Crafting a Drinking Horn
In this little article, I will share what I’ve learned in crafting some 10 or 15 horns.
Sources for horns – Tandy Leather has closed its stores, but still sell things via mail, get their large sanded horns. Another source is flea markets and Rendevous Reenactments. Finished horns are available from the Asatru Alliance, and if you happen to visit the Bristol Ren Faire – at the “Happy Viking.” Otherwise, stock yards, large scale cattle ranchers, and buckskinner shops are other possible sources. CAUTION – these instructions are for preparing a horn for drinking COLD liquids, hot liquids melt wax, as will the hot sun! Also – horns come from ANIMALS which may be contaminated with bad things – don’t forget to sanitize the horn with 5% bleach. If you don’t keep your horn clean, YOU could contaminate it with bad things. And, PLEASE, if you have any doubts about this procedure, buy one from a reputable place, or drink out of a glass(!).
The Procedure for preparing the horn –
Scrape all the crap out of it – wash it thoroughly. Do not soak it in bleach – it will smell, and if you soak enough, dissolve. You can rinse it out with a 5% solution followed with lots of water, or just use soap.
Sand the outside (if needed) with progressively finer grades until your down to 400-600 or xxxx steel wool. Don’t stop til it’s shiny. Rinse dust out, and let dry (At least overnight). Caution – do not remove more of the horn thickness than necessary – it could collapse or de-laminate. Don’t let it soak, dry it right away, but no heat to help prevent delamination.
Seal the outside. If you’re going to do inlay you probably want to use a spray polyurethane. If you’re not going to do something that needs sealed, go ahead and rub beeswax (Available at Ace Hardware, as well as from beekeepers) into it with a soft cotton cloth (Like a sock), until warm and very shiny – smells good too.
Seal the inside with beeswax:
- Take an old soup can and set it in a pan of boiling water on the stove. Put the lump of wax into it – a couple of ounces for a small horn, more is better.
- When completely melted, pour it into the horn, and immediately back into the can. Pour it straight out, don’t roll the horn, or you get drip lines spiraling around the inside.
- Rotate slightly and repeat until the inside is heavily coated.
- If the horn has a spot you can’t see inside (real deep), let a plug of wax congeal in the bottom to fill it up.
- Finally, take that cloth and polish a bit of the liquid wax into the (by now) warm horn.
- If you screw up, put in a 200F oven over a pan – it will eventually run out to be re-used.
Caution – NEVER pour liquid wax down the drain, or you might as well pack your bags and call a plumber!
A simple one day project, unless you are heavily decorating the thing.
Many folk carve their drinking horns, inlay metals and stones, or on light colored horns do scrimshaw. For carving and inlay – use a dremel with an engraving bit to rough it out and follow up with exacto knife to clean up the edges.
As far as putting a rim on it – either inlay the horn rim, or hard solder a ring slightly smaller than needed, and slide it up to the top – don’t force it or you’ll break the join. Mark where the top edge is, and saw the horn off if necessary. Put a bit of epoxy around the top, and slide the ring all the way on, forcing it gently the last little bit, until snug. Clean up the excess glue, of course. If you can find a silver bangle, or coated brass one, it is easier to find a horn to fit your rim than make a rim to fit your horn.
Also traditional is an end cap of precious metal – brass thimbles can be ground down to smoothness as well.