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Boy, I'm quiet for a while, then I'm just full of questions! How hard is it to work with bone? What tools are usually used? And how is it prepared? (Can I use a soup bone ?)
Lynn in SW Michigan, USA
A few years ago, while playing with my husband's Unimat, I cut a stick from a used soup bone and made a little awl -- that's what I decided to call it when it was finished.
I moved the belt onto a slower pulley, but used the metal-working tool that was already in the lathe. The bone came off as dust instead of curls the way wood-lathe chips are said to do. I don't suppose one would want to go into production with such tools, but I didn't have any particular difficulty, and the bone took a fine polish. I think I could have made a bobbin, if I'd known what one looked like back then, and if the bone had been twice as long.
Having been cooked didn't seem to bother the bone any. I think that one of the participants said, the last time this thread came up, that the only reason that bone workers don't boil off the meat and gristle is that it turns the bones brown. If you happen to like the shade of brown they turn, that isn't any problem -- at least in the playing-around stages.
When she collected shells, Mom would bury any that still had bits of animal in them in an ant hill, and dig them up a week later. I imagine that whether this would work with mammal bones would depend on what sort of ants were available. The ones that get into my kitchen swarm on the faintest trace of sugar, but ignore bones left on the floor for the cats to play with. (Thank goodness!)
Capital District, New York, U.S.A.
I am by no means an expert... The best success I have had is using my flex shaft and carbide bits designed specifically for softer materials (like plexiglass and wood...) Pearl and lapidary bits would work, but would clog a lot... Use a lot of beeswax to lubricate your bits, wear eye protection, go SLOW. Bone (and other natural materials) vary HUGELY in their working properties...even to the degree that you will find one end of a bone to be apt to chipping and splintering and the other end to be workable without any problems at all. Bone (cow bone at least, and I am suspecting other mammal bone as well) has a mohs of about 5.5 and so is a lot easier to work than most traditional lapidary material.
You could certainly use hand tools or a lathe, though as far as lathing bone, I am WAY out of my depth... Your hand rasps files and needle files will clog often...clean them with a stiff wire brush when they stop cutting well... Jeweler's saws will cut bone easily.
I know it was asked in jest, but i see no particular problem with using a soup bone...I have practiced on soup bones... To remove skin and tendon and other 'stuck on' bits, I found it easiest to leave small pieces of bone in a cyanide solution...(not something you are going to probably have lying around the house)...beware of leaving it in any sort of acid solution (even vinegar) it will weaken the bone VERY quickly...to the point where after about 3 days in a regular (5%) acetic acid (vinegar) bath will render most bone a sort of flexible mass that can even be bent double. Maybe boiling and scrubbing with salt would work...
A lot of scrimshaw type techniques lend themselves well to working with bone, bone dyes well, electroforms really well, carves well... At least it's very cheap...so don't worry about messing up... In fact, my local butcher gave me all the bone I could haul away (and yes, my 'waste nothing' MIL made soup from them first.
Rio Grande supply is a wholesale/retail supplier of tools and products including sealants, files, flex shafts, beads findings books, etc.... I will find the number and send it to the list if you want...(no affiliation...in fact, as a tradesperson, their prices are not the best for me, but they ARE extremely complete...everything from one place).
I also have some shop notes lying around and I will try to collate them into something resembling understandable english and type them up.
I would also point the truly curious off on a WONDERFUL tangent... Go and look up Oppi Untracht's books (Especially Jewelry design and manufacture)...he has the most complete treatise on every design and manufacture process (including bone/scrimshaw/etc) known to man. This is not a tiny book...it is probably over 1,000 pages of meaty text...it IS complete though. He has a new book on ethnic jewelry which has HUGE passages about bone and ivory. It's funny that most of the time, I feel like you guys are all such experts that I can add very little to the conversation... It's nice to be able to add something once in a while.
Annie Buchanan (the Yank in London)
PS - Lest you be put off, I would say that working bone is not beyond the scope of most dedicated beginners with a few fairly common/easily aquirable tools.
To all who plan to work with bone or ivory
When working with these materials be sure to use a dust mask - the finer the better. The fine dust from working these materials will build up in the lungs and can cause problems (ivory is toxic over time). I am a jeweler and have worked on fossil ivory (really neat material to carve), and this was a big caution taught. There are some 'vegetable ivory' products available, (Tagua Nuts,etc.) these are the nut or pit of tropical trees. However, most of those I have seen are not large enough to fashion a tatting shuttle of much size. One could make cute mini ones however. The material is relatively soft and can be filed or worked with the Dremal or Fordom tools and bits. It polishes easily with just hand rubbing and looks great, and is perfectly legal.
In the Seattle area, we can purchase these nuts at the gem and mineral shows, check with your local rockhound group for a source.
