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Preparing bone for working

It’s probably time I wrote about something other than leather. We had a huge bag of bones in the freezer and some spare time over the weekend, so I’ll talk about preparing bone.

There are as many different opinions on the best way to prepare bone as there are bone workers. A couple whose opinion I value strongly state that it is simply impossible to use bone from roasted meat because the resulting bone is too brittle. Others equally emphatically insist that raw bone is the only way to go. I beg to differ. I find that as long as you don’t use the exposed ends, bones from your Sunday roast work fine.

There’s lots of ways of cleaning bone. Medical specimens can be cleaned using beetles, or if you have lots of space and a strong stomach, using anaerobic bacteria in a sealed water bath.

I’m not going to make any claims to accuracy in this technique. I haven’t done enough research to know exactly what was done, I’m drawing this from what I was taught years ago by a metalworker who prepared bones for knife handles, and my experience since.

I’ll make the big assumption that historically, meat wasn’t filleted before use and the bones were cooked. A quick look at the cooking techniques of your chosen period would indicate whether boiling, roasting or other methods were more common. Try to stick to this method of cooking for bonus authenticity points.

If you are using whole bones, cut one end off to expose the marrow before boiling, otherwise it will go off during the subsequent steps and when you get around to cutting the bone to work on, the ensuing explosion isn’t very pleasant. Collect  a sufficient quantity of bones, throw them in a pot with copious quantities of water and boil until all the scraps of meat, fat, cartilage and tendon can easily be scraped away. A metal skewer can help loosen the marrow so all that you are left with is a pile of cleanish bones and a damn fine broth.

Once clean, I let sunlight, rain and ants do the final clean. If there’s a problem with dogs or native animals running off with your freshly cleaned bones, make a wire cage to hold them together. Exposure for 2-3 months seems to work for me.

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3 thoughts on “Preparing bone for working

  1. Try leaving them in a solution of biological washing powder for a week or so. The enzymes therein strip off soft tissue rather quickly and leave the bone very clean. And cooked bone is fine does not become brittle; I made a replica C6th century comb from cooked lambbone and a smoked dog chew cowbone for a museum in the North of England. Both worked fine.

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