The Ultimate Guide to Crafting a Traditional Viking Drinking Horn
We've been crafting these bad boys for 20 years now and I've got some tips to share with you on how to make the best dang drinking horn you ever did see. Below are the 7 steps we recommend you take when creating your awesome drinking horns
1: Picking the Right Horn for You
Now listen up, choosing the right horn is key to the success of your drinking horn game. Don't settle for just any old horn, this baby is gonna be your drinking buddy for life, so it better be one you love! You've got two main options: an authentic horn from an Auroch bull (unfortunately, those are extinct and ain't no more available) or horns from cows, water buffaloes, or other animals that are readily available.
But don't fret, there's nothing wrong with these horns, they'll still do the job just fine. Think about what you want to use your horn for, is it just for drinking or do you want to show it off as a decoration?
Do you want it to hang around your neck or be set down? Straight or curved? Real or synthetic? Hot or cold drinks or a mix of both? Once you've got an idea of what you want, it's time to go on the hunt for the perfect horn.
Check out local slaughterhouses, leather supply shops, craft stores, or even Amazon. Decide whether you want a raw horn or one that's already polished, or if you want one that's already finished and ready to drink from (there are some amazing horn artisans out there, give 'em a shot!).
Inspect your horn before getting started, make sure there aren't any flaws or blemishes that can't be worked around. If needed, level the rim of the horn where you'll be drinking from by using a hacksaw or a power tool like a dremel (safety first!). Make sure you take your time and don't rush it, you want a smooth and even surface.
That's it for Chapter 1, folks! Stay tuned for more on how to make your very own Viking drinking horn.
2: REMOVING THE HORN MARROW
If you have a raw, uncored horn, it's time to get to work and remove the horn's marrow from inside. Here's what you need to do: Boil the horn - Place the horn in a pot, making sure it's fully submerged in water. Boil it for 5 to 7 hours, depending on the size and thickness of the horn.
Keep adding water as necessary to keep it fully submerged. When the horn is soft and pliable, remove it from the boiling water and be gentle to avoid any dents. Remove the marrow core - This step can be tricky, as the outcome may vary.
You may be lucky and the marrow core pops out when you tap the horn on a solid surface. But if that doesn't happen, you can scrape out the core with a spoon, knife, or screwdriver. Just be careful not to cause any damage to the horn and scrap only enough to remove the core without making the sides too thin.
Clean the marrow - If the marrow begins to harden, simply boil the horn again until it softens. Keep scraping the core until all of the marrow is removed. If the horn flattens during the process, don't worry, you can reshape it by boiling it again. Fill and clean the inside - Once the core is fully removed, fill the horn with boiling water to avoid leaks.
Swish the water around inside to clean out any residual sediment. Take your time and be diligent during the coring process to ensure a successful outcome. Enjoy your beautifully cored drinking horn!
3: Cleaning the Drinking Horn - A Joyful Task!
Congratulations on successfully coring your horn! Now it's time for the fun part, cleaning it! Even if you got your horn pre-cored, it's important to give it a thorough clean before using it.
Trust me, you don't want to know where it's been before it arrived in your hands. For this task, you'll need a cleaning brush and some mild detergent, like dish soap.
Avoid using strong soaps or cleansers, as they could harm the horn. Fill a pot with boiling water and add a drop or two of soap, then get ready to scrub! A medium to medium-soft bristle brush is ideal for cleaning the inside of the horn. Take your time and be patient, as the inside of the horn will need several scrubs and rinses with boiling hot water to get it sparkling clean.
Be gentle and avoid puncturing the bottom of the horn with the bristles. Once you're finished cleaning, fill the horn with water to test for any leaks. Don't worry if you spot a leak, it can easily be fixed with a non-toxic fingernail repair glue or other durable epoxy, such as superglue.
Just make sure to use a product that's safe for organic matter. And there you have it! Your horn is now ready for use. But remember, it's not dishwasher safe, so keep that in mind for future cleanings. Invest in a cleaning brush, it will make the cleaning process much easier and enjoyable!
4: Sprucing up the Exterior of Your Horn
Now that you have a sparkling clean and cored horn, it's time to take your game to the next level! It's time to add some finesse and smoothness to the exterior of your horn. You want to give it a sleek and polished look. In other words, make it shine like a star!
First, start by scraping off any rough or uneven parts on the horn's exterior. You can use a sharp knife or a piece of broken glass to do this. Leather workers often use a piece of glass to scrape leather, and it works wonders on horns too! Just be gentle and take your time to avoid any cuts or damage to the horn.
Next, you want to smooth out the exterior of the horn with some fine steel wool. Fine sandpaper will work too, but steel wool is more flexible and allows you to shape your horn more freely. Start with a rough grade of steel wool and gradually work your way up to finer grades until you have a smooth exterior. Be gentle and avoid sanding too much, or you might end up with a hole in your horn.
