How to drill elk ivories and repair the root if needed.
Updated: Oct 21, 2020
By Craig Jones
Occasionally at Teton Trade Cloth we have some real elk ivories that we sell on the website. Recently we had a number of necklace sets of real elk ivories in sets of 12 for sale. One of our customers asked for tips on how to drill them. While I was creating the post for drilling, I thought I would also add in some tips for repairing and filling elk ivories. Sometimes when you get real ivories, depending on the age of the animal the teeth may be hollow to learn more about ivories you can read our FAQ on real elk ivories HERE. Also depending on how careful the hunter was in removing the ivories the roots are sometimes cracked and broken. These teeth are still very valuable and very usable if you just put in a little bit of work. Some people use dental repair resin like they use in dentures, some people just use epoxy resin. I personally have found that I like using epoxy putty from JB Weld. It is easily available at the hardware store. It is easy to work with and the working time is long enough to allow me to shape it as I like. A few tips when working with it, I use rubbing alcohol to smooth it, it evaporates and does not effect the hardness when dry. On a hollow root, it is important to try and pack the putty down inside the root as far as possible, this will help stabilize the root when you drill the hole. When it is hollow, it is easier to crack the root. Even if you do crack the root, you can always use the putty to repair it and then drill it.
For the most part, drilling ivories is pretty straight forward. There are some tips below that I have learned from drilling hundreds of ivories. A friend of mine offered some wise advice about drilling ivories she said, "Save the dust, it has just as much power as the ivory itself and should be saved and used in a good way". To learn more about the significance of ivories read this article from Scott Thompson HERE.
Sometime I will mix the 2 colors of epoxy putty together to achieve different tones (the top one is tan, the bottom one is a light grey).
Young bulls or "Spikes" are typically hollow (see right). These can be filled and build up a root so that the tooth is useable. The tooth on the left was a nice tooth, but the root was broken off in extraction.
Don't drill the tooth like this. It increases the chance you will crack the root.
A close up of root repair. The repair is more obvious in this photo than real life (lighting). The epoxy putty can be colored easily with paint, stain or coffee or tea to match the ivory better. Sometime I will mix the 2 colors of epoxy putty together to achieve different tones.
Just a simple template so your holes are in the same place on the root. This is important when making a necklace. Where you drill the hole is personal preference. If you are making an elk tooth dress, make sure you read the article by Scott Thompson on making an Elk Tooth dress HERE.
You can see, this tooth had already been drilled once. I filled it so that I could drill it in another spot (I thought it was too low).
You should drill your hole on high speed but with low pressure. A new bit is worth the investment. Ivories are expensive and a dull bit can increase the chance of cracking the root. A drill press is great, but a hand drill works just as well. Always have a block of wood under the ivory when you are drilling it.
This is a short video showing the process of packing the putty into the root. Near the end you can see the light thru the root and where it is still hollow and where it has been filled. The objective is to fill as much of the root as possible.