Ultimate Guide To Bone Carving For Beginners

Bone carving has a historical significance, which dates back to the stone age. Not only was it used to make weapons and tools, but also worn as jewelry. Now you can make your own carvings out of bones This article will walk you through the fundamentals of bone carving and we’ll also discuss a couple of simple projects you could work on. for this rare hobby. 

Bone Carving Fundamentals

The bones that you will source from a butcher will always be covered in meaty bits and periosteum. This is a membrane that covers the bone and needs to be removed before carving. You will also need to cut off the knobbly bits or epiphysis.

Carving the Epiphysis

The epiphysis of the knobbly bits at both ends of the bones needs to be cut off. You can use a saw for this job since it can be pretty tough. If you have a vice grip use that to hold the bone while you cut the ends off.

Once you are done with that, you can also cut the bone in half with the saw. Cutting the bone in half can make the cleaning process easier. But it is not compulsory if your project requires the bone to keep a tube-like shape.

Softening the Bone and Removing the Periosteum

There are a few ways you can clean off the membrane from the bone along with the bits. You can find an ant pit and let them take it apart and leave you with just bone. But this process can take days and weeks depending on the size of the ant colony. This isn’t a recommended way to go about it either unless you have a very large amount of bones that need to be cleaned.

The recommended way is to use a mixture of cleaning detergent and bleach. The ratio should be 1 to 1, with a scoop of detergent and a cup of bleach. Mix it in lukewarm water and submerge the bone completely in it for 3-4 hours. This can smell bad so ensure you do it near a window so it can ventilate.

Once 12 hours have passed remove the bone and wash it in cold water. Use a knife to slowly scrape off the membrane and it should come right off. Give it another soak if you want to make the bone whiter and softer, which makes it easier to carve.

People also boil the bones for 12 hours as well, which is a lengthy process, but it also helps in cleaning and whitening them.

Scraping Out the Trabecula

This part of the bone contains fat and is softer in texture compared to the rest of it. Removing it can help prevent the bone from getting stained from the oils in the fat.

The first thing to do is to dry the bone thoroughly. After which you can use a knife or something with a sharp tip to remove it. Once you are done scraping out the spongy part as much as you can, just use a file to finish it off and carve off whatever is left inside.

Whitening the Bone

After you have done scraping it out and cleaned off everything else, it is time to whiten the bone. Whitening bones give you the best results, it makes your carvings look more beautiful.

People often boil bones or use an acid bath to whiten them. You can just use a mixture of coarse salt and vinegar which is acetic acid with lukewarm water. Leave it in the mixture for a while.

Once enough time has passed and you see that the color of the bone is whiter, just rinse it thoroughly in cold water. You will then want to dry the bones again and the result will be a much lighter color.

You can also use a bleach and detergent bath as you did earlier to remove the membrane. It will give you similar results.

Sourcing Bones for Carving

It is important to understand that you need to source your bones through ethical means. Then you have to prepare the bone, whiten it, and if required softened it as well.

Sourcing wood in comparison is pretty easy, you can find plenty of sellers online and in the locality. Bones can be found at your local butcher or hunting trails. The best way is to source it from the butcher though, the ones at hunting trails might be old and unusable.

You can ask the butcher for bones specifically used in carving. He will be able to help you in that regard, but in case the butcher does not have an idea, just ask for a beef cannon bone. This is the thickest and densest of bones that can be found and perfect for carving.

Ask the butcher to cut it in half if possible, otherwise, that will end up becoming more work for you. You will have to carve it up using a saw so you can clean it properly.

Using Dremel to Carve Bone

While you can carve bones using hand tools, using a Dremel can give you great results. It will make the task of creating intricate designs and patterns much easier even for beginners of bone carving.

Using various kinds of burrs and bits your bone carving experience will become a breeze. Of course, everything requires practice at first, so keep that in mind when you start off.

Use a pencil to create your designs on bones since they do not stain and can be erased easily. Also do find the sweet spot in the rotation speed of the Dremel tool that gives you the best results.

Beginner Projects with Bone Carving

Depending on the type of bone you have sourced, you can make a variety of projects. The first project that most people will try to make is usually a necklace. It is easy to make a pendant out of a bone using Dremel.

For a pendant usually, a larger bone is used. You can cut the bone in half vertically and then draw out the design on it using a pencil. Once you draw it out, carve it out slowly with a Dremel tool. People also make spoons using larger bones.

If you have small thin bones then you can make knitting needles out of them. Another project is hairpins, which are incredibly easy to make. Once you have enough practice you can take on difficult projects using bones from different parts of bodies. People often use antlers for the purpose of carving once they are comfortable with them.

Final Thoughts

Bone carving is all about practicing, once you get the hang of it, it is as easy and versatile as wood carving. Of course, bone carving comes with limitations, which is the size of the bones. On the other hand with wood carving, you can carve a huge statue out of a log if you want to.

But in the end, the techniques that you will use to carve will be very similar with the exception of a few. Preparing bones for carving also requires patience, so try not to use more chemicals to get faster results.

Martin Swizz

Hi! This is Martin, I like to research, experiment, and learn new things related to wood carving and other kinds of woodworking.

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