Restoring Elk Antlers

By Bob Ruse

    To repair chews or broken tips, I use MinWax Premium Woodfiller. This product is similar to Bondo, but it is a beige color and it is a natural bone color after it has been sanded. The working time depends on the amount of catalyst you add to the filler. It sets up in five minutes or so.

     To repair a chew on the mainbeam, clean the area on the antler first. Then mix a small amount of the filler and apply it to the area to be repaired. As it starts to set-up, you can use a tooth pick or similar instrument to match up veining and texture as best you can. And before it is completely set, you can trim excess away with a razor blade. After it has set-up, it can be sanded and you can clean out any veining with a file or sandpaper. A Dremel tool and a palm sander are handy if you have them. At this time you can apply a second application of the filler if necessary. You can also add little bumps to match the texture of the antler. When repairing broken or chewed tips, I use the same wood filler, but it has to be reinforced to be strong.

     To repair a small tip, I use an eight penny finish nail. Cut the head off of the nail with wire cutters and then put the nail in a drill. Following the centerline of the point, drill into the antler an inch or so. Then remove the nail from the drill, leaving it in the antler. Make sure the nail is secure. Now use filler to build the new tip. After it is sanded, it will be very similar in color to the natural ivory tip of an elk antler. On larger tips, the larger the reinforcement, the better. I use either 1/4" or 3/8" all-thread rods. If you want to add a three inch tip, cut 4 1/2"of rod. For 1/4" rod, you will need a 3/16" drillbit and a 1/4" tap. For 3/8 inch rod, you need a 5/16" drill bit and a 3/8" tap. A handle for the taps make them easier to use. Following the centerline of the point drill about 1 1/2" into the antler. Now use the tap to cut threads in the antler. Use a grinder or a file to taper one end of the 4 1/2" rod. Now install two nuts on the other end and jam them together 1 1/2" from the end of the rod. Use a wrench to screw the rod into the antler. If the filler will cover the jam nuts, leave them in place, if not, remove them. You can use a pair of pliers or a small piece of pipe to bend the rod to match the curvature of the antler if necessary. Now you are ready to start applying the filler to fashion the new point.

     Staining antlers that still have a hard bone finish is pretty easy. Antlers that are dry, chalky and cracked are another story. They soak up the stain and look like they were painted with brown house paint. Our local elk antlers vary in color depending on the type of tree they used to knock off the dried velvet and polish up their antlers. We use gel stain to stain the antlers. MinWax and Varathane make gel stains. The stain we use most is Varathane Special Walnut. You do not want to just paint the stain on. Use a small brush and apply the stain and wipe off the excess. Leave the natural bone color exposed on the high points and ridges to simulate the natural rubbing of the antler. If the tips of the antler do not have the natural ivory color, or they are dirty, we paint them. Get an ivory color spray paint and lightly mist the tips. Let them dry and repeat if necessary. When you are staining and get near the ivory tips feather the stain out on the tips. If the tips have been painted, I mix a small amount of stain with paint thinner and make a wash. I use this to dirty up the tips and make them look more natural. When you are happy with the antler, spray a coat of Krylon Matte Finish sealer over them, or a similar product

It took about an hour and twenty minutes to do these repairs on the elk antler. Two pics before I started

Nail in G-1 Rod in G-2

Rod has been filed to point and bent to match curve of antler Nail cut off and bent slightly

First application of wood filler

Second application of filler

Hand sanded before final application of filler

Matching veining, texture and final sanding

Veining in mainbeam

Ready for stain