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Rehydration and Skin Stretching Techniques

Discussion in 'Lifesize Mammals' started by LordRusty, Mar 4, 2011.

  1. LordRusty

    LordRusty If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.

    I've posted this, or one similar to this post, as a response to the question of rehydrating and/or stretching hides more times than I can count, so now I figure it's time to give it its own titled post. This is a method I have used for decades with nothing but success.

    This method is for COMMERCIALLY TANNED MAMMAL SKINS, and works for capes of lifesize, domestic, wild, North American, African, and exotics of all sorts.

    The "trick" - if you want to call it that - is to simply follow the directions. That's it ... easy-peasy! ;)

    Mix a mild brine solution - one cup salt dissolved in five gallons warm water. The warm water will help dissolve the salt much easier. Add one ounce - one ounce only - of Kemal-4. Measure it out properly. Mix the solution thoroughly, and let sit until it is cool.

    The amount of salt in this mild brine solution is minimal, and simply enough to prevent acid swelling. That's why it is called a "mild" brine solution. ;)

    This is the procedure for all fresh, dry-tanned hides and skins. For an older tanned hide, or one which you are not sure about, lay the skin out, flesh side up, and sponge a bit of the solution on a small spot of the hide. Cover with plastic and let it sit for about an hour. Uncover the hide, and gently pull on the hide. If it stretches, it should be okay ... but if it tears, it is dry rotted, or acid rotted.

    If it holds together, you can move onto the next step and soak the head and feet for about an hour or two, stretching it out after every twenty minutes. Again, this is my standard process for all dry-tanned hides and skins.

    When it has soaked enough to soften, lay the skin out flesh side up, and sponge the entire hide with the solution, until it starts to puddle on the skin. Don't forget to soak the tail! Let it sit for about half an hour to absorb the solution.

    Flip the paws and legs, the head and neck, and the tail into the body of the hide, and fold it up, lengthwise, then from head to tail.

    Wrap it in plastic, and keep it in the fridge for a day or two.

    Take it out, and use this method to stretch it out:

    To get the maximum stretch on the hide, and especially on the legs, the best tool you can use is a ⅛-inch thick by one-inch wide steel plate. Grind one end to a rounded shape, with the top side ground to an angle. Be sure it is ground or filed smooth to remove any burrs.

    To use it - as seen in these images - apply the steel to the skin at a slight angle, with the rounded end, and flat side of the steel, against the skin. Repeatedly push the steel forward from the center of the skin out to the edges, holding the opposite side of the skin with the palm of your other hand. This is done on each side of the head, neck, forelegs, body skin, hind legs, and tail-skin .... from "head to tail". It is amazing how much stretch you will get using this method. Yes it is slow ... but the results are more than well worth it! Using a flat, steel "skin-pusher" is a much safer way of stretching a skin, as opposed to pulling with the hands that can slip and/or pull out fur.

    The steel "Skin-Pusher" in use.

    Close-up of the same image.

    Side by side comparison of the forelegs before and after stretching.

    This method is ideal as it avoids the stretching method of grabbing the skin - AND FUR - while pulling, and avoids the pulling out of any of the fur. This also breaks up the skin fibers, further loosening the hide, making the stretch and fit more permanent.

    Now, measure your skin, refold it and wrap it, and freeze it until the mannikin arrives, and you are ready to mount it up. You can now rinse the skin in clear water and damp dry it prior to mounting.

    The addition of one ounce of Kemal-4 goes a long way in softening the skin, as well as helping clean it. Kemal-4 is a "surfactant" ... basically it makes water "wetter" allowing it to penetrate more thoroughly.

    It is also a mild non-scented soap, so it helps clean the hide and hair without removing the tanning oils as other commercial soap products will ... such as Dawn or any liquid laundry soap that are so often, and so wrongly, recommended on these forums.

    If you want to "wash" the hide after soaking, then use one ounce of Kemal-4 to five gallons of plain, slightly warm water.

    Never use products not made for the Taxidermy industry. It doesn't make sense to risk a skin. Using products meant to clean clothing - materials - or fabric softeners - again made for clothing - may give you instant "pretty" results, but can create long term problems for the hide. None of these have the required pH that is low enough for a mammal skin. If you want your work to be around for many, many years, use the correct products. If you don't care, and want to be just another "flash in the pan" then keep using the wrong products.

    Dale Knobloch ... yep the very man who's name the products bear, did a lot of research before he released these products. I've used them since their introduction, and have never had a problem. The main thing to remember is to follow the directions printed on the bottle!

    For those who prefer to wash their skins after the soaking process, let me repeat that the product - Kemal-4 - is made for working with and cleaning skins, but if you do want to use something else after the initial rehydration step, use a product made for the skins of live animals.

