Author: Trufitt

Assessing the Quality of Your Bird Skin

Assessing the Quality of Your Bird Skin By Stefan Savides Don’t get caught between your client and a poor specimen. Your mount can only be as good as the bird you start with. Every project has a different set of circumstances that surrounds it. Not all birds are created equal! The first order of business when accepting a commission is to do a thorough assessment of the bird. The problem is that many times a bird may be brought to us in a wrapped and frozen state. It is imperative that it gets unwrapped and thawed, if necessary. Chances are that the bird was poorly wrapped, with the feet and neck sticking out in a manner that makes it impossible to seal the package properly. It should be explained to a client that frozen birds are difficult, at best, to be properly assessed and you need to have a good look at the specimen once it is thawed. Only a thawed bird will reveal its true condition. There are four major concerns that need to be considered. They, in order of likely occurrence, are pinfeathers, freezer burn, shot damage, and possible rot. Pinfeathers, as you might know, are new feathers that have not fully matured. Any bird shot early in the season would be a likely candidate for this problem. What makes pinfeathers such a problem is that these feathers usually fall out in the mounting process because the fleshy tip of the growing feather shrivels and becomes loose. In addition, there are feathers that have fallen out prior to the specimen being collected causing additional voids in the plumage. Freezer burn, which can be equally frustrating, is caused by improper freezer storage. This problem can be avoided simply by instructing your clients how to properly wrap a bird for freezer storage. This is simply remedied by wrapping the bird in plastic and removing all the air from the packaging while making sure that the bird is folded in as tight a position as possible. Shot damage, or trauma, can consist of feather loss, torn skin, broken feathers, shot holes, crushed skulls, broken bones etc. It’s not hard to see how these can cause problems. And the last area of concern is rot. The things to look for are strong foul odor, severely shrunken eyes, and skin or feather slippage. Once we’ve thawed and done a thorough assessment of our project, we can then advise our client as to the best possible positioning that would downplay the weak points and showcase the strong points. All of this will save us from a disappointed client many months down the road when he returns to retrieve his mount and finds that it is less than perfect. If you proceed to tell your client all that was wrong with the bird now, he may not believe you and think that you are only trying to make excuses for your poor workmanship! Good communication is the key to a satisfied client. Careful inspection up front will make for smoother sailing down the road. Good luck!

Setting Whitetail Antlers

Setting Whitetail Antlers can be Simple… By Mike Frazier Setting antlers for a whitetail deer mount can be simple when we are provided with a full skull plate. Trim the skull plate so that the frontal portion of the bone rests about 1/8 of an inch below the front edge of the mannikin. This 1/8″ compensates for the amount of skin that is typically shaved off during the tanning process. Leave about 1/2″ to 3/8″ of bone on the back of the skull to maintain the proper angle of the antlers. How do we set the antlers if we are provided with only a partial skull plate? What if the back of the skull is missing? The front edge rule still applies. To establish the pitch of the antlers, look for these two things; first, whitetail antlers have a tendency for the first few inches of the main beam to follow the profile angle of the muzzle. Secondly, by establishing a line from the tip of the nose on the mannikin (this point is where the palate rests under the nose), through the front corner of the eye, extending the line to the back of the head. This will establish the level for the lower part of the antler burr. This “rule of thumb” is only a tool, we should remember that when dealing with nature, “always” and “never” are words we should not attach to our views. This rule does not apply to other species of deer, i.e., mule deer and blacktail deer. These deer follow a different “rule of thumb”.

How to use Liqua Tan

Liqua Tan is a complete and permanent tan that is fast drying and compatible with paste. It has excellent stretch and sets hair immediately. There is no oily mess and is easy to use and reduces shrinkage to almost zero. Liqua Tan can be applied and mounted on the same day. A terrific tanning product that is used by many leading taxidermists. Liqua Tan is a Research Mannikins BEST BUY product. An excellent value for both quart and gallon-size Liqua Tan. Following are simple directions and tips on how to use Liqua Tan. Liqua Tan Instructions

Jaw Juice is Not Just for Jaws!

