Q. Do you sell skeletons?
A. No. I don't even articulate skeletons for myself. However, 10 years ago I articulated an alligator and
an emu for the living room. If you are looking for skeletons to purchase you might want to check eBay,
Skulls Unlimited, or The Bone Room.
Q. Can I hire you to put a skeleton together?
A. Yes. . . if you are a museum or a science center or a school or a university. These are the entities for
which I do bone building for a fee. For more information please see the "Contact Us" page.
Q. Why would anyone want to mess around with dead bones?
A. Oh come now, don't you remember when you were young how fascinated you were with things like
dinosaurs? Didn't you ever put models together? Were you ever interested in your own body or anatomy?
Have the shapes and forms of nature never fascinated you? Most kids before they reach an age of
artificially stifled curiosity, are fascinated by bones and skeletons, even more so if the bones are real.
Skeleton projects have enthused students like few other hands-on projects I have ever seen.
Q. What's the best way to clean bones for a classroom?
A. There probably is no best way, but there are clearly some methods that you don't want to do. Most classroom projects I've
worked on have done their bone cleaning by boiling the skeletons outside over an electric hotplate or, for big skeletons, over a
propane burner. This is often a weekend project or, for small skeletons it can happen over a long day. It often takes eight hours of
boiling for many skeletons. Small or young animals can take a lot less time.
A new method that is gaining favor for classrooms is to sandwich the skinned and gutted animal between fresh horse manure in a
plastic tote (with a snap-on lid) for four to six months. When done, retrieving the bones is like archaeology. You get to excavate a
cleaned skeleton from what looks and smells like mulched grass clippings. The carcass in the tote can stay in the classroom without
offensive smells. The lid probably needs to be popped open every week for fresh oxygen. This is the "Horse Poop Processing
Q. How long will a skeleton project take?
A. This depends mostly on what method you use to clean the bones, as methods can range from a week to a year or more for
cleaning. Assuming the skeleton is ready to assemble, a skeleton can take from 40 to well over 100 hours to articulate. A classroom
organized into groups can get a bear or wolf-sized skeleton finished mostly in a week if everything goes smoothly.
Q. How many people can work on a skeleton at once?
A. This depends on how big the skeleton is. For something the size of a rabbit or chicken, probably not more than two people. For an
animal the size of a wolf or bear, a whole class can work on it by dividing the animal up into sections and having pairs of students clean
and later articulate their own section. As the sections are combined into a whole skeleton, less and less people can work on it at one
Q. So how do I go about getting an animal?
A. Often it is the tail that wags the dog. Someone comes across a dead animal and this leads to a desire to do a skeleton project. For
those that are starting with the idea of a project and need an animal, there are many sources, depending upon where you live. With the
right attitude and the backing of a school or institution, animals can sometimes be acquired from a zoo, game farm, animal shelter,
hunter, Fish and Game Department, farm, meat processing plant, taxidermist, or even collected off the road as road-kill.
Q. What animal should I try to get?
A. Almost any large bird, mammal, or reptile can work for a skeleton project. A mature skeleton works much better than one from a
young, still growing animal. Something rabbit-sized or larger is easier to put back together than a small animal due to the tiny-ness of
some of the bones, especially in the feet. There are ways of making skeletons out of smaller animals if that is the desire, however, by not
taking the animal all the way apart and doing what is called a ligamentary skeleton. This is where the ligaments are left in place and they
hold the bones together.
Q. What animals can I legally work on?
A. Depends on who you are and where you are. Generally, there will be few problems if the animal is huntable or domestic. Marine
mammals and many birds often come with so many layers of regulations that only a museum or a federal agency will be able to legally
process the animal.
Q. Can I catch diseases doing this?
A. Yes. For that reason you should wear rubber gloves, but in twenty-five years of bone-work I've never personally known anyone to
get sick from processing animal skeletons. You are much more likely to catch something from your best friend than from a dead animal.
Q. How do I clean the skeleton?
A. There are many ways of cleaning animal skeletons. Depending on the size, age, and species of the animal. Many bone specialists
have a favorite method. For classroom use, some methods are better than others. Some methods work much faster than other methods.
