How to Carve Bone

Many cultures around the world have used bone in their quest to becoming a higher and more sophisticated society. You can trace back the art of carving bones to the early Stone Age as bones were used as tools, jewelry, weapons, needles, and other various devices like boxes and figurines. Bone carvings can be valued treasures, their pristine beauty and flawless quality is unparalleled by even granite statues. They are light weight, but sturdy and can be shaped to fit your needs quite easily as described below.

Required Materials

  • Animal bone

Required Tools

  • Some engraving chisels
  • An etching knife
  • A scraper
  • A leather mat
  • A course triangular and a course round file
  • A coping saw
  • Sandpaper
  • Small hand drill or dremel tool
  • Eye protection and a mask

Background Information

When you think of bone carving, the first thing that comes to mind is made from tusks or bone from walrus and whales. These are referred to as “scrimshaws” and are sought after by collectors. Currently animal rights laws prevent using these materials in the USA and other countries.

More common and readily available bones that can be used are found in cattle, deer, oxen, and moose. Mostly grazing animals will have what we require. Some people like to use camel bone and antlers as well.

Most bone carvings use the leg bone, or back shin. It’s the thickest bone and has the highest density. It is chosen also for its high grain surface.


  1. Illustrate the design on some paper to guide your process; bone carving is a multifaceted work of art, so you need to take into account all three dimensions. When drawing, make different designs for all sides of the bone.
  2. Now we need to get the bone ready, saw the bone down to the specified measurements of your design. Wash the bone and scrape it out to get rid of leftover meat and marrow. Immerse the bone in hot soapy water for a day then let it dry.
  3. Lay out the leather matting at your work space and set up carving tools, lay out bone and refer to your design.
  4. Now you use the etching knife and gravers to carve out small pieces of the design. Use your files to slowly file away the edges and shape the bone to a rough outline. Take your time and carve the intricate patterns and designs. If making a pendant or earrings, use a drill to get the hole, or drill out excess.
  5. When done, take the sand paper and sand down your finished product. Make sure to erase all traces of marks from the tools used.

This is a great idea for personalized gifts for the holidays! Everyone loves to receive hand crafted items and figurines. You can make chess sets by using leg bones and carving unique pieces. You can make a customized pendant and matching earrings. There are limitless possibilities for you to choose from! Happy carving!

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