Drinking Horns

Ultimate Buyers Guide to Drinking Horns

Introduction

So you want to buy a drinking horn. Awesome! Drinking horns have been around since before Viking times and are a drinking vessel that when well taken care of can bring you joy for many years.

But now you are faced with a number of options and we at Viking & Weaver are here to help. Whether you purchase a horn from us or another vendor we want to help you make the best possible decision.

In this article we will cover: sanitation and why it is important, different sealing methods that are available for purchase (as well as a link to an article for how to seal your own horn), accessory options, and customization options that you may find around the web or at your local renaissance faire.

This article is intended to be taken one piece at a time, and each section will be followed with the pros and cons so that you can make an educated decision and understand what those product descriptions really mean.

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Sanitized or Not?

Read the product description of the drinking horn. Sanitation is the MOST IMPORTANT thing to look for.

The reason this is so important is because horns are a natural product, and the water buffalo, bison, or cows do not shed them like  a deer does. This mean that after slaughter the horns are removed and are naturally filled with biological material that you DO NOT want to be drinking.

Why Buy A Sanitized Drinking Horn?

picture of a container of bleach

When companies receive horns from India (which is where most of the horns on the market come from) They have only had the majority of the material removed and some remains stuck to the inside of the horn. This causes any drink you put it (water, beer, tea, coffee) to have a flavor that we have heard referred to as “rotting brains.” Unless you want an authentic Viking experience it is not a palatable flavor. And unless you are a hard core reenactor I promise it is not a flavor you EVER want (and sometimes even then).

The sanitizing process uses a bleach solution that kills 99.9% of bacteria and leaves the horn with no remaining organic matter on the inside.

Pros:

Reduction in horn smell

Removal of organic materials

Bacteria Free

Cons:

Higher price point

Less authentic experience

Sealed Drinking Horns or Not?

You have a sanitized horn. What about the myriad of sealants companies use? What is the best? Should you even buy sealed?

Receiving a sealed horn will improve your experience. It will block off flavors that come out of the horn after the sanitation process. Buy an unsealed horn? You have to seal it. Read more about 4 methods for sealing a drinking horn.

Beeswax

picture of beeswax

Beeswax is a traditional sealant for drinking horns dating back to the viking age. You melt beeswax over a double boiler and then stream it in being sure to cover all the inner surface. Read more about applying Beeswax here.

Pros:

All natural sustainable sealant

Reduction in horn off flavors

Cons:

Cold drinks ONLY

Reapply every month or two.

Beer or Hard Liquor

picture of a bottle and glass of beer

Beer is another traditional drinking horn sealant dating back into the Viking Age. You take a very dark beer and place it in your horn letting it sit for at least a week. Alternatively you can replace the beer with a very high proof liquor. Read more about applying a Beer finish here.

Pros:

Reduction in off flavors

Easy to do

Cons:

Potential issues with gluten

Staining of the Horns

Makes everything taste like beer.

Will need reapplication every month or so.

Butcher Block (Salad Bowl) Finish

can of salad bowl finish

Butcher Block finish is a polyurethane product that is very thin and can be easy applied even at home. Hang upside down to drain excess liquid. Cure for 12 hours.

Pros:

No off flavors

Good for hot or cold beverages

Cons:

Increased pricing

Wears off after a year of use and should be checked for wear

Will need reapplying

Food Grade Epoxy

picture of food grade epoxy

Food grade epoxy is the highest quality of the sealants. It is something you can do at home, but it is not very easy and can be very expensive. Hang upside down to drain excess liquid. Cure for 12 hours. Read more about applying epoxy here.

Pros:

Good for hot or cold beverages

Never wears off or needs reapplication

Creates a barrier inside the horn that keeps beverages away from the horn material.

Cons:

Increase in price due to cost and labor involved.

Ounces or Length?

picture of a measuring cup

Many shops offer horns sold by length, but over time we have noticed a problem with this. Take for example two horns that are 14 inches long. They may hold 8 ounces of liquid, or they might hold 27 ounces. It really is a crap shoot.

We recommend only buying from sellers who list their ounce sizes so you truly know what you are getting when you spend your money. Over the years we have seen small horns (12 inches or less) that can hold up to 14 ounces of liquid, and large horns (over 16 inches) that only hold 6 ounces.

Horns are a natural product and as such they are always different from each other, even if they come from the same cow! The length of one horn may differ from another greatly, but they may hold the same amount of liquid. Before spending your money be sure you know what you are buying.

Accessory Options

So now you have found a horn that fits your sanitation and sealant needs. What about ways to make it stand up? Or how do you hold it to your belt? Are they customizable?

Drinking Horn Stands

Stands are a great addition to your drinking horn order. They allow you to set your horn down on a table or any other horizontal surface instead of having it in your hand any time there is liquid in it.

There are three kinds of materials you will typically find when looking for stands: wooden, metal, and horn.

Wooden

11 oz drinking horn in a wooden stand

Wooden stands can be a great addition to your drinking horn. They are available in almost any kind of wood, and some vendors will also wood burn them for you for an added personal touch.

Finished drinking horn stands are left in their natural state or stained.

