One somewhat surprising method for cleaning skulls fairly quickly is to use maggots. This method is not particularly hard and doesn’t require a lot of effort which is great. There are just a few things to understand and keep in mind that will make this a great option. You can also see the video on this method here.
You could simply leave a skull out for the flies to get but the results will be varied and not always worth the effort. Paramount to cleaning skulls using maggots is of course warm weather. Depending on where you live will determine when you can utilize maggots.
I would recommend placing the fresh skull in a plastic container and punching in holes in order to let the flies in and out to lay their eggs. This will also prevent scavenging mammals from running off with your skull and generally keep everything contained so you don’t lose parts of the skull. Using a container will also help keep the skull moist.
Probably the most important thing you can do is keep the skull from drying out. If the skulls dries out the maggots will not be able to feed on the tissue. I recommend placing the skull in a plastic bag (opened so the flies can get to it) inside the container as this does a great job of retaining moisture and creating a perfect environment for the maggots to live.
The second thing you should consider doing is skinning out the head. This is not a requirement but it does make for a better final result. Hair from the skin can end up in tiny crevices in the skull if the hide is left on the skull. Finding small bones and teeth can also be challenging when there is a bunch of hair to search through once the skull is cleaned.
Depending on the size of the skull and the weather it can take as little as 4 days to fully clean a skull of the tissue. You can also see dermestid (flesh eating beetles) beetles show up and take advantage of the meal but they can be very elusive so you may not even see them even though they are around. If the skull is fully cleaned you can then move onto degreasing the skull in dish soap and water, and then whitening in 3% hydrogen peroxide. I personally like to macerate the skulls after the maggots clean them just to make sure there is no organic material in the skulls. You can see how I macerate skulls here.
The first 1-3 days will be the worst in terms of the smell and then will dissipate quickly after that. You will see lots of flies around the container the first two days. After the flies lay their eggs and the maggots hatch you will actually not see hardly any flies around.
If there are still some maggots in the skull when you take it out of the container simply submerge the skull in a bucket of water until they that all float out to the surface of the water. Using this method works best in a rural area away from the neighbors.
Just follow the few steps above and let the fly larva do all the work!
In this article I am going to cover the steps to metalizing a skull. A lot of people are looking for something different for their European mounts and a metal finish is just the thing to give a skull a very classy look. The following is not a fake metal lookalike; it involves a real metal finish. You can also watch the how-to video here!
Now, a few things to consider and keep in mind about the whole process. You have to work with a skull that is free of grease. If there is grease (or any other debris for that matter) the metal will not bond to the skull correctly. If you need help degreasing the skull take a look at this article on the topic “Degreasing 101- Three Ways to Turn Yellow Bones White”.
You have the option to either leave the teeth natural or metalize them along with the rest of the skull. I personally prefer to metalize them as it just looks a bit “off” when they are left white. But if you did want to leave them natural you can simply tape them up prior to the process. If you are metalizing a buck skull than you can tape up the antlers in order to keep them natural (my personal preference).
There are different options for brands of metal paints but I highly recommend Sculpt Nouveau (I am not being sponsored by the company). Their products are very high quality and the customer service is great. The metal paint consist of fine metal powder suspended in an acrylic. Because it is acrylic based you can simply wash out your brush after each use. I used the same brush for the bear skull used for this article and just washed it out between each layer of primer/paint.
✔ Add Primer.
Add 2 coats of primer and let cure for 6 hours. You can add the second coat as soon as the first is dry. For any areas that you can’t reach with the paint brush I just use a spray can of black primer (I just used a generic black primer). I would highly recommend buying a higher quality paint brush as the cheaper ones tend to loose bristles and these can end up sticking on the surface of the skull and creating unnatural lines in the final metal finish.
✔ Add metal coat
Shake paint well as the metal dust settles to the bottom of the paint container.
