Friday, August 26, 2011

Cleaning and Re-Articulating A Small Animal Skeleton

We here at have been receiving quite a few emails lately asking how to clean an entire small animal skeleton and then re-articulate it. It's a fairly simple process, which I will explain here. This blog is for information purposes only and we assume NO liability if you attempt to clean and re-articulate any animals skulls, skeletons or bones. Also, please, do not kill any animal just for the sake of its bones. This article is designed for FOUND animals that died of natural causes. Please be aware that there may be species of animals that are local to you that are legally protected species and you cannot use their bones, even when found dead and this includes road kill too.

First of all, please read out blog post on "Cleaning Animal Skulls - A Basic Taxidermy How To Guide". That is the bulk of the information that you will need to clean an entire small animal skeleton. However, we will not simply be placing a small skeleton into water. Bringing a freshly dead small animal down to its skeleton tends to be a bit of a messy job, so I hope you have the stomach for it. If you have found a small animal (in the forest perhaps) that has been dead for some time, chances are nature has already taken care of most of the messy parts.

Assuming that you just found a freshly killed squirrel in the road or something similar, what you will want to do prior to macerating it is to remove as much flesh as possible and this includes the intestines. I won't go into too much detail on this process; however it is an important step. You can find many videos on the internet, such as on, which explain the basics of cleaning animals (also known as "field dressing"). It's not 100% necessary; however it will help the process move along MUCH faster. Once the organs are removed, you will need to remove the skin and as much flesh as possible with a very sharp razor or scalpel. Take care not to cut yourself or damage the bones.

Now that you have the intestines out, skin cut off and most of the flesh removed, you're ready for the next step which is dismembering the various sections of the animal. While this may sound gruesome to some of you reading this blog, keep in mind that what you're doing is really no different than what the butcher does all day long at your local supermarket. The only difference is that you're not going to eat this animal; you are going to render it into a skeleton.

The more dismembering you do now, the easier re-articulation will be later on. I suggest removing the head, feet, legs and tail (if applicable) from the spinal column. You can keep the ribs attached to the spine for small animals, as they're easy enough to sort out with a good skeleton diagram to go by (found online). What you want to do is use a very sharp razor or scalpel and cut through the cartilage at the joints. Some good places to cut are: the base of the skull - where the neck meets the head, the front shoulders to separate the front limbs, the hips to separate the hind limbs, the base of the tail where it joins to the spine and lastly the joints connecting all of the feet.

Once all of the cutting is done you will want to place each individual piece in its own nylon stocking (dollar store ones work great). To make things easier later on, use different colored twist ties (like the kind used for loaves of bread at the supermarket) to mark each stocking so that you can keep track of exactly which parts are which. For instance - red is the spine and neck, blue is the tail, green is the front left foot, etc... Trust me, this will save a world of time later on when you want to whiten the bones and re-articulate them, instead of sifting through one stocking of mix-matched bones, or worse, through the bottom of a rotting wet death soup bucket.

Now you can follow the instructions for maceration found on our post "Cleaning Animal Skulls - A Basic Taxidermy How To Guide".

After all of the bones have been rid of their flesh and remaining cartilage, take each stocking, one at a time and cut them open. Clean each individual bone one at a time with running water and an old toothbrush if necessary. Make sure to put each section of bones back into fresh, clean stockings and color-code them again. Now you can move along and follow the instructions for degreasing and "bleaching" the bones if you so desire them to be a bit on the whiter side. We suggest NOT keeping the bones in stockings for the degreasing or "bleaching" though because the acetone or peroxide might have ill effects on the nylon stocking material. Instead, old soup cans that have been thoroughly cleaned work great to keep the separate sections in while degreasing and "bleaching" for very small animals. Metal paint buckets work just as well for slightly larger animals.

