antler carving

It is always good to push yourself, and so I thought I would try something different – antler carving!  The main reason for this is to have a crack at relief carving, like this


Crossbow of Count Ulrich V of Württemberg (1413–1480)

side detail of carved antler, photo/collection New York Met Museum of Art







, or like this,

Crossbow of Count Ulrich V of Württemberg (1413–1480)

Crossbow of Count Ulrich V of Württemberg (1413–1480), detail of carved antler inlay








but I also need some ‘car-carving’ (see June 2013), and, since I have always loved Ryusa-style Netsuke (pronounced net-skee), thought I’d have a go at carving one to establish how antler performs as a carving material.



This is as far as I have got, but the carving is done (more or less) and it is ready for staining (deep-breath)









This is what I have found out about antler carving, but remember, this is my experience with carving one piece from one antler-crown

1. when antler dries it goes very hard but this surface crust takes exceptional detail

2. a splash in warm water and antler goes very soft, rediculously easy to carve and doesn’t dry out for several hours – when soft like this it can even be bent/straightened

3. there is no grain as such and antler does not split or splinter, so no wedging pieces off deliberately or accidentally  You can get away with murder as far as technique is concerned – there is no grain to carve with or across.

4. tools pushed straight into antler will get stuck

5. ordinary carving tools are perfectly fine for carving antler without re-profililng them, gouges are ok but scrapers and engraving tools are fantastic.  For anyone carving antler often then re-profiling your tools to steeper cutting angles is a good idea, so they act less like cutting tools and more like scrapers

6. antler is incredibly strong and can be carved very fine without worrying if it is going to snap

7. If you use saws or rasps or pyrography then antler smells really badly but otherwise doesn’t smell noticeably

8. when carved to a thickness of less than 3mm antler becomes transluscent – you can see light through it

This post will be updated when the owl in oak tree with moon-and-clouds netsuke is all finished, have fun!


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