Creating beautiful carvings from animal bone is a time honoured tradition common in Hawaii and Polynesian culture. In ancient Hawaii, animals bones were carved and used as functional hunting tools, primarily as fish hooks, to catch various sea animals to feed the native tribes. In fact, the importance of using carved animals bones as a means of everyday survival, was so great, that today you will find a variety of bone instruments and products throughout the Pacific Islands, as a form of cultural decoration and pride.
Bone is a sturdy material that lasts a long time and can be turned into a versatile array of crafted objects such as ornamental boxes, figurines and jewelry items such as necklace pendants and brooches. Making carvings out of bone is a simple, yet time consuming process. However, the resulting bone product that you create may be functional or beautiful enogh to fetch a tidy sum in the commercial marketplace.
Bones Used for Carving
Well-known bone carvings are those from bones or tusks of marine animals such as whales and walruses. Also referred to as “scrimshaws,” carvings from whale bones are quite valuable. However, the use of whale bones for present day bone carvings is discouraged and maybe illegal in many countries because of the endangered species status of these marine creatures.
Oxen or cattle bone are more commonly used nowadays for carving bone artwork. Camel bone is also an ideal bone carving medium. In other areas, moose bone and antlers are likewise used for carving. Other candidates are sheep and deer bone.
The animal’s leg bone, particularly the hind shin, is the best candidate for bone carving as it is usually the thickest bone; it is highly dense and has a fine grain surface. Cow and goat horns may also be used for certain applications.
Materals and Equipment Used To Carve Bone
- Animal bone
- Fret saw or coping saw
- Gravers (small engraving chisels)
- Etching knife
- Round and triangular files (coarse)
- Small hand drill or dentist’s drill
- Safety goggles and mask
- Leather mat or bag
- Draw your design on paper as your guide. Since this is a 3-dimensional work of art, illustrate different views and perspective of your design. Some ideas for your initial endeavour are stylized pendants, perhaps featuring the sun or the moon, or a flower shape.
- Prepare the bone. Select the bone of the appropriate size and contour in relation to your design. Use the fret saw to cut it down to your exact measurements. Scrape and wash the bone thoroughly to get rid of leftover flesh and marrow. Soak the bone in soap and hot water for about 24 hours. Then wash thoroughly and let it dry.
- Setup your working area by covering the table with an appropriate cutting board or similar protective material. Use the leather matting as your working surface.
- Using gravers, the etching knife, and the files begin to cut and whittle away at the bone to achieve the rough outline of your design first. Then slowly carve away at the bone to add in the details until you arrive at the desired effect. Use the drill to make holes if they are required by design.
- Sand down your finished carved bone lightly to erase scratches made by your tools. Alternatively use a polishing machine for that smooth buff look, but do not use household polishing creams.
Bone carving is a wonderful hobby. Carved bone pieces make great gifts as well. Start your own treasure trove of self-made bone carvings today, or purchase hand-carved bone items to start your collection.