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Critique My Procedure

Discussion in 'Skulls and Skeletons' started by Minz, Apr 29, 2022.

  1. Minz

    Minz New Member

    OK in the bee keeping world they say that anything works but you need to work the entire system, not just parts of each. After watching a bunch of YouTube and reading through just about every skull post on this forum I am going to tell you what I do, what I plan on doing this year and next and ask for some advice.
    Home from the trapline and skin. Skulls go into a bucket of water right after (keeps the skull wax down)
    Usually, same day I put them in a crock pot on simmer overnight.
    Next day the flesh should be cooked enough to pull the lower jaw off and all the meat with it. I just get right in there and all the ‘meat’ goes in a garbage bag. The teeth usually come out and go into a plant grow bag. Small cheap power washer cleans out the brain cavity, jaws, eyes. Pretty clean at this point they go into a ‘prep bucket’ usually of water, dawn soap, borax and some Oxyi clean. Heater on to about 85 (max for the little hang on side). I have been putting them into a seafood boil bag to keep from as much trouble of figuring what part goes with what skull. I needed to tie the teeth bag to the skull.
    I keep adding to it throughout the season (up to 7 a week, as many as 3 on an excellent day). Dumping it about every week. End of season I dumped in a container of dollar store ammonia (this year upgraded to the hardware store variety).
    After about 3 months in the detergent and Oxy they are pretty white but a mix of Vol 40 with some old hair powder turned them to snow. They vary by what time they were processed.
    The skulls from last year I started to get some grease stains back on my beaver and otter skulls.
    Thinking maybe I should do the ammonia at full strength into a smaller container for a couple of days each and then glue the teeth back in?
    My existing year:
    I have a 5-gallon bucket of skulls that I need to shake to get them all covered with my solution which is a 64 oz ammonia with the water to cover them.
    About a dozen beaver / nutria / otter skulls from last year are done but starting to show some spotting.
    Do I put them one at a time to a smaller container a couple at a time and use 100% ammonia (or maybe just last years)
    I plan on using a small plastic Rubbermaid container and soaking each skull (two if they will fit), overnight in straight BO pulling them out and into very hot water.
    Should I switch to just clean water next year for the maceration?
    Would mop and glow keep the grease from raising to the top or is it just to make it look shinny?
  2. Sea Wolf

    Sea Wolf Well-Known Member

    Ditch the crockpot unless you want to make soup. It is too hot and for too long. If you are going to insist on cooking skulls to clean them, prep them properly and remove as much flesh as possible including the eyes and the brain BEFORE you simmer. Bag in a mesh bag individually if you feel the need. Put in a pot, cover with water and bring to a simmer with a tablespoon or two of washing soda or baking soda added. How much you add will depend on the size of the pot. Add too much and your skulls can be damaged so don't go overboard. Simmer for about a half hour and then check them. Rinse off any jellied flesh and return if needed. The soda dissolves the flesh and it just becomes goo that you can wash and scrub off. Shouldn't take more than an hour with small skulls. Point blank, you are going to ruin any skull you decide to cook overnight.

    Once the skulls are clean, put in your bucket to get the grease out. You have cooked the grease into the bone by this point and it will take you a lot longer to remove it now. Ditch the borax, you are not accomplishing anything with it. Make sure you have the right Oxy. There is Oxy and Oxi. One will ruin bone, the other is so so. Look them up in the archives to see which one. I do not use either personally. You really only need Dawn and ammonia if you want. Focus on getting the grease out. Trying to combine degreasing and whitening is wasting materials. When you think the grease is out of the bone, soak for a few hours in peroxide. It does not take months to whiten a skull.

    You mention "maceration" but I do not see anywhere where you are macerating them (rotting) clean. You are cooking them. Which also equates more time and materials to now try and get them clean. Clean, degrease and whiten. 3 steps.
    coroner2 likes this.

  3. steve torna

    steve torna New Member

    Hello from Montana,
    I have skulls that I prepared 40 years ago that are still free of grease and in magnificent condition. Don't over complicate the process. The following has worked well and continues to produce museum quality results for me:
    1. Beetle clean skulls.
    2. Degrease (I use ammonia).
    3. Bleach with hydrogen peroxide (or not if you like a more natural bone look).
    Most importantly is take the time to properly degrease the bone. I have had skulls in degreaser (constantly replacing ammonia) for as long as 6 months before I was satisfied.
    Good luck
    Sea Wolf likes this.
  4. QBD

    QBD Active Member

    If you read nearly every skull post on this forum like you said in your post, you have a serious reading comprehension problem. Your proposed process reads more like you picked out how NOT to do a good job cleaning skulls.

