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Working with exotic horn

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Hey guys,


I recently got my hands on some exotic horn for knife making. I got it from a mount that my buddies grandpa had shot a good fifty years ago. The creature was a Waterbuck. The head was too decayed to hang in the shop so I decided to keep it for knife handles. I thought I'd share some tips I found for working with it.


The interesting part was trying to flatten the peices of horn I had cut (there are two sections: the porous inside and the hollow outside). By flatten I mean the outside hollow part. I tried boiling it in water over a woodstove and even tried in a bean can full of water over my coal forge. These attempts were useless as it didn't get quite hot enough. I finally placed the horn in a can of hydraulic oil and heated it to about 400°f and left it for an hour. Carefully removing the horn I clamped it in-between two aluminum plates to cool and straighten. Needless to say it worked like a charm.


I ground the back flat on my 2x72. You can imagine the stench it made! The smell was so bad it almost wasn't worth finishing the handle. I pushed through and glued it up then used a router with a half round bit to shape the contour. When you use a router be careful because the horn gets removed fast. It hand sands well. I did mine up to 320. After that I'd suggest buffing it to reveal the grain or colors.


I've also used the porous inside portion of the horn for handles. I didn't stabilize it before I put it on the handle. It was an upper part of a hidden tang knife. I think it provides nice texture to the handle. It can be "stabilized" with 2 part epoxy in a vacuum chamber. Cactus juice just flows right out when it gets baked. For clarification the top pic is the porous core. It is right underneath the guard.


This is my experience with the horn. It looks really cool. 10/10 recommend working it. Not sure on the availability as far as purchasing. 




Ps. I apologize for the blurry photos. They were taken with haste. :blink:





Edited by Emery White
Blurry pic
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Looks super cool and gnarly. It sounds like you can still buy waterbuck or gemsbok horn. I have a gemshorn made of some kind of similar creature (in Hebrew they call it a shofar), and it is smelly! The oil boiling trick is a clever one, I may use it someday. Not looking forward to the smell!

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Rather than hydraulic oil, use an animal fat like lard or tallow at 325-350 F.  It'll get into the horn and let it move more easily, and doesn't smell as bad when you're deep-frying the horn.  Note I say as bad. :lol:

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Thanks for the tip, Alan! Ill try that next time. The oil stank up my shop quite a bit last time:wacko:

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That's the thing about working with horn.  It will stink up the shop.  I sanded down some horn once and it took three days to get the smell out of the house.  My shop is in the basement, makes a good point for working with horn outside of the house.



HELP...I'm a twenty year old trapped in the body of an old man!!!

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Isn't horn basically the same thing as hair, keratin? 
If so, I'd say folks working with horn ought to think about how bad burning hair smells before letting it get too hot.


RIP Bear....be free!


as always

peace and love




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Doug- I bet that was awful. I can't imagine having your house smell like that.

Billy- yes. Horn is keratin. I would imagine wet Sanding ir running a belt grinder wet would cut down on the stench

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Many years ago I was heavily into archery. Enough so that I made my own arrows. After gluing feathers on the shaft, I had to burn the feathers to shape. I always did it outside. BTW - I had a small growth burned off my face last December and it smelled the same as burning feathers...

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