Jaw Juice was developed by Mohr Specialties a few years back and seriously does just what the name says. It is the ultimate adhesive when attaching rubber artificial tongues down inside an open jaw on a mount–it will never come out! But is Jaw Juice just for tongues? Not really! Jaw Juice is an adhesive that was developed to specifically work on rubber and plastic, i.e. tongues and jaws. The odds are that you probably work with many other items in your shop that are rubber and/or plastic, and sometimes you need to bond them together. Reach for the Jaw Juice! Research Mannikins Senior Taxidermists and Product Development Specialist Mark McLain is also a working taxidermist. In his shop, Mark has had numerous opportunities to experiment with alternate benefits of an adhesive like Jaw Juice. “First let me say that some of the great benefits of Jaw Juice are that it remains flexible when fully cured,” states Mark. “In addition, it dries clear and can be painted when cured. These are fantastic when working on projects in my shop.” Mark goes on to say that he has used Jaw Juice for many other purposes than what it is stated to be for, with outstanding results. Here are just a few of the uses that Mark has completed, in his own words: Earliner Adhesive As an earliner adhesive, it works great on plastic, paper, and fiber forms alike. First, you want to make sure that the liner fits the ear skin with ease and make sure that all oil residue is out of the ear skin. I will soak the ear skin in acetone or wipe it down with thinner to remove any remaining oil residue. Once you know that the liner will fit exactly as you desire, apply Jaw Juice to the inside of the liner and sparingly to the back. Next, dampen the surface with a dab of water. This will make the surface a bit slick and easier to insert the liner into the skin. Insert the liner and taxi everything into position and work the edges of the ear to fill any void spots around the outside rim of the ear. Now, make sure your upper lobe is in position and work the interior gently, pressing any excess around to make the surface consistent in thickness. The Jaw Juice will start to get firm in around 15 to 20 minutes and if you have any leaking through small holes that were missed when prepping, you can use a small brass brush or rag with a small amount of acetone to wipe it out, before it cures. This method works super on the new 3-D ears too! Small Habitat Objects Jaw Juice works great for applying small objects like rocks, sticks, cones, or just about any small habitat object into, or onto a base. Why use Jaw Juice over hot glue or something that dries quicker? The simple fact is that Jaw Juice remains flexible and dries clear. And, if you want to apply an object to a vertical surface, it won’t run like many other resins and many other types of adhesives. Bird Feet Try a small dab of Jaw Juice to fill the holes of birds feet after you inject them. Works great! Saliva Jaw Juice works incredibly when making saliva or saliva droplets off the end of a tongue. You can whip air bubbles into it and apply it where you want it, and it will stay there. Dries with the air bubbles intact and looks totally real. If you choose, you can add some color by inserting a drop of paint and it will dry and remain flexible. Leather Try using Jaw Juice when applying your material or leather to the back of your next pedestal mount. Simply pre-make a template of the shape of your pedestal back using paper and make sure it fits well before you cut your material or leather. Then apply Jaw Juice onto the back of the mannikin and spread it around so that you cover the entire surface. Place your leather onto the back and press it down, moving it around until the material or leather is exactly where you want it. Let it dry and the result will be perfectly smooth and permanently attached! According to Mark, it is very important to remember, when in doubt, experiment, and experiment with something that is not final. “You will be surprised at what you will come up with to use Jaw Juice,” states Mark. “I must have a tube in my shop, or I am what they call LOST!” If you come up with other ways to use Jaw Juice, drop us a line and tell us about it. We will share it with the rest of our industry.

