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How to re-articulate a fox skeleton: part one


This is going to a big post about how I put my fox skeleton Vulpy back together. I started on 22nd December and took photographs at every stage, and I finished it on the 6th January after a LOT of hard work. I took photographs at every stage and while I had some help there were some bits I didn't get right first time.

Last week I wrote about it when it was finished, but here is the first of two big big posts about I did it. There may be better ways or different ways to do it, but this is how I did it....

You will need...

  • A complete skeleton (important !) preferably with almost all the bones. Here was mine:

  • A tube of glue. I used a standard tube of glue from B&Q. I wouldn't recommend superglue because it will set too fast if you make mistakes.
  • Nail polish remover to get rid of the glue if you make a mistake
  • Cocktail sticks
  • Wire. I used wire used for tying plants to frames.
  • Wirecutters
  • Pliers
  • A drill with a 1mm and 1.5mm drill bits. I used a hand drill, which Ben Garrod said was silly, but it would have been more difficult to do it with a power drill. Dad used a clamp to clamp the drill upside down on the table which was smart.
  • A cable tie.
  • Bendy cords
  • A tray and box with lots of small compartments
  • Spare cardboard
  • Elastic bands
  • Electrical tape or masking tape
  • A small light clamp like washing line pegs.
  • A pencil
  • Patience
  • No small brothers messing things up.

This is me emptying out all the bones into the tray:

I began with the spine because it is the key part:

Putting the fox spine together

Put the vertebrae (spine bones) in a separate pile, and sort into the three or four main groups. These are the cervical (neck) vertebrae, which are quite square, the thoracic (ribbed/chest) vertebrae which usually have a large spike in the middle, the lumbar (lower back) vertebrae which have angled arms on each side, and the tail (caudal) vertebrae which are much much smaller. You don't need the caudal vertebrae yet.

Sort out each group and work out how they fit together. This is mostly trial and error. Here is the neck, with the atlas (the vertebrae next to the skull, shaped like a wingnut) on the right, the axis (the next vertebrae, below the atlas) next to it, and the first few thoracic vertebrae on the left.

Here is the other end with the coccyx sacrum (bone where the pelvis hinges with the spine) on the left and the lumbar vertebrae:

I used these bendy cable wraps for the spine. They come in bendy rubber with thick wire in the middle. I cut away the rubber and took the ends off.

I put glue inside the sacrum coccyx (tailbone), and pushed in the end of the stripped wire. It needs to be a REALLY firm fit and putting a kink in the wire can help.

What I should have done at this stage but didn't: is glue a thin piece of wire out the other side of the coccyx sacrum for the tail

Then I threaded through the vertebrae in order. Each time I put a cut piece of rubber foam that used to be round the wire into the spinal column hole to make it a tight fit.

It took me a while. Don't put any glue on the spine yet because you'll need to bend it. The lumbar ones lock together but the thoracic ones are quite loose.

The wire wasn't long enough to go the whole length so I overlapped with a second wire and taped them together.

Almost at the end, inbetween the axis and atlas I put a cable tie tight, cut off the end, and pushed it down to make most of the spine tight. There was about ten inches of wire sticking out at the head end, which was good. I looped it over to make a hook for now.

Preparing the fox skull

The skull had been on display on my shelves for a while but the bottom jaw was still loose. I used a drill to CAREFULLY drill through the joint between the jaw and cranium (top part of skull) while putting a bit of foam between the teeth to hold the position. For me this was a two person job with one person drilling and another holding.

Then I put glue in the holes and in the jaw hinge and slid in a piece of wire and pushed it in until it was flush on the outside.

On the inside it went in just inside the ear bones.

The wire helped the jaws stay open just a small bit, but didn't top them closing, so until the glue set I put them like this for a day.

Attaching the pelvis

Vulpy's pelvis was in two halves , with a third piece of Y shaped bone between them.


To join them I CAREFULLY drilled two holes in one side to about 4 or 5mm deep.

Then I made matching holes in the other side:

Then I used pieces of small wire to join them but I didn't glue them yet.

I took each half and marked a hole where they joined the pelvis.

Then I drilled into the coccyx sacrum at the same spot, and put big pieces of wire in to hold it in position

Finally I glued the two halves together and held them together with an elastic band. The joint with the coccyx sacrum is still loose and not glued but the pelvis will set in the right shape. You can't see it here but the thin Y-shaped bit of bone has been glued in as well:

Plan the pose

I couldn't go any further without working on the pose which I did by putting the bones roughly flat and working out shapes. I used this picture as a guide. This was taken on Christmas eve.

I was originally going to put it on a base, with poles or wires holding it up, but I don't like having poles in skeletons, and I wondered where I would put it. That's when I had the idea of hanging it from my bedroom ceiling, so I used this frame to work on it. It's an old shoe rack with the middle bits taken out. Once I hung it I bent the spine in the right shape and angled the pelvis. The pelvis isn't properly glued on yet though.

