Author Topic: Stabilizing Buffalo horn  (Read 541 times)

Offline hp246

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Stabilizing Buffalo horn
« on: October 19, 2020, 07:23:27 PM »
Have some buffalo horn ordered to make a couple of pairs of grips for my old Vaqueros.  I've made wood grips and bone grips, using Cactus Juice for a stabilizer.  Works great.  Have been researching whether or not to stabilize the buffalo horn (or if it's even necessary).  Have seen both yes and no answers.  My concern is the heat used to set the Cactus Juice.  Anyone here have any experience using it on horn? 

Also, just wondering if anyone has used a dye with Cactus Juice.  Wondering if you can use an alcohol based dye with it?

Sarge

Offline wildman1

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Re: Stabilizing Buffalo horn
« Reply #1 on: October 19, 2020, 07:29:08 PM »
Ain't sure what "cactus juice" is but Tru-Oil works great on sealing elk antler grips.
wM1
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Offline hp246

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Re: Stabilizing Buffalo horn
« Reply #2 on: October 19, 2020, 09:30:58 PM »
Ain't sure what "cactus juice" is but Tru-Oil works great on sealing elk antler grips.
wM1
Cactus Juice is a brand of stabilizer.  You place the material you want stabilized in the Cactus Juice, in a vacuum.  Let is set for a couple of days.  Remove it an place it in an oven for a hour or so at 200 degrees.  The heat catalyzes the stabilizer.

Offline Sir Charles deMouton-Black

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Re: Stabilizing Buffalo horn
« Reply #3 on: October 19, 2020, 10:09:37 PM »
Bison horn is quite a bit different than cow horn. Much harder.

Gabriel Law has worked with bison horn.
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Offline LongWalker

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Re: Stabilizing Buffalo horn
« Reply #4 on: October 20, 2020, 11:25:32 PM »
I've got to wonder what kind of "buffalo horn" you have.  If you bought blanks from a knifemaker supply etc, it is most likely water buffalo.  Water buffalo horn and bison horn work differently.   What I'm seeing as potential hangups, based on my experiments so far:

I don't think you'll get significant penetration.  By that, I mean that I don't think the stabilizer will penetrate through-and-through the horn.  You will get penetration in any areas of porosity, or where there are flaws (even hidden flaws).  From that perspective, stabilization is a good thing.  Surface penetration will also drastically reduce the chance of damage due to insects.  I think--not sure on this, as I'm not familiar with "Cactus Juice"--you'll also gain some protection from damage due to UV.  It may also harden the surface to protect against scratching (not sure about that on something like pistol stocks). 

Whatever type of horn it is, you may have trouble with the temps when you go to heat catalyze the stabilizer.  This could be limited to dimensional changes (some minor warping), to cracks or de-lamination, to color changes. 

My experiments have been with bison horn, which has a typical way of "scaling" as it dries and is exposed to sunlight.  You get some color change, often some de-lamination, and cracking (which may or may not be structural).  You don't see this the same way with horn from water buffalo.  (I've had a chunk of water buffalo horn sitting on my bench for 20 years that other than scratches and some pre-existing insect damage, has shown little change.  Bison horn would show much more damage/decomp.)

What I've seen so far has been that, across the board no matter what stabilizer I try, I get the best penetration on scraped surfaces.  Sanding seems to seal or fill the pores, inhibiting penetration.  Since I'm using a hacked-together setup, I'm not sure how much vacuum I'm pulling: enough to get 1/4" penetration of hard maple overnight, whatever that corresponds to.  In 48 hours, I get what seems to be about 1/32-1/16" penetration on bison horn (plus all the flaws/checks/etc). 

I've been shaping the horn close to final dimensions, roughly out any detail carving and the like, and fitting it in any critical areas like to a grip frame or similar.  Then I'm giving it 48 hours in the vac using JB Weld's "Wood Restore Liquid Hardener" as the stabilizer.  Then I remove it, wipe the surfaces, and let it harden for about a week at 70+ degrees F: no additional heat is needed to catalyze the stabilizer.  Then I bring it to final dimensions, finish the carving, etc.  In theory, if I had any areas that were exposed that didn't appear to be stabilized, I'd treat it again but that hasn't been needed yet.  Then polish and finish out the project. 