Once you are satisfied that all of the bones have been sufficiently cleaned and dried, the next step is re-articulation BEFORE varnishing (if you choose to varnish the skeleton, which we do suggest). Remember, the smaller the animal, the harder re-articulation is going to be. Cats and dogs may seem like a task, however just wait to attempt re-articulating a rat or small mouse. Tweezers and a desk mounted magnifying glass are almost a "must have" in those cases. No matter the size, you will want a good quality, detailed diagram of the skeletal bones of whatever animal you are going to re-articulate. Use this diagram as a guide when putting the skeleton back together and keep in mind this is a long process, especially with very small animals.

For very small animals, gluing the bones together with high quality super glue will suffice to keep them together. We suggest using Zap-A-Gap brand glue for this; however please note that this is an extremely FAST setting and STRONG super glue. Bones will bond almost instantly together as will skin on fingers. Take care when handling this material. For larger animals such as cats, small dogs, etc... We suggest wiring the parts together wherever possible in combination of using super glue. To wire the parts together you will need a small rotary tool such as a Dremel™ or jeweler’s rotary tool with a drill bit the same diameter as your wire. Brass wire works best, however stainless steel wire is also common and in my opinion, just as good. In a perfect world you would want to drill out all of the bones and run wire tightly through them and glue it all in place. However - that is VERY time consuming and nearly impossible to do (NOT impossible, just nearly). So, what you will want to do it drill slightly into each bone to be wired (such as the connective joints), cut a piece of wire to fit and glue the wire in with the super glue. Spines and tails you can drill through each piece and wire the whole thing together. Super glue it all in place once you have it sitting the way you want.

Once you have the entire animal re-articulated and sitting the way you want, now is a good time to varnish the whole skeleton. Varnishing protects the bones and keeps the skeleton looking nice and neat for many, many years to come. Once the varnish is dry you can mount the skeleton to a base, if you already had one planned out. Pat yourself on the back. You're done.

Now, if you want to tackle re-articulating small animal skeletons, but don't want to handle the dirty work of bringing the carcass down to bones, there are a few companies on the internet, such as that can take special orders for professionally cleaned and prepared, dis-articulated, small animal skeletons. What you will receive is all of the bones to the particular animal you have ordered, separated into clear plastic bags by section, ready for re-articulation. Depending on the size and species, we can also offer maceration services to clean an animal you may have and want rendered into a skeleton. Please feel free to drop us a line and inquire about special order skeletons or our maceration services.

There you have it folks - The basics of cleaning and re-articulating small animal skeletons. Many people find re-articulating small animal skeletons to be a somewhat fun way to pass time and mounting positions are only limited to your creativity and imagination. If you have any further questions, feel free to contact us.

Good luck!

Jesse A. House


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Halloween Props For The Yard Haunt

Haunted Yards are certainly nothing new in popular culture today, as they have been around for many decades, however more and more home owners are finding the benefits of Halloween yard haunts to be very fun and satisfying to their inner youth.

What exactly is a yard haunt, you may ask? In its simplest form, a yard haunt is typically a small "haunted house" of sorts which is free for trick or treaters on Halloween night. More often than not the average yard haunt consists of a few static (a decorated "set" with no actors or animatronics) scenes and possibly one or two scenes with animated props and/or actors in costumes.

What is the purpose? To have fun, of course! Most people can enjoy a harmless scare, especially on Halloween and it makes the trick or treating journey that much more fun for the kids. Scenes are only limited to the imagination of the home owner and any friends who may volunteer their time to put it all together. Yard Haunts can be as simple or elaborate as the designer wishes, however every die hard yard haunter out there is always striving for more and better looking props. This can pose an issue for those on a tight budget, however don't let that hold you back from making your own Halloween props, which can typically look better than store bought items and at a fraction of the cost.

A good example of this is something we have discussed briefly in our very first blog and the technique is known as"Corpsing" a prop. In this example, the yard haunter (or home haunter) can purchase a very inexpensive skeleton, skull or bone prop and make it look as good as any Hollywood horror movie prop, with just a few simple, inexpensive items. Sheets of hard pink insulating foam (from any hardware store) are very useful for tombstones and cemetery decorations. Packages of inexpensive tin foil from the dollar store are VERY good for sculpting smaller props. You can tape off the final foil sculpture and then use paper mache to finish the details. All it takes is a little creativity.