Preparing the back legs

Vulpy was a young fox, so the tops of some of the bones weren't properly fused yet. I used glue and elastic bands to stick them back on then left them to set. These are the tibias which are the shin bones. When you lie them flat like this the bones should bend out slightly at the knee end at the top, so these are left and right in the correct order:

This is the femur (thigh bone) at the knee joint. I drilled into the middle bit. After a bit it is hollow, because the insides of bones are hollow.

I drilled another hole at the top of the tibia then put some glue on a piece of cardboard and put it on the joint with a cocktail stick. I put some in the hole, then pushed in a bit of wire.

Then I pushed on the femur to make the knee joint.

While the glue set I held it in the right position needed from the picture.

The thin bone is the fibula. It goes parallel to the tibia. Not all animals have them. Foxes and cats and humans do, but deer and sheep don't. In some animals like cows the two bones join together. Here I put glue on the middle bit then put an elastic band around to set.

When it set it looked like this with no glue or wire visible unless you looked really hard.

These are the kneecaps (patellas). 

They are normally loose in the knee joint, but I glued them to the bottom of the femur but another way I could have done it would be to use wire and a hole drilled at the top of the tibia but this was was simpler.

These are the ankle bones. They are part of the tarsals which are small ankle bones. I didn't put every ankle or wrist bone in mine.

This is the way they fit together at the bottom of the tibia. I haven't glued them yet.

Because the tarsals (small ankle bones) and carpals (small wrist bones) are so small and fiddly, the paw bones need to be wired directly onto the leg bones. This is how dad clamped the drill upright, which it easier.

Without glueing the tarsals yet, he drilled straight up into the tibia.

This is the hole in the ankle bones as seen from the bottom.

That's it for the back legs for now.

Preparing the front legs

The elbow joint is complicated because the humerus (upper arm bone) meets two other bones called the radius (thick and slightly curved with an oval crossection) and the ulna (thin and longer than the radius with a curved hook at the elbow end). This is the wrist end of the radius. I drilled a hole the same as before for the front paw bones to be attached to.

I drilled two matching holes at the elbow end between the ulna (on the left) and the radius (on the right) and a tiny bit of wire between them. DON'T GLUE YET.

I did two small holes between the inside of the ulna and the inside of the humerus in the elbow joint. THESE HAVE TO BE IN THE RIGHT ANGLE FOR THE POSE BECAUSE YOU CAN'T CHANGE THE ANGLE AFTERWARDS !

At the wrist end I drilled though the end of the ulna (on the right) into the radius and held with a piece of wire. I DID THIS TWICE AND AM NOT SURE IF I GOT THE RIGHT SPOT SO DON'T TRUST MY DIAGRAM !

I put glue in all the spots, put three elastic bands to hold it , and checked it against the picture I was working from. Hurrah ! Again, I didn't put the small carpal (wrist) bones on.

The next bit it to put it with the shoulder blades (scapulas), but you can't work out the angle you need until the ribs are on, so don't glue them yet !

This is now roughly half way, so rather than do a massive long post, I'm going to split it here and write the second part next week here is the second and final part !

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Psydrache said...

This was a very interesting post and you did a fantastic job to put the bones togheter.

Jake said...

Thanks ! The hardest bits are still to come !

Jack N said...

WOW that is really cool.I'm finally off school today because of the snow.YAY!

Jake said...

I'm off too, but not because of the snow, but because I have been ill.

Anath Sheridan said...

Actually the step between a hand drill and a power drill that is very effective for drilling small holes into bone is a Dremel. You can buy very very small bits for it so that you can use smaller gauges of wire.

Awesome project. :)

Jenny Barnish said...

Dear Jake, I find your pages so inspiring and the easiest to follow after trawling through various sites. I am currently working on my old cats bones and am almost ready to fit them together, so thank you for your tips I shall let you know how I get on! Keep up yiur good work, Jenny

Jake said...

Glad it helped !

Jake said...

Thanks !

Sarah said...

Hello Jake,
Your brilliant website has been a source of endless information and advice for me recently :)
I was wondering whether you could tell me; is the B&Q glue you use the 'all-purpose' or 'multi-purpose'? Or is it something different? I have some bones I'd like to try to glue and don't want to use something that won't work! Any advice would be much appreciated. Keep up your amazing work :)

Jake said...

Thanks ! It's the All-Purpose one, in a blue tube. It dries clear.

farah3 said...

Dear Jake

we stumbled across your site by accident while trying to figure out how to turn a (fake) human skeleton into a chair. The site is just amazing. Thank you so much.

Kayne Sirocco LaTrans said...

I stumbled onto this site while looking for information on how to articulate the bones from a coyote I found. I'm so impressed with the level of detail and informative photos you've provided. Many thanks!

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