Wooden drinking horn stands are two legs of a tripod (as shown in the picture above), and they pack flat.

wood burned stand with medieval hemlet reading everything medieval

Pros:

Lower prices

Tripod versions will pack flat

Made from natural material

Customizable

Cons:

A lot of options can be hard to narrow down

If not treated or maintained they could crack

Some woods lighten or darken in color with age

Buy with the horn

Metal

10 oz horn in a metal stand

Metal stands are less versatile than wood stands, and are harder to pack. However, they are much more of an one size fits most. You can buy metal stands long after buying your initial horn and not have to worry about if it will fit because in most cases it will!

Pros:

Long lasting

Nearly indestructible

One size fits most

Cons:

Higher priced

Does not store flat

Not as customizable

Horn

drinking horn with a stand made of horn

Horn stands are another option to hold your horn. The horn and stand are often sold as a set because much like the wooden horn if you buy them after you get a horn it is hard to know if it will fit properly.

One thing to keep in mind with a horn stand is that you need to consider all of the same criteria you do for your drinking horn. If you don’t then your horn may not smell but the stand certainly will! And that will not lead to a positive drinking experience.

Pros:

Usually offered with the drinking horn

Lightweight

Cons:

Sam considerations as a drinking horn

May smell

Prone to cracking if not maintained

Drinking Horn Holders

horn with belt hanger

Belt holders (otherwise known as frogs) are a great addition to your drinking horn accessories. They allow you to hang a horn either from your belt for from your shoulder via a strap. Frogs are made of cloth or leather. They also have carvings or metal embellishments.

horn with shoulder strap

Pros:

A great alternative to stands as they can be used when standing

Usually pack flat

Can be customizable

Cons:

Can be expensive depending on the complexity

Carved Drinking Horns

Carvings in drinking horns are not only period they can be really cool! Whether you choose your Hogwarts House, Westeros House, or simply a symbol that holds meaning for you there are truly some talented artisans out there carving horns.

Lines can be dyed to make them stand out. If this is something you are interested in be sure to ask your artisan if they provide this service before commissioning a carved horn from them.

Carvings in drinking horns are not only period they can be really cool! Whether you choose your Hogwarts House, Westeros House, or simply a symbol that holds meaning for you there are truly some talented artisans out there carving horns.

Once carved the artisan can color in the lines with dye. If this is something you are interested in be sure to ask your artisan if they provide this service before commissioning a carved horn from them.

Hand Carved Drinking Horns

Carved drinking horn with norse compass and a spiral down the length

Hand carving is time consuming and detailed art form that dates back to the Viking Age. Before commissioning a work you should:

  1. Look for the artisans lead time (how long it will take before they can get to your horn)
  2. Find out how long it typically takes them to carve a horn
  3. Discuss your design idea
  4. If you are interested in having the lines colored ask if the artisan provides this service.

Be aware when getting into horn carving that you are paying not only for someones time but also for their talent and steer clear from pricing that seems too good to be true.

Pros:

Can achieve a level of detail on multiple levels

Supporting artisans

Great addition to your horn

Cons:

Can be expensive

Long lead times

May have a lead time of 6 months to a year with a good artisan

Sand Blasted and Laser Engraved

laser engraved drinking horn with runes

Sand blasting can be much more reasonably priced than hand carving and often it is a process where the design can be copied onto many horns. The trade off is that the detail is not as rich as it can be in hand carving, nor is the etching as deep as hand carving will be.

Pros:

Repeatable

Cheaper than Hand carving

Faster turn around

Cons:

Not as detailed as hand carving

Lines may be to shallow for coloring in

May have a lead time of 6 months to a year with a good artisan

How Much Should A Drinking Horn Cost?

Prices for horns  range from $20 to hundreds of dollars depending on the quality of horn, any carvings, and stands or belt holders included.

With everything prices matter. The cheaper you buy the lower quality you could potentially get. Always be sure to read the product description and reviews before making any purchases.

We hope this buyer’s guide is helpful to you. If you would like updates on our articles, new products, and what we have been up to please sign up for our newsletter below!

Should My Drinking Horn Leak?

Some product descriptions say that because horn is a natural material it may leak. This is a sign that they are not quality checking their products and to run for the hills.

A properly sealed horn will never leak. And companies that are asking you to spend upwards of $60 dollars on a product that they are in no way guaranteeing.

If your horn leaks contact customer service for a refund. Find another seller that offers better products, and always be sure to check the reviews.

Should my Drinking Horn Smell?

Even a perfectly sealed horn may let off a small amount of smell when a hot beverage is put into them, but should be undetectable in room temperature conditions.

If you open your package and there is a horn smell you know that:

1) You horn is unsanitized. You must sanitize it or return it.

2) Your horn is likely unsealed. You must seal the horn.

Now, if you place a hot beverage in a horn that is not sealed with either Butcher Block Finish or Food Grade Epoxy you will also get an off smell and off flavors.

What Causes Off Flavors?

Off flavors are caused by the material from the horn leeching into your drink. The reasons this can happen:

  1. Your horn is unsanitized. You must sanitize it or return it.
  2. Your horn is not sealed.
  3. You are drinking hot liquid from a sealed horn that will not hold up to the temperature and you will need to reseal your horn.
  4. There is a defect in your seal and it will need to be reapplied.

The only sealant that will not have any of these issues is Food Grade Epoxy.

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