How to Make a Powder Horn

By Darby Stevenson ; Updated September 15, 2017

Things Needed

  • Buffalo or cow horn
  • Half-inch plywood
  • One-inch plywood
  • 1 set hole cutter drill bits
  • Rasp
  • Electric belt sander
  • Screwdriver
  • Stiff wire
  • Pocket knife
  • Half-inch diameter dowel
  • Hacksaw
  • Medium grade file
  • Ruler
  • 15/64-inch diameter drill bit
  • 8/32-inch diameter drill bit
  • 17/64-inch diameter drill bit
  • 9/32-inch diameter drill bit
A traditional powder horn with cap and spout.

In the past, a bullet was simply a round piece of lead -- the black powder used to propel it through the air had to be added by hand. This was the method used on traditional flintlock weapons. This black powder had to be carried by the marksmen and kept dry so that it would explode properly. For this, the horns of cattle and buffalo were often used as containers. You can make a traditional style, unadorned powder horn in a home workshop that can be used to store powder, for decoration, or at historical re-enactments.

Cut the base off of the horn. Use a hacksaw to cleanly saw off the knotted, flared base, so that the horn forms a smooth cone.

Rasp off the scale. The scale is the rougher portion of the horn that is near the bottom the horn. Hold the horn and move the rasp back and forth over the scaled portion while rotating the horn. As the scale flakes off, the bottom will become smooth like the top.

Clean off the rasp marks. Go over the freshly rasped portion of the horn with a medium file. Move the file back and forth while turning the horn until the deeper gouges caused by the rasp can no longer be seen.

Cut the tip. Measure approximately 3/8 of an inch from the tip and saw this portion off with the hacksaw.

Drill a hole for the spout. Place a stiff piece of wire against the side of the horn, from the tip down. Observe what angle the wire goes down so that the top end is at the tip and the bottom lies in the middle of the horn where the cavity is. This is the area that you should drill down at. First drill down with a 15/64-inch drill bit. Once this hole has been drilled you will feel less tension on the drill as it breaks through into the hollow center of the horn. Re-drill the hole to enlarge it, first with an 8/32-inch bit, then a 17/64 bit, and finally with a 9/32 bit.

Cut the guide. Measure the diameter of the horn at its widest location with a ruler. Cut a plug out of the 1-inch plywood with a hole-cutter drill bit. This plug will be used as a guide for shaping the base of the horn. Trace a smaller circle on the bottom side of the guide using a smaller hole-cutter bit. Taper the guide by holding it against the belt sander at a slight angle. Sand it so that the sides uniformly taper down; the top side should be as large as you originally cut it, the bottom side should be as wide as the smaller circle that you traced on. Screw a large screw into the top of the guide so that you can pull it out of the horn once you have shaped it. You will be able to re-use this guide when making more horns in future.

Heat the horn for shaping. Wearing thick leather gloves, hold the horn while heating it by pressing the heat gun to the inner and outer sides of the horn along the base. Press the sides with your hands to see if it is pliable. When the horn has become hot and pliable, push the guide into the base. Allow the horn to cool until the sides are hard and inflexible again. The bottom of the horn will now be evenly shaped to the size of the guide.

Cut a plug from the half-inch plywood using the same diameter hole-cutter bit that you used for the guide. Pull the guide out of the horn by pulling on the screw.

Lay a bead of epoxy around the edge of the plug. Push the plug into the base of the horn. Leave the epoxy to dry for the amount of time recommended on the package.

Press the bottom of the horn with the plug to the belt sander until the rough parts are sanded off and you have an even base.

Press the base of the horn over the half-inch plywood or another piece of decorative wood. This will be the visible outer plug, so the material does not matter so long as it is something that you enjoy esthetically. Trace the bottom of the horn out on the wood.

Cut the outer plug out of the wood. Use a hole cutter bit that is slightly larger than the base of the horn. This way the outer plug will hang out over the base slightly. Bevel the edge of the cut outer plug by pressing it at an angle against the belt sander. Apply epoxy to the outer plug and press it over the inner plug. Allow the epoxy to dry.

Sand the outer plug with a smooth file so that its edge overlaps the horn evenly.

Fashion the spout plug. Measure half an inch from the end of the dowel. Carve this with the pocketknife at a slight angle so that the tip is slightly smaller than the original dowel. Go over this portion with the file, making it smoother and more angled. Turn the dowel as you file to evenly file the whole tip. Once the tip is small, try pushing it into the spout hole to see if it fits snugly. Keep filing the tip until it fits easily into the spout hole and will not fall out.

Shape the end of the spout plug. Use the pocketknife to carve the dowel into the shape of a tip that you want. Mark where you want to cut the dowel to make the tip, but do the carving before cutting as it will be much easier than after cutting. Cut the tip off with the hacksaw once it is shaped. Sand the tip with sandpaper until you have it looking how you like.

Tip

Historically, powder horns were often unadorned. However, if you wish, you may carve decorations into your completed horn. If you wish to make the horn weigh less, cut out the center of the inner plug with a slightly smaller hole-cutter before attaching the outer plug.

About the Author

Darby Stevenson began writing in 1997 for his high-school newspaper, the "Alsea Valley Voice," which won him statewide awards for Best Feature Article and Best Personality Interview. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in international studies and a Bachelor of Arts in religious studies from the University of Oregon.