Scrimshaw can be performed on any hard material that will hold a contrasting pigment. Scrimshaw on bone handled knives as well as bone cabochons or beads are popular alternatives to ivory, and there are plenty of materials out there.
Bone is a naturally porous material which will take on moisture and oils as well as expand and contract with the variations in temperature and humidity. It is best to either find a stabilized source or to stabilize it yourself before you take the time to ply your craft.
Stabilized bone can be found in most knifemaker supply houses as either cow bone, camel bone or in some cases other “bush meat” bone that has been cleaned and preserved.
You can find blank material to work on in several places depending on your end product. Amazon has bone knife scales from time to time, and there are also buffalo bone nut blanks often used in the luthier trade. You can sometimes find them oversized which works well for smaller knife handle material or for creating cabochons or inlay.
As to the material when it comes from the source, unless it clearly states that it has been or is stabilized, figure that it is not, and it will be porous. There are several ways you can stabilize or seal them yourself, or you can re-ship them out to a stabilizing service – they often do the same for bone, antler, spalted wood, etc.
Stablilizing Bone for Scrimshaw – top coat:
- The first Method requires dry bone cut roughly or completely to the shape intended,
- cyanoacrylate glue (super glue like Loctiteor Bob Smith 103 )
- small paint brushes – don’t use good ones, get cheap ones you can throw away or use q-tips
- Newspaper to cover the area you’ll be working on.
- eye protection
Coat the piece you intend to scrimshaw by squirting the glue on then coating the rest of the surface using the brush. Let the piece dry.
Once dry, sand it down lightly so it’s smooth. We tend to use 320 grit sandpaper then wipe off any dust and recoat it. Second time we sand it we move up to a 600 grit and inspect it carefully. Sometimes two coats is all you need to fill in any voids. If it’s good, we work up to 3000 grit, then a polish with HUT wax and start to scrim.
Stabilized bone after minwax vacuum immersion
Stabilizing Bone for scrimshaw – method 2: Immersion
We tried this using Minwax Wood Hardener and came up with useable but “antiqued” looking bone and tagua nut buttons. They ended up with a yellowish patina. In this method you’ll use a glass mason jar or ball jar with the vacuum type lid, you will be standing the jar upright and immersing your pieces in either the Minwax wood preservative or a mixture of acetone and duco cement as mentioned in http://www.artifactsguide.com/discus/messages/12/11427.html?1071787182
Either one should be done in a well ventilated area with no open flames sparks etc. Realize also that any rubber or plastic (like the wine stopper and the lid) will disintegrate – wear gloves when removing it and discard appropriately.
I used a Vacu Vin, drilling a hole into the top of the metal ball jar lid that fit the stopper almost perfectly.
Another way to accomplish this would be to use a FoodSaver T03-0006-02P Regular-Mouth Jar Sealer which may last longer if you can remove it quickly enough.
Here’s a video of someone stabilizing some material similar to what we’ve just described:
Here’s another one from another individual:
Pre-stabilized bone can be found in cow, camel and giraffe, though many times it is died or “jigged” – where a pattern is cut into it to allow for a better grip. Texas KnifeMaker’s Supply has some nice supplies including cow,
Here are several links to knives you can scrimshaw. Most have bone handles from Amazon.com:
- Bone Handles Barlow
- Magnum Damascus
- Browning Folder