To all the people who have an interest in the dead who have ever been improperly lumped in with Dahmer, this ones for you. Please know that I love nature and science and my association with death is not disturbing or morbid. If you are not comfortable with death, decide now or don't proceed. Always practice proper hygiene when working with the dead.
If you are genuinely interested in skulls but need some basic knowledge, I recommend buying this book. A Key- Guide To Mammal Skulls and Lower Jaws is an excellent book that will inform you about skulls and identifying them.
Step 1: Materials
A jar (or other receptacle that is relative to the size of your skull)
A good razor blade
Gloves (or in my case, plastic bags)
Your specimen (duh!)
Face mask (optional but useful)
Crazy glue (if you plan on fixing your skull in a position)
Step 2: Acquiring A Specimen
You can find dead animals if you really look hard. PLEASE, DO NOT GO OUT AND KILL AN ANIMAL FOR THIS PROJECT. Road kill or naturally caused deaths work just as well. As long as the head is not damaged, any specimen will do. I first did this with a dead house rat I found. This time, I found a semi-fresh opossum. I think this is a much better specimen to work with.
Step 3: Preparing The SpecimenIf your new found critter is recently deceased, you'll have to endure more. If you find a nice piece of dry not-so-beef beef jerky, that's even better. It'll be like tearing into an old piece of leather. If it isn't dry, you can do the procedure as is or let it sit in the bushes for a few weeks. Intense heat and insect feeding will dry your creature to perfection.
Step 4: Dismembering
My specimen has a body. So, I'm going to have to decapitate it. An axe or any straight edge will do. REMEMBER: The thicker the spine, the harder the chop. Break away from the point of intersection. Leave some vertebrae so you have something to work with. After separating the head from the body, return the unused parts to the earth. Find a bush or some other natural area and leave it there.
Step 5: Pre-SurgeryAfter dismembering, I decided to leave the head under a tree. A specimen that is too fresh is difficult to dissect and contains marrow which will end up rotting. If you have dermestid beetles, you can be in control of this part of the process. Otherwise, you'll have to wait. Also, a dryer specimen means you reduce the risk of damaging or breaking bones during dissection. When bones are fresh and marrow-filled, they are very rubbery and can break easily. If your specimen is dried correctly, the bones should be dry but strong.
Step 6: The StrippingAfter your skull has been dried, make careful incisions along the top of the skull. Start from the nose and slowly slice back to the end of the skull. Split the lower mandible down the middle. After slicing, the flesh should provide you with vulnerable areas. Take your time and stay focused. This procedure can be long but it's well worth the effort.
Step 7: Cleaning
Take all your bones and put them in your container. If there is still grease on them, fill the container with water and dish washing soap and let the bones sit. Agitate lightly. After the soap, run each bone under water. Your skull may still exhibit a dirty or yellowed appearance.
If your skull contains unreachable tissue, just let your bones sit in indirect sunlight. This should dry them and the insects and bacteria will do the dirty work.
Step 8: Whitening
By now, your bones should be dry and yellow. Take your container and fill it with hydrogen peroxide. A small amount of dishwasher soap doesn't hurt. Use just enough to cover the bones. They can stay in the peroxide without running the risk of damaging. You can also use a teaspoon of bleach and then dilute your mixture with water.
Step 9: Some Assembly Required
The first piece to be completed might be the lower mandible. Behind each tooth, put a dab of crazy glue. Don't use too much. Crazy glue whitens very conspicuously. Secure the teeth in place and glue both halves together.
Step 10: Preparing The SkullAfter your skull has sat in peroxide for a bit, it should be white and mostly tissue-free. Remove it from the jar very gently and place it on a paper towel. Let it dry for an evening. Once it has dried, use crazy glue to secure any loose pieces. Be diligent. You don't want your skull falling apart.
Step 11: Putting It Together
After reinforcing your pieces, you can place the mandibles and skull on top of each other. If you want to fix your skull in a position, use crazy glue. However, make sure that everything is properly aligned before applying the glue. There's nothing worse than a crooked skull. If you've done everything correctly, you should have a beautiful discussion piece.