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.


Starting a New Scrimshaw

Galalith cabochon taped behind the image of a lighthouse
Galalith taped behind the image


Finally starting a new piece of scrimshaw!  It’s been awhile, and I needed something away from most of the electronics.  With the phone in my back pocket and turned off so I don’t accidentally dial anyone (“Sorry, I fat – er – fingered the phone and hit your number….”). I started the lighthouse that I really liked by Dennis Jarvis (see previous post).  Sadly the crashing waves to the left are off the picture, but I may take artistic license and create similar waves closer to the lighthouse itself.

I debated on whether or not to sketch it on, but with such a tight schedule I opted for the “Whaleman’s Way” – putting the “tooth” shaped piece of galalith behind the picture, securing it in place and piercing through the picture.  After a few more pieces I’ll probably sketch something on a piece and go totally freehand.

lighthouse image on paper, pierced through the lines into the galalith underneath
Pierced Lighthouse

It doesn’t take a lot of pressure to get through and make an indentation. As you do more pieces you get a feel for the right amount. Most of my stipple-dots are pretty even, thanks in part to the modified Coulter Precision scribe (via Etsy).  I’ve tried a steel point with another project I’m working on, though the length makes it difficult to do perpendicular dots with my current low-power microscope (if anyone wants to buy me an opti-visor for Christmas, I’ll gladly call you Santa!).


Lighthouse stippled onto galalith cabochon next to a quarter
Lighthouse initial phase completed.

Wiping away a small smear of oil paint revealed not only the lighthouse, but a small scratch that will become a distant cloud when I’m done.  That’s all for tonight, back to the 12-14 hour days I currently call my week.  Will post further as the lighthouse takes shape.

Clicking on the pictures will reveal them in full size.



Scrimshaw lighthouse on galalith with tool to the right
Roof and lines darkened

Darkened in the roof and lines, added some initial shading to the building itself.  May continue on as it’s cold and wet outside, and I need to take a break from the computer today.  My hands are doing better after decorating 50+ cookies for my daughter’s school’s “Men Who Cook” event.  My wife (who is the owner of needed help since she baked the cookies along with her mom and her hands ache more than mine making the cookies themselves. Piping the decorative icing on the cookies took about four hours, but they came out great.

Lighthouse scrimshaw on galalith with a quarter to the right to show the scale
Added some shading and started in on the shoreline.

Added more shading this afternoon and worked in the wave at the edge.  Note to self: don’t make the horizon line during initial scrim – I could have had larger waves crashing if I hadn’t done that. This is going to be one of those pieces where I will go over the whole thing several times darkening areas to add more detail, then darkening other areas to balance it.  It’s a good piece to get my hand and eyes back in shape, since I have a couple of large pieces coming up. I’m still debating on lines, stipples or a combination on the large piece, and I still have the Kraken ogling me to my left, so when I finish this one, he’s next!


Finally done, on a faux leather 20″ necklace.  Added the clouds and the seagull, all done in stipple style with the exception of the initials.  Now: on to the Kraken!

Lighthouse Done
Subtle clouds in the background and the ever-present seagull. On a faux leather necklace.

Lighthouse Template from “Scrimspirations 2”

Lighthouse with waves crashing to the left
CC-SA Dennis Jarvis

Below is the template from the October 2015 Newsletter.  I try to include at least one template or pattern per newsletter to either use or inspire you to create a piece of scrimshaw.  It’s fun and easy, and if you’re like me, you tend to get lost in the work for awhile. Best of all, you have something to show once you’ve finished!  Clicking on the link will open a .pdf you can print out as a reference or as a template.  Use color, black and white or just set it near your workplace and begin to sketch.  Special thanks to Dennis Jarvis for providing the image under the Creative Commons share alike license!

I just released the second “Scrimspirations” templates on (Scrimspirations 2: Tall Ships and Sea Life) – twenty seven templates you can use to create a piece of scrimshaw on mammoth ivory, alternative ivory, mother of pearl (see Anita’s work on facebook for a beautiful example), a lightswitch cover, drawer pull… the list goes on for things you can scrimshaw!