If you are using a sprayer you will need to strain the paint first as there can be clumps that will clog the sprayer. Using a sprayer has the advantage of being able to apply a uniform coat. Make sure to thoroughly clean out your sprayer after use. As you will be applying two coats of primer and 2-3 coats of the metal paint, you can leave the primer in the sprayer in between the two coats and the metal paint in between those coats as well.
Add 2-3 coats of metal paint and let cure for 6 hours. You can add the second/third coat as soon as the first/second is dry. To avoid brush strokes add the paint by dabbing the paint on instead of brushing it on the skull.
There are two types of Metal paints by Sculpt Nouveau, a “C” metal coating and a “B” metal coating. The C metal coating has a higher percentage of metal and consist of a body, hardener, and catalyst. The C metal paint is more intended for objects that will be polished to a higher shine. The B metal coating works just fine though for skulls and is easier as there is no need for the hardener and catalyst. Types of metal coatings from Sculpt Nouveau include Silver, Iron, Pewter, Bronze, Brass, and Copper.
Depending on how humid the climate is where you are will dictate the working time for the wet paint and how long the patina takes to fully cure. The patina with start to work immediately but it will take a bit to fully work. If there are areas where the patina did not activate (this can happen if an area dries before you spray the patina on) simply add a new coat of the metal paint to that area and reapply the patina. If the patina is too robust you can burnish the surface with fine steel wool in order to create a more natural patina where the metal finish shows through more on raised areas and the patina in the lower/valley areas of the skulls surface. It does not take much of the patina solution, just a light mist is fine. The Spraymaster bottle is great as you can get a very fine mist.
About 15 minutes after applying the patina.
24 Hours after applying the patina.
✔ Add Clear Coat or Wax
Although the metal and patina is rated for outdoor use I still like to add a light clear coat. Keep in mind the clear coat will lighten the patina slightly. I feel that after I burnish the skull and remove the extra patina, finishing with a clear coat seems to tie everything together and give it a more finished look.
If no patina is added you can add a colored wax (I use the black wax) to give an aged look. Simply add the wax on and then wipe off with a rag in order to create an aged/washed out look. The wax has a curing agent in it so it will harden within a day. If you use a wax no clear coat is needed. You can see the how-to video on applying the wax HERE.
Metal finishes on skulls are great because you have so many options for types of metals as well as patinas to mix and match together. If you have any questions feel free to shoot me a message on my Facebook page!
Like I said above I am not sponsored by Sculpt Nouveau but if you do order from them let them know Hunter sent you, who knows, it might help! Some Amazon links above are affiliate links. Thanks for reading and happy metalizing! ~ Hunter
Maceration is the process in which bacteria produces enzymes which break down organic matter. Putting a skull in a bucket of water and letting the bacteria grow and macerate a skull is actually the same thing that is going on in your stomach right now! So just think of the bucket as a stomach! Just to clarify as you may have seen the following terms mentioned around, warm water maceration vs cold water maceration is just that, one is warm and one is cold.
The process of cleaning a deer skull using maceration is very simple, you just need water. But there are some key points in the following instructions to be aware of. I have gotten 100s of questions regarding this process so the information in this article is written to answer the most common questions people have. The following will take you through cleaning the skull using maceration, degreasing the skull, and whitening the deer skull. Just fyi this article includes affiliate links.
Materials needed are a bucket, aquarium heater or bucket heater (optional), large trash bags, zip ties or chip clips, dish soap, and hydrogen peroxide.
You can see the how to video that goes with this article here.
► Skin the deer head out. I start my first cut at the back of the mouth straight back to the neck, and then work my way around the skull. Leaving a bit of the hide around the antler bases is ok as it will come off in the macerating process. You do not need to do anything else such as cut off meat, cut out the tongue, take out the brains, etc. You can do those things if desired (it will help with corpse wax discussed later) but I do not. You can also start with a skull that is in any other condition (previously boiled, a dead head, a mummified head, etc.).
