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Carving Antler

by Wilfred Charbonneau Jr.

Antler as a carving material is quite unique and interesting to work with. I happen to carve antler exclusively, like some carvers choose to use a favorite wood. Antler, not to be confused with horn, is grown and shed each year by the particular animal species, with horn being a permanent part of an animal. Examples of the most common antlered animals are deer, moose, elk, and caribou. Antler can be used to carve a wide variety of projects from relief scenes, canes, belt buckles, knife handles, to the more stylized or interpretive pieces that I happen to prefer. I look at antler carving as similar to found wood carving, where I try to use the particular natural characteristics such as form or contour to lead me into the direction of the final piece.

Carving antler can be quite challenging for many reasons. First and foremost one must obtain an antler, not something one can find at the local lumber yard. The internet offers fairly easy access to antler of all types. Antler is generally sold by grade and weight and can cost ten to fifteen dollars a pound or more depending on things like matched sets, size and uniqueness. You must also consider the shipping costs incurred due to size and weight. I have also found various taxidermist sites offer useful products and educational materials that teach techniques such a repairing and staining antler that can be quite helpful. Antler has a very hard exterior with a softer more porous interior. Antler can also be quite deceiving from physical appearance. You may find a large antler to be quite light and porous and a small antler to be heavy and dense, this being determined by the health of the animal and it access to food during the antler growth period.

Always take the usual precautions recommended in general woodworking and carving. I highly recommend eye, ear, and breathing protection. Due to the hardness and composition of antler, power carving is the most efficient way to work but presents one with a quite powdery, dusty environment. While I have not read anything stating antler is toxic, it is surely an irritant and one never knows what is on the surface of a shed antler found lying in the woods. I use a multitude of tools to complete a project aside from power carvers. I also use, the band saw, scroll saw, power drill, belt sander, orbital sander, detail sander, angle grinder, hand files, and hand sanding pads, to name a few. The best power carving bits/burrs tend to be the more aggressive type such as carbide and high speed steel. Diamond, Ruby, and other similar bits/burrs have a tendency to plug up and burn the antler and are of little use. Due to the high content of minerals and calcium in antler you must also work to keep your bits clean. I have found that many household kitchen and bathroom cleaners work well because they attack deposits similar to antler composition. Handling the antler itself can present a challenge to the carver due to their physical size and weight. I have found a heavy duty pipe vise to be a most valuable tool in the arsenal. I can wrap the billet portion of the antler for protection and use the flexibility of the vise to give me position with strength. I finish my carvings using techniques typically found on wood. Many of my pieces are stained, painted with acrylic, and sealed with lacquer or clear acrylic.

To see a gallery of Wilfred's work, click HERE

About The Artist: Wilfred F. Charbonneau Jr.

I currently reside in Clifton Park, NY with my wife and three children. Born in 1967 in the small City of Cohoes in Upstate NY I have had a lifelong interest in art. I can remember drawing, primarily birds and other wildlife at a very young age. I am currently a Career Fire Lieutenant in the City of Cohoes Fire Department where I have worked for the past 18 years.

Working in the Fire Service and as a past Rescue Squad Officer on the New York State Urban Technical Search and Rescue Team, I have experienced in close proximity how fragile life is. My participation in the rescue efforts at the World Trade Center was a profound life changing experience. I have found art is no longer something that I just enjoy but something I need. I have come to realize that art provides a necessary balance in my life., in which I can take negative emotional experiences and transform them into positive works of art.

The primary focus of my art comes from my love of nature and wildlife. Living close to and spending time in the Adirondack Park in Upstate NY, I find a never ending source of inspiration. Nature demonstrates the daily struggle of life in its most primitive form - basic survival, food, water, shelter, etc. At the same time nature displays peace and serenity equal to none, a true expression of balance. When I discovered antler as a medium I found I had a real passion for it. Antler has strength, beauty, and uniqueness brought to it by the powerful yet graceful animals that carry them. Unlike clay, marble, wood, or other traditional sculpture materials, antler confines me to the natural characteristics of the shape created by nature. I find this quality fascinating as it challenges my artistic vision to find the art in the antler. Antlers are grown and shed each year producing one of kind canvasses to create with, no animals are harmed.

My goal as an artist is two fold: My first goal is to share my love of wildlife and nature with others with the hope of protecting animals and their habitat for the future. My second goal is to allow one to escape, if only for a moment, to a place they may have been or imagine being, and to experience emotions of peace, serenity, solitude or perhaps anticipation or excitement that one can only experience in nature.

Wilfred F. Charbonneau Jr.



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