Woodchuck Tails

April 7, 2008

A fly-tying tip:

For groundhogs (Marmota monax, aka woodchuck)

> Save the skinned out tails. Those black hairs can often be better than those from a moose mane for hackles, bodies and tails in fly tying…
> Ah yes, woodchuck tail hair is used to tie the fabled trout fly created by Fran Betters; the Ausable Wulff.


Making Feather Flowers

April 3, 2008


To make a flower, buy a foot or 2 of strung hackle in your choice of color(s).
Now wind it around something. Bottle caps seem good because you can put stuff inside the cap to embed your center materials in without raising the middle (or making a hump).
Glue gun every 2-3″ to keep it from unwinding.
Once you reach the end of the strung hackle, make a very neat end.
Now select your center materials. Embed them in the center of the feather flower – you can use any hardening material and it can even become part of the design, like if you’re embedding them in dyed casting resin.
Then get a tea kettle to boiling, or get your iron nice and hot and on the “max” steam setting. Steam the feathers for about 20-30 seconds and then quickly wind all of them in your hand, or against the ironing board, in one direction. Hold it there, all wound up, for a good minute or 2.
You can glue a pinback or barrette on the reverse using your center disc too.

More Fun Soap-Making

April 3, 2008

I made up my last batch of soap for the year today.

408g of total solids (fine-ground & rendered animal fat from various places in the animals’ bodies, and the little brown goo-micelles too)
60g egg yolk
about 120g olive oil (extra virgin)

Total amount of fats: about 262g (could be much more, up to 300-325g.)

added about 39g lye and about 45-50cc water (remembering that there was a good 80cc water in the critter goo) as recommended loosely by the MMS calculator.

… I did not render the egg yolks. I used them raw and cold, straight out of the eggs.

Gloved up, I mixed up the lye water and walked away. I warmed the fats up and stirred thoroughly.

Olive oil castile soap which I made for my mom a few days ago, took 3 days to trace. The previous critter fat batch I made (with rendered fat) took a day and a half to trace. So I figured, ah what the hey, I’ll stir for 5 minutes and walk away…

… so, that in mind, I mixed the 2 together, putting the lye water in to the fats in a slow, steady stream, while stirring.



I stirred a little bit, but got put off by the stink and a suspicious “steam” and a funny feeling in my nose (major yikes here, could have been lye fumes.) I walked away after turning the fume hood on high. I kept having to stir an oily film from the surface, under. When I came back in 15 minutes, there was a dark blood-red layer on the bottom, and a medium beige layer on top. I cussed and started stirring right away. I had to break up a whole bunch of half-formed soap globules, but got them all done. I kept on stirring until I was well past light-trace, because I was happy that I finally got a soap to trace while I was stirring it.

(btw I made this in it’s final container – no transfer to a mold was needed)

My guess? It may be a little lye heavy; I may have mis-guessed the weight of the egg yolks and/or the weight of the rendered kit fox fat. (both had to be guessed at – the fat would not separate from the micelles, and the egg yolks got put in to the critter fat before I re-weighed, whoops.)

It cured to a soft rubbery? texture, and pale brown color. It was easy to cut with a regular knife. Ash (sodium carbonate, aka washing soda or laundry booster) formed on some edges, so this will be a great soap for hides.

If it’s too basic, so be it, I’ll rebatch / add olive oil in a week or so.
If it’s perfect, awesome.

This batch is only for hides — not for hands — it contains brains, far too hard to come by for mere handwashing or plant spraying. I have batches for both other purposes on-hand now.

Another important safety tip I have not seen a lot of:

When rendering your fat down, make sure to keep the heat set to low-medium. Oil heats up higher then the water, oil rises, and grease spatters. Grease fires are bad news, and boiling oil was used in Medieval times to burn and kill people for a reason. Do not stare right down in to your grease-making pot, because a spatter in your eye can harm you. Keep the heat low, more like a rolling simmer then a full boil, and don’t let your oil spatter! If the oil does spatter, turn the gas or heat off immediately.