► Put the skull in a bucket and fill up with clean water to about 1 inch above the back of the skull. City water or well water works just the same. Make sure the entire skull is submerged. Add in your aquarium heater or bucket heater and set temperature to 80-100 degrees Fahrenheit. I use a 100 Watt Aqueon Aquarium Heater and a small foam insulated bucket heater. If you are not using a heat source set the bucket in a warm place. You can secure the skull to the side of the bucket with zip ties as the skull will want to float as the tissue starts to break down. You can also prop up the antlers with another bucket to keep the skull from tipping forward and floating. Take a large trash bag and put the entire bucket into the bag. Cinch up the bag with the heater cord coming out of it and either zip tie it shut or use a chip clip to seal the bag shut. Putting the entire bucket and skull inside a bag minimizes the smell from the maceration. Does it smell? Yes, yes it does. The worst of the smell will be the about the 2nd and 3rd time you change the water and then it dissipates after that. I personally do not find the smell overwhelming and regularly clean skulls in residential areas with no complaints at all. Do remember to take any precautions from animals such as dogs from getting to and messing with the bucket. There is no need to add any type of booster such as Rid-x, the process is quicker than you realize and introducing something into a process that is already working great is not needed.
► Change the water every 2-3 days. If you are not using an aquarium heater or bucket heater this time frame may vary. The bacteria grows best at higher temperatures so colder weather could extend the time between changing the water. Each time you change the water brush off the antler bases with clean water making sure there is no grease/grim attaching to them. I do not wrap the bases of the antlers because I am changing the water often and keeping the bases free of grease (which could stain the bases). In order to minimize the chances of losing teeth remove the lower mandible incisors (if you are keeping the lower jaw) as they become loose. Make sure all the teeth are accounted for and that you do not lose any when you dump out the maceration water. You can opt to dig a small hole to pour the water into as this seems to help minimize the smell when changing the water. There will be enough bacteria on the skull itself to propagate the fresh water when you change it. Some people say to add beer, spit, forest dirt, fresh meat, etc. in between changing but in my experience it is not needed at all. You can opt to leave a bit of the previous water in the bucket to help propagate the fresh water. I believe I changed the water on this skull 7-8 times so about 15-20 days total to fully clean. Oh and the brains will just turn to liquid so watch your toes when pulling the skull out of the water!
There are two main types of bacteria, Aerobic bacteria and Anaerobic bacteria. Aerobic bacteria grows rapidly and needs oxygen present to thrive. Anaerobic bacteria on the other hand grows much slower in an environment with a lack of oxygen. Changing the water every 2-3 days allows the aerobic bacteria to flourish as you are using fresh water with oxygen. If you did not change the water the aerobic bacteria would die off after a few days and then anaerobic bacteria would start to grow (using noticeable due to causing a reddish/brown color to form on the bones).
► Continue to change the water every 2-3 days until the skull is fully clean. If the water continues to get cloudy or the water continues to be really smelly keep macerating till these conditions are gone. The skull may still have an odor when it’s done macerating (before degreasing/whitening) but as a general rule if the water is really smelly than means there is still organic matter in the skull that needs to be cleaned. Due to the maceration process doing such a great job some bones may be loose such as between the antlers along the sutures and some may come off such as the premaxilla bones and nasal bones at the end of the nose. This is typical and should be expected. You can glue these back on at the very end once the skull is degreased and whitened. You can see more on the topic of the bones getting loose in this video.
► Let the skull dry out at room temperature. There may be a white/pinkish substance that is still on the skull which is called corpse wax (Adipocere, grave wax, or mortuary wax). This waxy substance is a leftover fatty organic substance that has saponified (the process of turning fats into soap). You can scrape, brush, or use a soda blaster to remove this chalky substance before moving on to the next steps. You can read also read “Adipocere 101 – How to Prevent and Remove Grave Wax From Bones” or see how I remove it with a soda blaster in this video. As noted in that article changing the water often and removing as much tissue at the beginning of the process can cut down on the formation of the wax.
