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Thread: Bending Wood, Antler and Horn

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    Default Bending Wood, Antler and Horn

    I don't have any bending projects going right now so I don't have any photos, but I thought I would post this because I see several projects that could benefit from bending materials. The kakivak / leister / fish spear being one.

    Bending small pieces of wood: Split wood always works better than sawed wood, because sawed wood will almost always have grain runout which is where the wood will break during the bending. For green wood, split out a piece that does not have the center of the tree / limb. Carve it to rough shape and clamp to the shape you want. Green wood will not bend as far as wood that has been dried and resoaked, so only gentle curves are possible, such as the tines in the kakivak. Leave the wood in the clamp till it is completely dry. This may take weeks. Since the center is out of the wood, it is ok to apply heat source - I have hooks above my wood stove in the shop to hang things.

    Cured wood should be soaked till it is waterlogged. You can tell this if the wood barely floats. For some hardwoods this may take 2 - 4 weeks of soaking for thicker pieces. Rough carve first and then soak. When wood is waterlogged, take out, boil for an hour or so and clamp in place till dry. This only may take a few days if the piece is put near a heat source.

    Porous antler may be gently bent the same way, except that boiling may take all day. After it is clamped it may take weeks or even a month to completely dry and hold its new shape. The more dense the material, the longer the boil.

    Horn is the hardest to bend. Mountain goat horn makes a beautiful spoon, but it may take a week of constant boiling to soften it to where it is pliable enough to form. It should be left in the form for a few weeks after you think it is dry, because it may straighten out over the next weeks if not completely cured in its new form.

    These are all ancient Native methods and will all work quite well - hope it is helpful to someone. Feel free to contact if you have questions. J

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    Great post, CK. Always good to hear from you.
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    Good stuff, CK. I do a lot of deer and elk antler work and its surprising how easy it is to bend. I've been told that after you boil it, it is easier to break because boiling makes it brittle. I found a secret cure: neatsfoot oil. A day or so and it rejuvenates any lost oils from the antler due to boiling. My Leister bends like a spring and has lasted years.

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    When yall talk about bending antler, do you mean split pieces or the whole thing? For instance, could i boil a long whitetail tine and bend it to make a big hook or gaff with around a 3" throat? Thanks and great info.

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    Since crookedknife mentioned bending wood.....

    I have been wanting to play around with bending bamboo here is a video for those interested in it.

    Bending Bamboo

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    Quote Originally Posted by 72shane View Post
    When yall talk about bending antler, do you mean split pieces or the whole thing? For instance, could i boil a long whitetail tine and bend it to make a big hook or gaff with around a 3" throat? Thanks and great info.
    The bending pieces are made of the outer layer. The thickest piece I have ever seen bent was a little over a quarter inch. Something that thick can only be bent in a pretty gentle curve. The thinner material can be bent acutely if it is consistent in its hard / soft matter. I once saw a snuff box made by a Yupik Eskimo. It was made of the outer (solid) part of a moose antler. The material was only about 1/8" thick, but was bent into a round box about 3 1/4" in diameter. His process amazed me - he simply bent it a tiny bit at a time with the material completely dry. He would tie it in the new position after each increase in the bend. After several months he got it to a complete circle. I would like to try that method some time on wood just to see what happens. BTW - just to be clear, I have never tried bending whitetail but Sitka blacktail deer antler bends and it has a clear divide between the pith and hard part, so it is easier to prepare that some antler.

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    As far as bending a whole tine, I guess it's possible if you boil it long enough but, when you bend it you are going to have a lot of rippled stress marks on the inside curve which could affect it strength-wise, kind of like on the belly of a bow that is overdrawn or dryed with too much of a bend. If you do get it to bend you will have to make a jig or tie it to keep its shape while it dry's. I take large sections of elk antler and after removing the spongy marrow, I boil and flatten in a form to make things like netting needles, combs, etc. I have to leave it in the form until its completely dry or it starts to curve (read:warp) in all different directions.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mountain Ron View Post
    Good stuff, CK. I do a lot of deer and elk antler work and its surprising how easy it is to bend. I've been told that after you boil it, it is easier to break because boiling makes it brittle. I found a secret cure: neatsfoot oil. A day or so and it rejuvenates any lost oils from the antler due to boiling. My Leister bends like a spring and has lasted years.
    Ron, once again you have jogged my memory. You are absolutely correct according to Native wisdom. They, of course, use seal oil or sea lion oil to soak antler and bone tools, and man does that stuff stink! Also, kelp line and some fiber fishing line was stored in oil to keep it waterproof and pliable. --- I once fleshed out two seal lion skins for a museum kayak project. That was 2 or 3 years ago and my leuku still stinks. I put the gloves, t-shirt and jeans in the wood stove, and even the smoke smelled awful. I was told that my reaction was just cause I'm a white guy, and that to some it all smells good - guess they're right.

  9. #9
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    If you bend green wood then immediately bend it in the opposite direction it will bend further, hold better and have less chance of breaking.

    I always steam my wood instead of boiling, steam gets up to nearly 400F while boiling gets to only 212F. The heat is what relaxes the lignin, not water.

    Steam dries a lot faster so you don't have to wait so long to release the form and glue holds better to steamed wood than waterlogged wood.

    I have never found any wood that bends better after it was dried then re-soaked.

    I agree that split wood is always better than sawn.

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    good info thanks

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