Turning Antler

Turning Antler

by Gordon Langer

Turning Antler

Over the years I have had some close calls working with antler and found it especially difficult to cut and drill the odd shaped blanks.  
 
Antler is a challenge and I often avoid using blanks that are particularily porous.  Of course these blanks are often the most beautiful and desired by customers.   I use the same CA finishing technique for antler as well as wood.   This article does cover some similar material as the last newsletter, but for completeness have included the CA finishing techniques again.

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Often the most difficult part of turning an antler pen is getting the blank ready.  Once the pieces are cut to rough length I use a hand clamp to hold the blank steady.  I trim it to the approximate length required for the pen I am turning.  It's also a good time to trim to a rectangle which will make drilling easier.

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To drill the blank I mount a small steb drive center into the headstock. Though available from several sources but I purchased mine from Lee Valley Tools.  Mount the blank between centers and carefully turn a small tenon on one end of the blank using a parting tool.

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Now that the blank has a small tenon mount it to the chuck with spigot jaws. Then mount the appropriate sized drill bit into a Jacobs Chuck in the tailstock; in this case a 3/8" brad point. Turning at a relatively slow speed, advance the tailstock until the bit drills through the blank.

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I often leave the blanks a bit long so now is a good time to trim them up, being careful not to trim any of the brass barrel glued into the blank.
 
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Here is a photo of the blanks ready for glueing.  I typically use thick CA but I am sure that medium viscosity CA would also work.  Once the glue dries square the blank using a pen vice and a barrel trimmer.  

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 Mount the blanks on mandrels with the appropriately sized bushings for each part. Follow the instructions provided with each kit as to the bushing size for each part.

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Turn to the shape you like.  Here I use a gouge and then a skew chisel.  

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Sharp tools make a big difference working with antler.  Don't be shy about visiting the grinder on a regular basis.  As you can see with sharp tools and good antler you can actually achieve shavings working with this material.

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Sand the antler starting at 220 then 320, 400 and finish with 600 grit sandpaper.

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Once the blank is properly sanded I apply two generous coats of thin CA glue to seal the blank and set aside to dry.  Normally this only takes a few minutes.

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Turning the speed down on the lathe to about 1/4 the normal turning speed, spray accelerator again onto the blank and wipe dry.  Apply two liberal coats of medium CA glue to the blank, wipe smooth with a shop towel and let dry.

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Once the medium CA is dry REPEAT this step again.

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After the glue has had a few minutes to dry, turn the speed of the lathe up to about 1/2 your normal turning speed.  With a water filled spray bottle, wet sand the blank (using lots of water) and 600 grit wet and dry sand paper until the shine is gone.  It's now time to complete the finishing process.

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Here I apply the Tripoli compound directly onto the blank.  Turning the lathe to full speed and in reverse I use the buffing wheel on my drill to polish the blank.

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Next I repeat the process using the Diamond compound.

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And finally the Carnauba wax.

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The blanks are almost complete, but before moving on you may run into porous antler from time to time, as shown here.

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In the past I often shied away from antler that looked like this, however, it can produce some of the most spectacular pens.  First I "rough" turn it to the approximate shape and then spray accelerator into all the pores.

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Next saturate the blank with thin CA and follow the same process as above.
   
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Here you can see the finished blank that is sure to be a quick seller!

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From time to time there may be some CA on the edge of the blank.  A quick touch with your barrel trimmer will clean off the ends.  Now it's time for the assembly process.  A few final notes.  Before using the mandrels and bushings I give them a rub with beeswax.  Once done with the bushings I soak them in a sealed container of Acetone overnight.  This will get rid of any CA glue that may be left on the bushing.

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Because I use lots of water when wet sanding I apply a good coat of WD40 to the lathe bed as extra protection before and after a CA glue finishing session. 
 
Creating a CA finish is somewhat complicated. It took me  several attempts and practice sessions to produce results that I was happy with. I do suggest that you try it first on a practice project or two to see how it works for you. 

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Here you can see the finished product.
 
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by Gordon Langer