► Using the same setup as the maceration put the skull in a bucket of clean water and heat source and add approximately 1/3rd cup dish soap to the water. Change the water every 3-5 days till the skull is fully degreased. You can position a trash bag over the top of the bucket in between the antlers in order to seal the bucket. The process of maceration does actually degrease the skull to some extent which shortens this step. Grease in the bone generally shows up as a yellowish color. When the skull is dry it can also appear like there are “wet” areas underneath the bone which is a sign there is still grease in the bone. Each skull is different so the time it takes to fully degrease will very. Typically a fresh deer skull that has been macerated as described above takes 1-2 weeks to degrease in a heated bucket. Take that time period with a grain of salt though, as it could take much longer.
► Let the skull dry out again and assess if there is any remaining corpse wax or grease that needs to be removed. Using the same setup fill up the bucket about half way with 3% hydrogen peroxide and half with clean water. Wrap the bases of the antlers with clear food wrap and electrical tape really tightly in order to prevent the bases from becoming whitened. Add the skull into the bucket with the aquarium heater or other heat source and add the trash bag over top. Leave the skull for 1-3 days or more till whitened. If you follow the above steps you do not need anything more than 3% peroxide. If the skull is properly degreased it will already be white so the 3% works just fine. It takes about 8 bottles of peroxide which is less than $8 and you can use the solution for several skulls making the cost of the peroxide for a skull less than $3.
► Rinse the skull off and let dry at room temperature. Do not expose the skull to rapid changes in temperature as this can cause the bones to separate.
► Add back any loose teeth with Elmore’s glue and glue on lower mandible if desired. And that’s it!
There has been a shift toward cleaning skulls using this method due to the how gentle the process is on the skull thus resulting in a complete skull that is museum quality. Not to mention not having to maintain a beetle colony or damage skulls via the process of boiling. The time frame will vary depending on the skull but for the skull used in this example from start to finish took about 1 month. Very greasy skull like bear and hogs can take much much longer just so you are aware. I personally clean all my skulls using this method and like I said earlier I live in town! If you have any questions you can message me on Facebook or Instagram! ~ Hunter Richardson
Making a deer antler ring is fun, and I will warn you, very addicting! Not to mention pretty easy! So grab an antler and let’s get started. Oh, and Mulletman is going to be helping demonstrate the steps 😉
Step 1. Cut out ring blank.
I use a scroll saw to cut out a cross section of the antler but you can also use a hacksaw or even just a cutting wheel on a Dremel. You will want to choose a section of the antler that is fairly circular and wider than the finger you will be wearing the deer antler ring on.
Antler is a bone so the inside will be less dense than the outer layer. It is this outer layer that will end up being the ring as we will hollow out the center, less dense, material. For larger antlers such as elk, you can use the inner layer of the antler but you will need to stabilize it with a resin or a CA glue first.
How to make a deer antler ring
If the cross section you cut out is not completely straight or too thick, you can sand it down by running it over a flat piece of sandpaper.
Mark the center of the proposed ring. I will sometimes place my ring over the slice of antler and trace out the outer shape and then use a sanding drum with my Dremel and sand down to the rough shape of the ring.
Step 2. Drill hole in antler and insert rod.
Drill a hole in the very center of the slice and insert a wood or metal rod that is the same size as the drill bit you just used (2-3 inches in length is good for the rod). Now this might sound complicated but it’s not. I happened to have a wood rod that was 3/8ths an inch so I used that with the same size drill bit and it worked great. The idea is that we are creating a mini lathe by mounting the antler slice onto the rod and then putting the rod in a drill!
Step 3. Sand and polish outside of ring.
Now that you have the ring mounted on the drill, use a sanding drum on your Dremel and rotate the drill in the opposite direction of your Dremel. Just take your time sanding down the outside of the ring till it is nice and even/circular.
