Lobsters and crabs are beautiful and complex creatures. If you ever catch a really nice one, you may be undecided between cooking it and having it mounted. But with a bit of care you can eat your lobster and have its lifelike exoskeleton hanging on your wall. The cost is about $20 for materials and some hours of pleasant work spread over several weeks. The job would be very expensive if done by a taxidermist because of the time required to assemble the large number of pieces. My first specimen took over 30 hours, most of it spent experimenting with methods and materials. The following set of directions will give good results even the first time and is easily adaptable to the Florida/California lobster as well as crabs.
The first requirement for preserving an entire lobster is that you must have two of them – one to work on and the other one purely as a model to copy. Don’t boil your model – you will need the original colors to copy when you paint number one. Stick the model in the freezer every time you are done with it. This is very important. I also would recommend not eating the model for obvious reasons.
Cook and eat the lobster you want to mount with minimal damage to the shell – which will be dried. The tail is going to be cemented to the body shell and these are going to be placed over an artificial body made of crumpled newspapers. This body will have wires protruding from it. Each wire will be run through the four segments of a leg and fastened to a plywood base. Attaching the claws and antennae, followed by painting, completes the project. Sound simple? Basically it is.
Preparing The Shell
After cooking, break the tail off the body. Break off the fins at the end of the tail. Insert a finger in that end and push the meat out in one piece. Try to remove bits of meat from the fins. Rinse, and set everything aside to dry, but do not let the tail curb. Tape it down or insert something inside so that it dries in a nearly straight, lifelike position.
Break off the claws and antennae at the body. Insert a thumb in the body cavity and rip out all the legs and body parts. Rinse the shell out. The trick is to dry everything before it decays. A simple, cheap and effective preservative is borax (supermarket” and alum (drug store). Rub some of this mixture on any spot you suspect might smell, both now and anytime during this project. Regardless, you will probably get a little smell for a few days but it should be tolerable. For crabs, split the body into top and bottom parts. Clean out all the meat you can, then preserve and dry the shell.
On a New England lobster, save the base of the antennae and discard the rest. (They shrivel and become too brittle to work with.) They can be easily duplicated. On a clawless lobster you must save them, at least the thick parts. Get out all the meat you can. It is OK to cut them in half with a hacksaw – they are easy to glue together.
At this point you must start keeping records of the parts. Either number them with a pencil or set them out anatomically. Each joint hinges on two points with a membrane between them. Slit all the membranes, bend the joints at right angles and push the meat out with a chopstick. If the joints come apart it is OK. Rinse these and dry. The claws can be emptied by breaking off the moveable part and working the meat out through the wrist opening using a fine blade knife and a chopstick pushing through the other end. If you are having difficulty doing this you may want to enlarge the wrist opening by breaking a piece of the shell off with pliers. Save the piece, stuff the claw with papers and cement the piece back in place later.
Making The Artificial Body
Soak newspapers in some white glue diluted with water. Make them into a sausage shape which will barely fit inside the body shell. Wrap it with string to keep its shape and let it dry one week.
Obtain eight pieces of wire, (galvanized) about 16 gauge. Cut them at least twice the length of the legs and sharpen both ends. After the body is dry, push one end through the body where you decide the first leg will be attached. Bend the protruding point and push it back into the body, making it like a large staple. Repeat this with the other leg wires, referring to the model for spacing. For a clawed lobster or crabs with large claws, attach two more wires for the claws, but use heavier and shorter wire, coat hanger size. Spread the leg wires like lobster legs on a plywood base and drill holes where they touch.
Putting It Together
From an automotive supply store you can get a can of body filler. This creamy paste, with mixed with the catalyst, sets rock hard in about five minutes. It is indispensable to this project.
Tape the body and tail down on a table in a natural position but upside down so you can work inside. Place two small globs of catalyzed filler on each piece and embed a pre-bent finishing nail so as to bridge the joint between them. When the filler hardens the two pieces will be permanently attached.
Starting with the center tail fin, get a little catalyzed filler inside and embed a one inch piece of wire letting half of it protrude. Let it harden. Get some filler inside the tail and push the protruding wire inside so that when the filler hardens the attachment will be made. This is also how to attach the claws to the wrist joints or segments, only instead of a single wire use a longer piece bent into a U so that here are two wires connecting each point. The claws are heavier and two wires prevent twisting.
The claw is cemented together and attached to the wrists, again using two nails embedded in filler at both ends.
Run the leg wires from the artificial body through the plywood for support. Place some filler on the back of the body and slide the shell over it, making sure that the body fills the front part of the shell. Use more filler to seal any openings along the bottom of the shell. Immediately attach the first leg joint. Run the wire through the first leg segment and cement it to the body using filler.
Set the lobster or crab on its back. Run the wires through the leg segments all the way out to the ends. Bend the wires as you do this, using needle nose pliers to form angular, lifelike legs. Compare them to the model.
Place the lobster on the plywood and run the wires through the pre-drilled holes for support. Next you will need some hot-melt glue. This comes in sticks that are pushed through an electrically heated gun which melts them. The liquefied glue solidifies almost instantly but retains some flexibility, which is desirable. Gun and glue are available in most hardware stores for about $13. Squirt some of the melted glue in each leg joint, sealing them and attaching them to the wire at the same time.
Fill the moveable part of the animal’s claw with filler and embed a pre-bent nail or wire. Get some filler inside the claw and cement together. Attach all the wrist joints using two wires or one U-shaped one. Run the wire from the body through the first two segments and cement all the pieces together.
Drill a 1-4 inch hole through the shell into the body where the antennae are attached. For a clawless lobster, embed a piece of wire in the antennae using filler. If you had to cut off a portion of the antennae or if they broke off on their own, make artificial ends. As mentioned before, it is impossible to salvage the real antennae of a New England lobster. Make artificial ones as follows:
Obtain a length of heavy, straight wire. Brass brazing rod from a hardware store is ideal. A coat hanger is OK if you can get it very straight. To make it tape from, say 1-4 inch, to 1-6 inch takes three. Clamp the ends of the wire in two hand drills. Have your friends spin the wire like a lathe while you feed fishline or heavy thread back and forth, winding it in varying thickness around the wire. But be sure to leave the first four inches bare. Take two inches of the bare wire and bend it over, doubling it. You are going to embed this part inside the drilled holes in the lobster’s body and two wires prevent twisting. Some glue will prevent the thread from unraveling. Do not use monofilament – it is hard to glue and paint. Use a braided fishline. After the antennae are cemented in, bend them in a graceful arc.
Get a set of tempera colors. It is recommended you paint your specimen with an airbrush. It is easy to blend colors with it. You do not need a compressor. Airbrushes can be run on cans of freon or with a little enterprise on your part, on a with a little enterprise on your part, on a nearly empty scuba tank. Match the colors to the model. After the tempera colors are dry, spray with a clear, glossy polyurethane or lacquer, obtainable in aerosol cans. You won’t believe what a difference this step makes. You will suddenly see you drab specimen come alive.
You have many choices here. Driftwood is attractive but since you already have the drilled plywood, here is something quick and simple.
Coat the plywood with glue (white, Elmer’s type) and cover with clean, dry sand. No salt must be present. When dry, shake off the loose sand and spray with at least three coats of polyurethane to bind the grains together. Glue on some shells, seaweed or a seastar and you have an artificial seafloor. This is an appropriate base for your specimen. If preserved by this method it will bring you years of enjoyment in addition to a wonderful supper.