Monday, December 5, 2011


So since I killed that bear, I've been processing parts myself or through 3rd parties.  The meat so far is great.  Bear jerky (a 12 hour soak at 165F to render it safe) is delicious.  It's about as oily as those jerky "nuggets" you get in the bag, but it tastes 10 times better (and it was raised without a bunch of crappy feed additives!).  I'll be trying some of the sausages over Christmas, but I suspect they'll be good eating, too.

The pelt and the skull were taken to a local taxidermist at the start of October.  The skull I may have back by the end of the year (no word from the taxidermist yet, though) and the pelt will take longer.  Looking forward to both.  Oh, in case I didn't mention before, the head isn't being mounted.  Instead I'm having it defleshed and reduced to a bare skull.  I think (and hope) it will look good, especially with the one naturally broken canine tooth this bear has.  Gives it a little more 'character' and story.

The claws have been interesting.  I declawed one foot about a month ago.  I gave a claw to each of my parents, and set aside one for me, one for the wife and one for the little one.  They're wearable, but the process has been interesting. 

First, remove the claw at the first knuckle (sharp knife here helps).  Then remove as much skin and flesh as possible.  From there, the claws sit in a small container of 20 Mule Team Borax to dry out.  Once that's done (I gave it 3 weeks, 2 would have been enough), I suspended the bone of the claw, complete with bits of skin and such, in a solution of 50/50 clorox and water.  The bleach dissolves the tissue, leaving clean (but yellowed) bone. 

The next step is to clean the actual claw (basically a fingernail) and remove the quick.  A set of dental picks made short work of the quick.  From there I carefully scraped off the outer, damaged layers of the claw and scrubbed it thoroughly with a stiff brush and some soap.  This gets all the dirt out of the imperfections of the claw.

What you have left is a clean, but dull, claw.  The first thing I tried was buffing the claw with a flannel buffing wheel on my dremel.  This worked OK, but did not yield the desired results.  I then tried using clear nail polish to add a 'shine'.  While that works, it looks terribly unnatural, so I ended up stripping all that off and redoing everything.  So, what I found that seems to work:

1.  Wet sand the claw with some 400-600 grit sandpaper.  I vary the grit based on how many  
     imperfections I'm trying to smooth out.

2.  Wet sand the claw with some 1200-1600 grit sandpaper.  Here I have found little difference
     between 1200 and 1600 grit, since that this point you're really just putting a polish on the claw,
     and no longer trying to remove any major imperfections or smooth out the texture.  The shine
     obtained looks nice, but it's not quite up to what I want.

3.  Take a paper towel (I like to use the blue mechanic's shop towels) and do a final polish with
     some Flitz brand plastic polish.  This can take minutes or weeks, depending on what you want
     for a final product. 

The 3 steps above resulted in some nice looking pieces, though more could be done to create "show" quality stuff.  I didn't opt to go that far on my first run, since that was not my goal and since this was an experimental phase. 

The one I gave my mom had an interesting outcome.  She took it to a local jeweler where the bone was trimmed and set into a nice piece of sterling silver with a loop on top.  Then a nice sterling chain was strung through the loop for wearing.  It looks great, was not too expensive to have done, and the jeweler put an even better finish on the claw itself.  I'm not sure what he did, so I'll have to go introduce myself and ask.  I just hope it's not some well-guarded secret.  I was thinking that a nail buffer, like the ones my wife uses, would give a higher shine, so that's going to be tested. 

Since pictures speak a thousand words, I'll be photographically documenting the next 5 claws.  They're already cut off and in Borax, but that's easy enough to figure out on your own.  I'll show the cleaning and polishing steps and hopefully act as a source for anyone else that wants to see how this is done.  I found very little useful information via Google, at least not all in one place.  I did pick up hints and tricks by scouring various forums and I'm trying to put them all together in a single resource. 

Overall, I never considered myself a very talented person, but it's interesting how a few basic tools and materials can take a ragged bear claw and turn it into something you'd be happy to wear and show off.

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