Antler / Bone preservation

topic posted Tue, February 12, 2008 - 11:22 AM by  Brookelyn
I recently got given a bunch of deer antlers and unfortunately some of them seem to be deteriorating. Some of them seem super porus and almost flakey. I also recently jumped into a hot tub with a beautiful bone / antler necklace and now it seems to be doing the same thing. Does anyone know of a good sealer or shellack that works well with organic materials? Thanks!
posted by:
Los Angeles
  • Re: Antler / Bone preservation

    Tue, February 12, 2008 - 2:40 PM
    i once heard/read that a good way to clean them is with ants (same with turtle shells).
    i'm not sure if they are deteriorating because they haven't been cleaned properly or not.
    would resin work? although, i would consider the "yellowing" factor.
    what about a wax?

    good luck.
    • Re: Antler / Bone preservation

      Tue, February 12, 2008 - 5:54 PM
      Thanks Copper Gypsy Angel!

      The antlers are cleaned well - they're actually from a movie set. They've been sitting out at my friends farm forever. I think they must have been exposed to the weather or something - when I got them they were covered in cobwebs and dirt. I've cleaned 'em all up all shiny like n stuff, but I'm afraid I'm gonna lose a couple of them unless I put some sort of sealant on them.
      • Unsu...

        Re: Antler / Bone preservation

        Tue, February 12, 2008 - 6:37 PM
        what about some thin coats of polyurethane? I spray that to permanently seal a variety of things...and have sprayed one deer bone with great results. Gave it to a friend and it's still in great condition.
        • Re: Antler / Bone preservation

          Tue, February 12, 2008 - 10:45 PM
          Thanks ladies!

          Do you know where I'd find spray polyurethane? When you sprayed it did it still look like bone or did it get glossy?
          • Unsu...

            Re: Antler / Bone preservation

            Wed, February 13, 2008 - 5:31 AM
            I am pretty sure i got it at home depot - but any local hardware stores would have it.

            The kind i specifically used is: Minwax Fast Drying Polyurethane - says Superior Quality on the can, the lid is black and the can is black and fades to copper colors. I use both semi-gloss and satins...I am pretty sure that i used a satin on the bone. It still looked like a bone, and wasn't shiny (I usually dislike glossiness depending on the material to cover).

            My husband uses the semi-gloss on wood knives he makes and it's not too shiny either tho....just light coats, letting it dry in between.
  • Re: Antler / Bone preservation

    Wed, February 13, 2008 - 8:29 AM
    Yeah I'm hoping someone in the know pops in with a good non-chemical heavy solution.

    polyurethanes just ain't so good for us and the planet.
    there are some good natural sealant out there.
    but, not sure how they work on bone and antlers...

    if we could assume that they are similar structure to wood - then the answer is easy - what works on wood works on antlers.
    the similarities might be... they are structurally at their peak while they are still living, once they are killed they begin to deteriorate... so how do we slow that down? what is the culprit of that deterioration?
    oxygen comes to mind - UV light... so finding things that inhibit both of those things might be a good place to start.

    again... speaking from ignorance - I would try some good natural waxes - caurnuba, beeswax...
    and urge avoiding harsh chemicals (pool & spa) in the future.
    • Re: Antler / Bone preservation

      Wed, February 13, 2008 - 9:04 AM
      Cool. I'm all down for zee natural stuff. This may be a stupid question, but how do you wax antlers? Do you melt it first & dip it or something & doesn't it turn it yellow or possibly get sticky and melt when it's hot? I'm super worried about doing this to my necklace - it's also inlayed with silver and set with stones.

      • Re: Antler / Bone preservation

        Wed, February 13, 2008 - 9:24 AM

        > ... how do you wax antlers? <

        now you're just trying to turn me on!

        anyway... I'm trying to remember the name of the product... but there is a furniture wax (maybe Johnson's) that comes in a large tin - think car wax tin about the size of a big stack of hearty pancakes. it is a little softer in warmer weather.
        I use this product on wood and metal furniture.
        you just rub it on as a paste. for the little areas use a q-tip.

        beeswax is less pastey... so it would need to be softened (delicately and slowly warmed till pliable but not liquid)
        • Unsu...

