How to make a Shofar
What is a Shofar?
The Shofar is an ancient Jewish musical instrument and ritual object, made from the horn of an animal. It is used to announce the new year on Rosh Hashanah, and on Yom Kippur. In ancient times it was used for signaling in civilian and military uses. The fabrication of Shofarot is a craft with apparently more than one trade secret.
Selecting a Shofar horn
A Shofar is the keratin portion of the horn of any one of a subgroup of kosher animals, but not cattle. The preferred animal is the Ram. Kudu and Gemsbok and similar animals may also provide horns for a Shofar. The horn must be perfect, and must not have a hole or crack that is more than superficial. If defective or if it is damaged, a Shofar can only be mended by using horn material, as it may not have a foreign substance in it. A Shofar horn should be curved. It is often straightened slightly during the process of fashioning the instrument, but some authorities consider that this invalidates the Shofar for ritual use. A Shofar may not be painted, but it may be polished or decorated with designs. Use of silver on a Shofar may invalidate it for ritual use.
Cleaning the Horn
The horn is first boiled in water, usually with the addition of washing soda, for at least two to five hours to clean it and soften it. The cartilaginous interior of the horn is then cleaned with a pick and scraper and should be sprinkled with borax. The horn may also be sterilized in an oven. If the process is thorough, the horn will not have the objectionable odor that characterizes some Shofarot.
Straightening the horn
Straightening of the horn is optional. While it is desirable that the horn be curved and at least preferable for ritual use, the mouthpiece must be straight enough so that a hole can be drilled without puncturing the wall of the horn as it curves. Straightening is accomplished by gently heating the horn and applying pressure or torque. It is a risky operation that can break the horn and should be done by experts.
Cutting the horn
The mouthpiece is fashioned after the horn has been cleaned and if necessary, straightened. The quality of the mouthpiece is the main determinant of the quality of the Shofar sound.
The hollow depth of the horn is measured with a soft, bent wire, inserted through the opening in the large end of the horn. After measuring the inner depth, mark the end of the hollow part on the outside of the horn, according to the length of the wire that fit into the interior. Now measure from this outer mark to about 1.5" (3.81 cm) in the direction of the pointed end of the horn cone. For ram's horns, that point should be about 1" (2.54 cm) from the tip of the horn. This is where the horn should be cut off carefully with a hack saw or similar implement. The cut should be as precisely perpendicular to the length of the horn as possible.
Creating the mouthpiece
The cut leaves a blunt, flat surface. Carefully drill a straight hole in the center of that surface. The drill should work slowly at first and may need cooling with water. It must be kept straight at all times. Drill until you have a narrow hole that reaches the hollow part of the horn. and gradually accelerate the speed to make a narrow hole, which penetrates the horn until it reaches and breaks through to the hollow part on the interior.
The narrow hole should usually be enlarged to create a concave hollow for the mouthpiece. The canal may need to be carefully enlarged to produce a resonating sound.
Finishing the Shofar
The last and final step to making a Shofar is to polish the horn and optionally to decorate it, and to polish and buff the mouthpiece to make it smooth.
Shofars - related info
- Ram's Horns at Ajudaica
Different kinds of Shoffars on AJudaica online judaica store.