I then hand sand while the ring is spinning on the drill. I start with 120 grip sandpaper, then 220 grit, 320, 400 and then lastly 2000 grit. By the time you go through hand sanding it will have a pretty high polish. But I usually take and add a bit more shine by holding a piece of leather to the ring as it’s spinning. Trust me, it gets pretty shinny!
Step 4. Carve/sand out the middle of the ring.
Take the ring off of the rod and hold it gently with some pliers while you use a Dremel to carve and sand down the inside of the ring. Just sand down the inside till it fits snug of your finder. I will then take 320 grit sandpaper and hand sand the inside of the ring to get it smooth.
If you do not have an antler to work with an easy place to find some is a local pet store. They sell dog chews of cut up antler that work great for making a deer antler ring!
And there you have it! All natural, handmade, no lathe required, durable, polished deer antler ring! These rings make great gifts and like I said are super fun and addictive to make! I would love to see how your rings turn out so tag me @u.s.skullhunter or shoot me message with some pics! Happy carving! ~ Hunter
As a skull carver there seems to be a gazillion different skull carving burrs to choose from. So which should you use? I will go over some burrs that have greatly improved my skull carving that I use on a daily basis. If you have not already you can check out the burrs I recommend to get started carving in my other post Skull Carving 101. The burrs I cover below are in addition to the ones in that article and are meant to take your skull carving skills up to the nest level! I specifically carved a skull for this article that would use all these burrs so you can see firsthand how they perform.
I will be using a Dremel 4000 with a flex shaft and an adjustable chuck. I highly highly recommend getting the adjustable chuck if you do not already have one. You will only be able to use the dental burrs in this article with the adjustable chuck.
Tungsten Steel Carbide Cutting Burrs
There are a ton of different brands and variations of these burrs so feel free to shop around but I have found Tungsten Steel Carbide Cutting Burrs work well. Although you might think these burrs seem to rough and gnarly they actually do quite the opposite and provide smooth surfaces. Because these burrs are large they cut out a larger area and therefore leave a smoother carved area. I use these mostly for shaping and cutting channels in designs. You can also use the cylinder shaped burr to cut out a negative space while keeping the surface in the valley very smooth. These burrs are better suited for larger thicker skulls but I also find myself using them even for smaller skulls to smooth out areas. I recommend turning your Dremel or rotary tool to the highest rpm as this will help with making smoother cuts. The cylinder burr also works well for carving around a design that has been outlined so that the design is raised above the rest of the bone as you can see I did around the flower in the video. Carving down the area immediately around a design creates a relief and more depth to how the carving looks.
Square Cross Cut Burr (3/32’)
The square cross cut burrs are essentially the same as the burrs above but just a lot smaller. The business Profitable Hobbies sells these burrs as well as the ones we will cover below. I pretty much use these burrs exclusively for outlining designs like the dogwood flowers here. They cut through the bone beautifully and create sharp lines. You can use these burrs to do outlining on thinner skulls like sheep, fox, etc. but you will just have to be careful not to plunge the burr too deep into the bone that it goes all the way through. Now, if you were trying to do a cut out design these actually work great for that on thinner skulls. I will cut about 1/8 – 2/8 an inch deep when outlining on skulls like deer, bear, and cow.
Pointed Diamond Burr
Even though these burrs are intended for high speed carvers they actually still work great with a Dremel. You will need to turn your rotary tool to the highest speed and use the adjustable chuck. For this example I used burr #6852 Premium Diamond Burr (Pointed) to do the cursive writing on this carved cow skull. The burr #889 Diamond Burr (Pointed) also works well for very fine lines such as used for the writing. You can also use these burrs for outlining small designs as well.
As with most carving you will end up using a combination of several skull carving burrs to complete a carving. I can vouch for the above burrs as I use them on almost every carving I do. If you are interested in how this skull turned out after I finished it final photos will be posted on my Facebook page U.S. Skull Hunter as well as on my Instagram @u.s.skullhunter.
