Deer Antler Scrimshaw – Excerpt from the Scrimshaw Newsletter 2016-1-23

Deer Antler Scrimshaw

Antler from deer, moose, caribou and other creatures have been used for scrimshaw, knife handles and more throughout history. Back when resources were scarce, there were only two of the three R’s: Reuse and Recycle – reduce was not an option.

Antler description

Woman and Owl on Antlet
Antler Example – Moosup Valley Designs

Antlers (in the deer family) are extensions of the animal’s skull that are grown annually. They are true bone, being fed by the animal’s blood and covered by “velvet”: a skin-like covering.  With the exception of reindeer and a few other species, only males produce horns (what is the feminine version of Rudolf, anyway?).  Shed antler are a favorite of raccoons and other woodland creatures as a source of calcium.  Due to the fact that there were capillaries within the antler, small voids remain on the surface of the antler and the material should be sealed either with cyanoacrylate (super glue) or wax after polishing to minimize staining (you find this with most bone as well). We’re looking into other ways of sealing but haven’t had the time to experiment with them yet.

Antler resources

AntlerMan – (amazon)

Etsy –

eBay –

Sanding Antler:

Antler handle with scrimshaw on knife
Example – Black Creek Knives

Using proper dust protection (eye protection and dust mask along with dust remediation), cut the antler to the shape and size you intend to scrimshaw.  Note: some antler will have a nice outer color, but the inside may be darkened due to the age of the antler. The one I’m working with was from a roadkill of a one year old, and I believe the blood hadn’t entirely left the antler at the time of its demise. [cross-section]

Attempting to create a small “window” to scrimshaw on, I sanded down into the darker area of the antler, making that area look stained. Carefully and lightly sanding only until smooth I was able to work an area further up the antler that should work for a smaller scrimshaw.  I sanded the area progressively from 240 grit to 3200 creating a mirror like finish using micromesh pads after the wet/dry sandpaper (available in most hardware stores, automotive stores).  Cutting off the previous window, it’s now time to figure out what to scrimshaw.

I settled on a ship since time was short and it was easy to draw free hand (one of the advantages of doing a lot of ships over the years).

Scrimshaw of a ship on an antler tip
Finished scrimshaw on antler tip

Overall, it came out surprisingly well.  Cross-sections tend to stain due to the aforementioned capillaries.  If you get a whole antler with the “buttons” (the base of the antler), they can be made into many decorative items. Necklaces can be made from sections of the antler, toggles from either the tips or the cross-sections for coats, knife scales if the antler is thick enough and stand-alone scrimshaws from larger pieces, including moose antler if you’re lucky enough to get some.


Brighten up “Reverse Scrimshaw” With This Technique

Lion "Reverse Scrimshaw" on water buffalo hornAfter doing several “reverse scrimshaws” – scrimshaw on a dark material where the stipples/incisions are filled with a white pigment, I found they looked kind of dull.  From experiments a couple of years ago using “Pearl-Ex”, I knew mixing it into the pigment only made a slight difference.

This time, I coated the surface with an acrylic paint (oil paint should work the same), then wiped it off while it was still wet.  With a Q-Tip, I lightly brushed some of the Pearl-Ex (micropearl – smallest white particles I was able to find) onto the surface then wiped it off so the particles would adhere to the wet paint in the stipples while the rest would wipe away.  It made a big difference no matter what angle you hold the piece now. Available at many local art supply stores and at (Pearl-Ex Micropearl)


First Mystery Artist of 2016

We have a new mystery artist who is taking up residence as “Mystery Artist 21”. They had made a “story bracelet” some time ago, though we’re not sure of the material, it is a five charm bracelet set in sterling silver using a resin to hold the scrimshaws in place.  You can see it at “Mystery Artist 21

Juma – A Composite Ivory Alternative

Block of Juma
Thick block form – great for knife handles.

What is Juma?

Juma consists of a mixture of different mineral based materials in a resin component. Unlike casein juma can be thermoformed using boiling water (according to Atlas Billiard supply.  Haven’t tried it yet myself).

Where does it come from?

Sources include Atlas Billiard Supply ( and suppliers in Europe (

It cuts well, dusting a lot like corian, but doesn’t have a scent.

How well does it cut?

Juma is a different chemical makeup – it tends to cut similar to casein though it’s chip size is similar to Corian.  Juma also does not have any distinct odor when it’s sanded, unlike Casein (which smells like bone) or Corian (which smells like acrylic).  According to Atlas Billiard Supply, Juma is also FDA approved and can be used for smoking pipes and kitchen utensils.

Rosebud on Juma, scrimmed and inked with color ink.
Holds ink and oil paint well if left to dry.

How well does it scrim?

Juma stipples well, cratering only slightly when stippled deeply, unlike polyester.  It scribes well with a sharp tool, dusting on a long line rather than curling like ivory. Appears to be only slightly softer than ivory.

How well does it stain?

When polished, India ink and oil paint wipe off easily. If unpolished or only sanded to 400 grit the crevices will hold your pigment and make it look cloudy.  Scribed and stippled lines come out crisp and well defined if the pigment is allowed to dry. Colored India inks hold well also.

Originally posted in the Newsletter on June 14, 2015. For the latest information, tips and templates, subscribe to the newsletter – it’s low-carb, no spam, and you don’t need dramamine!