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Home Taxidermy for Pleasure and Profit

A Guide for those who wish to prepare
and mount animals, birds, fish,
reptiles, etc., for home, den,
or office decoration

By Albert B. Farnham, Taxidermist 

Published by
A. R. HARDING, Publisher
Columbus, Ohio

Copyright, 1944
By A. R. Harding Pub. Co.
Publisher's disclaimer: Information provided is dated and is for information purposes only.

CHAPTER XI.

TANNING, CLEANING AND POISONING SKINS.

I have used the following method for some years successfully on skins up to and including the deer in size. Most larger skins need thinning with a special tool, though an experienced hand can manage to thin a heavy hide with a common draw knife.

An empty lard tub, a half barrel or a large earthenware jar to hold the tan liquor, a fleshing knife and a fleshing beam are necessary to begin with at least. Any smith can make a knife of an old, large file or rasp by working both sides to a blunt edge and drawing the upper end out in a tang for another handle. A piece of old scythe blade with cloth wrapped around the ends will do, or a dull draw knife, either. One blade filed into fine teeth will be useful in removing the inner or muscular skin.

FLESHING KNIFE. (Made from old rasp)

A slab or plank 6 or 7 feet long, with one end tapered and half rounded, on 2 or 4 legs of such length as to bring the end against the workman's chest, makes a beam.

BENCH BEAM.

A short piece of plank rounded off and bolted to the top of the table or work bench will do for small skins.

ADJUSTABLE BEAM.

Make up the quantity of tanning liquor you wish by the following formula, also given in Chapter III:

Water   1 gallon
Salt   1 quart

Bring to the boiling point to readily dissolve the salt, and add

Sulphuric acid   1 fluid ounce

Allow it to cool before putting in the skins. Handle the undiluted acid with care. Use common coarse salt and the commercial acid. Skins not wanted at once may be left in this pickle for months without injury.

About a gallon of pickle to a fox size skin is the correct amount, but it may be used several times before losing its strength.

After the skin is removed from the carcass any blood and dirt is washed from the fur, the flesh side well salted, rolled up and left 12 to 48 hours. Then thoroughly beam or scrape down the inside of the skin, removing all flesh, fat and muscles. Skins already dry may be placed either in clear water or tan liquor until they soften up. It takes longer to soften in the tan, but if put in water it must be watched or the hair will start, especially in warm weather.

A very hard, dry skin must be soaked and scraped alternately until thoroughly relaxed. When well softened, treat same as a fresh skin. If very fat or greasy, soak the skin in benzine an hour, wring out well, hang up till the benzine is about evaporated, then place in the tan. If not very fat the skin need not be put in the benzine first, but go in the tan at once after being scraped. I use common stove gasoline for benzine; it is as good for the purpose of cleaning and deodorizing, and cheaper. It must never be used in the vicinity of fire or a lighted lamp, as its evaporation produces a very explosive gas. For this reason I do the cleaning and beating of furs out of doors if practicable. Gasoline wrung out of skins may be saved and, after allowing to settle, used again and again. It will not do for the final cleaning of white furs, but for removing grease before tanning, it is as good as any. Stir the skins about in the tan frequently that all parts may come in contact with the solution.

Light skins like the fox will tan in 24 to 48 hours; heavier ones in proportional time. When on pulling or stretching the flesh side, it whitens, it is tanned. On taking from the tan, rinse the skin well in lukewarm water containing a handful of washing soda to the bucketful. Wring out with the hands and soak again in benzine for half an hour. Wring out of this and clean the fur at once as follows:

