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Fish body carving

Discussion in 'Fish Taxidermy' started by whitetails and fish only, Feb 29, 2016.

  1. whitetails and fish only

    whitetails and fish only Well-Known Member

    I have recently became aware that many florists use a hot wire system to cut foam for their flower displays. My question is, have any of you fish taxidermists used this system with the types of foam that we use in our fish bodies. If this system would work it could sure speed up the carving process.
  2. Jimmy Lawrence

    Jimmy Lawrence Well-Known Member

    I used to use one. And still do sometimes. It only works on the blue foam like Matuskas and some others sell. But it's a super good way to do it. I got it about 11yrs ago from some craft place online. 12" height or so. Blue base board. $100 back then.

  3. FishArt

    FishArt Well-Known Member

    IMO, don't waste your money. The only fish it really works okay with is on smaller panfish. Anything deeper and the cutting is slow and difficult to keep perpendicular. Then, of course you have the highly toxic fumes to deal with. (I use the blue Dow buoyancy billets for foam btw). I actually have several of the Hot Wire higher end models - sent to me to test out a few years back. And, I could not in good conscience give them a good review. IMO there's nothing quite like a band saw - even a cheap band saw. I had one of those cheap meat cutting band saws (with the nice top to bottom clearance you need) for years that cost me under $200 bucks and it served me well. FYI, I also tried Pescado's modified jig saw with a SawZall blade. It may work for him but the vibrations and that longer saw blade flailing looked like a serious recipe for chopping your fingers off! Scary stuff! I use a keyhole saw now because I haven't and probably won't replace my band saw. The drawback of course to any sawing is the dust. IMO that is the lesser of all evils. The nice thing about a band saw is you can also use it for many other things. It'll pay for itself after 30 fish in time saved. And again, if you do any fish bigger than a Crappie, don't waste your money on the hot foam cutters. A Key Hole saw might run you $20 bucks and works much better IMO...
  4. Jimmy Lawrence

    Jimmy Lawrence Well-Known Member

    I've used mine for pike, walleye, bass, all kinds of fish. Works just fine for other fish besides panfish Marty. I agree on the fumes however. Super bad for you.
  5. FishArt

    FishArt Well-Known Member

    Jimmy, I've used them for bigger fish too and you are correct, with practice it will do the job fine. But, time-wise? I have found that it takes me at least twice as long to cut out a big fish like a salmon or pike vs. using a cheap, hand-held, key hole saw. Does your brand hot-knife/hot wire cut through 4" of foam pretty quickly or are you in the same boat here with dealing with slow speed?

    You know another issue I just remembered especially with the wire vs. the wand and that was it is too sensitive IMO. I think these are designed actually for hobbiests building little foam buildings and such where they need to make a lot of tight turns and work smaller. My wand-type hot knife is easier to hold on a long arc, but it is also slower due to it's thickness. Personally, I miss my band saw! But, I just can't justify the expense right now because I want a bigger Grizzly which is upwards of a grand... :(

    Based on my experiences with the hot knives/wires, I think it's a trade-off/compromise. If eliminating the messy foam dust is more important than speed and worth the $100 bucks or so for a good one, then by all means try the foam cutter. For me, it also adds another step of re-locating to my garage so that I don't breathe in cyanide or whatever nasty stuff is emitted from the slow burn of the foam in my shop. Which constitutes opening the doors and dealing with the weather too. I don't, but should have some ventilation system set-up other than a fan and a window that I have now. I don't use my air-brush all that much anyway plus I gloss outside. But, if I started this when I was 21 I would have invested in a better "ventilation" system a long time ago. (Do as I say kids, not what I DO - lol!)
  6. BCastle

    BCastle New Member

    Bandsaw for me too! I ordered a hot wire cutter through our local craft supply store and it was supposed to be a high quality one! I used it for a few small bodies then I tried it on a big body and it quit! They replaced it and the second one lasted only a couple bodies more, so I tossed it! No more stress or fumes! Lol
  7. Monty Artrip

    Monty Artrip Active Member

    I bought a meat saw from rural King then put a bandsaw blade on it instead of the wide meat blade. Works great and the opening will accommodate large salmon, stripers etc. It was much cheaper than a bandsaw with a large opening.
  8. FishArt

    FishArt Well-Known Member

    Funny thing Monty is my meat band saw came with a half inch blade on it I think - it was pretty good sized. And, I never replaced it in the 12 plus years of using it - lol! Of course my crummy fish carvings showed this fault, but it worked for me - lol! (Actually, for those who have never used a band saw. For our purposes you can run the foam from the back of the blade to the front to shave tight areas or smooth out an arc and it worked okay.) 1/4" I think would be perfect? What size blade do most of you's use?
  9. JL

