Before a taxidermy skin can be mounted, it first needs to be fleshed. Fleshing is the process of removing extra tissue from the back of an animal's skin or hide prior to tanning. This process ensures a more successful tan, and prevents the skin from rotting. Fleshing may be done by hand or by machine, according to the preference of the taxidermist. Choosing the correct fleshing tool can make a significant difference in how the finished mount turns out.
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A fleshing knife is a curved blade with a handle at each end. It may be single or double-edged. The curve and bevel of the blade prevent it from piercing through the skin while working. Tools of this kind are normally used only to flesh large animals, as they may be too long for working with smaller skins.
Single-handle pelt and bell scrapers are appropriate for use on animals too small to flesh with a fleshing knife. These tools can be operated with one hand, and work well on muskrat, mink and other small skins. Bell scrapers may also be used for the final scraping pass on beaver pelts.
Loop-Style Fleshing Tools
This type of fleshing tool is made up of a serrated metal loop attached to a handle. The unserrated side may be sharpened for more effective fleshing. Loop fleshing tools for use on mammals are designed to be sturdy, while tools made for fleshing fish are designed to remove the flesh without tearing or stretching delicate skins. They should be used in an up-and-down motion, never along the length of the animal.
This tool resembles a pair of pliers, and may be referred to as "fleshing pliers." Ear openers are used to spread the skin of the ear away from the cartilage for easy removal. Ear openers are mostly used on big game, but may be filed or ground to fit the shape of any ear.
A fleshing horn is used to provide structure under the skin while fleshing, and is shaped somewhat like a cow's horn. Most are made from urethane or other plastics. The rounded end is appropriate for thinning the skin of the face, while the pointed end works well for fleshing eye and nostril openings without deforming them. Fleshing horns may also be used to stretch the oesophagus in fish to make cleaning the mouth and gullet easier.
Taxidermists who work on many hides, or who need to flesh a large hide, may use a powered fleshing machine instead of hand tools. Fleshing machines are generally operated by air compressor or flexible shaft machine, and contain a sharp rotating blade. They can be adjusted to make deep or shallow cuts, and may be used to flesh large areas or fine details.
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