Online Reprint of

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.



Probably arsenic in some form has been, and will continue to be the leading taxidermic preservative, or rather, insect deterrent. Many people are shy of handling this, but with reasonable care the use of arsenic is perfectly safe. Always keep poisons well labeled and out of the way of children. Nine children out of ten would never think of sampling them, but the tenth might prove the fatal exception.

There is far less danger to the operator in handling the needful amount of poisons than in endeavoring to save some rare but over-ripe subject. In many years' use of arsenic, dry, in wet solution, and in soap, I have received nothing more serious than an occasional sore finger.

The shape in which I have found it most satisfactory for poisoning hair and feathers of mounted specimens and the interior of furred skins I will give as

Commercial arsenic   1 lb.
Bicarbonate of soda   ½ lb.
Water   5 pts.

Boil until arsenic and soda have dissolved, stirring frequently. Use a vessel at least twice as large as necessary to contain the quantity used as it foams up while boiling. When cold put in a large bottle or jar marked Poison, of course. For poisoning finished specimens, mounted heads, etc., take one part of this solution to two parts water and spray the entire surface with this in an atomizer or larger sprayer. It should be tested before using by dipping a black feather in it and if a gray or white deposit is left on drying, it should be diluted still further until this is prevented.

To poison the inside of skins we make Arsenical Paste: Arsenical Solution (full strength), whiting sufficient to produce the consistency of cream. This should be mixed in a wide mouthed bottle or small pan and applied with a common paint brush. Do not apply to a perfectly dry skin, like tanned hide for a robe or rug, but dampen the inside first with clear water, then paint over with the paste and it will strike through to the fur side and be taken up around the fur roots by capillary action. This tends to put a damper on the activities of the moth, whose favorite grazing ground is at the hair roots just outside the skin.

The paste is equally good on skins of birds, except, perhaps the smaller ones, when freshly skinned, and some of the smaller mammals. The mixture of whiting makes it easy to see when the surface has already been treated, unless the skin is dressed white, in which case dry ochre may be used in place of whiting.

For poisoning the skins of the smaller furred animals and all but the larger birds:

Powdered white arsenic
Powdered alum

Mix equal parts by measure and apply to inside of the fresh skin with a soft brush or pad of cotton. If during the skinning and cleaning the skin has dried so the powder will not stick, moisten the inside of the skin with water before applying. Some taxidermists prefer to use in place of the paste some form of Arsenical Soap. This may be purchased from the supply dealer or made at home at quite a reduction. Personally I dislike the greasy, sticky feel of it; it is apt to cling around the finger nails and scratches, making them sore.

However, the following is the best formula for a time honored preservative:

White bar soap   1 lb.
Powdered arsenic   1 lb.
Camphor gum   oz.
Subcarbonate of potash   3 oz.
Alcohol (wood or grain)   4 oz.

Slice the soap and melt slowly with a little water. When melted stir in the potash and arsenic. Boil to the consistency of molasses and pour into a jar to harden. Add the camphor already dissolved in the alcohol and stir occasionally while cooling. Mix with water and apply with a paint brush to flesh side of skins.

In case one is timid about using any of the arsenical preparations I would advise them to try

Whiting   24 oz.
White soap   8 oz.
Chloride lime   ½ oz.
Tincture camphor   1 oz.
Water   1 pt.

Shave the soap thin and boil it with the whiting and water till dissolved. Then remove from the fire and stir in the chloride, adding the tincture camphor later when cold, as much of the strength of the latter would be lost were the mixture hot.

Keep in closed jars or bottles, and if too thick, thin down with water or alcohol. Apply like arsenical soap or paste. This is highly recommended by English writers. For a non-poisonous powder I would advise equal parts of powdered alum and insect powder in place of the arsenic and alum.

Formaldehyde (40% strength)   1 part
Water   9 parts

Mix thoroughly and put in glass or earthen jars or large mouthed bottles.

