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 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.
Ever seen an AR15 carved into a deer skull? Didn’t think so! Here at US Skull Hunter I am redefining an already small trade by giving the ordinary hunter a new way to display their trophies. And may I say its beats your traditional taxidermy mounts! Not that traditional taxidermy doesn’t have its place of course.
So, the following is how I turned a dead head deer into a patriotic symbol of freedom and self-defense!
Start with a clean skull.
By clean I mean free of all flesh and grease. For what we are doing here it is not important to whiten the skull beforehand because in the end we will be staining it a darker color anyway.
Transfer your pattern unto the skull.
This can be best done by printing out your design (laser printers work best) and using Liquitex Professional Gloss Gel to transfer the design from the paper to the skull. Simply cut out your design and add a thin coat of the gel onto the print. Place the paper ink side down onto the skull and use your fingers to press the paper to the shape of the skull. Adding water to the paper facing up will help make it more malleable. Let it dry overnight and then wet the paper and gently rub off the paper. The ink will remain on the skull as you can see in the photos.
I am using a Dremel 4000 with ZFE Flex Shaft extension on it. To outline the AR15s and the eagles I used burrs # 105 and #106. For the dimpling behind the designs I used a #105 (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 that I use to help cover the cost of this website) which worked out well and really make the AR15s stand out.
This part is actually pretty easy. I have gone through a lot of different stains only to come to the conclusion that coffee works pretty darn well. For this mount I went to Starbucks and got 2 shots of espresso and boiled it down in order to make it darker. Simply apply where you want the stain an boom your trophy will look great. Put on one final coat of polyurethane or clear coat to lock the stain in. Use a spray on clear coat because if you apply it with a brush it will mix with the coffee and mess up what you just did (experience talking).
Now, one more thing about using coffee; if your stain is too watered down it will soak into the porous parts on the bone. If you are specifically trying to only stain one are to highlight another (like I did with the AR15s), make sure you boil the coffee down to a paste. Even better just use instant coffee!
Last is to mount your skull on a plaque and enjoy!