Soap-Making Questions (first batch)

OK, for today’s installment (probably the last for the year, but I’m not sure) …

Got the calc’s from here: http://www.thesage.com/

The recipe I put in (after weighing out the rendered fat from yesterday):
Goat Fat 222 g
Mink Oil 222 g
Total Weight 444 g
57g lye for a 7% superfat / 7% excess fat soap
For the size of fat batch that you are using, we recommend that you use approximately 135 milliliters of liquid.

Half the liquid was aloe vera gel and the other half was water.

I put the lye water in to the fats when the fats and the lye water were both pretty hot (didn’t know the temps, but they were not boiling or anywhere near it). Because I don’t have a “stick blender”, the brisk stirring by hand for 15 minutes straight, still resulted in a quick oil-rise-to-the-top once I stopped.

The lye was sprinkled in to the water (snow on the lake! safety first…) outside. Glad I do all my lye-stuff outside, because today the stuff practically boiled. 23g lye in water is much different then 57g lye in water!

So I’ll just keep at it like I did the first batch. My mistake with the first batch was tossing the oil that rose to the top and using “no” superfat. Whoops! So that batch is lye-heavy.

At least the new second batch of soap is not lye heavy Smiley It’s also a prettier, pale goldenrod yellow color.

To answer the question – the rendered fat was somewhere between an oil and a tallow: it was not a hard fat inside the bowl. It was like a gel. Underneath it, was jell-o!
The stuff that separated out, formed itself in to jell-o. I should have saved it to make hide glue but, with the ready availability of jell-o, I tossed it. Some things just aren’t worth the trouble of saving.


My second batch (using rendered fat) came out almost white in color, fairly crumbly in texture, medium hard, and very pretty! I haven’t demolded it yet because it’s still more yellow in the center then on the top. I want it to be uniformly whitened before I pop it out of the mold to crumble it up.

I re-batched my first soap (the stuff made from the raw ground fat.)
I put about 90-95g of pure virgin olive oil in to a container.
This is because I estimate I poured out about 90-95g of oil when I thought the batch had failed.
I added about 35-40ml of water to the soap flakes.
Then I heated up the soap flakes/water and the olive oil at the same time (2 different containers), in the microwave.
Once everything was heated up almost to the “foam over the top” point — I was watching for the dreaded volcano effect (LOL) – I took everything out of the microwave and combined the oil with the soap flakes/water.
It went from oil on top, to emulsified and beginning to react, within a minute or 2. I stirred with a plastic fork. The color went from off-ivory (palest beige?) to a medium warm beige. The faint smell was like cooking olive oil.
I stirred a lot. I broke up the larger lumps with my gloved hands, then I re-reheated it and stirred a lot more.
It came out like a gooey semi-translucent (mostly opaque) gel? but at least it’s not lye-heavy anymore.
It has hardened up considerably and cannot be stirred anymore. It is resting in it’s container now.
It will be fun to use as an organic pesticide for the garden, and a great ingredient for my second favorite oddball thing to do… brain-tanning of hides.

That was a fun mess! Friday I shall do it all over again, but I’ll render the fat and tissues this time! hehe!

Next to the bed there was a small amount (2 grams?) of quiviut. I’d removed it from a small bit of musk ox hide earlier in the day.
I figured, what the heck, I’ll try making some quiviut thread, by hand, just like in the ancient, ancient days.

Got about 15 yards done so far (oh there’s *tons* more fluff to work through, LOL, I had no idea 5g of quiviut = 100 yards!), using my left hand as the orifice, and my right thumb and forefinger as the twister/spindle…

OK, it’s done!
The scarf weighs a whopping 900mg — under a gram! and is over 6 feet long x 2 to 3 spaces (2 to 3 knit-holes) wide.
It appears to an observer to be about 1/4″ wide and slightly openwork.
(I still have 5 little balls of yarn left over, so, I might make another scarf Smiley )
It will make a fabulous base for a fur scarf. The entire process: grooming the quiviut out, finger-spinning it & setting the twist, then finger-knitting it in to the scarf, took 2 hours.
The value on an item like this is based more on the time/labor then the materials; this scarf was 2 hours x $40 + 900mg spun-up 1-ply pure quiviut at $10/g. = $89. It is not for sale — I am just showing you one way of how to calculate the value of an item you produce.
To compare, my former lightest scarf base was made out of nylon microfiber and weighed about 10g at 5 feet long x 2-3 knit holes (spaces).
Now I only have to decide what fur is most worthy to be woven through one of the most expensive and rare base fibers available.

