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Horn and Horn products

Characteristics

Horn contains keratin – the same substance our hair consists of. As it absorbs moisture and oil, it creates a special caring effect when you comb your hair with a comb made of horn. Synthetic combs typically show sharp edges, which are caused during production, whereas handmade horn combs have very smoothly rounded teeth and thus do not irritate the scalp or damage your hair. Moreover, it prevents dandruff. Another advantage of using horn combs is that the hair is not charged electrostatically as it is often the case with combs made of thermoplastic synthetic material.

Every horn product has a unique colour and pattern by nature. Being processed manually, horn products are unique in their elegance and haptics. Small irregularities are not considered a defect but as a typical characteristic of the handmade production.

Horn is harder, denser and more wear-resistant than most wood types. However, as with wood, horn can be processed through sawing, polishing, turning or carving. Unlike wood, horn is less resistant to tension and bending, but it is extremely resistant to pressure. Due to these characteristics, horn has been used to improve the elasticity of hunter's and rider's bows, with horn sheets being laminated to the pressure face of the bows, since the Stone Age. Also in the Middle Ages, crossbows were reinforced with horn for the same purpose.

Origin and Quality

Horn material is gained from almost all horned animals, for example cows, Watusi, sheep, goats, zebu, water buffalo, yaks etc. Horn is a by-product of slaughter, which means that the animals are not killed for obtaining the horn.

Of course, the horn we deal with, is not from endangered species. Most of our horn products are made of horn from domesticated or semi-barbarian species of the Indian or African buffalo.

The horn colour varies, depending on its origin, from black, brown mottled, yellow up and to nearly transparent, as such can be found with albino animals. The quality of the material does not depend on its colour, but on the living conditions of the animals. Wildlife animals or animals living in rough conditions, for example, usually have harder and more finely-structured horns. Another important factor for the quality of horn material is the way it is stored and processed. Most horns on the market are from regions with high humidity. When storing these horns, it is important to make sure that the material does not dry too fast, because this may cause fissures and brittleness as is also typical of tropical timbers. When it comes to processing horn, for example while cutting or welding, strong local heating of the material should be avoided.

The colour-intensive, typically patterned horn of the Madagascar Zebu has made Madagascar a centre of horn production and processing. As the animals are kept in their natural environment and in free range and due to the traditional knowledge and form awareness of the local horn producers, the horn products have a very good quality, characterized by its high breaking resistance and fine structure.

It is important to distinguish horn from antler or tooth material, although these are also often called “horn”. Deer, reindeer, or moose antlers and wild boar teeth do not consist of keratin, but mainly of calcium phosphate, i. e. bone substance. Therefore, this material is much harder than horn and thus different processing techniques have to be applied.

Processing

A special characteristic of horn material is the fact that it is easy to be processed mechanically, and it can be deformed plastically when exposed to heat.

  1. Mechanic Processing

    Japanese universal tooth pit saws, e. g. Dozuki Universal (No. 712808) or Kataba Universal (No. 712478), are ideal for sawing horn. When using bandsaws or circular saws, make sure that the material does not overheat (may cause brittleness and risk of injury, if the saw gets stuck). If necessary, cool off the material with water. Horn can also be grated, filed or drilled, because it does not have a distinct fibre structure. Fine finishing is done with emery cloths (No. 704974-80) and Micro Mesh polishing pads (No. 705420) by adding water or non-drying oil (e.g. camellia oil No.705280) for high-gloss finishing.

    As an alternative you can also use traditional polishing agents such as pumice powder (No. 810050) and adhesive slate which is bound with oil or water and spread on a cotton cloth or using a buffing wheel. A wooden disc covered with suede leather and applying polishing paste (No. 705266) has proved a very good method for accurate grinding and polishing work.

  2. Plastic Deformation (Bending)

    If horn is heated up to a temperature of about 150-200°C, it can be bent easily. And if the material is fixed during cooling, it will largely maintain its shape. Small parts can be heated with a hot-air blower. As horn is a poor heat conductor , heating should be carried out very carefully to prevent the surface being burnt. Stronger material should be cooked in boiling water for about 20 minutes before further processing it.

    It is also possible to heat the material in an oil bath, for example using a deep fryer with cooking oil, until it reaches its bending temperature. This way you can also grout horn to thin sheets or produce horn laminate (welding), if the temperature is high enough. In this case, the material must be grouted, until it has completely cooled off and dried.

  3. Gluing

    As with all adhesive bonds, it is recommended to roughen the surface of each part to be glued for example by using sandpaper with 60 grit. Horn contains oil and must therefore be degreased carefully before gluing it. To do so, you can use a solvent, such as acetone. However, we recommend to clean the surface using cleanser and water (unlike solvents this binds the oil).

    For gluing horn metal and combinations of horn and wood (e. g. for knife handles) Epoxy glue (No. 450382) should be used. It is transparent and gap filling, but it requires the surfaces to be completely degreased. Very reliable bonds, even when using woods which contain oil, can be obtained using resorcinol glue (No. 450380). The only disadvantage of this type of glue is that it does not harden transparently. If you want to glue together smaller horn parts, you can also use Cyanoacrylate Adhesive (instant glue). This type of glue is also ideal for correcting small damage on the surface.

    As described above, horn sheets can also be glued together by means of grouting (welding), if the material has been heated accordingly.

  4. Surface, Dyeing

    To prevent drying out and growing dull (a result of drying out) of polished horn surfaces, you can either repolish the surface on a regular basis using non-resinated oil (e. g. camellia oil) or wax. You can also apply a thin shellac sealing (DVD No. 713736) onto the surface. On the one hand, this sealing preserves and even increases the gloss, and it makes the material resistant to hand perspiration and prevents the material from getting brittle. On the other hand, shellac is sensitive to solvent and cleansing substances.

    Horn can be bleached, stained and dyed with aniline dyes.

Care

Horn products are not only durable, they also gain in character when used, provided that you follow some care instructions:

  • Do not expose the material to dry heat for a long time (floodlight, sun).
  • Do not store the material too dry.
  • Do not put the material into the dishwasher, do not put it in water or cooking foods for too long.
  • Do not clean the material with household cleaners containing solvents or with cleanser. Rinse with warm water and slight soapsuds.
  • Do not expose the material to strong bending. Horn gets brittle in freezing temperatures, and the breaking resistance decreases.
  • Occasionally rub the material with cooking oil, camellia oil or Vaseline and repolish it.
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