Deer antler has long been a favored handle material for bladesmiths. But, antler doesn't always grow in the exact shape the smith needs to bring vision into reality. At times, it becomes necessary for the smith to modify the antler to suit his needs. Straightening deer antler can be done, but it is accomplished more by trial and error than exact technical science.
Things You'll Need
Screw vice with soft wood jaw liners
Large pot and heat source
Cut the antler section you wish to use slightly longer than your desired final size to allow for trimming, sanding and other fine finish work.
Prepare at least one gallon of a 50 percent solution of vinegar and water in a large pot, more may be advisable to compensate for evaporation. One tutorial thread "Antler Straightening 101" at Primalfires.yuku.com, advises lining the bottom of the pot with small stones which will later be used to prevent the antler from cooling too quickly. Place the antler in the solution and bring to a boil. Boiling time varies depending on the size of the antler and could range from five minutes for smaller pen-sized pieces up for 90 minutes or more for larger ones.
Move the boiled antler from the pot to the vise quickly to avoid letting the antler cool and clamp it straight. The antler may crack at this point if it is not softened enough. Be careful and patient. If you feel the antler giving too much resistance in the vice unclamp it and boil it again. "Antler Straightening 101" at Primalfires.yuku.com recommends surrounding the antler with the hot stones at this point.
Leave the antler in the vice to dry for at least 24 hours, more for larger pieces.
Practice is key to the success of antler straightening. Do not start with the piece you plan to use for final assembly of your knife. Boil and straighten similar-sized pieces first to become familiar with the process.
Allow the antler to sit for a couple of days after straightening and drying. Even after drying some pieces may try to return to their original shape. Repeat the process until this antler stay in the desired shape.
If the antler has not boiled long enough, or is allowed to cool too much before clamping it will crack under the pressure of the vice. Boiling vinegar fumes can irritate eyes and nasal passages. If possible, boil the antler outside, or in a well ventilated area. Vinegar will stain aluminum pots.