          Re: Antler / Bone preservation

          Wed, February 13, 2008 - 11:42 AM
          well then what about drying oils like linseed or tung oil? I am certainly not trying to further damage the planet, but sometimes have to use what i already have on hand ;) i suggested polyurethane since it was the first thing to pop into my head at the time.
          • Re: Antler / Bone preservation

            Wed, February 13, 2008 - 12:05 PM
            I thought about linseed oil after I had posted... I think it might be very worthwhile to try.
            if the deterioration is about drying out ... then it makes good sense to add oils that would help moisturize.

            In my metal work - I use a combination of beeswax, carnauba and boiled linseed oil (applied to hot metal) - it takes about a week for the oils and waxes to not feel tacky - too cure... and I'm wondering if this might be worthwhile to try...

            sounds like a lot of good ideas to try.

            and hey julia the polyurethane thing wasn't a jab at you... it is a personal thing for me - it gives me insta-headache so I am perhaps more sensitive about using them.
            Also... there are a number of water based *polyurethanes* that are said to be green. but, I haven't heard good things about there lasting very well.
        • Re: Antler / Bone preservation

          Tue, April 8, 2008 - 1:07 AM
          <<anyway... I'm trying to remember the name of the product... but there is a furniture wax (maybe Johnson's) that comes in a large tin - think car wax tin about the size of a big stack of hearty pancakes. >>

          Howards? Bri-wax? Call/write the company for content info if they don't list the ingredients on the can, as many of these will have hidden (petro-based) mineral oil. Less is more when using paste wax, it can build up and get kinda muddy looking.
          Someone else mentioned soaking them in linseed oil, which I think would be a much better natural alternative. I work in a furniture store and usually recommend plain lemon or orange oil over a paste wax as it's easier to apply and a little more fool-proof, or in a pinch olive oil (olive oil with a couple drops of tea tree oil is great for cutting boards and countertops, btw). Considering you're trying to "seal" them I'd suggest something with a slightly thicker viscosity, like linseed oil, but I think Steve's recommendation of tallow or animal fat is probably the best idea thus far. I know *I* never would have thought about that, now I'm looking forward to trying some out on some raw wood!
  • Unsu...

    Re: Antler / Bone preservation

    Wed, February 13, 2008 - 8:33 PM
    Try this:

    "... couple of coats of paste floor wax buffed to a hard shine is all that's needed to preserve it indefinitely. If chalking has begun, soaking the antler in warm linseed oil until it stops absorbing the oil will keep it as sound as possible". This a direct quote from:
    • Re: Antler / Bone preservation

      Thu, February 14, 2008 - 1:09 PM
      I have seen floor wax recommended for so many things like this . . .
      • Unsu...

        Re: Antler / Bone preservation

        Thu, February 14, 2008 - 5:39 PM
        this is very cool! i mentioned the floor wax business to my husband and he knew all about it :) with repeated periodic applications it should be just great :) he has done just those sort of things before. i actually hadn't ever thought about whether small bits polyurethane would be that bad, but read more about it from this post and read up on alternatives!

        i have always just used acrylic paints (even oil paints) in my artwork and didn't really dissect the things i used in my old art projects - the ones from years ago. Which is totally silly because i make my own all natural household cleansers and just hadn't used poly in so long. It's been one of those things that sideswiped me and i am so glad for the thought!!

        this has been a really great thread and given me quite a bit of info - thanks guys!! i love it when something inspires a lot of thought...was one of those things that just hadn't crossed my mind :) i am sure glad it did! hoo-ray for craftyvixzens!
  • Re: Antler / Bone preservation

    Tue, February 26, 2008 - 12:27 PM
    recently i've been researching making drinking horns and what they recommend for sealing the horn is beeswax, warmed up and rubbed over the outside using a sock or some other buffing thing. it doesnt make it too shiney, and its natural, and can be touched up whenever needed.
    • Re: Antler / Bone preservation

