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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 XIV.

MOUNTING ENTIRE SMALL FUR ANIMALS.

In Chapters VI and VIII directions are given for skinning and preparing this class of animals for mounting, so with the skin properly cleaned and poisoned before us the next thing is to cut the wires for a supporting frame. These are six in number usually, body wire, tail wire and one for each leg. The body wire is about one-half longer than from nose to base of tail; tail wire the length of the tail bone and half the body, and each leg wire twice the length of the leg.

I have spoken of using a muskrat for an initial attempt as it is of a convenient size to handle and the length of its fur will hide small defects in the anatomy. Most books of instruction select a squirrel for the beginner's victim. It is true it is not as difficult as a hairless Mexican terrier but it is apt to discourage the learner. An opossum will do very well or any long haired animal of about that size.

We will first reconstruct a hind leg and if it is a fresh specimen being mounted without a bath in the pickle we can have the opposite leg in the flesh to guide, as to proper proportions. The wire is passed through the cut in the bottom of the foot and along the back of the leg bones where it is secured in about three places by tying with small cord. The end is left projecting three inches beyond the end of the upper leg bone.

HIND AND FRONT LEG OF MUSKRAT WRAPPED READY TO CLAY AND RETURN TO SKIN.

The muscles and flesh are replaced by winding on tow with stout thread until the approximate size is reached, when the surface is given a thin coating of clay and the leg is drawn back into its skin. The fore legs are in the same manner built to the joint with the shoulder blade.

After sharpening the tail wire to a point it is wound with fine tow and thread and coated with clay until it duplicates the bone and flesh removed. This is slipped into the tail sheath with the unwound end projecting into the body and the slit along the lower side of tail sewed up.

After making a ring about the diameter of a .22 shell on one end of the body wire place it on your sketch where the hip joint was marked, letting the wire run lengthwise of the body. Another ring similar is made at the shoulder. These form the points of attachment for the legs.

WIRING FOR SMALL ANIMALS, FRONT LEG WIRES TWISTED TO BACK WIRE.

The skull, cleaned of flesh and poisoned, should have the muscles replaced with tow and the whole coated with clay. Force a piece of cork into the opening at the back of the skull. Sharpen the end of body wire and force it through the cork and out one of the nostrils. The skull is pushed back along the wire until it reaches the proper distance from the shoulder ring, when all but an inch or so of the projecting wire is cut off.

Insert the skull through the body opening and work it up the neck into its place in the head skin, letting the end of wire go through the nostril of skin also. This will hold the nose in place. Adjust the eyes and ears also.

Now pass the ends of leg wire through the rings from their opposite sides. The tail wire is passed through the rear ring and twisted around the body wire a few times. The ends of leg wires projecting through the ring cross, so twist them together a turn or two with pliers, next bring them down and under the body wire, twisting them together, first one side of it and then the other. This treatment will fasten the legs and tail also firmly to the body wire.

Thus we have the skin with head, tail and legs filled out and the supporting wires fastened together. The remainder of filling, usually chopped tow, is placed with fingers, forceps, and stuffers. First a good layer next the skin all around, then part this and fill in the center a little at a time, first at one end, then the other. Put a good cushion at the hips and shoulders between the wires and the skin and also at the back. Fill out the neck well but do not stretch it unduly.

Begin sewing up at both ends of the opening cut, drawing a few stitches up and tying the thread while you fill a little more. Model the animal into shape from time to time by pressure with your hands and when filled out and sewed up tie the threads together.

Our animal is now lying on its back with head, tail and limbs extended; bend them into some natural position and set it on its feet. It may be well to force a little chopped tow and clay into the bottoms of the feet and draw the cuts in them together with a few stitches around the leg wire projecting from them.

A temporary stand of a piece of board supported on cleats at each end is prepared and a number of holes bored for the leg wires. A little experimenting will find the proper place for these when the surplus ends of wire are bent along the bottom of the board and fastened with staples. Complete the head and face modeling now, filling out the cheeks and lips and pinning them in place. Work the skin around the eyes and ears into proper place and fasten with pins.

Fill eye sockets with sufficient clay and set the eyes, drawing the lids down where they belong.

Any deficiencies at the back of the head can be filled through the ears. In the case of a muskrat the ears are so insignificant that they only need a little clay and tow forced into them to hold them in place. More prominent ears as those of fox, 'coon, or wild cat must be filled with a pasteboard form, cut the proper size and shape, coated with liquid glue and inserted from the inside before returning the skull to the skin. The ears of all animals should be pocketed when skinned, that is turned inside out to their tips to admit preservatives and later some filling material which will retain their shape when dry.

