Making a Drinking Horn

  1. Take a clean, hollow horn.
  2. Lining (Optional) Some people line/seal their horns, while others do not. Opinions vary widely on this, but many people believe that you shouldn't drink anything that will soak into the horn and turn rancid (such as milk), or acidic (such as ciders, dry wines and most fruit juices), which may eat into the horn, you really don't need to line them. It is all open for debate. There are people who feel that horn is unhygienic in the first place, others complain about the fact that horn will add a flavor to whatever you are drinking. If you do wish to seal or line the horn, there are three popular suggestions: Varnish, Wax, or Brewer's Pitch.
    1. Varnish.
      According to some sources, the best thing to use is two pack epoxy boat builders varnish, which cures completely with very little smell/taste residue or a normal matt polyurethane varnish. "Spar Urethane" can be found at most Marine Supply outlets. Be sure to let it dry thoroughly between coats. Four or five coats seems to work fine, though you can use as few as two and as many as ten. There is a question about whether these are non-toxic, but if the varnish states that it is non-toxic, child safe, safe for salad bowls, etc. then there should be no trouble.  Using emery paper wrapped around a stick roughen as much of the horn as possible on the inside (to help the varnish grip), pour in a few ounces of varnish and turn the horn until all inside surfaces are coated. Pour off the excess and leave somewhere warm (60-80 degrees to dry). It might be advisable to leave the horn upside down so excess will drain out (instead of collecting in the bottom). However, if you are using epoxy, you may want to fill the horn with water before leaving it, since oxygen inhibits the cure. Read the instructions. You may want to repeat the process after the first layer is dry.
    2. Wax.
      Beeswax is preferred, although you won't be able to drink anything hot out of it (However since hot liquids may not be really good for the horn ANYWAY...). Melt some wax in a double boiler (this is just to ensure that the wax stays liquid long enough for you to coat the inside of the horn), being careful since the wax is flammable. Heat the horn in the oven (150 deg or so will be more than sufficient. Heating the horn is just to keep the wax from hardening as soon as you pour it in). Pour in some of the molten wax, and slosh it around to coat the inside with a thin layer, then pour out the excess, then (with the oven switched OFF) stand the horn upended in the oven with something underneath to catch the drippings. This will ensure a thin coating of wax over the inside of the horn. If putting the horn in the oven makes you nervous, you can heat it by dipping it in boiling water, or with a blow-dryer. With the horn heated up above the temp. of the melted wax, you can slosh the wax around without it hardening instantly, and you should be able to dump out the excess wax. The waxing process can be repeated at later times as you feel it is needed. The bees wax can impart a faint honey-like flavor to beverages, but that's not so bad.
    3. Brewer's Pitch.
      (Homebrew store?) Note that Brewer's pitch does not work well with the following - Alcohol of high proof (e.g.., whiskey) or Hot Drinks. In one of the leatherworking Compleat Anachronists there's a recipe for a pitch sealer, but I have not verified this. It can be found by getting an issue of Zymergy (a home and microbrewer's magazine) and checking out the suppliers of those who brew traditional "ale in the wood".  There is also a material for sale by Jas.Townsend and Sons. that simulates "Brewers Pitch".  Use what works for you
  3. General clean up work.
  4. Decorate.
    This can consist of carving, painting, waxing, adding a rim and terminal (or "foot") of bronze or silver. There is at least one surviving dark age horn shown in MacGregor's book ... it was decorated with a carved lozenge pattern, so if you're going to be a Viking chieftain you might like to carve a pattern into the thicker bottom end of your horns. If you extend the pattern up the horn be aware that the horn gets thinner the further up you go. There is another dark age drinking horn, in London Museum, decorated with lines scribed round the horn, and rows of ring-and-dots.

    A strap is very useful if your horn is anything above wine glass size. A popular method of fixing is to drill a hone in the solid tip of the horn and attach a ring of wire to the horn through this hole. (Make sure you drill through the solid tip or you'll have a leak!) then tie a loop slightly smaller than the mouth of the horn in a thong, leather strap, length of tablet braid or whatever and slide it up towards the mouth of the horn. Tie the other end of the strap through the loop at the horns tip.

    If you're good at metalwork you can get more elaborate and put fancy patterned metal horn mounts around the mouth of the horn and on the tip. Horn tips in the shape of stylised birds were quite popular.

    For carving, some suggest using a Dremel tool, with a fine bit. Wood-working tools can be used, but be careful: the curved surface makes slips much more likely....

  5. Drinking from the horn:
    Turn the point down.
Warning: Horn is not totally dishwasher safe, and so hand washing is advised. Nothing harmful will happen, but you may damage the horn. And for goodness sake, if you've lined it with Brewer's Pitch or Wax wash it in warm (NOT HOT) water.


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Using and working with Horn - Making a Drinking Horn. Copyright 1996, 2001, 2005 I. Marc Carlson
This code is given for the free exchange of information, provided the Author's Name is included in all future revisions, and no money change hands