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Thread: working with horn

  1. #1
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    Question working with horn

    Hello everybody!

    This is my first post. For long time now i followed this Forum with great joy always being amazed by the razors people restore or make from scratch!

    I have restored a few razors by myself now, working with wood and home made paper-micarta. Now I want to make some horn scales for a nice blade, but my first attempt failed

    I got cow-horn in 2mm thickness, I traced the lines, cut out the scales, sanded them, polished and then I realized, that one of the scales warped. I did not use any powertools, but maybe the polishing by hand made the horn just a tick to warm. But my best guess is, that the horn warped due to stress in the material caused by inhomogenic structure.

    Now my question is, how should I choose the horn blanks? How do you work with them? How do you bend them?

    I would appreciate any tips on how to work with horn and how to treat it properly!

    Thank you all very much for your help and have a nice start in the new year!

    Moriz

  2. #2
    ..mama I know we broke the rules... Maxi's Avatar
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    Hey Moriz,

    For bending/straightening horn, many of us have a jig of sorts. Mine is made of oak, and is a set of two boards, each about 4" by 8". Each board has about 10 holes drilled through. When I encounter bent/warped scales, I place the scales in between the boards, and lightly clamp around the outside. Put the jig on top of a pot of water and bring it to the boil. As everything heats through, tighten the clamps. Allow everything to heat very well. Then take the jig off and place it on the counter, let the scales normalize. Sometimes it works after one attempt, sometimes it takes more.

    For all other projects, I choose horn blanks based on the A) colour b) inclusions c) spine of the razor.

    I like to use streaks that mimic the contours of the blade. And sometimes, the inclusions are cool. If you look at one of my last posts in the Customs section, I did a big 8/8 W&B for EPD. I used blond horn, and it had red inclusions in it, so I put those at the toe of the razor. They look cool.

    Old horn also benefits from a neatsfoot oil treatment, where you soak them in a ziplock for 48-72 hours. The neatfoot oil rehydrates the horn, allowing it to be malleable and workable again.

    Horn is a natural material, so it responds to its environment. On member here leaned his razors in a jar with a tonne of silica in the jar as well, and clamped the lid. The horn eventually warped like crazy, because of the lean, and the fact that the moisture was being drawn out of it. Leave it be, and it will be fine. Put it in a case, like any other razor.

    As for working with the horn, many of us (myself included) hand sand like crazy. Once my blanks are cut and thinned, I use a belt sander to rough in the shape. Then I use a really old 220 belt to finalize the shape. Then it's hand sanding dry at 220 and 400. Then wet sanding from 400 to 2k. Then Micro mesh from 4k to 12k (4, 8, 12)...then it's a polish with white rouge or fabulustre. After pinning, it gets buffed with the fabulustre again. Then it goes back home to the owner.

    I hope this answers a few of your questions. If you need more info, don't hesitate to give me a PM.

    Talk soon,
    Maxi

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    Ah, Thank you soooo much! I'm sorry for my late reply!

    I have a jig, I was just not sure how to make the horn bendable the best way. I used to cook it in boiling water for some time and then just press it down. My last horn scale project though was ruined when i tried to flatten the scale pieces that were almost finished. They warped lengthwise, and I couldn't manage to get them straight again.

    Right now I am looking for a source for horn.

    I wonder how big the plates are that you guys start with. I could get some 20x6x0,5cm big plates. My only concern is, that I wouldn't need 0,5 cm in thickness, so i would end up sanding it down to about 0,3-0,2 cm.
    Do you guys have any experience with cutting a thick horn piece in two with a bandsaw??

    Thank you very much!

    Moriz

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    Horn is made of keratin, the same stuff as your fingernails. Like different people's nails some are brittle and some are very pliable. You got some really good advice above and I would not try to split a thick piece of horn with a bandsaw, just remove material down to the shape you desire.

    Boiling horn will make it slightly more pliable, but not really plastic. If you have a slightly warped piece and a jig like was described above boiling should work fine.

    If you really want to work with warped horn, then the way to make horn plastic enough to work into different shapes is to use dry heat. The horn will become plastic between 300F and 350F. That is how designs and such were pressed into horn scales in the past. Boiling can never get above 212F.

    If you can get raw horn and determine from inspection that it is not one of the brittle types then you can split it down the middle and use dry heat, say in an oven (yes it will stink) until the horn is quite pliable and clamp it between to boards using C clamps and when it cools it will be and stay flat. If you hear the horn "pop" or "crack" while heating it up you got it too hot and it will be worthless, but this usually happens when it is heated over an open heat source! That is how the old flat powder horns were made for priming powder. They were heated over coals and then had a wooden form shoved inside. When they cool, they keep the shape.

    You didn't ask about all of this, but I hope that helps.

    Will N.
    Last edited by WillN; 01-03-2013 at 02:13 PM.

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    Thank you Will for your nice post! I didn't ask for it, but I always appreciate good advice and know how

    If i guess correctly, buffalo horn is not so much pressed into plates, but cut, right? Buffalo horn is often solid, so there is no big hole in the middle as with cow's horn. So cow's horn alway has to be pressed to get nice plates. Also it is not as hard as buffalo's horn, so there is a higher chance of warping.

    How thick are the scales you guys make out of horn? If they are rather thin, i guess you sand them down to the wanted thickness, right?
    I just thought I could get more scales out of one plate if i cut it in half (so instead of 1 scale with 5 mm that i have to sand down I could get 2 scales with 2 mm if i cut it in half (minus 1 mm for the saw-blade)

    So much to learn! ^^

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    Buffalo horn that you find on line is water buffalo and the tip of the horn is usually solid for quite a bit. They do have a bone core as all horns do, but that tip is where you can cut slabs with your bandsaw if you wish. You can buy them on line cheap enough to experement with them.

    Will N.

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    hi,
    microwaves are not good for straightening the horn?

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    Quote Originally Posted by mihai View Post
    hi,
    microwaves are not good for straightening the horn?
    No, it burns it and starts to de-laminate. (don't ask how I know)
    rolodave likes this.
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    I have found over years of re-scaling that some horn will not stabilize. One scale, even when the horn is cut from the same slab, and the same side inward on both, may shorten or lengthen enough over a few years to make the blade close off center.
    It is my unproven belief that vintage and antique horn was always heated to a plastic temperature and flattened or placed into molds to make the consistent shapes we now know so well.
    Buying new cut to shape scales and not using the blanks immediatly has shown a similar delamination and warping problem.
    YMMV
    ~Richard

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    It is sad.
    Did anyone tried to stabilize them with resin?

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