While most of the heads and skins of big game are preserved until they can reach the taxidermist, many of the smaller specimens become a total loss. Lack of time and knowledge are the chief causes of this loss of valuable souvenirs of days out of doors and interesting natural objects. Probably the easiest and least expensive method of temporarily preserving entire the smaller animals, birds, fish and reptiles is by immersion in the above preparation.

I would not advise its use on animals larger than a small fox or cat, and to insure an immediate penetration of the flesh the abdominal viscera should be removed from the larger specimens. The amount of solution used should be about ten times the volume of the subject, and it had best be replaced with fresh liquid after two or three days. I think this will work equally well on birds, reptiles and mammals.

On removal from the solution they may be skinned and mounted as fresh specimens. On removing from the solution, rinse in water containing a little ammonia to neutralize the irritating odor of the formaldehyde. Do not stand over the solution while mixing as the fumes of the formic acid affect the eyes. The condensed form in which this chemical can be carried and its cheapness (30c. per lb.), make it desirable as a temporary preservative. The saying, "It never rains but it pours," applies to the taxidermist and a sudden rush of subjects may often be saved by using the foregoing preparation. Other work may be under way, or for other reasons it may be desirable to keep a specimen in the flesh a short time before mounting.

Alcohol (94% strength)   Equal parts

If alcohol is less than 94% use less water. Use same as formaldehyde solution. This is said to be superior to the formaldehyde solution, though more expensive and harder to carry about on account of its greater bulk before mixing.

Specimens kept long in any liquid are apt to lose their colors. This fading will be reduced to a minimum if kept in the dark.

In order to do any satisfactory work on quadrupeds the taxidermist makes use of a bath or pickle of some sort for keeping skins in a wet state. This pickle sets the hair and in a measure tans the skin, reducing its liability to shrinkage and rendering it less desirable pasturage for insects.

All furred skins of any size should be immersed in this for a time before mounting, and may be kept in it for months or years without injury. If you have time to skin an animal properly the skin may be dropped in the pickle jar and in a day, week, or month be better fit for final mounting than at first.

For the first few days it is necessary to move it about every day so all parts may be exposed to the action of the pickle. The form of pickle which I have found most helpful is:

Water   1 gal.
Salt   1 qt.
Sulphuric acid (measure)   1 oz.

Bring to boiling point to dissolve the salt. Allow to cool before stirring in the acid. When cold is ready for use.

When keeping skins in a wet state a long time I would prefer to use:

Water   1 gal.
Salt   1 qt.
Alum   1 pt.

Boil to dissolve salt and alum; use like preceding.

If skins are to be kept some time they should, after a preliminary pickling, be put in new, fresh pickle and it should be occasionally tested with a salinometer and kept up to the original strength. Dirty and greasy pickle should be thrown away, but if clean and of low strength it can be brought up by adding new pickle of extra strength. It will do no hurt if more salt, even a saturated solution, is made of either of the foregoing.

While the salt and alum or acid pickle will keep our animal skins safely and in a relaxed condition ready for further preparation at any time, it will not answer for bird skins. For this we have a solution for keeping bird skins soft:

Glycerine   2 parts
Carbolic acid   1 part

After skinning the bird and applying some arsenical solution to the inside, brush this solution liberally over the entire inside of the skin. Pay special attention to the bones, wing and leg, skull and root of the tail. If necessary the skin may be packed flat for shipment. One treatment will keep all but the larger skins soft for several months. The feet, of course, will become hard and dry and must be relaxed as usual before mounting.

Every taxidermist needs to be more or less of a modeler, and one of the most useful materials is:

Wet wood pulp   10 oz.
Glue (hot) or LePage's (measure)   3 oz.
Plaster paris, dry   20 oz.

This formula may be varied at the convenience of the operator. Work the glue into the pulp and knead the plaster into the mass. The more glue the slower it sets and a few drops of glycerine will keep it soft several days. Made with little or no glue it hardens quickly.