Louisbourg Lighthouse Scrimshaw Template:
Louisbourg Lighthouse – Dennis Jarvis – Share-Alike-pdf

Sealing Bone Scales – Take 2

Last time, we tried just filling the voids in the bone scales with wax. This gave us spotty results – literally. Working with a couple of different formulations of cyanoacylate, we’re at the point of – still looking.

Loctite Plastic bonding with separate accellerator pen
Good for intended purpose, not so much for ours.

We attempted to follow the luthier’s method of building up the material with the bone dust from sanding the bone smooth and used  Loctite Plastic Bonding System which had an “accelerator” in the form of a marker made for gluing difficult materials.  This didn’t work well at all.

Loctite Super Glue
Liquid – not gel. Wear safety goggles as the vapors burn your eyes!

Next, we attempted to use some more off the shelf superglue – Loctite Super Glue LIQUID (not the gel, as we want this to seep into the cracks and fill them in). Piling the bone dust up and squirting the glue on made – a mess, though it might look better once it’s sanded down.



powdered bone and superglue on the left, just liquid on the right
Powdered bone on the left, liquid alone on the right


While we were waiting we looked at the other side of the bone and decided to just lay the glue straight down on that side to see if it worked any better.  My thoughts at the moment are that either (1) the bone dust is too fine and can’t saturate well (like lumps in the pancake batter when you make it from scratch) or (2) I need an even slower curing superglue.



After letting it dry thoroughly, I proceeded to sand down both sides with 220 grit sandpaper, followed by 600, 1000, 1800, 3200 and finally 8000 grit pads.  Wiping some oil paint across the whole piece and wiping it off, I find that the bone dust side is just as bad or worse than the untreated area (center), but the right side where we used no dust is looking pretty good! After 30 minutes the glue is still somewhat soft for scrimshawing. I’ll be testing it for “scrimmability” later in the week and will update my findings.


Left=superglue alone, middle - no glue, right glue and bone
Here, the liquid alone was on the left, the “naked bone” in the middle, and the powdered bone/superglue on the right after sanding. the “clear” winner so far is the plain superglue



Perennial Scrimshaw Requests

37450005There are many things you can scrimshaw that your customers would cherish but the three perennial patterns in the world of scrimshaw: the ship, the lighthouse and the whale will be asked for again and again. For some like me, the lighthouse can be the greatest challenge with it’s symmetry and straight lines, while others find the clouds or the ocean with it’s many moods the most daunting. Still others find themselves caught up in the rigging like a shanghaied landlubber, overwhelmed by the many tenuous supports that keep the masts and sails aloft. Inevitably a request will come for your most challenging subject, so what can you do?

tall-ships-2-22-07_1 Practice, practice, practice. Not obsessively, but consistently – a drawing or a sketch every day – even a doodle-a-day, then move on to other things.  By incorporating this into your day you will be creating a small habit, a commitment to taking the time, how ever short to practicing and enhancing your art. I’m reticent to say “perfect” since that is not achievable as my inner critic is always quick to point out, but you also never reach the sun when you walk to the sunset.


FinYour subconscious will pick up subtle nuances and techniques that will allow you to master your subject if you keep at it and find at least one good point in every sketch you make. Keep them in a scrapbook if you can, not to look at this week or this month, but perhaps next month over a morning coffee to see how you’ve progressed. You will be surprised I’m sure at the difference five or more weeks of small consistent efforts will make.

I’m setting aside fifteen minutes to draw one lighthouse per day for the next thirty days. By day 15 I’ll be cursing the small landlocked lighthouse I see on my way to work and by day 30 I’m sure I’ll be rejoicing in triumph, choosing another subject several times during this small challenge.


(Along with the great images from the talented photographers above, I’m including this link to an excellent book about habits. I’d listened to it via Audible and it helped me understand habits to the point where I could “break” a couple of persistent ones. I’m going through it again to now instill some better habits like the one above.  It’s not so much a “how to” book but a history of habits and many of their disasterous shortcomings. Worth the read/listen.  You can find it at your local library or pick it up on Amazon or Audible)