Methods in the Art of Taxidermy

by Oliver Davie Published in 1900

More Taxidermy Instruments

The scalpel is the necessary instrument for skinning small birds, and there is an advantage in having several with various sized blades, as seen in Figs. 6 and 7, Plate 1. Some are made of a solid piece of steel, like the heavy cartilage knife, Fig. 8, which is best for the larger birds and the smaller mammals.

The very best knife in shape and quality for heavier work is that called the" killing knife" (Plate I, Fig. 5), manufactured by J. Russell & Co., Green River Works, Turner's Falls, Mass. The price of this knife is only seventy-five cents,. and will well repay any taxidermist who will provide himself with several of them. In case you can not procure it, the butcher-knife must, of course, take its place. The surgeon's bone forceps, or bone cutters, either straight or curved edge, will be found handy for detaching the legs and necks of turtles, and they are also convenient in the skinning of fishes, birds and small quadrupeds (Fig. 5, Plate III).

When you come to severing legs and wings, clipping off pieces of flesh, fat, and tendons, each of the various shaped scissors Plate I have their special use. The skin-scraper (Plate II, Fig. 7) is an absolutely necessary instrument for scraping or shaving down the hard, dry skins of mammals which you desire to mount. The toothed currier's knife (Fig. 8) is most excellent for paring down the dry skins of large mammals, while the keen-edged one, represented by Fig. 9, is suitable for use on green and dry skins. A sharp draw-shave will answer the purpose when the currier's knives can not be obtained. For scraping the dry skins of birds, I usually take an old tablespoon, flatten the bowl, cut it off square in the middle, bend it, and file teeth in it, similar to Fig. 7, Plate II. This makes a first-class instrument for scraping dry bird skins and also those of the small mammals.

The dissecting saw (Fig. 4, Plate II) should be 4! inches long, with movable back. It costs $2.75, but it can be substituted much cheaper by cutting the same length off a hack saw, and fitting it to a wooden handle. This instrument is indispensable in sawing through the shells of turtles and through the bones of mammals, as the case may demand. The long scissor-handled forceps (Plate II, Fig. 3) are used for placing filling in the necks of ducks, herons, and other long-necked birds. The most desirable length of these forceps is 12 inches. For placing the filling in the necks of the smaller birds, the spring forceps, 5 inches long (Fig. 4, Plate III) , are the most commonly used. Several sizes and shapes, however, should be at hand, such as are represented by Fig. 5 and 6, Plate II j light and delicate ones for arranging the plumage of birds, and doing many other little things which you will soon acquire by habit and experience.

The chain and hooks (Fig. 1, Plate II), are used for hanging up the body of a bird after you have reached the point of skinning over the tail, as shown in the plate illustrating the skinning of the robin. A good sized fish-hook with the barb filed off and suspended on a strong cord will answer the purpose very well. The drill (Fig. 2, Plate II), made of a sharpened steel wire with a wooden handle, is a very handy tool for making holes in the legs of birds, especially in the legs of dry skins where, in many cases, it is almost impossible to force a soft annealed wire without first making 8. hole with the drill. Several sizes are necessary. By far the best cutting pliers for the general use of the taxidermist is Hall's compound lever nippers (Fig. 1, Plate III). These, together with those represented by Figs. 2 and 3 of the same plate, are manufactured by the Interchangeable Tool Co., Boonton, New Jersey, who also make a side-cutting pliers on the same mechanical principle. The side cutters are used where the end-cutters fail to reach, which is seldom the case with the latter in our work.

Besides having a most powerful leverage, one of the beauties of Hall's double-lever nippers is, that when the jaws break new ones can be replaced at a trifling cost. These pliers can be procured at hardware stores, and the best sizes are 5 and 7 inches, respectively. Any wire which the 7-inch nippers will not cut, it is best to resort to the bolt-clipper, commonly used by the blacksmith to cut iron rods and bolts. The hand-vise (Fig. 3, Plate III) is essential in holding the annealed wire while filing sharp points thereon, while several sizes of flat-nosed pliers (Fig. 2, Plate III) are necessary in bending and clinching wire, a:1d for many other uses to which they are adapted. In sewing up the openings in mammals and birds, preparatory to putting on the finishing touches, it is best to use the regular surgeon's needles, straight and curved, of various lengths (Fig. 6, Plate III). Few taxidermists, however, use anything better than a common needle for birds. If you cannot buy extra long needles for sewing manikins, you can make them by grinding a sharp point on one end of steel wire j heating the other end red hot and, while in this tate, flatten the end with a hammer. It becomes cold during this operation, but heat it again and while hot, with an awl punch an eye in it while it rests on a bar of lead. In this way you can make excellent needles for any large size for mammals.

Experience has taught me that a soft, downy thread is best for winding the feathers of birds, and this is particularly the case in the smaller species. For this purpose I prefer the thread from the bobbin, which can be obtained at the cotton mills, technically called cops (Fig. 7, Plate III). When this can not be obtained, a spool of No. 40 thread will answer the purpose for the smaller birds. For the larger species-hawks, owls, etc., the soft, fluffy Barbour's No. 12 Irish flax, commonly used by shoemakers for making wax-ends, is the very best.