After you've reached the desired smoothness, use a jeweler's cloth to give the horn a final polish. The jeweler's cloth will add a high shine and make your horn shine like a diamond. You can even use the cloth for polishing your jewelry! These cloths are treated and ideal for polishing most items that need a shiny finish.
You can find them at most department stores, jewelry stores, hobby/craft stores, or online. Remember, there are no shortcuts! Just take your time and enjoy the process of creating a drinking horn you'll be proud to show off to your friends. They'll be so envious, they'll want one for themselves! But who knows, maybe you'll become the next horn-making guru and make them one too!
There's a polarizing opinion among drinking horn enthusiasts about whether or not to line and seal the interior of their vessel. Some choose to do so because of the porous nature of horns, made from organic materials, that can lead to spoilage of beverages and staining.
5: Enhancing the Interior of Your Horn
On the other hand, leaving the interior untreated allows for a natural flavor to be infused into the drink. Here are three popular methods to line and seal your horn, each with its pros and cons: Boat Varnish/Sealant: Some individuals opt for a two-part epoxy boat builder varnish or polyurethane wood varnish to achieve a polished look.
However, this method may pose toxicity concerns, even if labeled non-toxic, and could leave a varnish taste even after sanding and curing. It's best only used for decorative purposes, not for drinking.
Butcher's Block Oil or Food Safe Mineral Oil:
Applying either of these products can result in a dried, non-toxic and food-safe interior. However, some may report an aftertaste. This method also only makes the horn resistant to leaking, not completely leak-proof. Salad Bowl Finish: This is an easy-to-apply option that yields a shiny finish and protects the interior of the horn. Simply wipe on the finish with a clean rag and let it dry and cure for 72 hours. This method is non-toxic for food contact after curing and can be reapplied as needed.
Beeswax is a widely preferred option for lining and sealing a drinking horn. Note that hot drinks cannot be consumed from a horn treated with beeswax as it will melt. To apply, melt the beeswax in a double boiler and warm the horn to 65.5°C (150°F) in an oven or by dipping it in boiling water or using a blow-dryer. Pour the melted wax into the warm horn and slosh it around for a thin, even coating. Pour out any excess and let it harden in the warm oven or by standing the horn upright. The process can be repeated as needed. Although beeswax may infuse a faint honey-like flavor into beverages, this can enhance the taste of honey-based drinks like mead.
6: Purifying the Horn of Valhalla
If you're keeping things traditional and avoiding lining and sealing your drinking horn with Salad Bowl Finish or Beeswax, then you'll want to purify its insides. Purifying will banish any raw and natural flavors from the horn, like the smell and taste of "wet cow."
The purification process is simple, but it does require some sacrifices in the form of your beloved ale, beer, mead, etc. To purify your horn, fill it to the brim with your preferred drink, even if it's the cheap stuff. Make sure you have a stable setup for your horn, as it will need to stand upright for several hours. You can be creative here and use a towel or cushion to hold the horn in place, as long as it's in a safe spot where it won't be disturbed.
Soak the horn in your chosen beverage for 4 to 6 hours, then dump it out (no sipping, trust us). Repeat this process a few times, making sure to dump out the old soak and refill with fresh drink each time. After the final soak, let it sit for 24 hours before dumping it out one last time. This will purify the horn, removing any unpleasant smells and flavors, and getting rid of any bacteria that may have formed overnight.Just a heads up, beer and ale foam can stain the inside of your horn, so pour carefully to avoid any foam overflow. And remember to wash the horn before use, even though it may require a few extra steps, it's well worth the effort to enjoy your purified horn of Valhalla.
7: The Art of Adornment on a Drinking Horn Mighty Viking
'Tis time to embellish your drinking horn and make it shine with your personal touch! Remember, the best way to start is by sketching your designs on paper with a charcoal stick, then transferring them onto the horn using a charcoal stick or a pencil. This way, you can erase any errors before making them permanent. And don't you worry, we Vikings take our time to perfect our craft - so pace yourself and savor the journey.
The art of skiving, which involves etching designs into the horn using a sharp tool, has been a staple for centuries. You can use a simple nail, a chisel, or even a Dremel tool if you're feeling fancy. What's important is to find a tool that you're comfortable with, and to take it slow, steady and always keep your cool - no need to be hasty, for haste makes waste.
Skiving too deep can pierce through the horn, and applying too much pressure can cause cracks. If skiving isn't your cup of mead, then fret not! Some warriors prefer to adorn their horns with vibrant dyes and seal them with a coat of lacquer or varnish to preserve the colors. And for those of you who have mastered the art of metalworking, why not add a touch of elegance with a gleaming rim or foot made of bronze, pewter, gold, or silver?
So there ye have it, my fellow Viking - the sky's the limit on the design of your drinking horn. Make it reflect who you are, and let your creativity soar. And if you're just thinking about making a drinking horn, seize the moment and go for it! You've got the bravery, the strength, and the skill to create a magnificent masterpiece. Skål!
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