Wooden Horn Knobs

The following article is interesting to me.  Judging by the amount of hits this site gets from internet searches for “horn knobs” I think it might be interesting to you too.   Most teamsters who take pride in their team of oxen adorn them with horn knobs.  While some other metals are used, they are almost always made of brass.  The price of brass keeps climbing as does the price of labor.  Most shops have switched to CNC machines that require costly programming that can only be offset by either an investment in very large orders or exorbitant prices.  This article from 1866 presents a possible alternative.  It advises the use of turned wooden knobs!  Would any serious teamster switch to wooden knobs?  I think it is doubtful, but an interesting idea none the less.  The article specifies a knob 4″ x 4.5″.  I am sure knobs this size would be functional but I don’t think I would have any appreciation for them ascetically.  Perhaps at half scale they would look good but then I wounder how long they would last and what they may look like after daily abuse.  Certainly, more intricate knobs could be turned and rather than worn every day they could be only worn for show.  I understand some Maritime teamsters do this already with some of the more ornate brass and aluminum knobs.  In addition to the wood species that are recommended in the article, I would think Osage Orange would be an excellent choice.  The heart wood is both extremely durable as well as rot resistant.  Some of the very dense exotic woods should work as well but caution would be needed as many of these have been known to cause allergic reactions.

If anyone chooses to try this please let me know how it works out!

Published in American Agriculturist, Volume 25 1866

The ends of the horns of some cows and are so pointed, that unless mounted with knobs, serious wounds are easily inflicted. We have seen the flesh of neat cattle laid open inches in length by pugnacious bullocks, and horses and colts with dangerous and even fatal wounds given by the horn of some hooking beast. The small brass knobs which are screwed on the horns, are worth but little, as they are too small. In order effectually to prevent injury, the balls should be as large as a man’s fist. Moreover, when vicious cattle have such large knobs on their horns, they will soon get completely over their propensity to hook, and large and small will herd peaceably in a small yard, where it would be dangerous to keep them, were there no knobs on their horns. We once owned a hooking cow with long, sharp pointed horns, that was a terror to every other animal in the yard, until large knobs were put on her horns, when she shortly became peaceable and harmless as a lamb, permitting cattle, that once trembled with fear when a rod distant, to feed close by her side. We have long accustomed to use large wooden knobs, for the horns of every animal more than one year old, if the horns had attained sufficient growth to admit of boring a gimblet hole near small end, without entering the quick. In horns of some cattle the quick extends to within half an inch of the tips, until they are, perhaps, two years of age, and the horns of some cows, and oxen may be bored, without touching the quick, three inches or more below the ends. To make these knobs, select a few well seasoned, sound sticks of some tough wood, which will not split easily, like yellow locust, iron wood (or hornbeam), river beech, or pepperdge. A piece two feet and a half long and 4 inches thick in the clear, will make six knobs, 4 inches in diameter and 4.5 inches long.

They should be shaped like fig. 2 above, and an expert woodturner will get them out in a few minutes at a cost of about two cents a piece. Soon after they are turned, they should be sawed apart and bored through with a .5 inch bit, to prevent unequal drying and cracking. The pin hole (seen in the cut) should be bored .75 of an from the tip end, using a sharp nail bit. Then the hole should be reamed out with a bung-hole borer, shown in fig. 3, making a tapering hole, as indicated by dotted lines in fig. 2, about an inch in diameter at the end of the knob. Soak the knobs thus made, several days in linseed oil or coal tar, to prevent shrinking and cracking when on the horns. If the animal to be adorned will not allow its horns to be bored, make it fast by horns to a bar or pole fastened securely in a gate or doorway, which has strong posts.

Ream out the holes to fit the horns well. Then crowd on balls, mark each horn on both sides with a square-pointed awl, and, removing the balls, bore the horns half-way through from each side, using a small gimlet having a sharp screw. Use pins of No. 11 or 12 steel wire, 3 inches long, filed to round points. The holes in the horns should be bored “drawing” to keep the knobs from working loose – that is, they should the effect to spring the pin down in the middle, but not more than one fourth of its diameter. When the holes are so bored, the pins must driven in with some force. To do this, a heavy sledge hammer, or stone weighing 20 or 30 pounds, should be held against the knob to prevent all jarring, as cattle are extremely sensitive to any blow upon their horns. Drive each pin about a quarter of an inch beneath the surface.