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Bone for carving

Ed Twilbeck

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Whenever I carved bone I used the shin bones of a cow.

Not a specific cow, mind. :lol:

You can get those at a good butcher.


To prepare I do the following:

I ask the butcher to remove the ends (though they are often removed already) so I am left with a 'cylinder' for all practical purposes, with the marrow running through the length.

I then remove the marrow and clean up the piece as well as I can (I find that ants and other critters will do the trick if I leave it in my back yard for a few days, assuming no dog or raccoon uses it for their lunch).

Then simmer the bone in water with some sort of clothes detergent for an hour or two. Don't boil... Simmer.

Remove, wash, and cut lengthwise so you have a couple of long and straight pieces.

At this point it is useful to remove all signs of anything that isn't bone and parts of bone that look 'oily'. They have a yellower colour. If left as is, they tend to spread.

I then usually leave them in the sun for as many as 30 days, or until I am happy with the colour.


I hope this helps.


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The simmering in detergent and the days in the sun should blech it pretty well.

I believe you can bleach it further if needed, but I have not tried it. I like a little colour, personally, so I often just leave it in the sun (after it has thoroughly dried) a few days only.



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Steve has his process described in his book which is available through The Carving Path book store.


'Bone Carving: Stephen Myhre ~ A skill base of techniques and concepts'.


Beef thigh bone tend to be the thickest. The older the animal the thicker the bone. Quite grainy though. Cut, scraped clean as possible then boiled, and yes, bleached with a standard domestic bleach. Ready to work in a week.


A much finer grained bone is horse, which is a beautiful, subtle cream color. That probably depends on diet too.


Farm or ranch fatalities often a source for naturally bleached material if you have access to such to wander over.


Calcium materials as in the various ivories are much nicer to work being smoother, more solid than bone and more forgiving.


Apart from ice age mastadon and mammoth one of the most appealing fresh, legal ivory comes from the humble African wart hog.

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Hi ya Mike......


Google search..... http://www.coastivory.com/warthog.htm










And here is a netsuke carved from warthog.... http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewI...&category=37938




http://www.trophyroomcollection.com/ivory.html (This looks good!)


And so it goes on. Untold on Ebay if one takes the time ......


It IS fun stuff to play with though!


Quite stable from older animals, used often for knife handles. Sometimes scabbards.


Cheers Donn

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Thanks for the extensive list, and nice to see you Donn!


The Trophy Room Collection shows hippo tooth. Is that a protected material, as in might it be difficult to transport a carving from one country to another, needing officious (rather, official) documentation?


I also recommend the book by Stephen Myhre.



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I have seen several carvings that are of bone.

What kind of bone do you use to carve, and where do you get it?

I would like to try some small pieces for jewelry carving. :rolleyes:



Are the bones that are for sale in pet supply strores still suitable for carving, or has the processing of them altered their makeup? I know that they are very dry when compared to "fresh" bone.



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I would steer clear of petshop bones (unless you have a dog :rolleyes: ).

I don't exactly know what process they undergo, but it seems like some kind of roasting and I can see all sorts of oils leeching into the material.

Any butcher should be able to get some raw bones for you and in fact slice them lengthways too if (s)he isn't busy.



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Can't say about pet shop supplies. If there is still oil darkening the bone it is not 'clean', hense using bleach to break down the oils and fats. Too strong a bleach and too long a soak will damage the bone. Best to refer to Steve here.

If a bleached, bone carving is worn extensively it will absorb the natural oils from the skin causing the appearence to alter with a lovely richness developing.


Not cognisant about legal hippo ivory in the general scheme of things but when you look at legit dealers they will also supply documentation clearing material from old, sick and culled animals.


Hippo ivory, unlike elephant, has an extremely hard and shiny enamel outer covering which has to be removed before working. Same with boar, but not on warthog which makes it easier to prepare for carving.

However the ivory underneath is fantastic. Very hard and fine grained.


In the days before synthetics hippo ivory was the prefered material from which false teeth were made.


Trust this helps....



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  • 1 month later...

Pet store bones are offen smoked. I use to buy them for the dog but unfortunatly the ride home in the truck would get way to brutal to handle. Dont know why he can chew on a cooked bone and nothing happens but them pet store bones do not treat us well at all. Cooking a bone from a roast after simmering can give it an interesting patina. The only problem I have ever had with this was, You guesed it the dog.

I had made a knife using a bone from a wild boar roast that was simmered but with no detergent. I come home from work to find my almost finished but not sharpened knife laying on the floor with the handle chewed almost off. I suppose he didnt like the taste of teh epoxie because most of that was still there but the bone was history.

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