OK, quickie tute:
How to spin by hand right off the pelt (no carding, no drafting, no fuss, no muss):
Get your clean fiber; grab a tuft. Make the tuft soggy with a spritz bottle. Hold the tuft in your non-dominant hand. Allow a little bit between your thumb and forefinger. Now, grip that with your dominant hand, and pinch-spin it. Now pull your dominant hand away from your non-dominant hand, sometimes pinch spinning and sometimes just pulling, until you have the thickness of thread/yarn you want… voila, you will have yarn forming between your fingers. Beware hand cramps. :)

— from a complete n00b, so your mileage will vary! hehe!

So you have a legally obtained animal pelt and you need to get it
tanned, or you don’t have the money to send it to a tannery to get it
done professionally, or you are in the Scouts and you want to try
tanning as a project, or a zillion other reasons why you might want to
try making your own leather or furs…

Here is one way out of
about 12,000+ ways. This is for tanning the pelt with the fur on, but
can also be used after bucking, scraping, and deliming to tan with the
fur off. This is the most basic/cheapest way (using alum). Every method
is a little different and the main predictor of success is how good the
quality of the hide was, before you even begin.

1) skin it
scrape all the meat, fascia, and fat off the hide. On foxes, mink, and
some other species, there is a layer of muscle and under the layer of
muscle there is a solid layer of fat. It’s called a saddle and all the
meat AND fat must be removed.
3) if it is a skunk, put it in the deodorizer solution at this point. Remove after 20 minutes and rinse; proceed as below.
put one pound of salt in to 32 ounces hot water. Take a paintbrush or
rag, dip it in to the dissolved salt water solution, and rub this all
over the flesh side once it has cooled.
5) let the hide dry out for
a minimum of 8 hours. It should become white and stiff, unless it is
huge like a buffalo, in which case leave the salt solution on it (and
allow the fluids to drain away from it) for a minimum of 2 days.
once the hide has been salted a minimum of 8 hours. take it and wash it
in a solution of 1/2 cup Dawn or other liquid dishwashing detergent
soap, and at least 2 gallons of water. Wash all the parasites, funk,
bad smells, and grease out of the fur, and make sure the hide sits in
this degreaser for at least 20-25 minutes or until fully soft,
rehydrated, and supple again.
7) mix up the following solution: 1
ounce citric acid, 1 gallon water, 1 pound non-iodized table salt.
Allow it all to dissolve. The pH must stay below 2.5 at all times.
Eight) rinse all the detergent out of the hide. Rinse until water runs clear and pelt smells good.
9) drip dry the hide for about 5 minutes, then put it in the citric acid/salt solution.
stir this pelt at least 4 times a day for 3 days. Maintain the pelt in
at least 70 degrees F the whole time, and make sure the pH is always
below 2.5.
11) take the pelt out of the acidic solution. drip dry 10-15 minutes.
12) mix up a solution of: 2 ounces baking soda, 2 gallons water, 1 pound salt.
put the pelt in to this baking soda/salt mix. It should fizz a bit.
Keep stirring and submerging it until all the fizzing and bubbling
stops and it finally stays under the surface. Usually takes about 20
14) remove the pelt once the reaction is complete, usually 20-25 minutes. drip dry half an hour. Do not rinse.
mix up the following solution: 5 gallons water, 2 pounds potassium alum
sulfate, 4 pounds salt, and enough sodium carbonate (washing soda) to
make the pH of the solution about 4. Generally that will be about 4
ounces of sodium carbonate, but depending on your water hardness and
how neutral the pelt is, it may be less.
16) once everything is dissolved, put the drip-dried pelt in to the alum/salt mix.
17) stir this pelt at least 4 times for 20-24 hours (no longer). Maintain the pelt in at least 70 degrees F the whole time.
18) remove from the alum mix, give it a very quick rinse in cold plain water, then drip dry half an hour.
19) allow the hide to dry down to about 20% moisture, or when you pull the leather you can faintly see white streaks forming.
mix up a solution of sulfonated neatsfoot oil and glycerine. About 75%
neatsfoot oil and 25% glycerine. Get it good and warm.
21) apply
this oil solution to the flesh side all over, with a gloved hand,
brush, or rag. Then bag the pelt to prevent too much evaporation. Do
this at least 2 times over the course of the next 16 hours. The more
oil you can get to soak through the leather fibers, the softer your
pelt will be.
22) allow the pelt to air dry until you can pull on the leather and see the faint white streaks forming again.
break the hide over a table edge, or put it in your tumbler. You must
continuously pull and stretch the hide until it is completely dry. The
leather will be a faint off-yellow color, almost white. It will have a
soft feeling. To get a soft, stretchy, pliable hide, you must break it
very thoroughly.
24) sew up all the fleshing holes, and clean the fur (it should be very oily) with hardwood sawdust or other comparable medium.
25) pelt is ready to use or display.

