Larry Roberts

Making a Antler Handled Ferro Rod

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I love Ferro rods, large or small it doesn’t matter. Ferro rods, ferrocerium, or mischmetal whatever you want to call them, they are a fantastic invention. I think most people are familiar with them, but just in case you’re not, Ferro rods are made from several types of metal and when you scrape one with a carbon steel knife or scraper they produce (if done correctly) a shower of very hot sparks. For me, in my particular area, if I have a Ferro rod I am almost guaranteed I can make a fire. No fire is ever one hundred percent certain, but with a Ferro rod (especially with some homemade tinder) it comes close. Every environment is different, but for mine, fire is one of the top priorities in a survival or “temporarily disorientated” situation. With the extreme temperatures and temperature fluctuations we have in Minnesota, hypothermia is my main concern while trekking through the woods. In the summer, one of our ten thousand lakes, our numerous swamps, creeks, and rivers provide me with ample water. If I have fire (and a container) I can purify all the water I require. Combine a Ferro rod with an antler handle and you have an extremely useful tool that looks great too!
F6 The items you will need for this project are: Ferro rod blank(s), antler, saw, a drill with various size bits, and a vise. You can buy Ferro rod blanks from several places including;,, or eBay. The size of the blank you order will be determined by the diameter of the antler you are using. I like to have at least 1/16 inch to 1/8 inch of antler around the Ferro rod. After you’ve selected the blank and antler you’ll need to cut the antler to length. The handle size and length are totally up to you, but I generally like an inch to inch and a half long handles for small blanks like 1/8 inch. For 5/16 inch and 3/8 inch I make them about 1 ¾ inch to 2 inches.
Once you’ve decided on the length of your handle, you are ready to cut it to length. Mark the antler with a pencil and wrap the end you’ll be placing in the vise with a soft clothe or paper napkin to protect it. Clamp the antler, and cut it using your hacksaw. Now you’re ready to drill the hole for the Ferro rod. I like to start with a small drill bit and drill a pilot hole, and then gradually increase the size of the bit until I get the correct size socket for the Ferro rod. It’s easier to drill in the exact center of the antler with the small bit and by gradually increasing the size, there is less torque on the antler and less chance of it slipping or cracking in your vise. Mark the depth of your socket by wrapping electrical tape around the bit at the desire depth. Smaller rods need to be seated about a quarter inch while bigger 3/8 inch rods I seat ½ inch to 5/8 inch deep. Drill the pilot hole to the proper depth, ream the hole slightly, choose a slightly larger bit and repeat. Do not press too hard on the drill; let it do the work for you. This process needs to be done carefully as the antler is brittle and the bits tend to get stuck in the antler. If you only increase the size of the drill bits one or two sizes at a time you shouldn’t have any problem. If you drill the hole too big, save some of the antler shavings and you can pack them in the socket to take up the unwanted space.
F9 Now that you have the socket drilled to the proper depth and diameter, the next step is to smooth any rough edges on the cut end(s). I use a grinder for this, but you could use a file or sand paper. You don’t want anything sharp left on the handle that will cause discomfort during use. If you’ve used the crown of the antler some additional shaping and cutting off of small tines may be necessary. Grind off a small amount of material, check for comfort in the hand, and repeat as necessary. Just take it slow and only remove a little bit of antler at a time. After you’ve shaped the handle and checked for comfort, you can drill the lanyard home of desired. Since you’re drilling completely through the antler, you do not need to pilot the hole. Going across the grain with a pilot, then using a larger bit can actually make the antler chip easier than just using the proper size to begin with. Place a piece of wood under the antler, let the drill do the work and don’t press too hard. If you seat the Ferro rod in the socket temporarily it gives you a handle to hold on to while drilling the lanyard hole. You want to do all the work needed to the antler before gluing, that way if you chip the antler and want to start over you can. Once you glue the rod to the antler it’s there to stay.

It is now time to prep the Ferro rod for gluing. All new Ferro rods come with a protective coating on them that I always remove to ensure a good bond with the antler. You can remove this by sanding the end of the rod with course sand paper. Once you get down to the actual metal it will start to spark so be careful. After all the coating is removed up to the depth of the socket in the antler, I take my hacksaw and cut several notches across the rod. I do this to give it some “texture” for the glue to adhere to. I have found that Gorilla Glue works best for this project. I have used two part epoxy and the blanks came loose from the antler after awhile, but I’ve never had a problem with Gorilla Glue. If you drilled your socket too deep pack some antler shavings in the hole and pack them in with the Ferro rod until you get it to the proper depth. Following the directions for the glue, I moisten the socket and the Ferro rod with water, and place a small amount of glue in the socket. If you place the glue on the blank sometimes it will get scraped off as you seat it into the socket. Place the project in a vise or clamp, apply moderate pressure, and let dry for a few hours. After the glue has dried the excess can be scraped off using a utility knife. Apply your favorite paracord or shock cord lanyard, if desired, and you are done.F8

Please excuse the quality of my pictures, I scanned them from an article I wrote for Self Reliance Illustrated.Please check out my video tutorial by clicking here



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