For instance, our yard haunt has grown into a large event every Halloween, bringing trick or treaters by the car load from as far as 3 or 4 towns away. Each year, we can expect anywhere between 250 - 400 ghouls, goblins, witches, werewolves, vampires and much more to come knocking for a treat on All Hallow's Eve. Our scenes consist of many dozens of props gathered over many years and many "after Halloween sales". Our volunteer staff of actors has grown to over a dozen people. Our lighting and electrical units alone can take up to two days to put up, which includes flood lights, strobe lights, black lights, fog machines, animatronics and much more. Our dozens of static props will take the entire day before Halloween to put in place such as our caskets, skeletons, skulls, dummies, cobwebs, fake pumpkins, etc...

However our yard haunt didn't start this way. It all began with a couple paper mache props and plywood "tombstones" many, many years ago. Our yard is a good example of what a little creativity can grow into. If you have a little bit of money to spend and don't want to start with paper mache, you can always purchase an inexpensive skull, skeleton or bone prop from a website such as ours ( and go to town on making it look "corpsed" or aged. A great way to create the illusion of two skeletons from one, is to take an inexpensive Bargain Basement Barney or 4th Quality Bucky Skeleton apart at the base of the spine, set the upper half up as though it were crawling out of the ground in your cemetery scene and put the lower half sticking out from under a bush or porch. To your trick or treaters it will appear as though you have two skeletons on display. Pretty sneaky, huh?

The purpose of this article is not to go into detail on creating your own Halloween props, but rather to help you get motivated to do it. Making your own props is a fun and inexpensive way to spend family time. Kids love helping to make props and you'll be amazed at what you can come up with for very little or no money at all.

Our favorite website that is dedicated to the home haunter is It's free to join and has thousands of members who are willing to share ideas and explanations on building props, making store bought props looks better and general ways to haunt your home. They also have a very extensive, free online library of "how to" articles and videos submitted by users. Check out their site and make sure to tell them The Bone Shoppe sent you!

Happy Haunting friends!



Sunday, July 10, 2011

Cleaning Animal Skulls - A Basic Taxidermy "How To" Guide

Skull cleaning is a great way to preserve the bones of dead animals that you may find while on a walk in the forest, but how do you clean animal skulls? This is probably one of the most commonly asked questions that we recieve at

First and foremost, we do not condone the killing of animals only for their bones. This short tutorial is to help you preserve FOUND bones. We believe that if you kill an animal - you eat it. Also, this article is for information purposes only. We assume no liability if you attempt skull cleaning! Please be aware that there may be species of animals that are local to you that are legally protected species and you cannot use their bones, even when found dead and this includes road kill too. Now, on to the instructions.

There are many methods used to remove the flesh from an animals skull. Some people use dermisted (flesh eating) beetles as they can provide one of the cleanest end products without you having to get your hands too dirty. Other people may use boiling water, however this is very tricky as some skulls (mainly smaller animals) can turn to mush if boiled too long.

So, the focus of this article is going to be (in our opinion) one of the simplest methods and one of the most basic taxidermy skills for skull cleaning and is ideal for the novice bone cleaner. We are going to discuss cold water maceration.

What exactly is cold water maceration?

In the easiest description cold water maceration is placing a skull in a container of cool water, covering it with a tight lid and letting nature take its course. The natural bacteria in the water will begin to break down the flesh on the skull within a matter of days. In essence what you are doing is using water to rot the remaining flesh from the bone. After about 4-5 days, you can change the water in the container if you'd like. For a small animal skull, it should be completely clean within about 5-10 days. To help this process move along faster, remove as much flesh as possible from the skull, by hand, prior to putting it in the container of water.