You can click on any of the highlighted words to be taken to the link for each burr I talk about in this article. Links that go to Amazon are affiliate links so if you do choose to purchase one of the tools I suggest here I will get a commission (very small, like pennies) from Amazon. Thanks for reading and let me know if and how you like the burrs!
So you have a Dremel and you want to carve some skulls, but how do you get animal skulls? Well, you could simply go online and buy some off of eBay, or like me you can find them all around you for cheap and most of the time for free! I have had a lot of success in the list of places below finding animal skulls to use for skull carving and skull art. A few things you will hear me repeating are relationships, persistence, and respect. Building relationships with people, being patient and persistent, and respecting people’s time and generosity will go a long way in finding as many skulls as you can handle.
Farms. Every farm has a place back on the woods where they dump/bury dead animals. It’s inevitable that livestock will dye of old age or have to be put down for other reasons. There just always seems to be dead animals around, a coon in the dumpster, a skull found in the field, etc. I worked on some dairy farms for a few years so I know. The thing to keep in mind with farmers is that they are usually right in the middle of something that needs completed, so just be respectful of their time. It always helps if you have someone to introduce you to a farmer, but if not just bring a box of donuts!
Butcher Shops. If you want an unlimited supply of skulls your local butcher shop is the place. You will of course have to do the processing to clean the skulls as they will most likely be raw. You want to look up butcher shops in your area that do meat processing as a service and not a butcher shop with a storefront. Butcher shops that process animals for people generally have no need for the head and will gladly give them to you.
Flea Markets and Antique Shops. If you check into your local flea market often enough you can actually get some lucky finds. My experience has been that you will find some skulls if you go often enough but sometimes the price might be more than the true value of the skulls. You can also leave your name and number with local antique shops letting them know you are interested in skulls and you will be the first person they call when they get something like an animal skull in their shop.
Taxidermist. Your local taxidermist can be a great place to find skulls. Not only a good place, but also for a good variety of skulls! If the taxidermist gets in a whole animal to mount and the client does not want the skull back, the taxidermist will be left with the skull. If you don’t have a connection already with any local taxidermist just stop by their shop when they are open and introduce yourself and tell them what you do and that you are looking for some skulls. They are not obligated to give you anything so be considerate and appreciative of anything they might provide to you.
Roadkill. Finding animal skulls can be as simple as driving around your area and finding some road kill! Just make sure to check the laws and make sure it’s legal. Not all roadkill will be intact enough to keep but some will be undamaged. Just be sure to use common sense and stay off the road as much as possible when collecting the animal’s head. Must haves are a bag/bucket to put the roadkill in, a sharp knife, a pair of gloves, and a hand saw to cut through bones. Do not do the classic twisting off the head after cutting around the neck as this can cause damage to the skull. It is just easier to cut through any neck vertebrae with a sharp hand saw.
Craigslist. Whatever your local online marketplace might be can also be a great place to find people selling skulls in your area. I have gotten connected with a very good source for some cheap cow skulls from an add that I found on Craigslist.
Please do know your state laws regarding collecting and possessing wild animal skulls. In addition to the places listed above I listed out 10+ additional places you can find animal skulls. It’s just a simple one page list and you can get it below. If you’re thinking you won’t have any luck with the places above I am certain you will get lucky with one of the places on this list. Simply click on the link below and I will send it to you.
So here’s a natural alternative to staining skulls and bones, use walnut husks! Depending on where you are in the country (or world for that matter) walnut trees are a common sight. It doesn’t matter if they are still green or dried up, they will make a dark dye either way. Walnut stain is an awesome natural alternative to acid dyes and wood stains when working with skulls and bones. I collected about 20 dried up walnuts last fall and used them to make the walnut stain.
Wear gloves! If you get this stuff on your hands it will be there for like a week or two!
Mash up the husks. It is easier to do when they are dried out so if they are green you might have to put a little more muscle into it.
