Baby Oil And Easy Bake Ovens

The Care And Feeding Of Exotic Grips

Top to bottom: Elephant Ivory, Cape buffalo horn, warthog ivory, jigged bone and sheep
horn are stable and need little care other than proper storage and a bit of mineral oil.
(Details on the hardware are, top to bottom: 3rd gen Colt SAA with factory checkered
elephant ivory grips, WWII era 1911 with Cape Buffalo grips showing a lot of bark made
by Tim Parker, an Arno Bernard Gecko with warthog tusk scales, Al Mar Eagle with jigged
bone scales and Arno Bernard Wild Dog with sheep horn scales.)

So there I was rubbing baby oil into a set of ivory grips when I suddenly had a thought: “Gee, I wonder if all the people who have exotic grips on their guns and knives know how to take care of them?” So I dropped the proverbial dime and checked with “His Roy-Ness” about someone doing an article. “His Editorship” pointed out since I brought it up, I had the assignment, then the phone clicked off. That’s where old Doc McCoy crossed my mind — “Dammit Roy, I’m a holster maker not a grip guru.”

Putting momentary panic aside, I realized the Blade Show was just around the corner and everyone who had anything to do with exotic and weird grip materials would conveniently be there and I was already going. Maybe this might work out after all? And what I learned was pretty darn interesting.

To a person, there were cautions about leaving anything with a grip or handle made of natural materials in a hot vehicle — think: “Easy Bake Oven.” There were similar flags waved over extended placement of “exotics” and woods in direct sunlight as well as sudden, prolonged changes in humidity. Heat can cause cracking or warping of materials.

Thin scales and grips like a 1911 wears can be particularly susceptible. Sunlight has the same effect as heat, with the additional joys of fading some materials while darkening others. Humidity also causes warping, splitting, shrinkage or swelling depending on the swing high or low. Museums try to keep their displays at about 75 degrees F and 50 percent humidity, sort of the “safe” range. It’s a bit harder to do this in a home but it can be helped along by judicious use of humidifiers, air conditioners and desiccant depending on your climate.

"That's Where Old Doc McCoy Crossed My Mind — Dammit Roy, I'm A Holster Maker Not A Grip Guru."

Top to bottom: Stag, deer antler, elk 1911 scales and kudu horn. The weird stuff in the
middle is a cross section of axis antler showing no pith at all, the back of an elk 1911 scale
showing pith and good wall depth and one of Karla’s stitching groove tools made with a deer
antler stabilized with cyanoacrylate glue after severe exposure to the seasons in the field.

Magic Materials

To keep elephant, walrus and warthog ivory, oosic and bone in top shape use mineral oil or baby oil. Baby oil is just perfumed mineral oil, nice smelling and a little less coin to boot. Don’t saturate the grip though. A couple of drops and a light rub once or twice a year will do it. Slathering it on is not only messy but uneeded.

Depending on the originating species, some, not all, sheep horn can delaminate. Keep all of it cool and out of the sun. It benefits from mineral oil and especially oil from your hands so use it for all it’s worth! No safe queens allowed! Using, handling and getting hand oils on the grips are good things!

Sambar stag is very stable. Moose, elk and deer can be a bit less so. The degree of stability depends on how much pith is in the antler. Axis deer is extremely stable as it’s mostly solid “bone” with no pith. Antler from other members of the deer family may have more pith. Most good makers try to choose slabs with heavy walls and as little pith as possible. Why do I keep saying pith?

Antler can degrade with sweat so a quick wipe down with a damp rag after a session on the range or a romp out hunting is a good idea. A bit of mineral oil once or twice a year won’t hurt either. Finally — mice and other members of team rodentia like to munch on antler, so keeping it from their little fangs is another important consideration. I’m not kidding here, they’ll eat it. It’s one way bones go away in nature.

Buffalo, cow and most other horn benefits from a dab of mineral oil. Light scratches can be sanded with super fine grit paper and some judicious buffing. Don’t go insane. Light scratches only! Like antler, horn can suffer the indignities of being munched on. Horn beetles are no bueno so proper storage and an occasional light swipe with an almost dry bug wipe can avert disaster. Who’d a thought?

Stabilizing makes burls like the ones on this Springfield Officers 1911 (left) easier
to work with and less vulnerable to warping and other problems unstabilized wood
would have. The Herrera on the pre-model 15 (right) are oily and stable. The tiger maple
on the first knife is not stabilized and in need of careful care. The paring knife shows extreme
neglect from water immersion and lack of oiling. Karla’s mom — sigh — and her predilection for
putting knives in the dishwasher shows what happens if you do that without regular maintenance!

Mammoth Musings

Mammoth tooth and ivory is extremely stable because it’s fossilized. Just clean it with a damp cloth as needed, it’s more like a rock than actual ivory. Muskox and kudu horn is stabilized with resin and needs no care other than a wipe-down. A bit of wax won’t hurt it, especially if you like shiny.

Wood comes three ways generally. There’s stabilized (impregnated with resins), oily woods and then the rest. Stabilized needs little care since it’s essentially hard plastic once treated. A wipe-down and some elbow grease with a soft cloth will do it. It polishes well too. Oily woods like cocobolo, rosewood and teak need a rub now and again with oil. All unstabilized woods need oil on a more regular basis. Just don’t go overboard. Let it dry then apply some wax to hold the oil in. Anything commercial for gun stocks or furniture will work.

Renaissance Wax was developed by the British Musem Research Laboratory in the late 1950s to protect all sorts of items like leather and metal. Not being made of beeswax or carnuba wax but from crude oil it won’t become acidic over time. Get it online easily. You can apply it over the well-rubbed-in mineral oil on anything for a final protective coat.

I know gutta percha and vulcanite aren’t exotic but since they’re antique and becoming rarer and more difficult to replace, take care of them with a gentle rub of mineral oil.

Gee — wasn’t so hard after all. Maybe McCoy doesn’t need to crab about being a doctor all the time either?

Subscribe To American Handgunner

Purchase A PDF Download Of The American Handgunner Jan/Feb 2020 Issue Now!