Do not skin out and throw away the ear cartilage but leave it adhering to the skin of the inner side of the ear. Without it this skin is very frail and brittle and thorough pickling will prevent shrinkage and distortion of the ear.

OPOSSUM MOUNTED IN WALKING POSITION.

Before leaving the head push it slightly towards the body on the wire and cut same close to end of nose. Pull head back to place, the wire disappears up the nose about ¼ inch, then you can shape the nostrils and fill so they will not shrivel up in drying and look as though their owner had been a mouth breather.

If the general pose and appearance seem correct finish up by placing the feet and toes correctly. Nothing gives a mounted animal a more trampish, disreputable appearance than slouchy, run over feet with toes that don't seem to be on the job. Lastly comb the fur out and fluff it up before setting away to dry.

Animals up to the coyote in size are usually mounted by similar methods to the preceding. Sometimes a piece of board is substituted for the body wire, especially in the larger specimens, the wires to which are too heavy to clinch readily. The skull is on a separate neck wire and all wires are fastened to the back board by passing through holes and then stapling.

CAT SITTING AND WATCHING

Of course it is possible to mount small specimens by the same methods most large ones are, by drawing the skin over a hard filling, in fact a statuette, which must be made to fit the skin. This method in the case of small animals requires so much time that it is impossible in ordinary commercial work.

Strive to put your mounted animals in easy natural poses unless you are making a grotesque, in which case go the length.

Clean the eyes and teeth with a brush when dry, and beat the fur to make it stand out. Fasten securely on whatever form of mounting you have decided on, countersinking the wires on the under side. Accessories, as a piece of food in the mouth or paws, are added now if they have been prepared for.

A slip with record of the specimen written on it and pasted to the under side of stand will usually be appreciated. If the mouth is wanted open it should be braced in that position, the lips, etc., held in place by clay. When it is dry this can be dug out with awls and modelling tools and the tongue, gums, and inside the mouth modelled in mache or some plaster composition. The tongue may be modelled in connection with the lower part of the mouth or made separately and fastened in place with a brad and some glue.

Colored wax, pink for the inside and black for the lips, applied hot with a little brush in several coats finish the open mouth. A little black wax will join the eyelids to the glass eyes if they have shrunk away and the inside of the nostrils should be coated with a little pink. Bare skin on the end of the nose should be varnished.

CHAPTER XV.

MOUNTING LARGE ANIMALS ENTIRE.

Though at one time nearly all animals were mounted by the soft body or stuffing method as described in the previous chapter, very few of the larger ones are so treated now. An adequate frame is built in a body of the proper size and proportions, the surface of which reproduces those muscles lying next the skin. The skin, well pared down and poisoned, is sewed, pinned and glued to this surface.

In the small specimen clay was used next the skin in places to perfect the modelling, but such amounts would be required for a large animal as to affect the durability of the skin. Clay and plaster being in a dry state very absorbent, will eventually rob of all oily matter any skin in contact with them. Such skins will crack, split and finally disintegrate as thoroughly as those having an excess of fat adhering to them.

To prevent this a layer of some glue composition or paper is used just beneath the skin. As an example in this mode of mounting a black bear would answer nicely. If the leg bones are attached to the skin they may be unjointed at the toes and laid aside while the skin is well shaved down on its entire inner surface. A thoroughly flexible skin is entirely at the command of the taxidermist, one stiff or hard cannot be placed or kept in place at will.

After beaming, splitting the lips and nose cartilage, pocketing the ears and sewing up cuts and tears, the skin is dropped in the pickle. An outline sketch is made with chalk on the shop floor and on this the bones of the legs are arranged. A stiff wire bent along the back of each set of leg bones will guide us in bending the iron rods used as supports. These should be from 5/16 to ½ inch in diameter, threaded and fitted with two nuts at the lower end and eighteen inches or so longer than the leg bones themselves.

Of this extra length, enough is allowed below the feet to fasten to the pedestal, the balance is bent in a right angle from the end of the upper leg bone. At the distance of the hip joint from the central line of the body it is bent again parallel with the back board; for a hind leg. The front leg rods are bent in the same way at the joining of the shoulder blade with the humerus or upper bone of the front leg. You will readily see the desirability of preserving at least one set each of the hind and front leg bones. In such case the missing bones can be roughly blocked out of wood to the proper dimensions, while if none are saved you will have to do the same depending on the skin for measurements.

