Antler is an ideal natural material for using as a knife handle. It is sustainable since it is shed every year by the bucks or stags after the rut. If you keep your eyes peeled you will find them scattered on the forest floor. Antler is amazingly strong – I have punched holes in sheet steel using antler, more frequently you will find me knapping flint using the strength and toughness of antler to crack and flake stone. As a natural material it is warm, tactile and offers a good amount of grip even when wet.
Using the crown of the antler as a knife handle is VERY easy. You can either leave the section you want as a handle in water for a month to soften or boiling it for an hour (depending on size) will do the same job – although trading some toughness in the bone – for speed. Whichever method you use the pithy, porous core of the antler becomes soft and you can then, with care, push it onto the tang of your blade. In a few hours the antler will dry out, shrink and grip the tang, then harden. A bit like natures epoxy.
- Cut a length of antler – preferably the crown end (base) or if there is a decent sized tine (tip) – doing it this way ensures that the end of the handle is solid bone rather than porous ‘pith’ – the end of the tines and especially the base (crown) are often very solid.
- Make sure that the length of your tang is shorter than the length of handle – also be aware that the porous core becomes much more dense towards the crown or ends of a tine meaning that you will have trouble pushing the tang into this if it is too long.
- Tidy up the section of antler: carve, sand and remove any tines that will limit its used as a handle. Be careful not to remove too much of the outer bone – you may expose the more porous core.
- Soak or boil the section of antler – the one pictured in this post was a small one and was boiled for about 45 minute.
- Get some tongs and a thick glove if you have boiled it – it will be HOT when you are due to remove it!
- Tape or protect the blade or protect you from the blade. Either secure the blade in a vice (protecting the blade with some leather or padding from the vice jaws, or drive the knife into some wood securely so the tang points upwards.
- Simply take the softened antler out of the water and ensuring that you don’t cut or squewer yourself (ensure that the blade is well covered and you are also wearing a thick glove) firmly push the antler onto the blade.
- DO NOT wiggle the blade to get it in it will ruin the fit of the antler against the tang. Do not pull it out to reposition it. You get one go at this – do it well!
- And that’s it…..let it dry and shrink onto the tang. Overnight will do.
- Then finish the knife off with a simple sheath.