Test pieces done this way have stood up to a weather etc for up to a year without the scaling etc I'd expect to see with untreated bison horn in similar conditions.  I don't have results on this treatment past a year, so can't say what to expect past that. 
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Re: Stabilizing Buffalo horn
« Reply #5 on: Today at 04:56:22 PM »

Offline hp246

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Re: Stabilizing Buffalo horn
« Reply #5 on: October 21, 2020, 07:45:29 AM »
I've got to wonder what kind of "buffalo horn" you have.  If you bought blanks from a knifemaker supply etc, it is most likely water buffalo.  Water buffalo horn and bison horn work differently.   What I'm seeing as potential hangups, based on my experiments so far:

I don't think you'll get significant penetration.  By that, I mean that I don't think the stabilizer will penetrate through-and-through the horn.  You will get penetration in any areas of porosity, or where there are flaws (even hidden flaws).  From that perspective, stabilization is a good thing.  Surface penetration will also drastically reduce the chance of damage due to insects.  I think--not sure on this, as I'm not familiar with "Cactus Juice"--you'll also gain some protection from damage due to UV.  It may also harden the surface to protect against scratching (not sure about that on something like pistol stocks). 

Whatever type of horn it is, you may have trouble with the temps when you go to heat catalyze the stabilizer.  This could be limited to dimensional changes (some minor warping), to cracks or de-lamination, to color changes. 

My experiments have been with bison horn, which has a typical way of "scaling" as it dries and is exposed to sunlight.  You get some color change, often some de-lamination, and cracking (which may or may not be structural).  You don't see this the same way with horn from water buffalo.  (I've had a chunk of water buffalo horn sitting on my bench for 20 years that other than scratches and some pre-existing insect damage, has shown little change.  Bison horn would show much more damage/decomp.)

What I've seen so far has been that, across the board no matter what stabilizer I try, I get the best penetration on scraped surfaces.  Sanding seems to seal or fill the pores, inhibiting penetration.  Since I'm using a hacked-together setup, I'm not sure how much vacuum I'm pulling: enough to get 1/4" penetration of hard maple overnight, whatever that corresponds to.  In 48 hours, I get what seems to be about 1/32-1/16" penetration on bison horn (plus all the flaws/checks/etc). 

I've been shaping the horn close to final dimensions, roughly out any detail carving and the like, and fitting it in any critical areas like to a grip frame or similar.  Then I'm giving it 48 hours in the vac using JB Weld's "Wood Restore Liquid Hardener" as the stabilizer.  Then I remove it, wipe the surfaces, and let it harden for about a week at 70+ degrees F: no additional heat is needed to catalyze the stabilizer.  Then I bring it to final dimensions, finish the carving, etc.  In theory, if I had any areas that were exposed that didn't appear to be stabilized, I'd treat it again but that hasn't been needed yet.  Then polish and finish out the project. 

Test pieces done this way have stood up to a weather etc for up to a year without the scaling etc I'd expect to see with untreated bison horn in similar conditions.  I don't have results on this treatment past a year, so can't say what to expect past that.

Great information.  Thank you.  Yes, I believe it is water buffalo horn.  The heat is my concern.  I'll check into JB weld's Stabilizer, as it sounds like it catalyzes at a much lower temperature.

Offline Cliff Fendley

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Re: Stabilizing Buffalo horn
« Reply #6 on: October 21, 2020, 10:30:11 PM »
I have some big pieces I've had for 10 plus years I've been thinking about making some grips figuring it has dried out about as much as it's going to.

I don't know how well they will stabilize since buffalo horn is pretty dense. It sure will shrink and warp on you though I can tell you from experience on knife handles. I'm probably going to take my chances whenever I get around to it and then soak them with mineral oil afterwards, I've found soaking buffalo horn, sheep horn, stag, ivory, etc, with mineral oil helps keep it from shrinking and cracking.
 
