So… I made some antlers for a recent commission. I thought it might help some of you to know how I did it, since it seems like the impossible dream when you see the result!
I used oak, but any wood would work; the less brittle and less pronounced grain the better because otherwise the result will be extremely fragile along grain lines. If you use a harder wood, you will find it takes longer to make, but you have less potential for catastrophic mistakes… vice versa for softer wood.
OK so start off with a piece of wood about 100mm (4″) long, 10mm (3/8″) thick and about 30mm (1.2″) wide. Plane the length on one side of the piece at an angle until one side is only 7mm thick – it doesn’t really matter whether it’s a straight line between the 10mm side and the 7mm side – you’ll see why later. (Fig.1)
Now, use a bandsaw or scrollsaw to cut the thinner edge off at a bevel of about 65 degrees; i.e. when the piece is laying flat, the 10mm thick edge is vertical but the 7mm thick edge is 65 degrees with the flat side wider than the sloping side (Fig.2).
Now cut the piece into two equal-length (about 2″) pieces. Turn them around so that when they sit on their narrow (angled) edges, they are tilted away from each other in a wide-ish “V” shape to test their alignment. Make adjustments to the angle as needed (Fig.3). On one side of each piece (inner or outer, whichever you prefer) draw the basic shape of the antlers you’re going for.
Make sure they’re different each side, but that the “trunk” of the antlers is drawn at the same point on the length of both. Now use a scrollsaw or bandsaw to cut much of the waste wood from around the shapes you drew. Leave a flat base on the angled edge about 5-6mm deep; this
will be glued to the block (Fig.4). Once you dare cut no more with the saw, you should glue the antlers to a base which will become the block of the flute; angled outwards. They will be a VERY odd shape at this time; don’t worry we’ll fix that next.
Once the glue is fully dry (with most glues I’d suggest about 24 hours) clamp the base of the bird in a vice, and get out your Dremel/Foredom/whatever. If you don’t have one, shame on you! 😉
You can now choose any tool you like: I usually use a small sanding drum with my Dremel 4000 FlexShaft; but you could equally use more cutting-oriented tools such as routers etc. Use the sanding drum in short sweeps on the surface of the wood; I use it like a tiny paring knife with my thumb behind the piece and the Dremel head in front; using gentle hand motions to tease away a little wood on each stroke. In this way, you can use the thickness of the wood to introduce curves gentle and tight; angled both outwards and inwards from the trunk of the antler. (Fig.5)
Work steadily and gently until you have a broadly circular cross-section on all the branches and the trunk; there will likely be places you can’t get to with the Dremel though, between the branches, so you will now have to tear off a strip of coarse sanding paper, wrap it around the places where it’s still squared off, and pull it backwards and forwards to make it round. BE CAREFUL HERE – this is when it may break along grain lines.