How to Make Your Drekkahorn
(This is a condensed version of a paper presented at a workshop at the Ostara gathering he/d just north of San Francisco, California.)
What Kind Of Horn
The use intended for a horn determines the “best” kind of horn. Will it serve 12 people at a Sumbel, or will it just be yours, and small enough to pack easily? Will it be carved or left plain? How much time, energy and money will be expended on the horn? Big horns can be cut down, but the diameter of the open (mouth) end and the horn’s configuration and curve cannot be changed. Odd shapes can bang your nose and precipitous curves often create a tidal wave effect when drinking. The more round the opening, the better. Horns usually come with a ragged mouth which will need to be cut down. When getting a horn, look for punctures, deep crevices and thick splinters – all of which are undesirable and may not be correctable.
Where To Find A Horn
Cattle ranches ~ ask them to keep your name for future reference if they have none at present. Remember, they may sell only the whole skull. Slaughter houses ~ there are often laws about keeping “parts” around, so call them first and ask them exactly when it would be best to come by. Retail skull, hide, and bone merchants ~ good if you can find one. Taxidermists ~ very good, but they are usually rather expensive sources. Tandy and other craft stores ~ okay but their horns are usually very thin. Junk stores. etc. ~ you might get lucky but you can never count on it. Note: mounted bull horns can be dismantled giving two horns.
Cleaning And Preparing
If you get an entire skull which is particularly fresh, bury it for about six weeks (longer in winter). Then, if the horns are still attached to the skull, soak the whole thing for four to six hours in a boiling solution of eight gallons of water and one gallon of bleach. Or submerge it in a vat of 40% hydrogen peroxide and 60% water for an hour or so. When the horns are off, use a bottle brush (or flexible rod with a rag firmly attached) and vigorously clean the inside of the horn with more bleach/water solution.
Soak it again for several hours, scrub it out a second time, and then rinse with a solution of four gallons of cool water and one-half a gallon of vinegar. After rinsing, the horn should smell clean. If not, repeat the boiling soak sequence and then fill the horn with baking soda. Once the horn is clean, but still damp, if it has a lot of scales and/or splinters, now is the time to take a vegetable peeler or a pocket knife and scrape – with the grain of the horn, and away from your body. Afterwards, invert the horn and allow it to air dry for 24 hours.
Curing (see also Sealing below)
If you do not plan to seal the interior mantle, curing the horn is the next step. Remember, the horn is made of keratin which is porous and will retain a degree of porosity forever. This means that there is always the possibility of a chemical or microbe being absorbed into the keratin matrix and perhaps being released later into another drought. possibly affecting taste and your gastrointestinal system. Due to the possibility of contamination or infection, I do not personally advocate the curing of a horn as a final interior finishing. Many people believe sealing it (see below) is safer.
The object of curing is to shrink the keratin matrix as much as possible to decrease its porosity. (1) Fill the horn with a salt water curing solution (three cups of salt per gallon of water) and allow it to stand for 24 hours. (2) Pour out and repeat. (3) The third evening, pour out and rinse well with cold fresh water and then air dry for 24 hours. (4) Then fill the horn with 100 proof vodka and allow it to stand for 24 hours. (5) Pour out and repeat. It will need to be completely re-cured at least twice a year. The only real advantage of curing (instead of sealing) is that you can leave the horn on the dashboard of your car in the summer time when it gets hot.
Start with a medium grade of sandpaper (120) against the grain of the horn. Be patient, this takes time. Then sand with the horn grain. Repeat with a finer grade (360) until it is very smooth and free of imperfections. Remember – the more mantle you sand off, the less thickness is left to carve, and the more brittle the horn.
Cutting The Lip
Take a wide rubber band and encircle the horn mouth with it at a level at least one inch below any cracks. Position the rubber band until it represents a straight line. Trace the line with a pencil. Use a hack saw to carefully cut through the line. Then sand the opening to make it smooth.
Plan designs for the size of the horn. Draw on paper first and then wrap the paper around the horn. Draw on the horn with a #2 (or softer) pencil. Decorations can be either carved into the outer surface of the horn or stained – or both. Some people carve with a knife. Others use a tool like an electric dremel. Do not use any tool until you are thoroughly familiar with it and can use it safely. Staining can be done with India ink (which comes in several colors) or acrylic paint. Acrylic will dry about 40% darker than its wet hue.
After a final fine sanding, the horn can be finished with several coats of clear acrylic spray. Or it can be polished with jeweler’s rouge. Or a coat of beeswax can be applied and rubbed in by hand.
Sealing a horn entails coating the interior mantle (the inside of the horn). Beeswax is traditional. and is related to mead. The only problem with it is that it will melt in warm conditions. (Do not put hot coffee in your horn or leave it in direct sunlight.) However, if the beeswax does melt, you can always reapply a new coat of it. Beeswax can be purchased at art supply and craft houses.
For a half liter horn, you will need about a quarter pound of beeswax. Melt the wax in a double boiler, stirring it thoroughly. Pour the wax into the horn and immediately start to rotate the horn so as to coat all of the inside surfaces. Pour excess wax back into the boiler. Wait about five minutes and then repeat. Do this three times, and then allow the horn to cool for one hour.
Silver, or other metal rims can add a rich look to a horn. A matching metal tip can also be added. Any good silversmith can do this for you if you are unable to do it yourself. However, this can be quite expensive. so get a cost estimate first.
Care And Cleaning
The inside of a horn should be thoroughly washed out with clean, cold water containing some liquid dishwashing detergent after every use. Then rinse with cold water to get rid of the soap.