As to using bone, it is my understanding that one should boil it in a soapy water to remove the excess tissue and the oil. After it is well dried, the bone is ready to carve. I haven't really done any bone carving but it should work much like the ivory and vegetable ivory. JUST REMEMBER TO USE THE DUST MASK! and have fun. It is my understanding that the lower leg bones are used for bobbins because the bone is denser.
Graham, Washington, USA in the sunny foothills of MT. Rainier
Guess I should've said what I was thinking of doing with it... I saw a bone netting shuttle up for auction at eBay for $20. It was pretty plain, just a long flattish piece with two prongs at each end. If you've seen the Lady Hoare tatting shuttle, this was very similar, only longer. I thought, "I could make *that*."
I can probably do it in wood (or get my brother, he of the chain-mail patience, who made my nice curly-maple and bird's-eye maple mesh sticks, to do it). But the discussion of turtle shells, and the fact that the original was bone, got me thinking.
Bones are pretty easy to get around here. (Lots of deer hunters.) On occasion the neighbors have cleaned theirs and buried the unwanted bones, etc. (*yuck!*) in their woods, which butts up to our woods, and of course our dogs find this offal instantly.
I think an hour or so in the garage-sale pressure cooker (the one I use to sterilize seedling mix) would clean a shuttle-sized piece sufficiently. And since I buy the dust masks every spring for lawn mowing, that's covered.
Anyway, thanks for all the interesting advice! If I ever get this project from the "Unstarted Object" stage, I'll let you know the results.
Lynn Carpenter in SW Michigan, USA
A number of people wrote good answers but from a jewelers perspective. So here is how I prepare bone for making bobbins. (BTW, David Springett has a very good description in his "Turning Lace Bobbins" book). All of the warnings on bone dust are quite valid. Dust masks are not a requirement, they are a necessity! I have spent thousands of dollars over the years developing a dust extraction system to solve some to this problem and still wear a mask when working bone. Once in your lungs, it does not dissipate. You can use the dust that collects, though on your garden as it is really just bone meal then.
In the case of finding bone long enough and thick enough to make bobbins from, I use the hind leg of a cow. This generally can be had from a butcher or meat shop and sold as 'dog bones'. Most soup bones are cut to short, and, yes, making soup out them first does turn them brown.
I throw them into the freezer upon arriving home with them. I find that it is easier to remove the excess meat and gristle while frozen. I use a hand chisel but a sharp knife can be used as well. (We don't have a dog.) Once the outer surface is scraped clean, I split the bone down the center and remove the marrow. Again, I use a band saw but a hand held hack saw can be used. If I can get long pieces, I then split them also so they will fit into the pressure cooker.
I have a 4 quart pressure cooker that I use specifically for this process. I fill the cooker with enough water to cover the bone, add some laundry detergent, and a small amount of bleach. If you use to much detergent, you will have suds escaping with the steam. I then heat the water to a boil; place the cover on using the 15 lb. weight, and cook it for 45 min.
Make certain that you have cooled the pot before removing the weight. Not only will steam escape, but your ceiling will be cleaned with the detergent and bleach. Once cooled, the bone can be cut into strips and turned. The sooner it is turned, the easier it is, as the cooking will soften up the bone. If there are small discoloured streaks in the bone, I place them into a container of Hydrogen Peroxide for 18 to 24 hours. This will also remove small amounts of gristle.
Once it is ready to turn, it can be approached in the same fashion as wood. I do slow down the lathe speed and sharpen all of my tools first. Turning bone will dull your tools quicker, so sharpen more often. Using dull tools and the additional pressure to make them cut will only result in broken pieces. I generally grind 2" to 2-1/2" off of my tools in a years time. The extra 1/16" or 1/32" that the additional sharpening takes off is minimal at that point.
Finishing is very simple on a lathe. I sand with 180 grit, then 220 grit, and finish off with Novus #2 scratch remover (designed for plastics or plexiglas). This gives a very smooth high polish to it.
Now a bit of history on bone. While we can still use bone to make bobbins from, the quality and thickness of the bone has diminished over the years. The 18th and 19 centuries had a number of things that influenced its attributes. Draft animals, (horses and oxen) were used for the heavy work. This developed the thicker bone and the availability of it. Indeed, some of the beautiful antique bobbins that are displayed in the museums are impossible to recreate, simply because the bone thickness required can no longer be had.
The other influence to bone bobbins was the availability. Just as our ancestors did not have tractors to use, they also did not have electricity. Candles were necessary and that required tallow. This created a large amount of waste product (bone) that the bobbinmaker could then work through. He only had to pick the better pieces, rather than now where we try to use as much of the bone we have as possible. The fact that a large majority of the antique bobbins we now have stems more from the fact that they did not deteriorate as quickly over the years as the wood bobbins did and that a higher percentage of the bobbins turned at the time were made from bone then made today.