Fill a shallow box part full of clean sand or corn meal which has been heated in a pot or pan over the fire or in an oven. Work the skin about in this until the fur is filled with the meal; then shake or beat it out. Repeat the working in meal and beating until the fur is clean and bright. Never put a damp skin into the meal without the gasoline bath first, or you will have the time of your life getting the meal out. Regular fur dressers use very fine saw dust, but meal is to be had anywhere. Plaster of paris will do, but it is most too fine. This treatment with gasoline or benzine removes the grease and animal odors so apt to cling to Indian or home-dressed skins. After cleaning, allow the skin to partly dry in the air and shade; then soften it by stretching, pulling and rubbing in every part. There is no way to accomplish this without work. A pad made of old bags, pieces of blanket, etc., put on the beam, the skin placed on that and stretched in all directions with the blunt edge of the fleshing knife is as good as any way. Keep up the stretching until the skin is quite dry. If any part should dry out too fast for the operator (that is, before it gets stretched) it can be dampened with water on the flesh side and then treated like the rest. If it is wanted extra soft the skin may be thinned down with sandpaper. If the dressed skin is wanted to lie flat as for a rug, it can be moistened on the flesh side; then stretched out and tacked fur side up on a board, the table top or the floor until dry. If this should cause it to harden or stiffen too much break it again without stretching too much.

Another very good tanning solution is the following:

Salt   1 quart
Oxalic acid (pulverized)   4 ounces
Water   2 gallons

Dissolve well and immerse the skins, treating them as already directed, rinsing in clear water only. It is also best to allow a little more time for tanning in this solution.

While on the subject of dressing skins a few words in regard to cleaning furs will be in order. White furs especially that have become soiled and matted from use need cleaning frequently and are brought to the furrier or taxidermist for that purpose.

A good washing in gasoline will usually remove the dirt, then dry out as in dressing furs. Furriers often use powdered magnesia for this purpose but almost any finely divided white powder will do about as well. A long siege of beating, shaking and brushing will be necessary to get the drying powder all out of the fur so it will not sift out on the garments when wearing.

If the piece to be cleaned is large (like a coat or cloak) the lining should be removed before cleaning. Neck pieces and small furs are cleaned with linings, wadding, etc., intact. If the fur is so matted that beating does not fluff it out, it must be combed, using a metal fur comb to break up the tangles.

Charges for this work are based on the time used, though at least 75c. or $1.00 each is charged for the small pieces.

As chemicals exposed to the changes of atmosphere are likely to lose strength in time, the owners of mounted heads generally take the precaution of having them poisoned against moth at varying intervals.

Personally I think once in three years is sufficient but some prefer to be on the safe side where valuable heads are concerned and have them treated yearly.

Large heads like buffalo, moose, and elk may be poisoned as they hang, thus obviating any subsequent handling which would be to the detriment of both specimen and operator.

Heads the size of deer and smaller are readily removed and replaced.

First dust the head well and comb the hair or pelt to detect the presence of moth. If loose hairs reveal this the head should be removed to the open air, unscrewed from the shield and saturated with gasoline, which will kill both the moth and its eggs, after which poison against a repetition of the offense.

Pin an old cloth or newspapers about the neck to protect the shield and wall and spray the entire skin of the head with the diluted arsenical solution as recommended in Chapter III. Seedsmen sell a sprayer for use on plants which is about the most convenient size, though the larger size used in the vegetable garden or even a toilet atomizer will distribute the solution.

After it has dried wipe off the eyes and nose with a damp cloth and handle as little as possible.

The common tariff on such work is for treating a single head not less than $1.00. Two to four at one place, 75c. each, and over four, 50c. This for poisoning only. Extra charges for killing moth. Such work should be done in spring or early summer in the Central States in order to be effective.

CHAPTER XII.

MAKING ANIMAL FUR RUGS.

Probably the first use (after clothing) made of skins was as rugs or coverings for the ground or couches, and in this shape they are still to be found in our most elegantly furnished homes. One of the few survivals of primitive tastes.

The skins of some few animals such as Polar and Grizzly Bears, Tiger, Jaguar, Lion, Puma, Leopards and Ocelots are used for little else, though some of the spotted cats are used for eccentric looking coats and fur sets. Other smaller skins such as wolf, fox, 'coon, wild cat, etc. are much in favor as rugs as well as for garment furs.

In skinning an animal for use as a rug it is as well to skin and stretch it open, cut under side of body from chin to the end of tail and from each foot down to the central line. A large animal like bear or leopard looks well with the paws preserved and they should be skinned down to the last joint, leaving the claws attached to the skin. Smaller skins may have the paws preserved, though the effect is hardly worth the trouble and the smaller paws are easily crushed on the floor by a chance step.

After skinning, using care to detach it from the head without mutilating the ears, eyes and lips, stretch flat on an inside wall, door, or table top. Stretch evenly with tacks or small nails close together to avoid drawing out in points and of the approximate shape of the finished rug. That is, with the front feet well forward and hind feet pointing back, not spread as wide as possible.

If you are intending to dress the skin it may be begun at once after skinning, as per the chapter on tanning, etc., or after fleshing it may be put in the pickle jar against a leisure day. Otherwise stretch and dry for transportation or to send to the tanner.

HALF HEAD. HEAD WITH TEETH. PAPER HEAD FORMS—FOX

As regards the mounting of heads for rugs, they may be done in three styles, called half or mask head, full head closed mouth, and full head open mouth. The first, as the name indicates, consists of the skin of the upper part of the head without that of the lower jaw mounted over an artificial form or "skull." The closed mouth (See dog) has the lower jaw mounted in addition, but without any teeth used, and the open mouth mounting requires a set of suitable teeth with the interior of the mouth, tongue and lips fully modeled and finished either with colored wax or by painting.

These artificial head forms or skulls both with and without teeth and masks, are to be had in all varieties and several sizes each of dealers in taxidermists' supplies so cheaply that I would advise the novice to procure them if possible. In many cases it is necessary for the professional to make use of skulls with artificial teeth as the natural skulls are often thrown away by the collector. In the case of any large skin intended for a rug the roughly cleaned skull should accompany same. In ordering from dealers it is only necessary to give name of animal and the measure of skin from center of nose to inner corner of eye, and outer corner of eye to ear.

DOG—CLOSED MOUTH.

The beginner would do well to try mounting a rug with half head first and the more difficult open mouth later. A very fair mask form can be made by laying the skinned head down on a piece of thin board and marking around it with pencil, then cutting out to the outline. With a bunch of fine excelsior or coarse tow and a spool of thread a half-head form can be roughly blocked out by winding, using the board as a base. Then with modelling clay and chopped tow the anatomy is perfected, pressing down here with the fingers, and building up elsewhere. With the skinned head to refer to as the form is modeled a good job can be done. However, if a number of skins of the same species are to be prepared it is best to make a mould in which unlimited paper forms may be cast. Particulars in this work are given in Chapter on Casting and Modelling.

FOUNDATION FOR TOW AND EXCELSIOR

The next step in rug making after drying the pelt is to prepare the head for mounting. It is as well to do little or no thinning down of the head skin during the tanning and even if it has been shaved down the vicinity of the eyes, ears, nose and lips will need thinning with a small sharp knife, and stretching out with a skin scraper. Before beginning this process the head skin should be dampened on the pelt side with clear water (use pickle in warm weather). If the ears are not skinned before dressing they should be now, and turned inside out to the tips. A small screw driver with the edge blunted and rounded is a good tool for this work as it will not readily cut the thin skin of the ears.

Trim and scrape away any lumps of muscle, etc., and shave down the skin enough to be molded to the surface of the form when dampened. Do not, however, cut away the bunch of muscles on each side of the cheeks in which the whisker roots are embedded, or these distinguished ornaments will drop out. By criss-crossing these with cuts they are made as flexible as the rest of the skin. After the shaving process get a suitable needle and stout thread and sew up any cuts or tears that have been made. If proper care has been used there will be little of this to do, always remembering that a cut is not irreparable but always makes extra work. Bullet holes of large caliber destroy considerable skin and in order to close them it is best to cut them to a triangular shape and draw together by sewing up from the corners of the triangle, as per illustration.

SEWING UP BULLET HOLE.

Cut out from tough cardboard two ear forms a little longer at the base than the ear skin and small enough to slip inside them readily. Before going further give the inside of the head and neck skin a coat of preservative. Let this lay a few minutes to soak in and then after turning the ears right side out slip the cardboard ear forms into place. They should be coated first with liquid glue; work the skin over them with the fingers and fill around their bases with some cut tow and clay of about the consistency of soft putty. Now place the head skin on the form, get the eyes and nose in place and drive in a few pins down the center of the face; they will hold it from slipping while working further on it. If the form is a little too short for this particular skin build it out with clay and tow, if too long it can have a trifle cut off.

Fill the sockets of the eyes with clay, build out the cheeks and the sides of nose with clay and tow and draw the skin of the lips down where they belong. The glass eyes are to be cut from their wires and set, drawing the lids around them with an awl. When they seem properly placed drive pins at both inner and outer corners. The ears are attacked next and when arranged to suit, three or four pins driven in at their bases to hold them.

On a rug the ears should usually be laid back close to the head as by so doing the chance of their being broken off when finished and dry is lessened. Also a mounted rug head is usually intended to register rage or anger.

The upper surface of the face being attended to, turn it upside down on a folded bag or something in the nature of a cushion while we lace it across the form with a stout thread and needle. If a hollow paper form is used it should be filled with crumpled paper, excelsior, coarse tow or similar material. Do not use fur scraps for this as I have seen done or it will be a moth nest.

The whole inside of the skin may now be poisoned after slightly dampening, and then tacked out fur side up in the proper shape to dry. In order to make an animal skin lay flat to the floor it is necessary in most cases to cut out several V-shaped pieces. Behind the fore legs almost always and often in front of them, also and frequently in front of the hind legs are the places where these gores are removed. Consisting as they do of the thinly haired skin inside the legs their absence is not noticeable when neatly sewed up.

Take care in this final stretching of the rug skin to get it alike on both sides, or, as the artists say, bilaterally symmetrical. When tacked out, go back to the face and perfect it so it may dry just right. With a fine awl point draw the upper eyelids down a little, straighten the eye brows, lashes and whiskers, and mould the nostrils into shape, bracing them with damp clay; when dry it is easily removed. Now set it aside until fully dry before proceeding with the trimming and lining. One and a half or two inch wire brads are good to use in stretching skins, but 3d wire lath nails will do; the longer brads are more easily handled.

After removing the nails turn the skin on its back and draw a line from neck to tail with pencil or chalk. By measuring from points on this line we can trim off the legs and flanks of the rug evenly. If it is a small or medium size skin it will look best with an all felt lining. So by laying it flat on a piece of felt somewhat larger all round and marking around it at a distance of 3 inches we can cut out the lining. The edge of this is to be pinked. One end of our chopping block, usually of sycamore or oak, is kept for this function, and a few minutes work with pinking iron and hammer will border the lining with neat scallops.

A sufficient length of felt strips about 2 inches wide, should be cut to reach around the outside of the skin, also pinked on one edge. Allow generously for this as it will have to be gathered in rounding the feet and head. In the case of animals having a bushy tail or brush as the fox, wolf, etc., the tail is merely sewed up on the under side after poisoning and not lined or trimmed. Pumas, tigers and others with short furred tails are trimmed and lined like the rest of the rug. In lining large rugs a double trimming of felt is often used and a lining of strong canvas is used throughout, as when on the floor it is not visible, protects the skin as well, and costs somewhat less.

PINKED LINING, BRIAR STITCHED.

The trimming felt is sewed around the edge of the skin, passing the needle through from the back obliquely, resulting in a long stitch on the felt and a short one on the fur side. What few hairs are drawn down by this can be picked out later with a needle or awl.

SEWING TRIMMING ON RUG.

Before sewing the lining on an interlining of cotton wadding should be cut out and basted in place with a few long stitches. Now place the skin fur side up, on the lining and adjust it so an equal margin shows on all sides and pin it in several places to prevent its slipping while sewing it fast. To do this turn it felt uppermost and sew around just at the edge of the skin, in the trimming felt, reversing the stitch previously used. This hides the short stitch outside and if drawn up evenly will hardly be noticed if a color of thread has been selected corresponding somewhat to that of the felt.

If an extra nice finish is desired the lining may be put on with a decorative briar or cat stitch with some bright colored silkatine.

Brushing away any clay from around the eyes and nose, giving the latter a touch of the proper color (black for the majority of animals). A coat of thin shellac to simulate the natural moist appearance and connecting the dried eyelids with the glass eyes with hot colored wax will about complete the rug. Waxing around the eyes is done with a small round artist's brush and adds to the finished appearance of a job.

In mounting a rug head with either full head, closed or open mouth, the beginner had best use a head form from the dealer for a few times at least. A little study of one of these will enable him to model an open mouth head, when a good set of teeth are supplied, and the ready made article not at hand. It requires considerable time and some natural ability to set the teeth and model the gums and tongue effectively.

A tongue modeled with clay and tow, covered with several layers of papier mache and when dry, coated with flesh colored wax is good enough for any rug, though museum mounting might require that the tongue be skinned and the skin used to cover the model.

Plaster, putty, papier mache and various plastic cement materials are used for modeling mouths, of which papier mache is probably the best; plaster paris is often used in an emergency but is brittle and heavy. For modeling use finely ground paper pulp mixed with glue and plaster or whiting. Only practice and experiment will determine just the precise mixture wanted.

A paper half head form may be the basis and to this wire the jaw bones with their sets of teeth. Clever work will reproduce the interior of the mouth, gums and tongue, and when perfectly dry they should be finished either with paint or colored wax.

The tongue should have its base and lower side coated with glue and have a brad driven through it into the material between the lower jaw bones. If the head of this brad is well set in, a drop or two of wax will cover it.

COYOTE RUG, OPEN MOUTH (Author's Work.)

In preparing a skin for mounting an open mouth head the lips should be pared down and preserved as far as possible as they are to be filled out and attached to the form by pinning at their edges. Common toilet pins are used for this, driving them in part way and when the work is dry cutting them off close down to the surface. After this is done the lips may be waxed thus joining them to the form completely.

Never fear to use plenty of pins in head mounting. In some places they may be driven to the head and left covered by the fur, in other places where there is little or no fur, cut them close and drive down flush.

Of course greater liberties may be taken with a rug skin than one mounted entire for exhibition, still a competent artist can put a great amount of expression in even a rug head. The close student of animal anatomy can produce an appalling snarl of anger on the heads of the larger carnivora or change the same to a sleepy yawn or grin in a few minutes' manipulation.

The professional is often called in to repair damaged rugs and especially those with open mouths. Here the operator must use his own judgment as no two seem to demand the same treatment. Missing teeth may have to be supplied and carved from bone, celluloid or antlers. The tips of broken deer antlers make very good canine teeth and blocks of celluloid which are much easier to shape than bone, are sold by supply dealers.

I have dwelt at some length on rug making as it is a branch of taxidermy which seems to be always in more or less demand with the public. Also it forms an easy entrance to the more complicated mounting of complete animals and much of the work is identical with the process of preserving heads for wall decoration.

CHAPTER XIII.

FUR ROBES AND HOW TO MAKE THEM.

While not usually classed as taxidermy the making and repairing of robes will bring in many a dollar to the worker in the middle and northern states. A stitch in time (on a robe) often saves more than the proverbial nine, and the better the quality the more anxious the owner to have it put in good order.

The late lamented bison furnished the robe par excellence, few of which pass through the hands of the taxidermist nowadays. Their place has, in some degree, been taken by the Galloway and other cattle hides, which also make a practically one piece robe of good weight leather. These are too heavy for economical dressing by hand, but the regular tanning concerns will dress them soft, pliable, and clean for a very reasonable price.

The regular robe makers do much of their work with the heavy overstitch sewing machines, but it can be done as well or better by hand at the expense of more time. Many of the smaller skins, as coyote, raccoon, fox, opossum, and wild cat make up as handsome carriage robes and sell at remunerative prices.

Skins of an inferior lustre or that are mutilated are often used. For instance, the skin of the head may be mounted separately and not interfere with using the balance in a robe. For use in a robe skins should be taken off open and stretched in a rectangular shape as near as possible.

After tanning, sew up all cuts and holes in the skins, dampen the flesh side with clear water and tack out fur side down on the floor, table top, or better still on light boards cleated together which may be set on edge against the wall out of the way. In all sewing on rugs and robes be sure and use a substantial thread well drawn up, fine stitches are not essential but good material is, as such things come in for a deal of rough use unlike mounted specimens which are, or should be seldom handled. Glovers triangular needles and gilling or carpet thread of suitable sizes are the necessary tools.