Boil the husks. Add about 1 gallon of water for every 10 walnut husks you use. Let the water and husks simmer for 1-3 hours depending on how dark you would like the walnut stain. The longer you simmer it the darker it gets.
Test the tone of the stain as you go along to get a rough idea on how dark it is getting.
Let cool and strain. Hot water is hard to work with so have a little patience and let it cool off for a few hours before you strain out large chunks of the husks. Store in any container you have available and that’s it!
You can either dip the skulls you are staining directly into the solution or paint it on with a brush. Here is a before and after of a raccoon skull I stained using the solution I made above.
Watch the video! Oh, and follow me on Instagram for lots of more skull tips @usskullhunter 🙂
I get asked a lot about how I get really clean and proportionate designs onto skulls. Well, here is the trick! Transferring a design onto a skull is super easy using Gloss Gel and saves you the time of drawing everything by hand. You will need Gloss Gel, a paint brush, and a design. Here are the steps.
Prep the Skull
You are going to want to be working with a skull that is clear of dust, dirt, and excessive grease. The design will transfer to most any surface so don’t worry if you have already modified the skull in some way such as a stain or paint.
2. Prep the Design
The key here is to print out your design on a lazor printer and print out a mirror image of the design. If you don’t have a lazor printer you can just print it out at Staples or your local office supply store. You are going to want a mirror image of your design because what you see on paper will be flipped once you place it on the skull. Mirroring the image makes the final image transfer pointed in the right direction, especially if you are including words in your design.
Now, you might be wondering how this applies to hand drawn designs. If for whatever reason you have a design you drew and now you want to put it on a skull just simply copy and print it!
Apply Gloss Gel
Apply a thin layer of Gloss Gel directly onto your design. The gloss gel will fuse with the ink and harden. The links to the gloss gel are affiliate links, meaning if you choose to buy the gel and click the link to Amazon I will get a few pennies (yes, like 5 cents or something haha) for recommending the product. This just helps, but certainly doesn’t cover, the cost to make the videos and blogs you see here. So, thanks!
Place Design onto the Skull
No tricks here, just place the design printed side down and smooth out any bubbles. Spraying or dabbing on some water to the paper makes it more pliable and will help form the design to the contours of the skull.
Let the design dry over night or just however long it takes to completely dry.
Remove the Paper
Apply a wet paper towel to the design and let it soak for a few minutes. Remove the towel and rub the paper lightly with your fingers to loosen the paper. Apply more water as necessary to keep the paper pliable. Remove as much of the paper as you can being careful not to rub off the layer of hardened gel.
And now you are ready to carve! This might seem like a lot of work but once you do it you will see how quick and easy it really is!
Feel free to ask questions! And remember, you won’t learn unless you try, practice makes perfect, and try something new! ~ Hunter
So, you are wondering what you need to get started carving skulls eh? Great! There a lots of people in the skull carving circle who hold their cards close to their chest, and there are also lots who are open to sharing how they carve. You’re in luck; I am one of the open ones. I started carving and spent months and a lot on money trying to figure out what worked and what didn’t. In trying to figure out how it all worked I went through dozens of carving burrs, lots of gadgets, and even more time . I am still learning but am now going to pass what I have learned onto you so you don’t have to waste your money reinventing the wheel per say.
The following list is the basics of getting started. There are many more tools you will find useful and more advanced tools and technique as well. For now though let’s see what you will need to get your first skull carved.
Rotary Carving Tool $80
There is a plethora of options for rotary tools for you to use such as Black & Decker, Chicago Electric, Craftsman, Dremel and so on. I am specifically not including air powered dental style carvers as they are pretty pricey. Here is a good article showing the best available electric rotary tools available. Things to look for are speed and torque. The highest speed that is generally found with electric rotary tools is 35,000 RPM (Rotations Per Minute). Be sure the carver can reach this speed. Torque is important because depending on what you are carving, bone is tough and requires some torque to cut through. I personally use the Dremel 4000 as it provides both the speed and torque needed for skull carving.