FRAME FOR BEAR MANIKIN.

The end of the rods lying along the back should be bent again in a V shape to prevent their turning when fastened to it. The location of the hip and shoulder joints are marked on one side of the back board, the rods for that side laid in place and fastened by drilling holes each side of them and passing loops of stout wire through and twisting them tightly on the other side with heavy pliers. The rods for the other side are fastened in the same manner, in fact they may be fastened with the same wires, but it will be stronger if the fastenings are separate. The leg bones are bound fast to the rods with wire or twine.

Holding the back board in the vise by the middle the leg rods with bone attached are adjusted to the position of the finished specimen. The threaded ends which project below the feet are bent straight down.

A rough pedestal of boards on 2×4 cleats at each end, is made, the frame placed on it and marking where the rods will enter, bore suitable holes to receive them. One nut is turned up each rod a short distance and after inserting in the holes in the pedestal the others are screwed up tightly from below.

Our frame now stands alone and rigid and should be viewed from all sides to correct any errors. It should not be too high, front or rear, and also having the back-board perfectly vertical or plumb. Insert two pieces of rod in the opening at the back of the skull and fasten them there by mixing enough plaster of paris and water to fill the cavity, to the consistency of molasses and pouring it in around them.

The ends of the rods should be bent or roughened to prevent them slipping out after the plaster has set. A surplus of plaster can be placed around the articulation of the jaws, at the same time holding them in place. These neck rods are to run beside and be fastened to the back-board as the legs were.

Let one remain straight and fasten it loosely so it may be drawn in and out the loops until the proper length of neck is formed, then tighten them and fasten the other rod also. Before fastening these try the skin over the frame, making sure it will cover in all directions. A tail wire stapled to the top of the back-board completes the frame.

Bolting leg rods to stand.

If two good sized rectangular holes are cut in the back-board just in front of the hind legs and behind the shoulders they will be useful later in shaping the body by sewing back and forth with a mattress needle and cord. Drive a row of lath nails into the top and bottom edges of the back-board about half their length at 2 inch intervals. They will enable you to build up first one side, then the other of the body by winding down excelsior with wrapping cord. These nails are driven fully in when the winding is finished.

The limbs also are built up by using the same material. Do not build up any part to a perfect fit yet, however, as we must leave room for a shell of paper ⅛ to ¼ inch thick. Depressions in body and limbs are reproduced by sewing from side to side or drawing down with nails.

The neck and skull are built up in much the same way and the skin fitting loosely, the manikin is surfaced up with a coat of soft modelling clay well rubbed in with a small trowel. The paper coating is to be applied while the clay is still damp so a large specimen must be partly covered with a damp cloth to prevent it drying out prematurely.

The paper for this purpose should be of some soft easily pulped variety; common building paper is good and may be torn in pieces of various size, soaked in water 15 minutes, then squeezed out and coated on both sides with paste. This is applied to the surface of the figure, the edges overlapping slightly, until completely covered. Use paper of a different color for each alternate coat to insure its completion. Five or six coats will be sufficient when it may be left to dry, after which treat it to a good coat of shellac.

The skin is withdrawn from the pickle, rinsed in soda solution, put through the benzine and meal drying and coated on the entire inner surface with preservative. Glue coated ear forms are slipped into place and fastened by long stitches back and forth through the ears. The feet and bases of ears are filled with papier mache pulp and the surface of the manikin coated with liquid glue.

Now the skin is put on the form to stay, fastening down the central line of the back with wire brads and drawn together at the junction of legs and body with stout stitches. The legs are sewn up first and the opening cut of the body last. A surplus of skin may be worked out and distributed with the point of an awl, while it may be pulled and stretched to cover a shortage in another point without changing the animal's form in the least.

The ears are pinned in place and their bases distended by tow pressed in with stuffers. Pointed wires thrust through the openings of the ears into the skull will hold them in place until dry.

The nose, lips and around the eyes are correctly placed, filling slightly between the skin and paper if necessary, use plenty of common pins to hold the skin in place. They are either drawn or cut off flush in short-haired skins when dry, but in one like the bear they may be driven to the head and left so.

Any places not inclined to stay put may be clamped down with strips of cardboard pinned on. The glass eyes should be placed now before setting away to dry, which will require some time.

When dry any bare patches of skin will have a dead appearance and require painting with oil colors thinned with turpentine to reduce the gloss. The end of the nose and lips are touched with varnish to produce the natural moist appearance.

