Craft Fair: Boneworking


Bones were for the Anglo-Saxons what plastic is for us today. A workable substance able to be molded into a variety of shapes and sizes, early craftsmen used bone and antler tip to make such diverse objects as combs, needles, pins and sword hilts as well as a number of other small specific pieces to meet everyday needs.

Our group endeavored to enter the mindset of early Anglo-Saxon craftspeople by procuring bone and antler and attempting to prepare them for working at the fair. We drew heavily on the teachings of a historical re-enactor, Halldor the Viking, and used his described methods of bone working as well as other contemporary sources. Due to a lack of instructional manuals from the period, trial and error proved to be our biggest teachers.

Preparing the bone:

We purchased 5 cow femurs at a butcher shop, still covered in gristle and some meat.

After researching the best way to clean bone for carving, we decided to simmer them gently in a pot for 4-5 hours. Even after the simmering, a fair amount of the meat remained on the bone, so we had to do the final cleaning by hand by scraping the bones clean with forks.

Later, in order to maximize the number of bones available to fairgoers, we split two of them longways down the center with power tools. Finally, about 36 hours before the start of the fair, we soaked them all in water to soften them for carving.

For more information about bone click here or here.

Preparing the antler:

Two antler tines were provided, and we used a combination of sawing and chiseling to cut them in half.

Like the bones, we soaked them for 36 hours prior to the fair.

For more information about making with antler, click here.

At the Fair:

We set out an array of the bones and antler pieces and provided saws (a hacksaw and a coping saw), chisels, knives, and rasps of varying coarseness for visitors to use.

Our goal was for fairgoers to correspond with the materials and feel their resistance, rather than attempting to make specific objects. As a result, the most common action that people took was to carve their own name into the bone (ignoring the antler), either in modern English or in the Futhorc alphabet from a nearby table. They carved the bone, rather than carving objects from the bone.

Overall, though none of the visitors suddenly became an expert in boneworking, we feel that they enjoyed the experience, and appreciated the toughness of the bone and the resistance it offers when being manipulated.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *