The above photos show what I started off with, but, this week I managed to get down and borrow my mates big band saw for an hour and turned 6 water buffalo horn back strips like the one in the photos into 6 horn strips. Three hours of rasping the first pair got me to the point (6mm thick) where I could steam the plates and straighten out most of their curvature. Another few hours will get them to the 4.5mm I need but for now they look like this:
This was my most recent commission, a wedding gift for the groom from his bride. The photo doesn’t do it justice at all. The biggest challenge was the water-lily as I’d never carved one before but it all turned out very nicely. The mahogany threw up a few challenges as it can be prone to splitting. The ship’s wheel is fore-shortened in the photo as it is carved on an angle. The top half of the spoon is actually the same length as the heart/stem/bowl. The underside of the flower is fully carved also, with the tendrils forming a never-ending knot and holding onto the horse-shoe that forms the top of the heart-lock
Having noticed some of the ways the antler was warping as its moisture content varied, I thought I would run a little experiment. I placed the antler plate into some warm water and added a dollop of white vinegar, I then left it for an hour or so, the antler very quickly went soft and slightly ‘sticky’ – the vinegar has this effect as it softens the surface of the antler, but the tackiness disappears when the antler dries.
Another antler plate was left in water at room temperature all day,
A third antler plate was put in very hot water for 15 minutes.
All the plates were softened by the water/vinegar mix, it seems the heat acts as a catalyst – the softening process happens more quickly with added heat, the warm water being as effective as the very hot water (in fact the cold water was also effective, it just took longer) but the use of vinegar is essential in fixing the antler into its new shape. Similarly, glueing the antler, or keeping it pressed until you are ready to use it is important as the antler is affected by changes in ambient humidity and will move out of shape if stored ‘loose’, although re-treating it is very quick and simple.
The round sections of antler derived from the ‘stalk'(main beam) and from the tines, is very resistant to flattening. It is probably very unfair of me to hope that something that grows as a cylinder can be split and flattened, but it might be worth pointing out that this is the case, since you may need to make a flat plate as long as possible (as I did) and extend that plate into the main beam. If you do need to do so then this section would need to be carved flat rather than soaked and pressed.