would be pleasant, but barnyard smell doesn't bother me too much since I grew up on a small farm. :)  So I suppose it would be a pick your poison type of situation.


17 minutes ago, Alan Longmire said:

I was wondering how this was going, thanks for the update!  B)  Pretty slick to laminate it to the OG Micarta.  

Thank You!  I had wanted to wait to post until it was all finished, but I thought I should at least start the thread while I had some progress otherwise I may never start it, lol!

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 2/13/2023 at 12:12 PM, Jaron Martindale said:

(I'll grab photos later today)

True to form my "tomorrow" turned into 10 days later....


But I finished It! Here are some pictures showcasing the shape/size and a few of the layered Handle I put on it :)


machete1.jpg machete2.jpg machete3.jpg

(this is the owner's main Blackberry Slayer....)


machete handle3.jpg machete handle2.jpg machete handle4.jpg


Thanks for following along!  And Thank you to everyone who helped me with the Project!

The ones where I get to learn are always my favorites!

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Wow, that thing is a beast! I see now why you thought the 1911 grip slabs would be too small.


On 2/13/2023 at 3:12 PM, Jaron Martindale said:

Unfortunately the Weevils, or some such burrowing pest, had burrowed and "weeviled" their way through the beautiful horn handle leaving sharp-edged gouges that made the handle unusable.


Forgot to mention those...  that's the handiwork of dermestid beetles, also known as carpet beetles or corpse beetles.  They are tiny, about the size of half a grain of rice.  The adults eat anything keratin related, like hair, fur, wool, rawhide, and horn.  The larvae eat almost anything organic, as long as it's dry.  In grad school we kept a closet full of them to clean bone specimens.  Cook off the meat, peel off as much of anything not bone as we could without leaving cut marks, then let dry.  Put it in the bug closet and wait a few weeks, and out comes perfectly clean bone free of any residue.  Taxidermists use them as well.  


Needless to say, you don't want them anywhere near your house if you have wool rugs, horn handled knives, or things like that.  I don't know of any safe way to repel them, the only cure is vigilance.  Watch your stuff, in other words.  I stressed the "safe" thing, because they are the reason why pre-1950s museum collection organics are dangerous to touch without gloves.  Folks used to use arsenic powder to keep the carpet beetles from eating stuff.  They knew it was poisonous, but by golly it keeps the bugs off.  After around 1960 they started using DDT, malathion, and paraquat.  I prefer arsenic, myself. Professional exterminator treatment will keep them at bay, but I don't like living in a chemical soup.


They need moisture to live, so you usually see them around sinks and toilets.  Look for little black or brown wooly caterpillar-looking things about 2 - 3mm long and .5 - 1mm wide.  Squash them on sight.  The adults are brown to black, about 1 - 1.5mm long and oval. There are several species, with lots of different patterns.  Squash those on sight as well.  

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Nice Job,Jaron…….and good for you to not refinish the blade……. And thank both you and Alan for the Water buffalo tutorial…. 

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On 2/25/2023 at 7:16 AM, Dick Sexstone said:

Nice Job,Jaron…….and good for you to not refinish the blade

Thank You very much! :)

I try hard to respect what history I can get my hands on. Things tell a Story, and there's no reason for me to erase that just to showcase a "nice" finish that will fade in a few months.

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