Rotary Extension $25
This is one of those things you realize you need once you start carving skulls for the first time. You can only hold onto a Dremel for so long before the thing starts getting in your way and your fingers get tired. An rotary extension feels more like you are holding a pen and gives you more flexibility. There are only 6 items in this list, but I think this is a must for carving animal skulls.
Carving Burrs $30
The following burrs are what I recommend getting first. Once you try these out then go and try some others, but these are what I use the most.
Try and use whatever size collet comes with the rotary tool. Most Dremels come with a 1/8 collet already with it. If you use a different sized collet than what came with the tool in the package it just doesn’t fit right into the tool and will wobble. I purchased a bunch of 1/16 shank size burrs and couldn’t use them because they wobbled so much.
A common mistake made by new skull carvers, myself included, is not to realize how harmful bone dust can be to the lungs. Bone dust can be so small that it can’t be seen by the human eye and can actually enter into the blood stream through the lungs! DO NOT skip out on a respirator to protect your lungs. A cheap one that you would normally wear will not cut it. Buy one that says it is to be used while painting as this will provide good enough filtration of the bone dust. I use the 3M Lead Paint Removal Respirator with replaceable cartridges. Comes in handy too for handling any type of fumes, smells, and dust that are associated with working with animal skulls.
Eye Protection $3
It’s not uncommon for bits of bone to fly around when you are carving so wear some eye protection. Bone dust in the eyes can also cause irritation. You don’t need anything fancy, just some clear safety glasses.
Ear Protection $6
Dremels are not exactly quiet. I noticed that after carving for a little while I would get a headache until I started wearing ear protection. It’s super cheap so you don’t have an excuse. I like to use either my blue tooth head set or Howard Leight earplugs.
If you were to order all this your total cost would be less than $175. Seem like a lot? It’s not. By the time you try and figure out what works and what doesn’t you are going to spend a lot more than $175. I wish I had someone tell me what I needed to get started at the beginning because it would have saved me lots of time. By all means test and try out new stuff, but the above list is all you need to carve a really nice skull.
Some links in this article are affiliate links. You will save a good deal of money if you purchase the items mentioned in this article online (especially Amazon). Everything is more expensive at the store. Again, I am telling you this because I learned the hard way. Now, if you are serious about carving some skulls, let’s get started!
Leave me a comment below and let me know what you’re carving! Is it for your own animal skull? Carving for a friend? Looking to sell some of your carved skulls? I would love to hear!
(please note! There are some affiliate links in this article meaning if you buy something off of amazon I will get a commission, usually pennies. I use this to help cover the cost of this website)
Last fall my uncle came across this spike deer skull in the woods and handed it off to me to carve. By the looks of it some foxes or coyotes chewed on the snout and broke out a few teeth. The best option then was to cut off the skull cap and make a European mount with a bit of cut through carving.
I am sure a band saw would have worked better to cut the skull but all I had was a skill saw which worked just as good. You can watch the video at the top of the page to see how I did it.
When you are carving a design that cuts through the skull like the one here it is best to save your time and drill out any areas that will be cut through to save time cutting with your Dremel carving burrs. The top of the skull is actually fairly thick up to ¼ inch. I thinned out some areas from the bottom in order to better cut the design. Thinning out the bone makes the final finishing easier just because its a lot harder to file down bone as thick as your pinky than to file and carve material a forth that thickness.
After you have carved out as much of the design as you can with your carving burrs use micro files and rasps to do the final finishes . Rasps are a secret of many professional carvers to get really smooth, strait, and curved lines when carving through bone. The photo on the left is as far as I got using my Dremel and the photo on the right is after I used files to smooth out the edges.
The following are the burrs I used. I use a Dremel 4000 which has the torque to cut through thick bone like this carving. The #115 I used to thin out the skull plates from underneath and the #111 and diamond coated burr was used to cut out the design after I had used the drill.