> Before I begin I would like to note that this instructable does not condone killing animals in the sake of later displaying them. I acquire my specimens from nature without killing them; AKA scavenging. This Instructable was not made to discuss the ethics of killing animals for display or profit, rather it is simply an exhibition of the anatomical, osteological, and anthropological sciences that have been preserving skulls and skeletons for well over the past 200 years. Please enjoy. <
Hello fellow instructable enthusiasts, this piece is currently adorning my bookshelf and I figured it was impressive enough to share with you. Without going too much into detail, a skeleton or skull is displayed in it's entirety through 4 steps (Acquiring, Cleaning, Bleaching, and Displaying). Throughout this instructable I will dis-articulate these processes for you. *In advance I'd like to apologize for the bone related humor*
Acquiring the Specimen.
As long as it is done legally, the means by which you collect your organically wrapped skeleton is up to you. Examples include: road debris (road kill) , butcher bought, from the owner of a recently deceased animal, and the more than often friend of a hunter. If done legally
all of these are a more than suitable way to find good quality skeletons.
Cleaning your Specimen.
As with all organic material, decomposition is a fact of life. With skeletons though, decomposition seems the most time consuming or at least patience trying. I have used two of the three major methods in stripping bones from their meaty counterparts.
1) Leaving it to nature
- A more time consuming method with much higher risks of damage. Leaving a still meaty specimen out to the elements in order for natural decomposition to occur is easier than the alternative, however it does run the risk of damaging or losing the bones you wish to collect. Animals can eat into the bone if they are exposed to the specimen.
2) Dermestid beetles
- A far quicker and safer approach to cleaning a skeleton or skull. These beetles consume carrion as a main stay of their diet and work rapidly on any form of organic material introduced to them. I prefer Dermestid beetles due to their high efficiency at completely and delicately cleaning a skeleton. They do not require much attention in order to thrive and are quite impressive at what they do. Here
is where I bought my Dermestid beetles, this site includes plenty of helpful information.
- I personally do not condone the boiling method for cleaning skulls or skeletons because it can actually distort the true color of a skull and loosen the sutures that hold it together. Boiling is however the fastest way to strip a skeleton or skull, but also the most damaging and risky... Not to mention foul smelling.
Bleaching Your Specimen.
As I also did originally, many assume that bleach is the chemical agent used in bleaching a skull. However, the more than preferred chemical is hydrogen peroxide. Bleach, if used, can actually deteriorate the bone's surface and cause permanent marring. Hydrogen peroxide, commonly sold in all drug stores, beauty (Hair) shops, and super markets, is a strong oxidizer and bleaching agent. This link gives a much further detailed description on the use of H2O2
in cleaning skulls and skeletons.
Displaying Your Specimen.
My favorite step due to the amount of tangible interaction and creativity needed. When building the display to fit your specimen be sure to keep in mind the desired orientation and feasibility of your final product.
While designing a metal mount for this particular skull, I had to keep in mind the small stature of the skull, the sleek design I was hoping to achieve, and the tedious design of a gravity fit mount (Easily disassemble-able with no glue) and removable lower jaw bone (also gravity fit). Depending on the intricacies of your design, a skull mounting may take more effort than the combined efforts that you have thus far reached.
My Simple Display Dome Components:
-Round wooden hobby plaque
-Cupped decorative glass dome
- 3" hole saw cutter with adapter
- 3/8" drill bit
- 3/8" wooden dowel
-Pack of micro drill bits
- 14 and 20 gauge wire
I began by centering the wooden plaque and fixing the 3/8" bit into the hole saw. Then, I Drilled the bit completely through the plaque and bored a 3" circular dado into it, allowing for a more stable dowel base and dome reservoir. The 3/8" wooden dowel should easily slide into the plaque center letting you to judge your preferred height; cut it there. Once it is cut, a 1/32" hole can be drilled in the top of the dowel for the 14 gauge wire.
At this point I drilled two 1/64" holes into the lower mandible and cut a 5" section of 20 gauge wire. Before trying to assemble the lower jaw mount I formed a longer section of the 14 gauge wire into a stable mount for the upper skull. My design goal being that the skull was easily disassembled, I made sure to design the top mount so that the curved wire section slid into the skull and was fitted by gravity. After perfecting the upper half of the wire mount I attached the 5" 20 gauge wire to it and formed it to the lower mandible's dimensions. While working on the mandible I kept in design my goal of a sleek frame and actually curved the wires up into the inside of the jaw. > Keep in mind this process is extremely tedious and frustrating, I recommend breaks during wire mounting to avoid accidents. Its far better to have a break from your project than one in it. <
Once I finished the wire portion I cut the end of the wire mount (14 gauge) so that the top of the skull would reach 3/4's of the way up into the dome. After that, I simply attached the wire mount into the dowel, also friction fit, and gave the wire some final minute adjustments. Once the skull passed my judgement I carefully stained the plaque and added a non-slip layer to the bottom of the plaque for a nice touch.
This project has turned into an impressive piece of scientific art and curiosity. It has attracted a lot of interest and some of the exact opposite, but given the opportunity again I think this project was more than worth my time. If you have any comments or questions about this instructable please feel free to voice them to me and I will do my best to respond timely to them. Thank you.