If the paper pulp is not at hand it may be made by tearing old newspapers or sheathing paper small and boiling and pounding till a pulp results. This composition is much in use in Europe in the making of many familiar toys and similar objects.

For modeling open mouths, finishing mounted specimens, making artificial rocks, stumps and boughs, it is very desirable.

Beeswax   1 part
Paraffin wax   1 part

Melt and color with tube oil colors. To color dip up a spoonful of melted wax, squeeze some tube color in and stir until stiff. Place the spoon in the hot wax and stir till evenly mixed. Do not try to put the color directly in the hot wax as it will not mix evenly so.

Wax should be melted in a water bath, like a glue pot, as excessive heat will darken it. Cakes of wax of suitable colors may be had of the supply dealers and are most economical when no great amount of work is done. The same parties supply the paper pulp previously mentioned.



The preparation of a suitable setting for almost any mounted specimen will add greatly to its attractiveness. If you know where it is to be placed it is not difficult to make it suit its surrounding. For instance, a head of big game for hanging in a dining or ball room is suitably mounted on a polished and carved hardwood shield. While this would hardly match its surroundings on the wall of a log camp, a rustic panel of natural wood with the bark on would perfectly suit the latter place.

Heads, horns, and antlers are usually mounted on what are called shields. Fish and trophies of dead game birds and small game on panels. Single specimens are placed on severely plain wooden bases (museum style) or on those simulating branches, rocks, stumps or earth. These are artificial, but those built up in part at least with natural objects are most pleasing.

As we can not produce the best patterns of shields without special machines we must patronize either the supply dealers or the wood working mill for such. If convenient to a mill equipped with jigsaw and moulder they can be made up after your own patterns.

SHIELDS—VARIOUS KINDS AND SIZES. (A) Suitable for moose, caribou, deer, fox by making or ordering according to size wanted; (B) Moose, caribou, deer; (K) Round shield; (E) Bear shield; (Q) Combination—head and feet.

SHIELDS, FOOT AND HALL RACK. (C) and (D) Deer Shields (J) Four Feet Rack (V) Hall Rack

GUN RACK, FISH AND GAME PANELS, HALL RACK. (I) Gun rack (F) Fish panel (H) Shield, combination head and feet (S) Hall Rack, small.

SOME SHIELDS AND PANELS. (M) Shield with carving (G) Panel for game, x, y, z, aa, bb Deer foot thermometers (L) Deer foot thermometer and small animal panel.

Some of the sizes most used are approximately as follows for mounted heads:

For moose, elk, caribou.
20×30 inches.

For deer, goat or sheep.
12×18 or 16×21.

For fox or lynx.
8×10 inches.

For bear or wolf.

For birds, small furbearers and fish.
6×8 in.

Oval panels for mounting fish.
9×22      15×40

For dead game.
10×15   14×24   17×25

For mounting horns of elk and moose the size for deer heads will answer nicely, while deer antlers are suitable with a shield of the fox head size.

In order to draw a symmetrical pattern for the woodworker, take a piece of stiff paper of the right length and width, fold it down the middle, draw one half to suit and cut out with shears. The style of moulding called Ogee is to be preferred. A simple diamond, heart, or oval shape can be made at home with beveled or rounded edges, or if your tools include a turning saw (which is most useful for a variety of purposes) you may try a more pretentious shield. To achieve this, make your pattern as just described and after marking it on a piece of wood from ? to ? inch thick, cut out with the turning saw. It should be held in the vise for this operation. Place this cut out shield (1) on a piece of board of similar thickness but somewhat larger and with a pair of compasses mark out another ½ in. or so larger all around. (2) Also mark the same distance inside the edge.