      Tue, February 26, 2008 - 1:26 PM
      Do not, and I repeat, ***do not*** coat these objects with any sort of man-made petrochemical like polyurethane or acrylic. It will harm bone and horn in the long run. I'm sorry, but there is no fix beyond not making it worse. (but you knew that.) The best preservative there is is skin oil. Rub the necklace gently between your hands or -even better- rub it on your nose (it produces a lot of oil for some reason.) Do this frequently. Paste wax (presuming it really is just wax ... read carefully!) probably wouldn't do any real harm to the bone and would help stabilize it. Linseed yellows with time, but it might be an option since your goal is wearability, not 100 year preservation. Apply the very least amount possible to achieve stability. The beeswax idea is even better because it's a nontoxic, low-impact product. You should be able to just rub it in gently without having to melt it. You can get tiny bits of wax at a good sewing or leather working store as "thread wax."

      Good luck. I know how awful it is to have a piece die.... my DH & I have a large collection of horn & bone schtuff and a few pieces are deteriorating in the arid desert, sigh.
  • Unsu...

    Re: Antler / Bone preservation

    Sun, March 9, 2008 - 12:39 AM
    Sounds like your antler is very weathered. You can't bring it back. Best to just set it in the garden for decoration and let it go back where it came from. You should be able to find some more to work with. If you use or wear antler and bone objects a lot, they usually stay in decent shape from oils on your hands and skin. I've worked with antler and bone for a couple of decades and never felt the need to use anything but animal oils on them. Veg oils can be ok too. Olive oil is fine. Putting some kind of spewy toxic crap on antler and bone objects is just bizzare to me. I think it reflects odd values and is totally unnecessary. Part of the beauty of these materials is the organic feel and the context of their existence. The fact that they are safe to put in your mouth or can be thrown on your compost means something. Their beauty fades out of that context. At least to me anyway. I'm not sure what happened with the hot tub necklace thing. I've been in lots of hot springs with bone and antler stuff and not had any problem. Long boiling is bad for bone and antler, but a quick soak in warm water ought to be ok. Maybe the antler used was old or treated with a harsh bleach???

    Some general tips on bone and antler that might be of interest to the crafty. don't boil them for a long time. A quick boil for bone to assist in cleaning can be ok, but no more than a couple of minutes if possible. There is usually no good reason to boil antler except to bend it. If you get it thinned down well, a few hours soaking followed by a minute in boiling water will allow it to be bent. Keep bent as you want it till cool and dry. Both contain protein substances that can be boiled out of them to make glue. This material helps hold the bones together, so you want to leave it in there. These substances also decay with weathering.

    Fresh raw bones straight from the animal are easier to carve and cut. Grinding is sometimes easier on dry bone as it clogs the grinding medium less. Don't breath a lot of bone and antler dust. Work outside or with a respirator.

    After a brief boil or if they are raw, oil bones immediately before setting aside to dry. Bone cracks easily on drying and it dries extremely fast. Oil coating the bone both slows drying and replaces some of the water lost in drying with oil- lessening shrinkage and therefore cracking. A heavy animal oil such as mutton, beef or deer fat is nice as it forms a wax-like coating, but use what you have, only use a lot of it. Wrapping in an oily rag in addition to oiling heavily can help slow it down even more. Especially if you use a light oil on the bone.

    To bleach bones. Get a bottle of fresh hydrogen peroxide. Just the stuff you use for cuts and such. Soak the bone for a day or so in this. Just as long as it takes to bleach out. Soak in fresh water a little while.

    For more on using animal parts, there is a free chapter on my website on uses of the deer.
    • Re: Antler / Bone preservation

      Wed, March 26, 2008 - 2:54 PM
      Thanks for the info and the link very cool web-site. I have been looking for something about using natural pigments.Hope to join that society with my tax return money(instead of buying something from China....?The nerve)

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