Custom Finishing Your Commercial Foam Rock Base

Trufitt, Rock Bases When beginning a project that requires a base, I always try and find a commercially available base before creating my custom base. This saves me lots of time, and in doing so, saves me money. Most of the bases that are made by suppliers are manufactured in foam. Usually, foam variety table and floor bases have a bottom board pre-installed that allows the base to sit flat when the piece is complete. Sometimes, foam bases have shelves in specific areas of the base where the mannikin leg rods or wires are to be secured. For this same reason, almost all wall-hung foam bases have a wooden shelf inside of the piece. When I use a commercially manufactured base, I first determine where the mannikin rods or wire will go into the surface of the base. You can either mark the spots with a pen or simply press the actual rods or wires down into the base. When you do this, you will create the guides you will need to drill the holes. Once this is done, I drill my rod holes and then set the mannikin into place onto the base, pushing the rods or wires through the drilled holes. With a floor or table base, I then take a countersink bit and countersink the underside of the base where the holes come through. This allows the nuts and washers to be applied to the leg rods of your mannikin. Once everything looks good for the position, with the mannikin still sitting on the base, I remove any extra threaded rod that is not needed. If the mannikin being mounted uses wire, I cut a groove into the board so that the wire is easily bent over and stapled into the groove. It’s a good idea to pre-drill your base before you do any finished work. Make sure the base is going to fit the mannikin and that your attachment points will be secure. If you are using a wall-hung base, the same techniques are used for marking and pre-drilling through the pre-installed board (shelf) within the base. Also, you will need to determine the distance down through the foam to the board. Take that measurement, and on the backboard, cut a hole through that will be underneath the installed shelf. You will need to cut a hole large enough so that you can dig out the foam under the shelf and then will be able to apply the nuts and washers easily. This access hole will not be visible when the wall mount is complete. Once you have the base so it will accept the mannikin with ease, you can proceed with your finished work and create a unique base. Most foam bases have some sort of seam or seams. These will need to be cleaned up. I take a fine-toothed file and simply file down the seam until it is smooth. Then, I mix up some plaster and add a small amount of matching tempera. When you add water to this, the plaster should result in a matching color mix. Take a damp cloth and wipe this over the seams and then texture the area as needed to match the texture of the foam rock. Once this dries, you are ready to complete your finished work. When finishing up a foam rock base, some artists like to apply a catalyst resin and then throw on some sand, thus creating a fairly smooth-looking base. When you do this, apply a resin that is catalyzed fairly hot and after you apply your sand, simply dump off the excess. If needed, apply more resin on specific spots, re-apply sand, shake off and finally let cure. You can find sand in many different colors and even different types. If you want to have stumps, sticks, or any hard wooden products on your finished base, install them before you apply the resin and sand. A simple route to take is to use a texture-type paint, such as Fleck Stone, which is a spray system that offers a variety of textured looks. Some artists even like to use an airbrush and paint finish colors and highlights to achieve the final look. Another way is to cover your commercial foam rock with a thin layer of rock mix while using tempera paint to colorize the mix. This method is very durable when it completely dries and cures. It makes a super-looking texture and can be smooth or rough, depending on what you like. Rock mix comes in three different textures and works very easily. I believe that the most important part of using a commercially manufactured foam base is to understand that it probably isn’t ready “right out of the box.” Experiment a little with some easy finishing techniques and your commercial base can take on a look that both you and your customer will like. Commercial bases save you time and money and a lot of headaches! Good luck with your next base project.

Bird Taxidermy Tips

Tip 1: Repairing When attempting to repair a tear on the neck of a bird skin, it is particularly helpful to insert a dowel like object that is the same size as the original neck into the skin. This will help keep the skin in its proper place and ensure that the neck form will fit as you repair the tear. Tip 2: Fleshing While working on one of those super fat mallards or wood ducks that can fall apart on the fleshing wheel, to help toughen up the skin, smother it in damp salt and let it set overnight. It is best to fully skin and flesh the wings, legs and remove the skull before you salt the skin. The next day when you go to use the fleshing tool it will not be quite as hard of a task and the wheel will be kinder to you. Tip 3: Building For a good strong tail junction on birds, a tail groove cut into the foam body and filled with Magic Smooth will work excellent. There will be plenty of time to adjust and tweak before the Magic Smooth sets. Tip 4: Carding Carding feathers with masking tape, is easier to do if you sandwich a fine wire between two pieces of tape. This will give you the ability to bend the tape and make it stay where you want it to. This will also give you the natural bend for the feathers that you are looking for. Tip 5: Detailing Blow drying an assembled bird while holding it upside down and vigorously shaking will help the skin gravitate into its natural position. This will also help avoid back curling of the feathers.

