Written by Hunter Richardson
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!