Using Deer Antler for a Hidden Tang
Deer antler makes a beautiful handle for any hidden tang knife but it can be tricky to work with. There are several things you can do to make this process a lot easier on yourself to complete that beautiful blade you've already put the work in on. Below I will share what I've found to be the easiest process to follow in my journey so far.
You need to keep in mind when selecting your deer antler a couple of different factors or you may regret not looking at these things earlier.
- How does the antler feel in your hand? Its easy to pick up one and it to look good but doesn't fit the hand correctly. Although it can be altered through sanding / grinding down the areas that don't fit, the more you can do in the selection process the less work you'll have to do later.
- Does the curve of the antler accomodate your tang? If the tang isn't going to fit you can of course heat the tang and mold it to fit your chosen antler but ideally you won't have to modify much.
- Is the antler dried out? Its not something that is a deal breaker if it is an older antler but you will need to keep in mind that the older and dryer the antler is the more brittle they tend to be. That can become a problem real quick if not careful.
Lay out your project
Once you have the antler selected you'll want to double check the segmented length you have chosen for the antler and the position of the tang. You can do this easily by laying the antler into a cushioned surface such as rags and then laying the tang on top of the antler.
Once you have everything in position, use a sharpie or any kind of marking utensil really and outline the tang position. This will make it easier to judge where your pins will go and the depth of the drilling.
Pre Drill your holes
Now that you have the project layed out you will want to pre drill the hole where the tang is going to go. Select a drill bit just under the width of the tang at the narrowest point. You will want a tight fit so if you go larger you're going to struggle achieving that. Measure your drill bit on the markings you've made for the tang depth and go just a little past that point, no more than 1/8th of an inch though. Mark the drill bit with tape so you know how deep you need to go.
Select the center point at the end of the antler where the tang is going to be fed into. At this point you will want to secure the antler in a vise if you have one available. Mark where you want to drill your hole(s) and start drilling slowly. You will want to make sure that you are keeping your angle of drill in line with your handle and tang position if not using a drill press.
Drill your first hole and double check the tang fitment. It may seem redundant but you do not want to drill any more than you absolutely need to. It is very easy to drill through the side of the antler on accident so take your time with this process and make sure you aren't rushing.
Heat the tang
Once you have your holes drilled you will need to finish the fitment task off. The easiest way I've found to do this so far is to heat the tang up to around the 1300-1400 degree mark and place the blade in the vise tang up. Feed the deer antler onto the tang slowly. This process will stink terribly so make sure you are either working in a well ventilated area or have a way to ventilate.
You will likely need to repeat this process quite a few times in order to get the tang set at the depth that you require. It is important to note that the better job you did of predrilling the easier this process will be and also the more times you apply the antler to the tang the wider the initial hole will become due to the heat.
Drill your pins
Now that you have your tang set at the depth you want its time to drill your pin holes. You will need to find a way to secure your tang in the deer antler so that it doesn't move around while you are drilling your pin holes. I've found that a long wood clamp works decent for this just remember to not overtighten it as it can fracture your handle in this stage.
Drill your holes according to the outline that you did in the first step of laying out the antler and tang. When drilling you will note a significant difference in resistance when you hit the tang.
I've played around with a couple of different ways to finish out the deer antler handle and have found that super glue seems to work the best at protecting it and giving it a decent sheen. If done lightly and slowly you can also use a propane torch to add a darker texture to the antler to give it a little different flavor. Also you can use stain to bring out different colors and textures to the piece.
I hope that this article provides help to someone out there that wants to use deer antler for a knife handle but didn't have an idea to go about it. Thanks for reading and as always have fun, be safe and always Forge ahead.