    JL Taxidermist for 64 years

    Most bandsaws don't open up enough and you need to buy a spacer to give you the height you need to do the work ( make sure your new saw accepts a spacer). You won't be able to change the width of the cut but if you've increased the height enough this wont matter. I get 1/4 inch and 1/8 inch blades with 10 teeth to the inch. Wouldn't change a thing. Never had a wire cutter so cant advise you. Good luck...JL
  10. whitetails and fish only

    whitetails and fish only Well-Known Member

    Thanks to all of you for your imput. A lot of food for thought.
  11. duxdog

    duxdog Active Member

    A regular old fashioned large carpenters wood saw works fine also
  12. JL

    JL Taxidermist for 64 years

    Can't begin to imagine using a "fine tooth" carpenters' hand saw to cut out a brook trout body from a block of foam. If you do you're a better foam cutter than I am. JL
  13. FishArt

    FishArt Well-Known Member

    I use a keyhole saw now JL since my band saw crapped out on me. Under $15 bucks at Walmart or Home Depot. Works fine for all sized fish but I still miss the efficiency of the band saw! Hand saws and hot knife cutters aren't as easy to keep perpendicular vs. the band saw is the main difference beside speed IMO...
  14. JL

    JL Taxidermist for 64 years

    Customer had a brand new Rockwell stand alone band saw he wasn't using so I mounted a 24" salmon repro for him and traded even for the saw. That was 20 years ago. Now that's just good business. Have fun with your keyhole saw...lol
  15. Cecil

    Cecil Well-Known Member

    Speaking of carving bodies I ordered three small bass manikins from McKenzie the other day and it was just under $70.00 with shipping! Would have been more if I would have gone with UPS instead of USPS.

    I think I'm going to have to start carving more bodies! Need to find a pick up source for the Dow foam though as the last place I checked wanted me to buy a minimum of 20! And don't even get me started on the shipping costs of shipping those big blocks!
  16. torka

    torka Member

    Cecil try lumber yards near a lake. I know of 2 that sell them and sometime they have damaged ones they sell cheap.
  17. DT10Sam

    DT10Sam No flow no go!

    Cecil I also get my foam from Rick Krane and you can buy just one foam block and it can be delivered to your door.His foam is different from the blue foam billets and seems to produce less dust etc. Just a thought to give him a call and get a price to your door.

  18. Perca

    Perca Well-Known Member

    Ditto Cecil. The cost of getting anything shipped is up to over 30% of a total bill now no matter what shipper you use. I also hate carving but costs may force me to get back to doing more of it. Living close to big waters I can make the trip to pick up the big 8' billets of DOW foam and with the price of gas, it's a big savings over shipping. The only remaining snag is that billet foam is very porous and it takes additional work and materials to make it smooth enough to accept fish skin without irregularities in the dry skin. For carving small fish like perch, crappies, and brook trout I much prefer the low density (2-3 lbs) foam that McKenzie sells, BUT that means I'm right back to a high shipping cost. As of now I still bite the bullet on sky-high shipping for commercial mannikins for bigger fish like bass, walleyes, steelhead, and lake trout. If I can't find a perfect fit I "make alterations."
  19. FishArt

    FishArt Well-Known Member

    Doug, a lot depends on which batch and time you buy your billets. The density of the "Buoyancy Billet" has varied through the years a bit. With recent years being a bit more dense. I have no problems using BB for almost all species with the exception of having to coat super thin skinned (small rainbows, etc) with white latex paint. But, that is more for covering the blue foam being seen through the skin vs. filling in holes in the foam. Once my skin glue/paste is placed on the form, any holes pretty much get filled.

    This being said, IF you are still looking for something more dense than B.B., Dow also sells a "Square Edge" billet that is much more dense than the Buoyancy Billets. I have not purchased these in many years though, so they may or may not still be offering the Square-Edge. It's tougher to carve because of the density, but no worries about any possible dents or porosity to worry about...
  20. Perca

    Perca Well-Known Member

    Thanks Marty. I may do some shopping for the foam you described. On the one hand I do like "dense" foam because it hold staples. The drawback is that the higher density foams are harder to carve and especially sand down to a fit. I really like the 2 lb foam because it's so fast to work down from the first bandsaw cuts. However, it does NOT hold staples. I have to be careful handling it because any heavy finger pressure will leave a dent. I'm also careful not to SNEEZE on it if I have it closer than a foot from my face! ;D
    The 2 lb foam is VERY easy to snap off at the throat latch, head juncture, and tail during the fitting process. I remedied than by cutting off 2" pieces of metal clothes hanger with wire cutters. I grind one end of every piece to a point. One is jammed in flush with the head juncture of the foam, one in the throat latch, and one in the tail.
    It used to be problematic to install a wood block in such low density foam. Now I use thin 1/4" plywood cut into 2" x 2" pieces. I cut out a square of the foam at the center point of the body where the balance point is and glue it into the foam. Pulling the top and bottom seam over the top and bottom of the plywood piece insures everything is solid when the skin dries. It doesn't take much to go from there with a levelrite hanger or simply use a screw in from a piece of driftwood.
    I just realized that I'm probably preaching to the choir. ???