How to Prepare Deer Antlers for Scrimshaw

By Jane Smith ; Updated September 15, 2017

Things Needed

  • Belt sander
  • Coarse, medium, fine and extra fine sanding belts
  • Deer antler
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Lemon oil or beeswax
  • Dust mask
  • Wrap-around eye protection
  • Power drill with buffing wheel attachment

Whalers sometimes waited for months between whale sightings. To keep busy, they perfected the art of scrimshaw: making scratches and dots in whale bone to create beautiful drawings. When whales became endangered, scrimshanders switched to elephant tusks. These beasts became endangered as well, and many people stopped buying scrimshaw. Use of shed deer antler for scrimshaw has lead to a revival of this American art form.

Wear a dust mask and wrap-around eye protection. Work outdoors or in a well-ventilated space to prevent antler dust buildup.

Make a few passes with the coarse sanding belt over the entire antler to smooth out any ridges. Repeat with the medium sanding belt.

Wipe down the entire antler to remove sanding dust. Look at the antler and decide where you wish to put your scrimshaw. Use the fine sanding belt to smooth an area just large enough to accommodate the picture you wish to create. Wipe the antler dust away again using a soft cloth and a little rubbing alcohol.

Use the extra fine sanding belt to smooth the sanded portion of your antler one last time. Attach a buffing wheel to your power drill and buff the entire antler. Wipe the dust away one more time.

About the Author

Jane Smith has provided educational support, served people with multiple challenges, managed up to nine employees and 86 independent contractors at a time, rescued animals, designed and repaired household items and completed a three-year metalworking apprenticeship. Smith's book, "Giving Him the Blues," was published in 2008. Smith received a Bachelor of Science in education from Kent State University in 1995.