Buttons made from deer antler add a truly authentic, natural vibe to your leather projects. Better yet, these rustic fasteners take just a few minutes to make with ordinary hand tools.
Antlers, a type of bone, adorn the heads of members of the deer family (Cervidae). The most common North American species are white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, moose, and caribou, all of which shed their antlers and grow a new set each year.
The parts of an antler are the pedicle, beam, tines, and points. The pedicle is the gnarly knob at the base where the antler attaches to the deer’s skull. The beam is the central shaft of the antler that extends from the pedicle. The tines are the parts that branch out from the beam. The points are the ends of the tines.
Hunt or Gather Supplies
Because regulations for possessing antlers vary from state to state, check your local wildlife regulations before acquiring them. There are several places to get antlers: buy them online, check pet stores (some sell antler pieces as dog chews), call a local knife maker (they use the thicker parts for knife handles and often don’t use the thinner tines), or have some fun by hunting for shed antlers. Deer shed their antlers from late winter to early spring. The best places to look for shed antlers are on game trails and in bedding areas. Get permission before hunting sheds on private land, and check the regulations before taking them from public land.
- Handsaw (coping saw or hacksaw)
- Sandpaper from coarse to fine grit (100-, 400-, 800-, and 1,500-grit)
- Small piece of leather (minimum of 2 by 2 inches)
- Dust mask
- Eye protection
- Work gloves
- Optional equipment: bench vise, stitching pony or clamps, power saw, and power sander
A 10 Pointer to Knock Your Socks Off
1. Begin by sawing off a tine or beam to expose one side of the button’s surface. Leave the remaining portion of the antler intact to use as a handle for smoothing and polishing the surface.
2. Start to smooth the surface of the exposed side of the button by sanding with the coarse 100-grit sandpaper. Place the sandpaper flat on a work surface, and move the button surface against it, back and forth, and up and down with the 100-grit for several minutes. Then, move on to the 400-grit, using the same motion for several minutes.
3. Move on to the fine-grit sandpapers (800- and 1,500-grit). This time, place a piece of leather underneath the sandpaper and sand in a circular pattern for a few minutes with each grade of sandpaper to achieve a smooth surface. As you progress through the sandpapers, you’ll see the saw marks disappear, and the surface will begin to shine.
4. To polish, press the button’s surface into beeswax a few times to pick up a thin layer.
5. Using a circular motion, rub the button surface on the membrane (rough) side of the leather.
6.For the final polish, turn the leather over, and rub the surface on the grain (smooth) side of the leather. When finished, the button surface will shine (see the photo in Step 8).
7.Cut the button from the remaining antler by holding the antler steady and sawing a 3/16- to 1/4-inch slice from the antler. Repeat the smoothing process on this side of the button with sandpaper and beeswax (Steps 2 through 6).
8. Drill two small holes in the middle of the button.
9. Next, you’ll need to sew your handmade antler button to a leather project. Thread a needle with a 6- to 8-inch piece of sinew or thread. Hold the button in place on your chosen item, and push the needle front to back through one button hole and the item (see photo, below). Pull about half of the length of sinew or thread through to the back of the item. Unthread the needle. Bring it to the front of the item and thread with the other end of the sinew or thread. Push the needle through the other button hole and pull it through to the back. Remove the needle, even the ends of the strands, and gently pull on both ends to snug the button to the item.
10.Thread the needle onto the right-side strand. Push the needle, back to front, through the item where the left-side strand exits, and out the left-side button hole to the front of the item. Pull the strand tight, and then push the needle front to back through the right-side button hole and item. Remove the needle, and tie the strands together with a couple of half-hitch knots. If using artificial sinew, cut the ends about 1/4-inch from the knot, and singe each strand to the knot.
Antler buttons add a unique, rustic look to your projects. You’ll be tempted to dress all of your projects with these polished points once you learn how easy they are to make.
- Always wear a dust mask and eye protection when sawing and sanding antlers. The dust can irritate your sinuses and eyes.
- If using power tools, work in a well-ventilated area. Working an antler with power tools creates a bad odor.
- Keep power tools in motion. Antlers scorch quickly if a saw blade or sander sits in the same place for very long.
- When sawing, hold the antler firmly in place. This is where a bench vise, stitching pony, or clamps come in handy.
Dennis Biswell is an avid outdoors person. He tans his own deerskins at home and uses the leather for a variety of projects.