How to Make a Bone Needle


single bone needle
A single bone needle lays on a hair-on deer hide. The needles are sturdy enough to use with a thick hide like this. 
Photo by Fala Burnette (Wolf Branch Homestead)

Picture in your mind a recently taken deer from a hunt, and think about nothing else but the legs of the deer. What is your first thought, when you think of what to do with them after you've processed the meat? For most people, these are considered a waste product, just like the hides or heads. However, there are many different things that can be harvested, or made with, a single deer leg (excluding the meat). The legs can be used for a gun rack, the hide can be removed and tanned, sinew can be cut from the back of the leg, the hooves can be pulled off, and the bone itself can be used for a variety of other projects. For now, I will discuss the leg bone itself, and a very interesting way you can put it to good use.

During the process of making a deer hide arrow quiver for my husband, I was presented with an issue while stitching it together. A hide with hair on is very thick, and the leather needle I was using continuously bent while trying to sew it together. Having punched holes into it prior to this with an awl, I still had a difficult time maneuvering needles through those holes. It was then that I reached for something I had made only a few days prior- a bone needle. It was the first one I had ever made, very wide towards the eye end (similar to a nalbinding needle). Where the store-bought needle for use on thick leathers had failed, this handmade bone needle succeeded greatly, and I was able to finish the quiver and present this to my husband shortly after.

Bone has been long used in tool making, though not as prevalent today. For this particular craft I prefer to use the leg bones of deer, as they are straight and sturdy, yet small enough to manage. While primitive and modern techniques are listed, you can choose to combine the methods to best suit you. First, be prepared with a cleaned and thoroughly dried leg bone. It isn't necessary to bleach the bone, as the wearing down to its surface will whiten it significantly.

Safety Notes: We recommend using protective eye-wear for the splitting of the bone, a respirator mask for the sanding and shaping (it creates quite a dust), and gloves to prevent your fingers from being scratched while sanding as well. Please also make sure to dispose of or properly store all shards of bone, so that pets will not swallow them and children cannot get a hold of them either.

bone and needle on sandstone
Laying on a piece of sandstone used for shaping, the transition from leg bone to needle is shown. A whole bone is split to become a rough piece, which is then shaped carefully into a needle. 
Photo by Fala Burnette (Wolf Branch Homestead)

Fala Burnette
5/21/2019 2:05:29 PM

We have these bone needles for sale on Etsy, including the one from this article. Check it out!

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