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How to Dye Antlers for Knife Handles

Megan Shoop

Before smelting and advanced wood carving tools, deer antlers were the media of choice for knife handles. Pioneers and colonists were able to easily harvest them from wild game and discovered they were relatively easy to carve and cut. Today, those looking to create original vintage or re-enactment items often create knife handles from the same material. Since deer antlers are often white when harvested and cleaned, some artisans choose to dye them for a more rustic appearance.

Antlers make strong, smooth knife handles.
  1. Clean your deer antler with a cotton ball dipped in rubbing alcohol. Use long, smooth swipes and make sure you cover the entire piece. No need to dry; the rubbing alcohol will evaporate in a matter of seconds after application.

  2. Put on rubber gloves. Dip your antler piece into a 33-percent solution of acetic acid, available at most knife and leather artisan stores. This etching solution roughens the antler so it will take the dye better. Count off 15 seconds and remove the piece from the solution.

  3. Dip the antler into a liquid mix of potassium permanganate for about 15 seconds at a time. Keep dipping until the antler reaches the desired color. Potassium permanganate will turn your antler to a burnished, rich brown.

  4. Rinse the piece in cool water for about a minute. This neutralizes the dye and acid. Don't remove your rubber gloves, however.

  5. Soak the antler in mineral oil for about 15 minutes. Remove it from the oil and rub it dry and clean with a clean, soft cloth.