Horn as a Drinking Vessel: Part 2

by Ceara ni Neill

I have been asked on many occasions about the preparation and carving processes of my drinking horns. The step-by-step process below takes you from the completely unfinished horn to the useable drinking vessel. Next month will bring information on decorative carving, engraving, metal mounts, etc. If you wish to tackle this project and have any questions, feel free to contact me.


Step 1: You get a horn. It is unfinished and probably been sitting in someone's barn for a couple of years and is filled with flaky-looking white stuff and cobwebbs and dust. Take it outside to your garden hose with a high-powered nozzle and power-wash it, and then let it sit out in the sun until it's completely dry. If you have acess to a sand-blaster, a light blasting on the inside of the horn will cut out a lot of your work.

Step 2: Sand the outside. Wear a dust mask. Horn dust is extremely fine and gets into places you didn't know you had, and some you don't want to know about. DO NOT WORK INDOORS! I have found that the best place to work is outside in the shade with a steady breeze. (A fan helps!)

For initial sanding (meaning if the horn still has it's scale) I like to use a power sander (put the horn in a vice, but don't clamp it down too tightly) or a Dremel tool with a course (#100) sanding bit. Follow the grain of the horn, otherwise you'll leave very deep, obvious ruts. Once the scale is removed, switch over to hand-sanding. Periodically rinse the dust from the horn. That will help the sandpaper stay (sort of) clean and you can see the progress of your work. Keeping the sanding even, work your way down in paper grades to a #400.


Step 3: Take the horn inside to the kitchen. Wash it inside and out really well with plain dish detergent and water, and use a long-handled brush (or bottle brush) for the inside. Fill the horn with a 20% bleach solution and let it sit at least 4 hours.

Step 4: Wash horn again, this time let it sit with a vinegar solution. Wash the horn yet again, and take it back outside to dry completely in the sun.


Step 5: The horn is not only drying, but is also being heated. When the horn is very warm to the touch, melt 4-6 ounces of beeswax in a pot, and then pour it into the horn, rotating it to spread evenly. Pour out the excess and use leftover wax for another project.

If you coat the horn too thickly, if it gets left in the sun you're going to have a sticky mess. The idea is to seal the pores of the horn, not use it for a wax mold. Beeswax has a very high melting point (about 140°) so hot (not boiling) beverages are not a problem. I taste nothing but coffee when I drink it from my horns.


It is a good idea to rinse out your horn at the end of a night of mead, etc. consumption. However, when drinking, fatigued, whatever, we don't always remember to do these things. The horn has a self-cleaning (well, almost) device built in...it doesn't stand on it's own. Lay it on the ground when you're done for the night, and make sure the

tip is pointed down, just like when you're drinking from it. Think of it like this: now I lay me down to sleep, I give the earth my horn to drink...

Rinse well in the morning with warm water if possible. When you get home, let it soak for about 5 to 10 minutes in warm, soapy water, wash and RINSE well, then hang it upside down to dry. If there's anything sticking to the inside you can use a baby bottle-brush (baby section at WalMart) to reach into the horn.

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