    Listen to Sea Wolf! See will not steer you wrong.

    And the above post by steve torna is spot on as well. And you could substitute maceration where he uses beetles and that would work great also.
  5. Sea Wolf

    Sea Wolf Well-Known Member

    I used to simmer clean. I do not any more and have not for years. High heat and cooking is the enemy of bone. It weakens it and actually breaks down what holds the bone together. A simmer job can be done in a few hours but the trade off is the grease is now extremely difficult to remove. Trying to so so now exposes the bone to a longer soaking in chemicals that it would have needed before. The fur animals you are dealing with are not, as a rule, even greasy. A whole bucket of beaver heads, not even prepped to start with as I should have, was done in 3 weeks. Not the months you are talking about.
    3bears likes this.
  6. PA

    PA Well-Known Member

    I think I last simmered a skull in high school, around 1972. It is a horrible way to prepare skulls. Also, completely stay away from any Oxy/Pxi and I have a firm NO on washing soda, or borax. It breaks down calcium materials in bone. Either use pure maceration or dermestid beetles (combined with end maceration depending on how good your bugs eat). There are tutorials on this site by Sea Wolf on maceration.

    Pure ammonia and/or dawn works on most fats without heat, but some fats are too saturated and require heating the solution - most notably cervids.
  7. Minz

    Minz New Member

    I guess I am not rotting the flesh off. That would explain why there are no foul odors that I have read about in so many of the threads here. I had buried some skulls when I started trapping and I all I can say is eww, nasty stinky, disgusting. From there I put them in water and it seemed to get worse. The vultures were literally circling my garden. It sounds like you process a lot more skulls than I do, how many buckets of rotting flesh do you have in your yard?

    Thanks Steve your post was the most helpful (and courteous).

    As for QBD, well know I know the troll on the forum. There is always one who’s only goal is to belittle others. High school was hard, get over it. did you feel there was anything helpful in that rant?

    Thanks to PA about not using the chemicals. I had added the part about baking powder to my procedure for next year and I have removed it.
  8. QBD

    QBD Active Member

    And you would be as wrong about me as two left feet. If you read the posts on here as you say you did, there is no way you could have reached the conclusions you came to in your procedure.

    And as for the maceration stink......I macerate on my deck that is attached to mu house. With a few simple precautions, the odor can be minimized. I know that Sea Wolf has discussed her methods and I think I have shared mine on here as well but I will repeat.

    I skin the skull...remove soft tissue within reason, tongue, eyes and especially the brain.

    I normally use a 3 1/2 gallon bucket for deer size or multiple individually bagged furbearer skulls. Heat is from a submersible aquarium heater that tops out at 93 degrees F.

    That bucket sets on a sheet of 3/4" insulation foam that helps retain heat and does not have cracks like deck boards for the odor to escape through.

    I invert a large plastic trash can over the bucket and weight it down with a cinder block.

    When doing multiple buckets, I use a power strip to run multiple heaters. I sometimes have 4 or 5 buckets going at one time.

    I leave them for approx 10 days and they are done. No need to poke or prod every couple of days.

    When I do remove them, I do have to deal with the stench of the maceration soup. I pour mine in the woods behind my house. I think Sea Wolf digs a hole to pour hers into. I use nitrile gloves as they do a much better job blocking odor than latex. It is not a pleasant smell but I can deal with it on change out day. Otherwise, it is rare that anyone even has a clue that I am macerating skull on my deck.

    After rinsing the skulls/bones, I immediately put them in hot tap water with dawn detergent and put them in my basement where I do my degreasing. The dawn kills the odor.

    And YES, you should switch to clean water for maceration but don't wait until next year. But if the smell is a show stopper and you are serious about doing a good job cleaning skulls without damaging them, a beetle colony is in order.

    I started out simmering like many others do but I figured out by reading the very forum that there was a better, more consistent way of producing quality results.