Skins of approximately the same size should be used in making up a robe or the effect will be bad. After stretching and drying, cut them to rectangular shape, taking care to get the darker line down the back in the center of each. A good way is to cut a piece of cardboard to the required size and mark around it. Gaps in front of and behind the legs may be filled by sewing in small pieces rather than cut down the skins too much. The drawing shows coon skin marked to cut for robe. The skin is poorly stretched yet there are many even worse, altho trappers are learning to handle the skins in better shape.

COON MARKED TO CUT FOR ROBE

After the necessary number of skins are cut out they are sewed together in rows and the rows in turn sewed to each other like a patchwork quilt, taking care to have the fur all run the same way. The robe should now be dampened again and stretched and tacked to its full extent to remove any wrinkles and flatten the seams. This sewing is all done from the back of the robe using an even over-hand stitch. Just before the final stretching it is well to apply arsenical solution to the damp skins.

On drying it is ready for the trimming and lining. Sometimes it is necessary to turn over the upper edge of the skins and baste it down or it may show the raw edge of the hides on account of the fur laying all one way.

Strips of felt 3 in. wide, pinked on one edge are used for trimming, and may be had from the dealers, ready to use, or we can buy the felt by the yard and easily pink it in the work room. Any one doing much robe work would find a pinking machine (price about $5.00) a good investment, but the small hand iron does just as good work.

STRONG HIDE (CATTLE) LAP ROBE.

A double border of contrasting colors may be used, the upper strip of which should be ¾ inch narrower. The border is sewed on from the back with heavy thread, using the same stitch as that for the lining rugs. An interlining of cotton wadding is basted in place before the lining is sewed on. Plush or beaver cloth is to be had in 54 and 60 inch widths and a variety of colors, of which the darker greens, browns, and blacks are to be preferred.

Fur robes are usually 48×60; 54×66; 60×70; or 60×84 inches in size, so linings of the above widths cut without waste.

Single cattle or horse hides may be left with the edges merely straightened or they may be cut and pieced to regular robe shape. The bushy tails of such animals as wolf or fox are sometimes used along one side or both ends as a fringe.

The number of skins required to make a robe are as follows:

Raccoon    12   to   20
Coyote, wolf or dog    6   to   10
Wild cat    12   to   16
Woodchuck or opossum    20   to   30
Goat    4   to   8
COYOTE LAP ROBE, 8 SKINS. Note tails in center.

Baby carriage robes of angora or lamb skins are lined with quilted satin and trimmed with felt of some light shade. They usually have either an opening for the head and shoulders or a pocket for the feet.

The natives of Patagonia make up many robes of the guanaco and vicuna, dressing the skins and sewing them together with sinew. Their dressing is faulty as the skins are apt to stiffen and crack and the sinew hardens with time until it becomes like wire, though the stitching is wonderfully even. They have, however, worked out a scheme of joining the skins in a way to eliminate waste, that is far ahead of civilized fur workers. A row of skins are joined head to tail and the next row headed the opposite way will fit in perfectly, the legs being left on the skins. The sketch with this will explain better than any description. The guanaco pelt being of a woolly nature makes it unnecessary to run it all the same way and the entire skins are utilized in spite of their ungainly shape, the flaps and tabs trimmed off filling the indentations around the outer edge of the robe. They make an excellent camp blanket as light and warm as the malodorous, hairy rabbit skin robe of Hudsons Bay, and no Patagonian ranch house bed is complete without its guanaco coverlet.

PATAGONIAN ROBE OF GUANACO SKINS.

You will likely be called on to repair robes much oftener than to make them and such work is nearly all profit, as it generally consists in sewing up rips and tears in the skins. Never attempt to do this from the front or fur side as it can only be done right from the back. To do this at least one side of the lining will have to be ripped and the robe turned, turning it back and resewing it on completion. Linings are turned under at the edges all around.

Worn and soiled linings and trimming often need replacing with new material and it is sometimes necessary to purchase an unlined goat "plate" to repair robes of that common variety. Worn robes can be cut down in size if no similar material is to be had for repairs.

Chapter XIV - MOUNTING ENTIRE SMALL FUR ANIMALS.

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