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Caring for Natural Horn Scales

Caring for Stag Horn, Dark Horn, Honey Horn, Bone, and Ivory Handles

Stag and bone handles are beautiful to have as knife handles, but being natural materials they contain a certain amount of water content. This may dry up overtime if not well maintained and cause the stag handle to shrink or even crack, leaving the tang of the knife exposed. This is especially true in places that experience a dry climate all year round.

 To prevent this, we have some tips for you on how to "restore" your stag handles and keep them nice and plump to prevent cracks. Do note that some other natural materials like Ivory and horns may shrink over time and need these treatment too.

Things you need:

  • Big container/glass beaker (at least tall enough to fit the knife handle)
  • Mineral Oil - FORGET THIS
  • Rubbing alcohol - FORGET THIS
  • Rags
  • Renaissance Wax (optional) - NOT OPTIONAL A MUST HAVE.

Renaissance Wax Formulated by the British Museum Used On Armor & Swords

Simply Use Renaissance Wax and that is all you need to know

Steps to restore a stag/bone/ivory handle:

  1. Prep the knife handle. Wipe down the handle with rubbing alcohol to remove any dirt, oil and surface moisture.
  2. Pour the mineral oil into the beaker. Fill the beaker such when the handle is in the beaker, the oil level passes the tang slightly (ie the whole handle is submerged).
  3. Immerse the knife into the oil. Do it with the stag handle downwards (duh!) and the blade sticking out of the container.
  4. Leave to stand for 24 hours. This will allow the oil to seep into the pores of the bone and make it hydrated.
  5. Inspect the handle. It should have become a little fatter and the gaps and cracks should have become less noticeable.
  6. Soak again if needed. If the stag handle has not been fattened to the previous diameter (before shrinkage), soak in the oil for a another day or 2.
  7. Wipe clean and store. Or, once oil free, buff renaissance wax into the handle to seal in the moisture.

This treatment should improve the condition of the bone handle. It should be done at least once every 3 months, or a better indicator would be when the handle starts to shrink.

CAUTION: Mineral oil may darken Ivory or natural bones. Use at your own risk and always try on a small patch first.


rehydrated-ivory (Photo: BDHK)

However if your stag handle is looking fine, rubbing it down with mineral Thanks for having great information to help solve issues with knives.


Horn, a hard, flexible, translucent material that is formed from cells of the outer layer of skin, or epidermis. Projections of bone covered with horn, which grow on the heads of cattle, sheep, goats, bison, buffalo, and antelopes, are called horns. Deer antlers are sometimes called horns, but they are of solid bone without a horny covering. The horns on the nose of the rhinoceros are made up of solid masses of modified hair without a core of bone.

Fingernails, toenails, claws, and hoofs are made of horn. Other horny growths include the scales of reptiles; whalebone, from the mouths of baleen whales; and the horny covering of birds' beaks and the bony shells of most turtles.

The chemical basis of horn is keratin, a fibrous protein that accumulates in the epidermal cells. Birds' feathers and the scales on the shafts of human hair are composed of horny, or keratinized, tissue. If skin is exposed to constant pressure and friction, horny tissue may accumulate and produce corns.

Horn has been used since prehistoric times for making useful and ornamental objects. Stone Age artisans carved pictures on animal horns. For centuries horns were used as drinking cups, and as containers for food, medicines, and gunpowder. They were also used as musical instruments and for communicating outdoors. Horn from tortoise shells was made into “horn rims” for eyeglasses and into handles for umbrellas and walking sticks. Buttons, combs, and knife handles were also made of horn.


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