    One of the best products is made for bathing Horses. "Vetrolin" shampoo is a low pH shampoo with conditioners added. It imparts a softness and sheen to the hair or fur of a specimens' skin just as it does to the coat of a Horse, including its mane and tail ... which has some of the coarsest hair around!

    I have used Vetrolin from time to time, but only if it was a specimen that had a coarse coat of fur to which I wanted to add some fullness and softness, but not every specimen requires this treatment. We should not be looking to create mounts so fluffy that they can pass muster at Westminster! As stated, Kemal-4 was designed to do what is needed to prepare a skin for mounting. Anything else thought to be a requirement, is in the head of the preparator.

    Onto another 'problem' skin ... okay, it was a small problem for me, but could be major to those who run across a situation such as this for the first time.

    This tanned cape felt a little rubbery to me, so I opted for a different treatment. After soaking with another product - Enzol-B - and 'steeling' the hide, I took a 22-inch neck up to a 31-inch neck, and possibly 32 to 33-inch! I had not completed the steeling and stretching process as of this writing, so I don't know how much more this cape will let out.

    To work the base of the ear skins, I will push a baseball bat I converted into a shaving beam up into the ear skins, first scraping them with a paring knife, and then steeling them for stretch.

    Now, Enzol-B is VERY instructions specific! You have to follow the instructions implicitly or you will have problems. I don't know what they are, as I tend to follow the label instructions! ;)

    I took the face from about 10½-inches, to 12-inches using the same steeling action! Plus the face is WAY bulked out now. Much more than it was previously! ;)

    Good luck to you,
  2. RDA

    RDA Active Member

    Very nice! Thanks John!

  3. LordRusty

    LordRusty If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.

    YAY! We agree!!! :-* Woo-hoo! ;D LOL!

  4. Nice tutorial, John
  5. Bowman

    Bowman New Member

    Thanks John. Shows that there isn't a such thing as an unimportant step. One can't be accomplished without the other.
  6. Nyati

    Nyati I love tahr huntin

    Great post John
  7. RTF

    RTF Active Member

    I like it, I like it a lot. Interesting note on using Fabric softeners. I have seen posts where some individuals are using Downy on deer capes.
  8. Thank you, that is very interesting! ;D
  9. Thanks John
  10. kikkertinz

    kikkertinz Glass half full

    thanks alot for the info John...definetly going to give the steel a try
  11. Quill

    Quill New Member

    Great Post, thank you for that tip!!! On the topic of non-taxidermy products, I do use a live animal product, Show Sheen, made for horses. It is meant to keep the dust from sticking on show horses, and to detangle hair, it is not a cream rinse, you spray it on a dry coat, it makes it very slick. I use it before I start the mounting process as it seems to really prevent any glue or bondo or whatever from sticking to the hair, it all brushes out easily afterwards. What do you think about that? I thought since it was safe for sensitive horses, it would be ok.
  12. LordRusty

    LordRusty If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.

    If I'm not mistaken, Show Sheen has a silicone base, the same as most good detanglers out there. I have never used it ... but I have used detanglers for the mane and tail of our Horses. When I groom a horse, I use good old fashioned "Elbow Grease". That's my racetrack background. We made Horses shine! "Everybody loves a shiny hiney!" is an old Horseman's quote I used to hear in the track barns. Still do it the same way. In that respect, I can't comment on something I have never used.

    I'm really careful about getting - or should I say not getting - hide paste, or clay, and whatnot on the hair or fur of a specimen. It's the way I was taught by the Taxidermists I worked for in my early years.

    Any that might get on the hair or fur, would get cleaned off in the final stages of setting up the mount for drying ... a damp sponge is used to give a good going over when all is done ... especially on horned and antlered game heads.

    During the final finishing steps after the mount is dry, I run a steamer over the surface of the hair and/or fur of a mount. It "puffs" the hair nicely.

  13. mark
  14. zmia

    zmia ozzie, ozzie, ozzie........

    Still a great post John and I still refer back to this info from time to time just as a make sure I'm still doing it right. Thanks again wiseman!
  15. txoutdoors

    txoutdoors Active Member

  16. Thanks John, I would like to see a close up of the tip of your "skin stretching" tool.
  17. Non-TypicalArtist

    Non-TypicalArtist ABOVE Expectations. BEYOND Ordinary.

    Using the piece of metal to stretch a hide may be the biggest best tip I ever got on this site. I use the end of my file. Works great. Cheers John!
  18. wheelie

    wheelie New Member

    hi,thanks for all your help,very helpful,is there any thing you can use for dry rot
  19. LordRusty

    LordRusty If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.

    Here you go ...
  20. Das-Mimi

    Das-Mimi It's hard to live in CA and like Taxidermy...

    Definitely bookmarking.