Bones can be rotted, macerated, boiled, cleaned with chemicals, enzymes or bugs. Details are given in the bone manuals for the
Q. How do I whiten animal bones?
A. The easiest way is to put the bones out in the sun for a year. The problem being that someone or something might find them before
you get back to them. To safely bleach the bones artificially, drop them in 3% hydrogen peroxide (in a plastic container with a lid) for
several days. The hydrogen peroxide used is the kind you can buy in the brown bottle at the drugstore. The bones should come out
very nice looking. Let them dry. If they start looking oily and greasy, they will need to be de-greased some more. This should really be
done first before bleaching.
Q. Can I use household bleach (Clorox) for whitening bones?
A. Yes--and it will bleach the bones quickly and cheaply--BUT! It is also very destructive to the bone cells and will likely cause the
bones to get soft and chalky over time, if not immediately. For this reason household bleach or bleach-type products are never used for
whitening bones by those who know better. Hydrogen peroxide is a much safer whitener for bones.
Q. So how do I get the oils out?
A. Soak the bones in 50% clear ammonia solution, using a plastic container, for a week. Rinse them and if they are very oily they may
need to be soaked again in fresh ammonia solution. some bones are much more oily than others. After rinsing, they can be bleached.
|Step by step guides for the preparation
and articulation of animal skeletons.
|BY LEE POST (a.k.a. Boneman)
|THIS SITE LAST UPDATED: March 29, 2014 URL: http://www.theboneman.com copyright 2005 by Lee Post illustrations copyright by Lee Post
|Site created and maintained by: Merry Web Designs copyright 2005
|We DO NOT sell
Skeletons or Bones
Q. If I do a skeleton project with my class, how much money will I need to raise?
A. This depends on how much money you already have. It also depends on the size and type of animal and how you intend to clean it. A mature moose skeleton
was cleaned and articulated and put on a base with wheels for $120. A wolf skeleton came to about $80 worth of materials. (These were 1995 prices. Figure
double these numbers now.)
Q. Why don't you have a manual for a horse skeleton?
A. I was hoping that the moose manual would suffice for a horse. They are about the same size. The main difference is in the feet. There are many well done sources
of information about horse skeletons such as; "An Atlas of Animal Anatomy for Artists" by Ellenberger and Baum. In truth, I have never had a horse skeleton to
work on, but one day I'll get there and add horsey details to the existing moose manual.
Q. How did you get started with bones?
A. I was one of those nerdy science obsessed kids who would rather be labeling my butterfly collection than going to the party down the street. My interest in
science carried through adulthood and I was in the right place at the right time and volunteered to help at the local natural history museum with a whale skeleton.
Q. What is the biggest skeleton you've ever done?
A. A sperm whale skeleton at 41-feet long.
Q. What is the smallest skeleton you've ever done?
A. I did a little brown bat once as a project with my daughter when she was in Jr. High.
Q. Do you have or have you considered doing a manual on human skeletons?
A. The skeletons I work on have been animals that were found dead, usually as road-kill, or animals that have washed up on local beaches. I've never found a dead
human, besides, somehow I think the locals would take a dim view if they thought I was working on human remains in my garage. Besides, there is no shortage of
books that describe the workings of the human skeleton. I understand there is a small demand for information on repairing articulated human skeletons, but this is not
something I have ever worked with. Most human skeletons are loosely articulated so that the joints have mobility to them. This requires fasteners that are made
specifically for this purpose. There are places that articulate human skeletons and these would be a likely source to acquire the fasteners.
Q. What is this about a new technique for cleaning skeletons using hydrogen peroxide?
A. I haven't done much more experimentation with it after my first burst of enthusiasm. I had good luck with it on a few things and then got over confident and ruined
a series of small skeletons (I was trying to get a vole skeleton to come out fully articulated). I think it can be done this way but the timing has to be just right. There is
a brief write-up about this method in the Small Mammals Manual, and a more complete write-up in the Bone Builder's Notebook. Essentially, small skeletons (or
sections of skeletons) are soaked in ammonia for a week or so, and then in 15% hydrogen peroxide for a couple weeks, then in a fresh batch of 15% hydrogen
peroxide. If the timing and the concentrations are right, it is possible to get a fully articulated skeleton out of the solution with no obnoxious smells in the process.
-----It is also easy to get a skeleton that is totally disarticulated with severe bone damage. UPDATE! New details about this method can be found here.