will work at least 75% of the time to get a good, soft pelt with no
hair loss. The other 25% of the time, you started with a bad hide, or
your pH values went bad, or you didn’t flesh and thin the hide down
correctly: either you thinned it too much or too little. Hard spots
form where the hide has not been degreased correctly, or where it was
not broken correctly.

Personally I used syntans before I started
sending to the tannery; alum is not the best stuff to put on pelts. It
lasts a long time but it can cause dry rot over time, where the hide
begins to tear like paper, and if wetted down with water, falls apart.

are many modifications to this method. There are also many different
methods to tan pelts. Soap/eggs, cooked brain, cooked brain/liver, raw
brain, raw brain/liver, all the sorts of vegetable tans like sumac and
quaebracho, chrome, zircon, silicates, chrome/alum, chrome/syntan,
chrome/veg, all-in-one products like Quik-N-Eze or Rinehart’s Tanning
Cream, use of a pressurized or vacuum drum, etc. The main factors
affecting how stretchy and pliable the pelt is when finished, are the
type of fleshing, the type of tan, and how well you break aka
hand-soften the hide.

Happy Tanning!

… if I can borrow
a camera I’ll put up some pictures of various foxes which I either
tanned or retanned. So you can have pretty visuals. Smiley

Gwen, 2008

Skull Cleaning Tutorial

April 3, 2008

I used to throw away the raw skull from every critter I got in for
processing… what a waste, huh! The Native American in me would scream
with every good intact skull I tossed. Especially since so many people,
especially crafters and people with shelves for display items, love

So here’s a little text-only tutorial.

What I do is this. Gloved-up, of course!

Tools I am working with: scalpel, steak knife, pair of forceps

I say thanks to the animal and it’s creator for the gift, then I decap,
then the eyes get plucked out. Then I work over the skull, incising and
removing the masseter muscle. I go in and remove the floor of the
mouth, and tongue. I am careful to make incisions on both sides of the
gum tissue so it can be peeled easily. I am careful to remove all the
meat inside the zygomatic arch, and under the occipital bulla. I scrape
the upper skull as clean as possible. Then I remove the lower jaw, peel
the upper skull’s palate, and scrape the lower jaw as clean as
possible, after picking off the muscle remnants. Lastly I take about a
12″ length of bailing wire, and immerse the skull in cold fresh water.
I put the bailing wire in to the brain cavity and gently stir and poke
the cavity all over. Then I gently shake the brains out through the
foramen magnum, in to the water. If any bits of brain are stuck, I
pluck them out through the foramen magnum with forceps.

this is pretty gross. If you are weak-stomached, do not attempt this.
It too me 4 years to get up enough guts and tolerance to attempt this,
and I’ve been working with this kind of stuff almost 30 years. If you
think a cow or bear skull is going to be odorless after this kind of
cleaning, think again. This only works on coyote-size or smaller.

Once the skull has been cleaned, it is set in front of a warm forced air dryer.

results in an odorless & bone dry [har de har har] skull, ready for
the dermestid beetles, within about 12 hours. No chemicals are used.
Just plain elbow grease and water.

I’ve cleaned 2 complete
[legal] bird skeletons this way. Tonight I did the first [legal] mammal
bigger then a mouse. Came out super!

