I love hiking in the woods and seeing all sorts of wild animals. I've happened upon owls, squirrels, foxes, rabbits, raccoons, and many others, but, on the days when it seems as if all of the creatures are hiding, I do the next best thing. I look for—and sometimes collect!—-their tracks.
This project will show you not just how to find and preserve animal footprints, but also how to transform the prints you've preserved into rubber stamps. When you finish, you'll be able to print little creature hands and feet in your scrapbooks, nature journals, on stationery, or wherever!
Step 1: Gather Your Supplies.
I have sorted the supplies you'll need into two groups. The top group is made up of supplies you'll take with you during your search for animal footprints. The second group of supplies includes things you'll need once you've come back from your trip to the woods.
Supplies to Use in the Woods:
- Plaster of Paris
- two plastic containers (as for yogurt or cottage cheese)
- popsicle sticks (optional)
- sharp knife
- a lot of paper towels
Supplies to Use at Home:
- Alumilite Amazing Mold Putty Kit
- cyanoacrylate (Super Glue or similar product)
- more sharp knives
- dry toothbrush
- more popsicle sticks (optional)
- inked stamp pad
- bake-type oven clay (like Fimo, Sculpey, etc.)
- short bits of dowel rod, some sturdy sticks, or scraps of wood (optional)
Step 2: Find Some Wild Animal Tracks!
I suggest you wear old clothes, comfy shoes, and a nice, floppy hat for your trip to the woods. (You might also want to apply a tick repellant of some kind and plan to check yourself thoroughly for ticks when you get home later.)
You are most likely to find animal tracks a day or so after a good rain. You can also reliably find them along creek beds and around ponds. (My video in the next step shows one of my favorite spots for finding tracks, so you can take a look at that, if you still aren't sure where to begin.)
Animal tracks that are well-defined—showing every, teensy toe and maybe even some claws—work best. You'll notice some tracks look deeper than others, some will be larger than others, and some may look distorted. How heavy or large an animal is and whether it was standing, walking, or running at the time all affect the quality of animal prints. (Often, if you see a footprint that's almost perfect, you may be able to follow the animal's path and find another of its steps that looks even better.)
Once you've found the track or tracks you wish to preserve, find a place to work nearby. Spread out your supplies and be as neat as possible. (Ideally, you should leave no trace of your visit behind!)
Step 3: Set Up Barrier. Mix and Pour Plaster.
The video above shows most but not all of the following steps:
- Use your sharp knife to cut out the bottom of one of your plastic containers. This will serve as a protective collar around the footprint(s) you want to cast.
- Carefully work the plastic collar into the ground around your print.
- Next, pour some of the water into the other plastic cup. By sifting it through your fingers, add small amounts of powdered plaster a little at a time until you notice peaks start to form in your cup.
- Mix the plaster with a popsicle stick or your hand. (Use the paper towels to clean off your hands. Do not dump plaster mix down drains or in waterways!) The plaster's consistency should be neither too runny nor too thick. (Here is a nice Instructable on mixing plaster you might want to check out.)
- Be sure to tap the bottom of the cup on the ground periodically to help release air bubbles.
- When the plaster is ready, pour it into your barrier until the footprints are completely covered.
- Gently tap the edge of the plastic collar all the way around to further help release any trapped air bubbles.
Step 4: Remove and Clean Up Plaster Cast.
Plaster that hasn't completely hardened yet will feel cool to the touch. Make sure yours has hardened completely before you proceed. (Also, you might want to do the first four steps listed here somewhere outdoors, because they are a little messy.)
The video above shows the following steps:
- Using a sharp knife, cut away and remove the plastic container.
- Gently use your hand to remove any clumps of soil clinging to the bottom of the plaster cast.
- Use a popsicle stick (optional) to remove more soil from crevices and hard-to-reach areas on the animal print. Be careful not to damage the raised animal track as you do this.
- With a soft, dry toothbrush, remove still more soil from the plaster cast.
- Once you have the worst of the soil removed from the plaster cast, use a little soapy water and the toothbrush to (gently!) scrub away the rest of the soil.
- Allow the plaster cast to dry completely before moving on to the next step. (Optional: As needed, you might also use carving tools to remove any odd lumps or bumps that could get in the way of a clean print from your animal track.)
Step 5: Make Secondary Mold With Bake-Clay.
Now you are going to use Fimo, Sculpey, or the oven bake-clay of your choice to make a secondary mold from your plaster cast. (I used leftover bake-clay I had lying around which is why you see a few different colors mixed up in my video.)
The video above shows the following steps:
- Knead and soften the bake-clay well and then use it to cover the animal tracks on your plaster cast.
- Make sure you have good contact between the bake-clay and the plaster cast.
- Carefully peel the bake-clay away from the plaster cast. This is your secondary mold.
- Bake the secondary mold according to bake-clay package directions. (I baked mine in a 230-degree toaster oven for 30 minutes.)
- When finished baking, allow your secondary mold to cool completely.
Step 6: Use Molding Putty to Create Rubber Stamp.
You're almost finished!!! The molding putty you will use to complete this project must be worked rapidly, so these last steps go quickly.
The video above shows you these final actions:
- Mix equal parts of white and yellow putty from the Alumilite Amazing Mold Putty Kit. (You have about one minute to get them completely mixed. You'll know they're mixed, because the white and yellow colors will blend together.)
- Squish the putty into the secondary mold you made with the bake-clay. Be sure the putty makes good contact with the mold and you don't have voids or air bubbles.
- The putty will cure in 15 to 20 minutes.
- Once it has cured, it will feel hard and rubbery to the touch. This is your stamp! At this point, you can remove the stamp from the mold with a popsicle stick or your hands. (Sometimes the cured putty will just fall out if you turn the mold upside-down.)
- Use a sharp knife to trim away any excess parts that might inadvertently show up when the stamp is inked.
- Optional: Use Super Glue to adhere each stamp to a portion of dowel rod, part of a tree branch, or block of scrap wood. Use the sandpaper to rough up the wood surface just a bit before adding the glue. (I cut small pieces of tree limb to use for some of my stamps, because they're free and they "rhymed" with this nature-themed project.)
Step 7: Have Fun! (And Please Vote!!)
Thanks for looking! I hope this will encourage you to get out of the house and into the woods. And if you really like the "Critter Paw Rubber Stamps" project, please vote for it, as it is my entry in the Instructables Casting Contest!
Last but not least, thanks also go to the Biodiversity Heritage Library online. Some of the animal and animal footprint artwork I used in the graphic I made for Step 2 came from a couple of really neat, old books. One is called Squirrels and Other Fur-Bearers, published in 1900 by Houghton, Mifflin and Company. And the other is Tracks and Tracking, published in 1909 by the Outing Publishing Company.