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Bone and Antler Working

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Antler is stronger than bone and was used for jobs where the extra strength was needed - typically for combs where the teeth would break if made from a weaker material. Many combs are described as bone combs, where it really meant antler. Some weaving combs were replicated from the Shetlands from bone, and the teeth soon broke. There were probably specialist comb makers who carried out this complicated task. It is likely that some people would have taken their own antler to the comb-maker, thus reducing the cost of their combs which were popular items in Viking times.
To make a comb the craftsman first cut off the tines or points and the burr (the swelling where the antler joined the skull) leaving just the beam (main part of the antler). Only the outside of the antler could be used as the inside is soft and spongy. If the Deer had been hunted, then the tissue inside the antler will bleed and get very sticky, however if the antler was 'scavenged' from the forest floor, then there is no such problem and the antler is 'clean'. The worker then cut some short, wide, rectangular plates to form the teeth plates and a pair of long narrow pieces as side plates to join the teeth plates together (1). Once cut the plates were sanded to shape and smoothed for the tooth plates and the side plates shaped into 'D' sections (2). The side plates were often decorated with simple designs of lines cut into the surface, which could be done at this stage or when the comb is riveted together (3). The tooth plates were then riveted between the side plates and the teeth were then cut with a saw (4). Some combs have wide set teeth at one end of the comb and much closer set fine teeth at the other. Occasionally an antler case was also made, to protect the teeth of the comb. This had two more pairs of side plates made that sandwiched the teeth of the comb. The ends of these were themselves riveted to a pair of 'tooth' plates that do not have any teeth cut into them. The case could also be decorated, and would often be tied by a leash to the comb to prevent them from becoming separated. Antler combs come in a variety of sizes from only 2½ inches (65mm) long to monsters of over a foot (30 cm) in length.
For some more examples of replica Viking and Saxon bonework see [[Replica Bonework|Replica bonework from the Viking and Saxon period]].
''Original article by Ben Levick, 1993<br>Revised by Roland Williamson, 2002''
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