If mounted with open mouth this is modelled in paper and wax coated as already described. The fur which should have been nicely combed after mounting will need another brushing and the animal is ready for removal to a permanent mount or pedestal. Some little judgment can be displayed in this selection as a poor, rough mounting will detract from the appearance of the best work while a specimen far below the average will pass muster with tasteful and suitable surroundings. The same principles will apply with some exceptions in mounting about all large animals.

Some of the most ponderous have a hollow wooden frame made to reduce the bulk of filling required; this is covered with wooden strips or lath and this in turn with a layer of fibrous material.

Supporting rods more than ½ inch in diameter must have both ends threaded and be connected with the back-board by iron squares. These consist of a rectangular piece of iron, bent at right angles and drilled with a number of holes in both flanges. One set of these is for screwing to the back-board while the others are of a size to receive the upper end of the leg rod. By changing these from one hole to another it is possible to vary the distance somewhat between the front and hind legs without moving the iron squares on the back-board.

FASTENING RODS TO BACK WITH IRON SQUARES.

Sometimes the hair will be found missing in one or more places on a finished animal and in such case "Old Dr. Le Page's Liquid Hair Restorer" is the only remedy. The place to be covered is coated with glue and a small tuft of hair from the same or another skin grasped with a forceps, the base touched with glue and carefully placed. The hair is arranged with a setting needle before the glue hardens, and though a tedious operation it may be performed so well as to defy detection.

Another way where the hair or fur is of some length is to procure a patch of the right size with hair matching that surrounding, shaving the hide thin, coating the back with glue and pinning on the bare spot.

CHAPTER XVI.

MOUNTING HEADS OF SMALL ANIMALS, BIRDS AND FISH.

One of the most interesting collections which the average nature lover can make is of the heads of small game. The expense is smaller than where the entire subject is preserved, they occupy but little room, and are easily kept in good order.

WILD CAT HEAD MOUNTED ON SHIELD.

Heads of small fur bearers are all mounted in about the same way. In skinning split down the back of neck from between the ears to base of neck, cut around neck in front of shoulders and turn the scalp wrong side out over the head, put it through the usual pickling, paring, cleaning and poisoning. If ears are pocketed and lips split before pickling it may prevent the loss of hair and epidermis, in warm weather especially. Clean the skull if the head is to be mounted with open mouth. If the skull is not to be had, the teeth are broken, or you are in a great hurry, use an artificial form with the interior of the mouth already modelled.

Enlarge the opening at the back of skull and insert a piece of board not wider than the depth of neck from top to bottom. Drill a hole in top of skull and drive a screw into the board into the board inside skull cavity, prop the lower jaw open the desired distance and fill around its articulations and the base of skull around neck board with freshly mixed plaster of paris.

FOX HEAD SKINNED AND ON NECK STANDARD.

When this hardens the skull with open jaws is firmly fixed on end of neck board. Fasten neck board in vise and mark where to saw off, allowing for a piece of ½ inch board shaped like a cross section of the neck. If an artificial form is used, screw it to the neck board and treat the same otherwise.

Make the neck short rather than long with the nose lower than the eyes in most cases. Build up neck and head by winding on tow. Mount and finish the head as directed in rug work.

LEOPARD HEAD, ARTIFICIAL.

The skin may be fastened at the end of neck by pins or brads driven all around the neck. Trim off any surplus with a knife, cutting from inside the skin to prevent cutting off ends of fur.

HAWK HEAD.

If a skin has been ripped up the front to the chin careful sewing will make it presentable, though such seams are hard to conceal.

The heads of birds of prey and the larger game birds show up well mounted and need no special treatment from that generally given. The neck only is made up on a wire, one end of which is sharpened to thrust through the skull while the other is stapled or clinched to a bit of board round or oval shape. The skin of the base of neck is fastened to this by sewing back and forth across the back. Heads of fish like bass and pike are prepared by cutting off just back of the gills and cleaning from the back all brains and flesh.

After poisoning, fill them with tow or cotton, bracing the mouth open if wanted so and keep in the desired position until dry. Then the fibrous filling is removed and they are filled permanently with plaster or paper pulp and a piece of board fastened in the back of head to furnish a hold for screws from the back of the shield or panel.

The inside of the mouth will need remodelling with wax and the whole given a coat of white varnish. Any bright colors which may have faded should be retouched with oil colors before varnishing.

Suitable mounts for small heads are in the regular shield and round and oval shapes, and rustic panels of natural wood. A number of small heads may be mounted on one long panel.

Chapter XVII - MOUNTING HEADS OF LARGE GAME.

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