I wonder if you went to a knacker, and asked them specifically for draft animal products, if they mightn't work out something. I wound up with some femur material from a shire draft horse because the former owner adored the horse and wondered if a flute could be made from it. (Yes I have odd friends). These were working horses we are talking about and the bone was indeed, unlike anything i have worked before or since. It wasquite a lot denser than regulare cow bone. I shouldn't imagine it would be worthwhile for production work...but for a real repro or special piece...*shrug* this is an interesting topic. I don't really get into the tools part of it much at all. I buy from our suppliers and take my precious leisure time and run with it to the nearest corner and lace away.
Annie (the Yank in London)
I live in the midst of a horse racing area. Do you think that racehorses would produce a stronger type of bone. Imagine a set of bobbins made from the bones of a Derby or Grand National winner?
Would the jumpers produce better bone than the flat horses?
Is horse's hoof a suitable material for working?
BTW thanks for an informative contribution. (Now filed)
As there were two questions concerning bone, specifically bone from horses, written to the list, (Gary Peach & Annie (the Yank in London)), I thought that I would respond.
Gary wrote: [I live in the midst of a horse racing area. Do you think that racehorses would produce a stronger type of bone. Imagine a set of bobbins made from the bones of a Derby or Grand National winner? Would the jumpers produce better bone than the flat horses? Is horse's hoof a suitable material for working?]
Annie wrote: [I wonder if you went to a knacker, and asked them specifically for draft animal products, if they mightn't work out something. I wound up with some femur material from a shire draft horse because the former owner adored the horse and wondered if a flute could be made from it. (Yes I have odd friends). These were working horses we are talking about and the bone was indeed, unlike anything i have worked before or since. It was quite a lot denser than regular cow bone.]
Bone from a draft horse would probably be ideal, but the availability is very limited today. Up to this point I have not had the opportunity to work with any bone other then the cow bone. I do have a customer that has a older horse and has asked of the possibility of bobbins from the bone when it passes. But then I also have a customer that sent me an entire baby grand piano leg for bobbins when it was destroyed.:-0 I refer to those type of people as unconventional thinkers. Regarding the race horses, my guess would be that the bone would probably be to thin. Draft horses were breed to have the large legs and feet for strength and the race horses would have been breed for lightness and speed. As I rarely get more then eight useable blanks out of a cow bone, I would suspect that the number would be less. On the other hand, I would love to have the opportunity to turn a bobbin from a Derby winner. Hooves would have to be treated simular to antler, and could possibly be long enough for bobbins. You would want a good air circluation system though as it would no doubt smell the same as antler when turned. And that is not a good thing!
Gary said: [I live in the midst of a horse racing area. Do you think that racehorses would produce a stronger type of bone.]
Probably not, as racehorses are much younger and more finely boned than other working horses. [Imagine a set of bobbins made from the bones of a Derby or Grand National winner? Would the jumpers produce better bone than the flat horses?]
Yes, I think jumpers' bones would be stronger, as it's a different type of horse - more like a hunter, and older as well. [Is horse's hoof a suitable material for working?]
I don't think it would be hard enough. It's like a kind of tough toenail, and gets pared regularly with a sharp knife. I'm no expert, however, and am willing to be corrected.
Bye for now,
Margery in Hertfordshire, UK
[Is horse's hoof a suitable material for working?]
I don't know if hoof material would be good for turning or not, but Iwould be wary of having a bobbin or shuttle turned out of it because dogs'love' hoof! When I was a kid, we had ponies. Whenever the ponies' hooves were trimmed, the dogs would make off with every scrap and eat them like they were candy. Of course, without dogs around, it wouldn't be a problem.
Lori in Canada
Bobbins by Van-Dieren wrote: [Bone from a draft horse would probably be ideal, but the availability is very limited today.]
Ah! you have the shire horse in mind. There are a few hill farmers that use them for ploughing where they can't get a tractor, and a few breweries keep some for the advertising properties of delivering the beer on a horse and cart. I understand that they get through the traffic well. There is a substantial difference between the legs and hooves of such quadrupeds and the flimsy lightweight legs of a race horse, now I think I see what you are driving at.
[I would love to have the opportunity to turn a bobbin from a Derby winner.]
If you're doing them for Australia the Melbourne cup winner's bones should fetch a handsome price. I expect the Kentucky Derby would be popular in the US. Does American enthusiasm about sport stretch to having a national day off for winning a boat race ;-) [Hooves ... smell the same as antler when turned.]
I must ask a farrier of my acquaintance to bring me a sample before I pass on that one
I know there are a LOT of custom bobbin dealers out there who would paint any horse you wanted on a bobbin, with an appropriate picture as reference, for what I consider scandalously low prices. Spangles can be specified as well. I think horse bobbins are a nifty idea, certainly no more frivolous than my collection of dragons.
Annie (in London)