Taxidermy is a traditional method of preserving vertebrate animals for display. Whether you want to pay homage to an animal dear to your heart or celebrate a hunt, learning the basic preparation, conservation and maintenance skills will save you money to keep your animals.
Part 1 of 3: prepare the animal
Step 1. Freeze the animal until you are ready to prepare it
You will need to remove the skin as soon as possible, but it is important to prevent the animal from deteriorating before storing it and caring for the skin. To be on the safe side, freeze the animal so that you can get the material needed for basic taxidermy:
- a sharp knife
- a sewing needle
- some thread
- animal stuffing or plaster
- borax, alcohol, or your favorite preservative
Step 2. Prepare the frame
Depending on your animal, you can prepare the body plaster at this time or get a pre-fabricated frame (which is usually done for deer busts). You can also create your own frame from recycled materials, which is a particularly useful process for small animals. Use sticks to create a wooden frame in the shape of the body and wrap the frame in twine or old plastic bags.
- To prepare a mold, obtain a modeling agent to create a mold in the shape of the animal to fill with plaster. Mix a small amount of plaster with water and stir quickly in the mold. Remove the mold and smooth the silhouette with sandpaper or a small pocket knife. Don't get too hung up on the details - all you need is the basic framework and a shape that suits the skin.
- If you are making your own frame, having a malleable example to compare it to can help. Take a photo of the animal before removing the skin, and use materials that can be easily handled once you start putting the frame together. Mammalian legs are particularly difficult to straighten. Consider purchasing a pre-made mold to use as a template for your large items for your first try.
Step 3. Remove the skin
Whether you're about to keep an iguana or a lynx, the process begins by removing the skin and retaining it. The specifics of the preservation process vary depending on whether you have a mammal, a reptile, a fish, or a bird. Read on to find more specific instructions regarding skin preservation.
Using a sharp knife, gently cut a gash on the stomach, being especially careful not to puncture any organs or cavities, which could spoil the skin. Run your knife evenly inside to soften the skin while peeling it off with your other hand. Pretend you're taking off an animal's jacket and pants. Remove as much of the flesh and fat as possible, being careful not to tear or poke a hole in the skin
Step 4. If you are keeping a fish, bird, or lizard, treat the head separately
Remove the skin on a mammal's head as you would the rest of the body, but, for lizards, fish, and birds, you need to remove the brain, eyes, and tongue and leave the shape of the head intact for conservation. The physiology of a bird is that you cannot (and would not want to) remove the beak, so you will have to remove parts of the bird that may rot and smell.
Small animals are much more difficult to stuff than larger mammals. Having small dental instruments or a scalpel can help you during this step of the process and you should be very careful to remove as much flesh as possible. Small waste can be removed during the preservation process, but you will need to make sure to remove larger pieces of flesh from the head before continuing. It takes patience and a strong stomach
Part 2 of 3: preserve the skin
Step 1. Tan the skin of mammals
Brush non-iodized salt on the flesh side of the skin, about 3 cm thick and let stand for 24 hours. Remove the salt and repeat the process with new salt. Let the skin dry in a dark, cool place. However, watch it to make sure it doesn't get too hard to mold.
- When it has hardened, moisturize the skin using cool water, a small capsule of Lysol disinfectant and table salt. Soak the skin in this mixture overnight and rinse it several times until the salty mixture is gone. Hang the skin so that it drains and wipe it with a dry cloth when it is no longer dripping. At this point you can use a stripping agent to treat the skin further, but be sure to remove any pieces of flesh or fat that are still clinging to the skin before tanning it.
- Treat the skin with a tanning oil. Heat the oil in the microwave and brush it on the skin with your hands. Let the skin sit for several hours and wrap the skin in a plastic bag keeping it in the refrigerator until you are ready to put it on the mold.
Step 2. Use an alcohol mixture to preserve the skin of the reptiles
Soak the skin in a mixture of 50% glycerin and 50% alcohol for up to two weeks. Keep it in a cool, dark place. When you remove the skin, pat it and remove all the glycerin.
Step 3. To preserve birds and fish, run borax inside the skin
Lay the skin with the flesh side down on a generous layer of borax in a shoebox. Sprinkle about 5mm of additional borax on the leather. Let sit in a dark, cool and dry place for about 4 days. The flesh will be rather stiff when you remove the borax. Brush off the excess and the skin of your fish or bird will be perfectly preserved.
Part 3 of 3: Displaying and Maintaining a Taxidermy
Step 1. Dress your mold
If you've made a decent mold, stuffing your skin should be as easy as dressing a doll. Secure your retained skin to the mold, being careful to smooth out any unnatural bumps or irregularities. You need to sort out any structural issues before you sew.
Keep some string on hand to arrange the areas that need to be adjusted. Cut small pieces of string or newspaper to fill in a muscle striation or other part of the body
Step 2. Sew
Use an appropriate color of thread, assemble the seam you cut as tight as possible, and make the seam as invisible as possible. Adorn your taxidermy with dummy eyes and original teeth by sticking them on.
Step 3. Exhibit your work
Use your imagination. If you display a pet, immortalize it in a peaceful position, possibly in a nap position. Otherwise, if you are celebrating a successful hunt, bar the animal's teeth fiercely. More elaborate additions are commercially available, but make your own. Arrange an array of branches and stones on your wall to put your taxidermy on.
Step 4. Maintain Your Taxidermy
After stuffing your pet, make sure you don't spoil this work by ignoring it. Keep your items away from direct sunlight by keeping them in a room in your home with controlled conditions. Moisture can cause mold, while excessive dryness can cause cracking or cracking. If the frame takes an unusual shape, consider opening it up and stitching it up. Dust it regularly to keep it clean and keep it looking lifelike.