With a wood worker's gauge or something similar make a mark around them both near the lower sides. Now with draw shave and rasp work the edges off both Nos. 1 and 2. No. 1 on a bevel, No. 2 rounded. There should be a number of holes drilled and countersunk in No. 2, from the back, and when the two parts of the shield are properly adjusted they should be drawn closely together with screws too short to penetrate the face of the shield.

If the adjustment is perfect the screws are to be drawn and the surfaces which come in contact coated well with glue, then drawn closely together and laid aside until thoroughly dry, when it should be well sandpapered before varnishing.

All shields and panels should be carefully sandpapered, filled and varnished, and polished if you wish. Don't make the shield or panel so ornate that the specimen will seem but an incidental, thrown in for good measure, so to speak.

Rustic panels can be made by sawing the end from a log on a slant, and planing smooth the oval. If this is heavily varnished on the front and back and the bark left on it is a very suitable mount for small heads, fish and birds. Artificial branches and trees for mounting birds should be avoided if possible; they are made by wrapping tow around wires, coating with glue and covering with moss or papier mache and painting. The result I consider unnatural and inartistic.


I would advise to use natural branches as far as possible; sufficient labor will be required to make necessary joining and changes look as near like nature as you can. Rock work is usually made of a wooden framework covered with cloth, wire or paper and finished with a coating of glue and crushed stone or sand. One of the most useful materials in this work is the rough cork bark so much used by florists. It is light, comes in desirable shapes, can be nailed, sawed or coated with glue or paint. For constructing stumps for mounted birds of prey and rustic stands for small and medium fur animals it has no equal. Some taxidermists produce rock work of an obscure geological period by covering screen wire forms with a mixture of flour, baking powder and plaster of paris and water. This is put in an oven and baked hard, the weird result being painted to the artist's taste.

Water worn roots such as are found along the shore, twisted laurel branches, limbs of gum, oak and sassafras, all work up well in this and should be stored up to dry against a day of need. Out door people have a good eye for such things, but they are hard to find when you look for them, so gather them on your rambles. Papier mache is also a good modeling material for stumps, limbs and rock, being light, and readily taking coats of glue or paint. The expert can copy nature closely with it.

Some leaves and grasses can be pressed, dried and colored their natural shades with oil paints. The dealers supply a great variety of artificial foliage, some of which may be used to advantage, in case work especially. Dried mosses and lichens of various sorts may be used in this. Some of these powdered and glued on papier mache or cork bark stumps and limbs produce a very pleasing effect.

Snow scenes are frequently attempted but are not always a success. The peculiar fluffy and glittering appearance is rather difficult to reproduce. Torn or ground up white blotting paper mixed with a little ground mica has been used for this purpose. Glass icicles are listed by dealers and are quite natural in appearance, but the simulation of water is difficult and often disappointing.

It is often desirable to mount small specimens, of birds especially, in cases of some kind which will protect them from dust, dirt and rough handling and at the same time display them to advantage. The oldest and at the same time the least suitable contrivance for this is the well known bell glass or globe. It is difficult to find a safe place for this in the average house and it is not at all adapted to many specimens.

A plain wall case with glass front and a painted or decorated background will give the necessary protection with the least expense. For small bird groups, and singles and pairs of game birds, the oval convex glasses probably present the finest appearance. The backgrounds for these may be either plush or wood panels or hand painted, and any style of picture framing may be used. These are made in several sizes, listing at $2.00 to $8.00 each without backgrounds or frames. This cost has probably prevented their more common use.

There is on the market a papier mache background also adapted to any picture frame, called the "concave dust proof case." This has the flat face glass of the old style wall case, but with the square corners and much of the weight eliminated. Any of these styles of wall cases may be placed on shelves as well as hung on the wall like pictures, at once preventing breakage and becoming valuable decorations.

Special cases are often built (as in museums) for large and valuable mounted specimens. Of these the top and at least three sides should be of glass. The preparing and placing of the accessories in some large museum cases have required an unbelievable amount of time and expense to attain the desired natural appearance of the mounting.


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