Make pens from antlers

Q:

I have a friend who has some mule deer antlers that he wants me to turn to make pens. Are there any secrets for doing this?
–Dean Cody, Olympia, Wash.

A:

Start by allowing freshly cut or shed antlers to dry for a year, Dean. That will allow you to cut and turn the pieces without filling your shop with a strong, unpleasant odor. 

One key to turning pieces of antler is working around their irregular shapes. Jerry Selover, a Des Moines, Iowa, turner who makes and sells pens fashioned from antlers, like those shown above, solves this problem by loosely mounting the pieces in a sliding vise on his drill press. He then lowers the bit to use as a guide for aligning antler pieces vertically, as shown below, before tightening the vise. 

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After he drills holes for the center sleeve and mounts the pieces of antler on a mandrel, they turn much like wood using just a roughing gouge and a skew. Jerry then protects his pens by quickly wiping on a slow-curing cyanoacrylate to fill the pores and leave a matte sheen.

Different parts of the antler have different textures and color. Pieces cut at or near the tips are more dense and pale than the porous, darker sections found near the base.

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