    Last edited: May 2, 2022
    Tnrandy likes this.
  9. Minz

    Minz New Member

    My procedure is what I did (what I do is poor English but if it was not for the word check this would really not be legible). If I could learn something and go back in time to fix it, I would be the position to buy Twitter. I am posting as to where I am now. I find that it is difficult to tell somebody how to get someplace if you do not know where they are now. If I was not clear here it is.

    My current situation is Season is over. 5 gallons of skulls (about 20) in a bucket with a side hung aquarium heater and seed propagation heater around the outside. It has in it ammonia (one gallon of nasty stuff but no percentage label on it). After reading I changed up to this since there seems to be no downside in going from peroxide back to degrease if I didn’t like the results. They have been in there since I found your friendly little group.

    I also have A box of skulls from last year that have some yellow starting to show after a year (also about 20). Two different situations.

    I also have: One gallon of BO, unopened. Glass one gallon jar with extra wide mouth. One half gallon jar with extra wide mouth.
  10. Sea Wolf

    Sea Wolf Well-Known Member

    The skulls you have in the bucket with the heater and ammonia ..... Are they clean of flesh and just bone only?

    The box of skulls that are now yellow ... Also clean but have been finished and waiting for a while?

    If so, in the bucket with the ammonia, try to keep the temperature around 115 degrees. Let them sit for a few weeks and check. Most grease should be gone by then.

    The skulls in the box, the yellow is grease coming to the surface. Wait until your bucket of skulls is done and then put them in the bucket and treat them the same.

    The problem is that the cooking you did, makes the grease even harder to remove. You may not be able to get all of it out in a reasonable time. Wait until you feel the grease is gone the best you can do, then use the BO to whiten them. Doing it before will just waste the BO.
  11. Minz

    Minz New Member

    From what I have seen here Dawn soap, Oxi clean (correct one) in a heated bath has been pretty much just degreasing the skulls correct?

    I have made heaters before.. I could rig up one for a bucket heater without too much difficulty. I have (4) 150 watt industrial heat trace pads, sheet metal, insulation and some scrap metal to cut (for attaching the T-stat to enough mass to sense the water temp rather than the air temp). I think I will start with 2 (for 300 watts). I believe the T-stats come set from the factory at 115.

    When they go into the bucket the only meat that remains is usually just what is in the hollow teeth.
    Good advice about the ammonia reuse.
  12. Sea Wolf

    Sea Wolf Well-Known Member

    Oxi clean does nothing to degrease. It is a peroxide product that will whiten. Cheaper and easier to just soak in peroxide once all the grease is gone. Degrease with Dawn and ammonia only. Just Dawn, just ammonia or the two combined.
  13. Minz

    Minz New Member

    A lot of the large, hollow teeth came out broken or cracked. I am just sick that I tried this on this year’s skulls! The method from YouTube worked pretty well last year but my skulls looked bone colored (yes a little yellow). Who will want beaver skulls without front teeth? I have to say that I am having trouble even sorting through after the final clean last month. I am expecting my pelts back from the tannery and I guess I am just going to have to buck up and see just how many skulls will be junk.

    I guess this is better?

    Figured I would post this rather than just slinking away for a warning to others. Like I started the OP you do the system, you do the entire system not just the final parts.

    From the clean skulls I went to a gallon of ammonia in a 5 gallon bucket and raised the temp to 110 degrees F (measured at two locations with fish tank Thermostats).

    From there they went to fresh water bath for a week.

    From there a 50% BO (I cut it so they would be covered in a Rubbermaid container) room temperature overnight.

    Drained the Peroxide, and poured hot water on them and let them set overnight.

    Now just grind them up and use them as bonemeal.

    Figured I would post this rather than just slinking away for a warning to others. Like I started the OP you do the system, you do the entire system not just the final parts.
  14. Sea Wolf

    Sea Wolf Well-Known Member

    If you are going to insist on cooking your skulls in a crockpot, then you will continue to throw them away. You are ruining them right from the start. You are letting them sit in a chemical stew (that is incorrect) for the *season* ??? Sounds like a good month at least if not more. This is also working now to damage the bone. I do buckets of beavers at a time and have never lost one tooth. I know you looked at the tutorial that I did where I used a whole bucket of beaver heads. No crockpot and no Oxy. That product alone is what is destroying your skulls and teeth. If you are using the right one (there are two) you don't allow the skulls to sit in it for more than 24 hours normally and not heated. If you are using the wrong one, then your skulls are toast in a week.
    Frank E. Kotula likes this.