Bending Wood, Antler and Horn

Discussion in 'Self-made Gear' started by crookedknife, Feb 9, 2010.

  1. crookedknife

    crookedknife Guide

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    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
     
  2. Iz

    Iz MEMBER of a BANNED Bushclass I Bushclass Instructor

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    Great post, CK. Always good to hear from you.
    Iz
     
  3. Mountain Ron

    Mountain Ron Guide

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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.
     
  4. 72shane

    72shane Guest

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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.
     
  5. acv

    acv Scout

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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
     
  6. crookedknife

    crookedknife Guide

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    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.
     
  7. Mountain Ron

    Mountain Ron Guide

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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.
     
  8. crookedknife

    crookedknife Guide

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    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. weaver

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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 400°F while boiling gets to only 212°F. 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.
     
  10. tnrick55

    tnrick55 Banned Member Banned

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    good info thanks
     
  11. lobstercreek

    lobstercreek Guide

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    thanks for those ideas.
     
  12. crookedknife

    crookedknife Guide

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    Yup, steaming works great. We always steam large pieces such as drum rims and kayak parts, but I usually don't go to the trouble to set up the steamer or dig a steam pit for pieces that are really small. Boiled things do take longer to dry - I guess that's the advantage of having 30 projects going at once - extra drying time just means working on another project.--Drying the wood and resoaking really works in practice and has scientific background and is also a part of Native knowledge. Here's why - as the wood dries, the sides of the cells open up. Botanists call those openings "pitts." If the wood is steamed green, the water / steam cannot enter the cells because they are still closed and watertight. That is also the reason that it takes a loooong time to waterlog a piece of fresh-cut wood, but a much shorter time to waterlog dried wood. This is also the reason that kiln dried wood will not bend as far or as well as air dried wood - because in kiln drying the cells / pitts do not fully open. To test this try pushing a piece of wood to its bending limits. For instance, I have made dozens of steam bent berry buckets. With wood that is dried then soaked, I can get a bucket to bend down to an 8" diameter with quarter inch spruce, but with green wood, 12" or more is the max. and takes much more force to bend it after steaming. This theory is also mentioned in several commercial steam bending manuals used by chair makers and so on. It's actually pretty easy to test with side-by-side pieces. Give it a try and let us know what happened. I'm always anxious to hear from other steamers.
     
  13. The Bull

    The Bull Tracker

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    I read in an earlier post in this thread that horn is hard to work with by boiling. Can't say either way on that one, but when using steam it can be formed into darned near anything. I have flattened horns for powder flask, rum flask, and fishing kits. Have also made a couple of dozen horn spoon & fork sets and numerous hair combs. The trick is to direct the steam. My favorite tool for this work is an old iron kettle with a narrow-necked pour spout. When the lid is on all of the steam is being released from the small tip allowing me to put the steam's heat right where I want it.

    Remember to have your clamps and forms set up ahead of time!

    you can also put the nature of horn to use for you by recalling that it is laid down in thin layer, like a fingernail. With care you can separate the layers over a small area and use the extra thin horn for various projects. I once made translucent panes for a candle lantern with thin layers of cow horn.

    Think of the stuff as Nature's plastic.
     
  14. Creek Walker

    Creek Walker Guide

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    Great information everyone. This board just keeps getting better.
     
  15. samthedog

    samthedog Guide

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    Would you believe I have been searching the net for this very info for some time now? I have several projects where I wanted to try use bent antler but as reindeer are not native to Australia my experience with material is zilch. Thanks for the great tips. I will make a rig to steam the pieces as to me this ensures a faster result and shorter drying time.

    Paul.
     
  16. Cracker

    Cracker Scout

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    LOL, I saw a show on the idiot box last year where native Alaskans made and ate fermented whale bluber, said it as an aquired taste.
     
  17. crookedknife

    crookedknife Guide

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    Yup, and they also have what they call stinkmeat and stinkfish. The stuff is fermented in a pit for months. If one of us white guys eats any of it, it's just a matter of waiting a few minutes to see which end it will exit. They build resistance by feeding babies tiny bits of it starting when they are only a few weeks old. Those foods are used now because they are traditional, but in olden days it was the only way they could preserve food for use between hunting seasons and fish runs.
     
  18. Old Philosopher

    Old Philosopher Banned Member Banned

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    Back in the day, when I was trying to make everything I could to copy the PNW native culture, I had really good luck with Western Red Cedar. The outer wood, just under the last layer of bark would be split and shaved thin to about 3/16". Bending while it was green was no trick at all. It was pinned with wooden splints and allowed to dry that way. Another flat piece was dried and fastened to the circle with pitch as a glue, to form the bottom. Good and water tight, as long as you didn't try to boil water in it. :p

    Also, I've bent long pieces of ash and hemlock by putting them in a sealed PVC pipe full of water and sealed at both ends. Lay them out in the sun for a few days and you're good to go.
     

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