Carved Antlers by Knight

"Custom Carvings from Deer, Elk and Moose Antler "
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The following article was written by Melanie Brown and printed in the October 26, 2004 issue of The Glenns Ferry Gazette.
Thank You, Melanie for a great article!

In the animal kingdom, male elk use their antlers to carve out a place for themselves in the herd. In King Hill, (Idaho) Knight C Duerig is carving elk antlers to carve out a place for himself as an artist.

Knight began carving antler over eighteen years ago with intentions of using his skills as a moneymaking enterprise to supplement his income. But soon the demands of family and raising two boys forced him to put his plan on hold. Today, with the boys raised and on their own, and a few hours of free time in the wee hours of the morning, Knight is once again able to pursue his vision.

To understand the work involved in carving antler, it is important to know a little about the material.

Antlers emerge on male elk in the spring and continue to grow (in some cases up to 1/2-inch per day) throughout the summer. They begin as a cartilage-like substance covered by hairy skin, called velvet. In order to keep up with rapid growth, the bull's body mobilizes calcium from it entire skeletal system. Minerals are replaced in the skeletal bones with dietary nutrients as antler growth slows.

During the fall rut testosterone levels increase causing mineralization of the cartilage-like tissue. After the breeding season hormonal levels drop weakening the tissue at the base of the antlers causing them to fall off.

Every year, people trek to the elk grounds in search of antlers. Knight is not one of them. To obtain raw material, Duerig relies on trade with friends and hunters, Ebay and other legal sources. The mineralization of the antler creates a very hard, albeit porous material. So hard, in fact, that Knight relies on mototools, and saws to create his pieces. Hand tools can be used, but it take four-to-five times longer to complete a carving, Duerig explained. Dust produced when sawing or carving on antler can irritate lung and sinus membrane, so Knight always uses a mask.

The part of the antler Knight uses is dictated by what he intends to carve. Typically, larger pieces and belt buckles are made from the butt end of the antler, which can be as wide as four inches. The butt end comes from the area where the antler attaches to the skull. Other carvings are created from a slab cut from the side of the antler.

Knight also likes to use the natural curve of the antler to add interest to his carvings. Case in point, an eagle pendant he created for his sister has natural curvature that offers more depth to the piece.

Knight's smaller carvings also begin from a slab, and can be used for tie tacks, brooches, earrings or just display. He applies hardware on each piece to match its intended use. Each carving is mounted in a felt lined shadow box created by the artist. In this way, the carving can either be used by its owner as a wall display, or removed for use as jewelry or a belt buckle.

Knight does not hesitate to tell you that his primary goal is to make money to supplement his pending retirement. He has already sold several pieces locally, and is currently offering some of his work on Ebay. "I'm hoping to build a following by Ebay because there's not that much in the way of a local market," he explained. The first piece did sell locally. A pin he donated to the annual Three Island Crossing Organization Auction garnered $75; a fact that brings a smile to Knight's face.

He is offering only one piece at a time on Ebay, hoping to establish his work as collector's items, at which point the value (and price) goes up, Knight explained.

To produce a large eagle pendant, Knight first cut a large slab from the antler (about 1/2 - 3/8 inch thick). He then made a rough sketch of the carving right on the antler and began cutting away excess material. As Knight puts it, "take away anything that doesn't look like what you want it to look like." After the outline was cutout, he began detail work with a mototool, creating eyes, feathers, and other features. Using a torch and sand paper Knight can give more depth to the piece by creating shadow and highlight.

(The finished  carving refered to in the story can be seen here)

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Date Last Modified: January 1, 2008