Of the six head alterations that I have claimed taxidermists can’t live without, perhaps lengthening a head, number five in our series, is the most valuable. At least it’s the one you are apt to use most often. As I have mentioned there are many combinations of form sizes in the world of whitetail taxidermy, but even at that, lengthening a head and alteration number six, shortening a head, can come in handy when trying to match the innumerable size variations in nature. And when you consider all the other species of game that don’t have all the commercial size options, this alteration can be gold. And like all the other alterations that I have shown so far, they don’t take a lot of time but can make a HUGE difference in the fit of the skin.
If the head is too short, you will obviously have a lot of extra skin in the face, but you will also tend to have bunching around the throat area and even up around the ears. Normally you can work out the extra skin but in some cases it can become a real pain. If you move up to a form with a bigger head, most often the frame size will also increase and now the body may be too big (neck and shoulders), and you won’t be able to get the brisket where it belongs. With a whitetail you should be able to find the right combination, but with many other species there often is nothing available for the exact job at hand. Even with a whitetail, if fixing the head is all you need to do, in15 minutes you can be up and running and that sure beats the expense and time of sending a form back and getting a different one. The following is what I believe to be the simplest and most efficient way to accomplish eating up some of that “extra” skin and is the system I have used for many years. Depending on how close the form is to the “right” size, and depending on how well the skin is tanned, I seem to pretty much custom fit every mount I do. But it’s really no problem, read on.
Keep in mind as we progress that increasing a head even one size, say from 7 1/4″ to 7 1/2″, will make a big difference. And two sizes, which would move our 7 1/4″ head to 7 3/4″, is huge. Three sizes, in this example would be 8″. This is extreme and not often needed, but it is doable. Also keep in mind that extreme lengthening might also require widening the head as well (you already know how to do that… remember alteration #3). This will be a judgement call based on the age of the animal and the width of the antler or horn bases. This can be decided as a last step, but normally if the neck and shoulders fit and the face is just simply too short, you can most often get by without the widening process.
For today’s project I will change the head on a 69-7119R form, from 7 1/4″ to a longer 7 3/4″ head. This could be a younger midwest deer with smaller body but a long face.
Having said all that we are almost ready to get started, but first I need to explain the concept behind the process. So here is the deal. If you simply cut off the nose and move it forward, the angle of the bridge of the nose and the bottom jaw line, will no longer match. And, the more you move the nose forward the greater the miss-match becomes. Check out the sketch below to see what I am talking about.
Is that a big deal you ask? Couldn’t I just rasp the foam down to make it match? The answer is that of course you could. But I wouldn’t suggest that route for two reasons. The first is that you will lose the proportion of the head and it won’t look all that great. And second, by keeping the correct proportion you will use up more of that extra skin I talked about earlier, which is really the chief reasons for lengthening the head in the first place.
So to remedy this situation you will need to increase the depth of the back of the head as well. Instead of just one cut (as shown in the sketch above) you will need a second cut from the back of the mouth to just under the ear butts. This is not as difficult as it might sound. Look at the sketch below.
Here is the simple math calculation to keep the best proportion and to make it all work: for whatever distance you lengthen the face, raise the back of the head half as much. As an example, if you lengthen the head 1/4″ (say from 7 1/4 to 7 1/2), raise the back of the head 1/8″. Or if you lengthen the head 1/2″, raise the back of the head 1/4″, and so on.
If you haven’t panicked yet, lets get started.
To lengthen a head, then, first mark as shown:
I usually mark both sides and then cut along the line with a knife. You can use a saw but coming out where you want to on the far side of the cut is pretty difficult, so it seems much simpler just use a knife. Cut off the nose.
Next, cut off the upper portion of the head above the jaw along the remaining line.
Now use screw spacers to raise the back of the head. Since the plan is to increase the length of this head by 1/2″, we want to raise the back of the head by how much? Yup, 1/4″ is correct. See this is not so tough…
The above photo shows the spacers installed. Check out the height of the spacer with a ruler (below).
Below I set the top of the head back in place atop the spacers, just to show what it should be looking like.
Looks like we are right on the money, so Bondo in place.
And be sure to trim the excess Bondo that squeezes out before it gets too hard.
Looking good so far, now add screw spacers to the nose. Let them stick out 1/2″.
The above three photos show what the new nose attachment should look like. Measure the new eye/nose (with a caliper) to make sure it is what you want and adjust the screw spacers in or out as needed. Make sure the nose is aligned with the rest of the head. If it appears crooked, screw the spacer screws on one side either in or out to straighten the nose.
You can now either Bondo around the spacers to secure the nose and then fill the void with foam, or you can fill the entire space with Bondo. If you use foam, make sure that the foam has fully expanded in your mixing cup before you squeeze it into the void or the pressure of the foam might force your nose out of place. For our project today I will fill the void with Bondo.
Tack the nose in place by putting Bondo over each of the four spacer screws and then fill one side of the open space as shown below.
Fill the void with Bondo.
And again trim before it hardens too much. Be sure you have the nose pinned or nailed securely as you don’t want to break the nose loose while trimming the uncured Bondo.
Here (above) is how the head should look. Now would be the time to try on the skin with the antlers in place to determine if anything else needs to be done (like widening the head as well). Then as a very final step I like to redraw a center line …
and then reshape if needed with a rasp or Stout Ruffer.
There shouldn’t be much reshaping. You can also do any filling or smoothing with water clay just previous to mounting.
The final job, ready to go! From a time perspective you should be able to accomplish this project in 15 minutes or less. And if you need to do it, it will be time well spent. Also note that while the head is now quite a bit bigger than when we started, it looks natural.
Next time comes the final head alteration.