A fair warning though - when you open the lid on the container, it will smell VERY bad and it should go without saying. Think about it - you've been rotting flesh in an enclosed area for many days. The smell of wet death is not very pleasant, but this will get the job done to clean the animal skull without the use of chemicals, beetles or guess work. Once you are ready to remove the skull from the now rotten flesh soup, remember to wear THICK nitrile or rubber gloves. If you use your bare hands, the smell of rot will seep into your pores and stay there for quite a long time.

After all of the flesh has been removed, you will want to thoroughly wash the skull with water to help remove the smell and any lingering flesh remanants.

** HELPFUL TIP ** >>>  As the skull macerates in the water over the days you leave it in the container, teeth will most likely fall out and depending on the age of the animal when it died, small bone pieces may fall apart as the cartilage deteriorates. The easiest way we have found to contain all of these pieces is to put the deceased animal specimen into women's stockings (dollar store ones work great) and tie off the open end. By doing this you won't have to fish around in the bottom of the container, through all of the rotten flesh and muck, to find a couple of teeth or small bones. This also works great for entire small animal skeletons such as mice, rats, birds, etc...

OK. So now you have a defleshed skull, but it's not entirely clean, yet. For most small animal skulls, the process of maceration will also remove most of the natural oils found in the bone, however if it does not, or if you are macerating a skull slightly larger, you will want to degrease the bone to remove these oils.

There are many opinions available on what to use to degrease skulls. We will only share what we use and find to work best for our needs. This is not to say our method is the best one out there, but we find it works perfectly well for the end results that we are seeking.

Once the skull is thoroughly washed, we let it air dry for a few days and then, in a very well ventilated area, we will submerge it in a small container of regular acetone (available from any hardware store) for anywhere from one day to several days, depending on the size of the skull. Once we are satisfied that the skull has been completely degreased, we will remove it from the acetone and once again thoroughly wash it with plain water. We have never seen a skull or bone be harmed by the acetone.

Once the skull is washed, we set it aside again, to air dry for a few more days.

As soon as the animal skull is dry we now have a choice to make. We can leave it the natural bone color that it is and just seal it with a matte varnish sealer - OR - we can "bleach" it and turn it a nice whiter tone.

Most times we opt for the natural bone color, however perhaps you would like the whiter tone. For the novice skull cleaner, the easiest way to achieve a lighter bone color is to submerge the skull in hydrogen peroxide for as many days as it requires to achieve the color you are looking for. 3%, available over the counter will work OK for smaller specimens, however for larger skulls you will want to consult a taxidermy supply company for 12% - 14% peroxide and follow the manufacturer's directions.

After you are satisfied with the color, once again, remove the skull and thoroughly wash it. Then set it aside to air dry for a few more days. Once the skull is completely dry you will want to seal it with a varnish sealer - matte or gloss, the choice is up to you.

Should you need to re-attach any loose teeth or small bone fragments, we have found the best glue to use is Zap-A-Gap, but be warned - this is not just a regular super glue. This is like super glue on steroids. It bonds almost instantly on bones and on skin it will bond instantly and slightly burn.

So, there you have it. A beginner's guide to the basics of bone cleaning. It's not all that difficult to achieve nice reults with this method and is perfect for anyone looking to start animal skull cleaning as a hobby.

Good luck!

Jesse A. House


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Skeletons For Sale - How To Save Money When Purchasing a Human Skeleton Model

Human skeleton models have become as useful and collectible to the "average joe" as they have always been to students and teachers of osteology. With recognizing the lack of genuine human skeletons, plastic skeletons have become the go to model for both students as well as Haloween "haunters", but how do you choose which one is right for you, especially if you are on a tight budget? There are many cheap skeleton models available on the internet, however each one has their pros and cons.

Let's focus for a moment on what most people look for in a human skeleton model. Typically an articulated model is preferred, so in this post we will only look more into that category. Besides articulation, what do you want? As many details as possible is always highly sought after as well as movement of the main joints, such as wrists, elbows, shoulders, neck, hips, knees and ankles. The main question that now comes in to play is - how much are you looking to spend for a human skeleton model and for what application are you using it?