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Offline 1961MJS

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Re: Stabilizing Buffalo horn
« Reply #7 on: October 22, 2020, 09:12:47 AM »
Hi

Personal opinion, but I tried to use Buffalo Horn on a couple of Green River blades and it warped during the 6 months I had them laying around.  I ended up using Black Micarta (I'm pretty sure anyway).  Looked VERY similar and didn't warp.  Whatever I used, I got from Jantz Supply. 

Just my $0.02 and worth half that.

Later
Mike
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Offline LongWalker

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Re: Stabilizing Buffalo horn
« Reply #8 on: October 27, 2020, 01:07:20 PM »
Re: the shrinking and warping problems with horn.  Yeah, it happens--but have you ever seen it happen with the horn buttplates that were so common 100 years ago, or the fancy horn combs or spoons?  I can think of 1 buttplate that was a "maybe" (the stock was underwater for some months, and I'm not sure if the apparent warpage was due to horn movement or wood movement). 

Thin items were made of horn that had first been de-laminated into thin sheets through the use of prolonged exposure to high temps (>200 F in most cases).  Thicker items, such as buttplates, were made of thick horn that was quickly heated to somewhere around 325-350 F and flattened. 

Most folks playing with flattening horn today are using hot oil (think "deep fat fryer" or similar, NOT a turkey fryer).  I've been messing with this since the late '80s.  So far, I've not had horn treated in this manner warp (could happen tomorrow though!).  It will still shrink if it hasn't aged long enough, but not as much as if it hadn't received the hot oil treatment.  For something like knife handles and pistol stocks, I'd like to see it aged for a couple years after flattening.  I suspect back in the day, they didn't deliberately age it at all.  I suspect the use of appropriate modern stabilization approaches might eliminate some of this. 

The fresher the horn when you flatten it, the fewer problems you'll have.  If you try this, please use appropriate safety equipment. 
In my book a pioneer is a man who turned all the grass upside down, strung bob-wire over the dust that was left, poisoned the water, cut down the trees, killed the Indian who owned the land and called it progress.  Charles M. Russell

Offline 1961MJS

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Re: Stabilizing Buffalo horn
« Reply #9 on: October 29, 2020, 09:34:45 AM »
Wow, thanks.  That explains why the horn knife handles I was trying to make warped.  I didn't heat and flatten them, I let them dry too long, I was busy so they sat out for 6 months. 

Later
Mike
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Re: Stabilizing Buffalo horn
« Reply #10 on: Today at 04:56:22 PM »

Offline hp246

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Re: Stabilizing Buffalo horn
« Reply #10 on: November 04, 2020, 01:47:57 PM »
I thought I'd update my experimentation for anyone interested.  I tried stabilizing using the Cactus Juice.  The blanks did warp.  I reheated them and pressed them flat in wood worker vises. The vises worked fine for flattening them.  I then used Minwax Wood Hardener to stabilize the blanks until they are carved.  The Minwax does not use heat.  When I put them under vacuum, I noted a lot of bubbles rising from them, I believe they were absorbing the hardener.  Once the blanks are roughed out, I plan to use the Minwax again and let them set for 48 hours in the vacuum.  After I did this, I finally did receive a reply to my inquiry to the manufacturer of Cactus Juice.  Their opinion was that buffalo horn was too dense to treat.  I think at the very least, the Minwax will work as a sealer, but heating is definitely a no-no unless you have the means to press the horn flat after heating it.  Sarge. 

Offline Bunk Stagnerg

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Re: Stabilizing Buffalo horn
« Reply #11 on: November 08, 2020, 09:44:12 AM »
i am not sure about the horn but a shoulder shot with a .458 Winchester Magnum using a 500 grain solid  will pretty well stabilize the buffalo horns and all.
At least that is my experience.
Bunk

Offline Coffinmaker

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Re: Stabilizing Buffalo horn
« Reply #12 on: November 09, 2020, 08:20:54 AM »

 ;D  PLUS ONE too BUNK STAGNER(G)   ;D

 

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