Attaching Reproduction Fish Heads

By Rick Leach When attaching a reproduction largemouth bass head to a reproduction largemouth bass body, you have the problem that there is not a smooth transition between the two molded pieces. The solution is to create a smooth transition and scale detail with Magic Sculpt®. After attaching the head with bondo, sand and smooth any bondo that may have seeped out between the head and the body. Mix up a small amount of Magic Sculpt (50/50 mixture), wet your fingers slightly with water, and blend the Magic Sculpt over the gap between the head and body. Once you have smoothed the Magic Sculpt and created that nice smooth transition, you need to create scale detail over that transition. On a largemouth bass the scales continue from the body partially onto the head. The best way to create realistic scale detail is to use a scale detail pad molded directly from a repro largemouth bass body. To create a scale detail pad, pick a spot on the body with scale detail that matches the head area and paint it with PVA Mold Release. Make a dam around this area with oil clay, and then paint a layer of silicon rubber about 1/4″ thick. After the silicon rubber has set up, peel it off the body and wash the mold release off the body and pad with water. You now have a perfect scale detail pad that can be reused for other reproduction largemouth bass work. To correctly place the scale detail on your transition, make sure the rounded edges of the scales point towards the back of the fish and gently press the pad into the Magic Sculpt. Use your wet finger to gently smooth any areas that need smoothing. Once the Magic Sculpt has hardened, it is ready to be painted!

Artificial Bird Heads

By Stefan Savides If there is one problem area in bird taxidermy that destroys the integrity of a piece when poorly done, it is the head and neck. The overall attitude of a bird is largely expressed by the head’s relationship to the body. The shape of the head is one of the first places we look to when it comes to identifying a particular species. This shape is defined by its overall outline and the relationship of the bill to the head. The outline is partly created by the neck union. If the neck is improperly attached the appearance of the head will be destroyed, thus keeping you from accurately portraying a particular species. When I first became familiar with reproduction heads, I was very reluctant to use them. I thought, “Why go through all of this monkey business and spend more money doing it just to have a mount with a fleshy-looking bill?” It didn’t seem worth it. What I was not aware of were all the other incredible advantages. The fleshy bill isn’t even the greatest advantage! Being able to pre-paint the bill, having the skin taxi freely, thus creating a fluffier head and most of all, being able to create a solid more accurate head/neck union are the greatest advantages. It was a profound discovery for me! I now feel crippled when don’t take the advantage of this method. Another area that requires conscious thought is neck-to-body attachment. Here is an area that varies with different poses. The backbone may rise higher than the plane of the scapular bones on a high head bird. In contrast, there is enough movement in the structure of the body so that when a bird assumes a low head posture, the top of the neck or backbone can be below the plane of the scapular bones. This allows for that neckless puff ball look. When a bird folds its neck, it doesn’t lose vertebrae. That look is created by the accurate bends in the neck and proper skin orientation. The form of the body must be altered to allow this configuration. For example, the body for a low head mount may need some additional hollowing of the wishbone and backbone areas make to room for the radically bent neck. All of that neck has to go somewhere. Also, a smooth transition between the body and the neck must be created. There is a crop and generally a deposit of fat that helps to make a graceful blend in that area. This can be recreated by the use of polyester batting, cotton, tow, or any material that is flexible to allow some neck adjustment. The third area of concern is the actual configuration of the neck. In general terms, the average neck diameter is the smallest just a little way behind the head/neck union. The trachea also has its individual form. As a general rule of thumb, one should start exposing the trachea from between the lower mandibles and start dropping it down even with the back corner of the eye. It does not follow the front of the neck down. It starts in front and moves over to the right side as it drops. All bird necks are essentially created with an S-curve. You cannot make a real neck bend any other way. The vertebrae only bend in an S-curve. Even when a neck is fully outstretched it displays a very slight S-curve. Heads and necks are just like any other part of the bird for the fact that we need to duplicate their natural form as closely as possible. Using artificial heads and necks can make this process much easier!