Many rogue taxidermists and some other types of people would display the skulls as-is, in this dried state.

Personally I don’t like skulls… I don’t display them at all.

reasons I clean them like this are, so they can make their way to new
homes after the appropriate swap… but in the meantime, they don’t
stink up the place! It adds a lot of value. It saves on shipping costs:
I don’t have to ship frozen. It speeds up the beetle time. The removal
of the brain makes degreasing the cranial vault much faster, and
lessens the chance of staining.

If you’ve seen the Dirty Jobs episode on Discovery with Skulls Unlimited in it… this processing is very similar to what they do. You could process your own and save some money.

Happy Processing!

Gwen, 2008


There is virtually no smell during the processing. I only work
on very fresh stuff – in all cases, it has been directly after I
finished skinning the still-half-frozen, not-yet-half-day-dead (fresher
then the meat in anyone’s freezer) critter. It’s just the eew factor
that gets to me. Maybe by the time I’m like 90 I’ll be able to do this
without being squeamish. Smiley

one were to try this on a slightly rotted skull, it would be *gross*. A
gas cartridge mask with paint/oil filters, and a fume hood, and/or a
mixture of baking soda, peroxide, and Dawn dish soap, will remove even
the toughest odor. The problem with rotting stuff is that the odor
clings and lingers (it gets in the air, and then in your hair) – if you
get even a drop on your clothes, you stink until they get taken off and
washed, and the odor is horrible.

To fully sterilize / clean a skull you have to do this:

macerate (rot) all the flesh off, or have beetles eat the flesh off.
Maceration takes approx. 10 months, and beetles take approx. 2 days for
little skulls, or up to 2 weeks on big ones.
2) degrease the skull <– takes anywhere from 1-12 weeks
3) whiten the skull <– takes anywhere from 12 hours to over a week
wash and rinse, then seal with an environmentally-stable sealant (such
as Mod Podge Matte). I like to leave my critter skulls in the sealant
for a few hours to let it really penetrate in to the bone. I then air
dry them, and re-apply sealant as needed until it looks good and
sealed, without looking plasticized or painted.
5) re-set /
re-implant all the sealed teeth. Sealing the teeth is very important as
it will prevent some enamel cracks from developing.
6) re-articulate the lower jaw to the upper

Then you can display it and be proud of the work.

Picture of some skulls pretty much ready for new homes (cleaned with the process described above):

Somewhere I remember someone saying something about certain soils or
outside conditions leaving indelible stains on skulls. I’m not talking
grease burn here… I mean some sort of iron oxide compound that won’t
peroxide, wash, or bleach out at all. Apparently it turns the skulls
either blackish, or greenish, or both. The only solution would be to
paint a skull that had that kind of stain. The risk of indelible
staining is almost nil in an indoor controlled environment. If it was a
common skull, like coon or opossum, it would be worth it to try, but
it’s not recommended for trying on a tiger.

I’m going to migrate all of my tutorials on over from Craftster. Here’s installment #1.

Yay! First Fingerknit (Fingerweave)!

My inner child has *always* wanted to learn how to do this.I used to do the knotted friendship bracelets out the wazoo but could never get the hang of fingerknitting (aka fingerweaving).

So –

Based on this thread:


and this site:


I cranked out a 48″ boa in 30 minutes, from red / burgundy / wine / copper / violet eyelash yarn (100% nylon). I’d say I used about 16 yards, maybe less, and the whole thing can’t weigh more then 10g!

It’s very soft and fluffy, too. It’s only about an inch wide but when you are working with fibers that appear to be 3″ thick, the actual width is moot. This will appear to be over 4″ wide when I’m done with it.

My inner child is having a little party right now. It feels so good to learn a new skill, and make pretty things with that new skill.

Pic as promised…

can barely see it, and that’s deliberate: this project was supposed to
be the base for a boa, not be the boa itself. (although it sure was a
fun little scarf even before furring-up)

The white fluffy, pretty stuff is fox fur (genuine). The pink and purple soft stuff is the eyelash yarn (genuine nylon, LOL).

I made 4 more boas this morning, so the skill was retained overnight. Yay!