Discussion in 'Taxidermy' started by josuaj.rhino, Jun 7, 2018.
Want to know some tips on how to preserve and work with warthog tusks
Welcome to AH!
When you say work with.......what do you mean?
Removing the skull/tusks to use as a trophy
Some Southern African solutions:
So, here's some of the things I've learned over the years:
Boiling: You have to set aside a day for this. It is time consuming but delivers the best and most consistent result. The flesh needs to be cut away, and the brain removed by 'skommeling' it up with a stick and shaking it out through the hole at the back of the skull. Some pieces with membrane in them are easier to hook out with a stick or piece of wire.
Now one has to find a pot large enough for the skull. I have never boiled the actual horn, I try to keep the horns above the water, but make sure that any horn hanging over the side of the pot can't be scorched by flame.
Boiling does two things: it breaks down the tissue for easy removal, and it also removes a lot of the oils and fats from the bone. Changing the water at some point in the process helps remove oil, but note that the more oil and fat you boil out of the bone, the more brittle it will become.
The whole process can be sped up considerably with the use of caustic soda (Sodium hydroxide, also known as lye and caustic soda), available in any hardware store. Shake some flakes into the water you're boiling the skull in. If using caustic soda the water doesn't technically need to boil, but it does need to be very hot to work. I have tried cleaning a skull in a cold caustic soda bath, and it didn't work!!
After having cleaned the skull, you can soak it in clean cold water with chlorine bleach (jik) in it. It is also important that the skull 'airs' a bit... it will still have a smell if you bring it indoors too soon. Keep it outside in the wind and shade for a few days, and make sure no dogs can get it!
Burying: Many people recommend this, but in my experience it just generates a stinky mess and stains the skull a dark colour. (We bury some skulls inside an ant hill)
Water: Leaving a skull to rot in water is also recommended by some. I have found it can have drawbacks: if the water is cold (anywhere under 20 degrees), the rotting process will be too slow. Horn also doesn't like water, and it becomes soft and flaky. If you can find warm, clean water, give that a try. It basically will do the same as boiling: break down the tough tissue and remove the smells, fats and oils. The bone will most likely stain with whatever mud or compost is in the water.
Restoring veld pickups: Some of the cleanest skulls are those found in the veld. The are nicely sun-bleached, sometimes too much for the horn though, if the hornworm didn't get there first. Dry, flaky horns can be oiled, which goes a long way towards restoring their original texture. I have found that mineral oil like Q20 or a mix of linseed oil with thinners, is good. I'm not a fan of using diesel or old engine oil on horns, it just makes a smelly mess and the horns stay sticky and collect dust.
Teeth: These are usually loose and need to be glued back in. If the bone isn't too oily, simple white cold glue works very well. Note that warthog and hippo tusks need a bit of oil to keep them from splitting. I have found rubbing them with olive oil works well, and once the oil has soaked in they don't really need follow-up treatment.
Cutting the skull: I prefer to leave the skull 100% intact. Watch out for the two nasal bones... they fall off easily and if they get lost your skull will look short and messy. Cutting off the skull is a matter of personal preference, but don't get carried away or you may end up with what looks like a plank sprouting two horns! Keeping the skull whole gives one the flattest mounting angle (with the possible exception of sable), and one can also compare the interesting difference in shape between different species... something that some taxidermists would do well to take note of before they pull a lechwe cape over an impala form!
Mounting board: Almost none of my skulls are on boards, but that is more because I don't have adequate carpentry equipment. From what I have seen though, a well-shaped and elegant board matched to the size and shape of the skull can make for a really classy trophy... just like a poor board can detract from it. Personally I find that large and shapely skulls like buffalo, wildebeest, hartebeest, kudu 'frame' themselves adequately, while smaller trophies like duiker, bushbuck etc. stand out nicely off a well-shaped board.
Horn worm: Growing up in the cold mountains of Mpumalanga, this was never a worry in my childhood collecting years. Warmer climate in the last few years mean they have moved in, and destroyed most of my outdoor skulls. Those indoors are fine. I thought that oiling them with Q20 or linseed/thinners mix would prevent hornworm, but I have discovered here in Zambia that that doesn't always work. I think the horn worm require a certain mixture of temperature and humidity, which is why in dry areas you only find the worm attacking the underside of horns lying on the ground, while in cold areas they only attack in summer and it takes them quite a few months to finish a set of horns (compare to warm, humid areas where horns can be destroyed within weeks).
If boiling with Caustic Soda( Sodium Hydroxide) please remember NOT to use an Aluminium pot as it will eventually dissolve and you will not be very popular with the owner of that pot.
We've used a jet spray (pressure washer) to remove the final debris out of the brain and nasal cavities (after boiling). This was on Impala.
Welcome to AH !
Welcome to AH! And as always Brickburn comes up with an interesting answer.
To add to Mr BrickBurns post boiling is just a term. You really don't want the water to boil, if it does you are going to loose teeth and other small bones that will be loosened by the boiling. What you really want to do is to just simmer it.
I have also found that during the last simmer to put around 1/4 cup of Dawn dish soap into the mixture. This will help in degreasing the skull, if you don't degrease it over time it will start to yellow.
I have a pretty good recipe for doing a euro and have used it on quite a few skulls and they turn out just as white as can be with no yellowing.
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