Let's say, for instance, that you are an osteology student. You are going to want a plastic skeleton that resembles a real human skeleton as closely as possible but still stay within your budget. A perfect plastic skeleton model can run as high as $1,500. However, you can save a lot of money by focusing on your actual needs.

Ask yourself these simple questions:

"Do I need perfect detail?"
"Do I need perfect dentition?"
"What are my main objectives with this skeleton model?
"Do I only need to be able to recognize the main bones, or all of them?"
"Do I need a perfect skull?"
"Do I need a stand for the skeleton?"

Let's look at these questions and see if we can save some dollars on your student budget.

Do you need perfect detail? Most likely not. Every pore or realistic "bone like" feel, is probably not necessary for your needs.

Do you need perfect dentition? Doubtful, unless you are a dental student, which in that case you would be looking to purchase a human skull model and not an entire skeleton.

What are your objectives? Is this human skeleton model going to be used for several years for many different courses, or for just one class? If it's only for one class, you obviusly don't need a skeleton model that is "top of the line" for durability.

Do you need to recognize only the main bones or all of them? This will play a huge part in how expensive your human skeleton model will be. The more bones that are detailed in the model, the higher the price, so figure out exactly what bones you will need to recognize and you will have a pretty good starting point.

Do you need a perfect skull? The skull is one of the most important pieces for an osteology student. Typically you want to get the most detail for your money with the skull, however you may not need as detailed of a skeleton model. Here is a great tip to save you a lot of hard earned money - buy only the human skeleton model that you actually need then purchase a seperate human skull model with the details you need and swap out the skull that came with your skeleton for the more detailed one. This alone can save you a few hundred dollars. For instance, if you only need to recognize the main bones of the human skeleton, you could purchase a "4th quality bucky skeleton" and replace the plastic skull that comes with it for a more detailed skull, such as a "1st quality bucky skull", should you need to study the features of the mandible, cranium and calvarium in more detail.

Do you need a stand for the skeleton model? Believe it or not, some human skeleton model stands can cost up to a few hundred dollars each! You can save a lot of money if you don't need a stand, however if you feel that you do, there are many inexpensive models available that fit many different brands of plastic skeletons, so shop around for the best deal.

So, let's say you only need to focus on the main bones of the human skeleton, however you need a highly detailed skull. You don't need a stand, but you need the skeleton model to last for about 3 years of very rugged use. You can purchase a human skeleton model that fits this description for around $200 - $300 total. That is certainly a far cry from purchasing a perfect $1,500 model.

Now, what if you want a human skeleton model for a Halloween event and not for actual study? Well, you can save a ton of money and still get a detailed model.

There are plenty of very inexpensive plastic skeletons available that will do the job for a Halloween event, such as a "Bargain Basement Barney", which is a life-size skeleton model and typically retails for between $75 - $90. This type of plastic skeleton is made with hollow bones, so it is very lightweight and cuts down the cost of production to make. It is articulated and also offers movement of all of the major joints. The skull is fair, although certainly not the most realistic, however for a Halloween event, that is easily remedied.

Many "haunters" purchase inexpensive skeletons and then repaint them to suit their needs. Being so inexpensive, it's alright if the paint needs to be redone a few times until it is exactly what you want. Another very popular method used is called "Corpsing", by which using latex, tissue paper, cotton balls, paint and any other texturing material you like, that inexpensive plastic skeleton can very quickly take on a "rotting" corpse type of effect. By corpsing an inexpesive human skeleon model, you can achieve a look as though it were a very high priced movie prop - typically for under $100 and these props can last for many years if taken care of. There are many excellent tutorials available on the internet on how to turn an inexpensive plastic skeleton into a grand Halloween prop.

So, there you have it - some ways to save money when in the market for a human skeleton model. You don't need to spend a lot to get a lot, just keep that in mind.

Should you be looking for a plastic skeleton, please take a moment and look at the selection on our website: You can also get special deals and discounts when you join our Facebook Pages at: and

Thanks a lot for reading!

Jesse House