Flock You, Floral Foam: Foam for Taxidermy

posted 2024 Jun by Allis Markham

When carving forms, we see a lot of ~interesting~ materials. While there are many different materials that you can use to create the sculpture for animal’s form, not all of them are suitable for taxidermy. Some materials cause more aggravation and structural instability than others. The most commonly used material is foam. However, the question of what type of foam often comes up. There is a whole foam / molding & casting industry out there — which can be a daunting research task when you are first starting out.


Floral foam for floral arrangements

 An example of floral foam, which is perfect for floral arrangement, but NOT skin arrangements.  


The worst type of foam you can use is floral foam. It is cheap and widely available, but doesn't work for form creation purposes. If you have ever used floral foam for flower arrangements, you may have noticed that due to how porous and therefore ‘crumbly’ the foam is. It fails to support heavy materials and deteriorates over time. For long-term preservation of a taxidermy specimen, you need materials that will last for several decades and even outlast us.

Floral foam is a lightweight, porous and will crumble over time, especially if used with stronger materials like metal armatures, which is present in all taxidermy specimens. If you’ve ever run a wire through this kind of foam and tried to pose the specimen, you may know the pain of realizing the foam has crumbled against the wire and made it too loose to hold up your taxidermy.

Styrofoam is also not a suitable material**. Styrofoam is composed of small spherical cells condensed into firm blocks or shapes. This has the opposite problem of floral foam being too porous. Instead, the individual cells are too dense to penetrate so the wires go between the cells. This also creates too much give between the wire and the foam making it loose. And, impossible to carve small details.

**I have used styrofoam for large-scale sculptures for the Bellagio, but always had a welded inside-armature actually supporting itself and the outside was coated with an extremely hard layer of resin, thus two levels of support other than the foam itself. 

The main type of foam we suggest is polyurethane foam. Polyurethane foam has been a staple in the taxidermy community for several decades and is known for its longevity and strength. Polyurethane foam sculptures allows for the smooth, complex anatomical shapes animals have without the risk of crumbling beneath the skin. This foam comes in variable densities depending on what you might need. Due to the density of polyurethane foam, the anatomy will be upheld since the frame underneath the skin is not shifting or breaking down - the entirety of the piece will remain stable and intact. Polyurethane is commonly used in the household as insulation foam, which makes it easily accessible for taxidermy purposes. 

Commercial taxidermy forms, which are predominately made of a rigid polyurethane foam, are an excellent starting point for beginners. Taxidermy supply companies have extensive mold libraries of original sculptures by anatomical artists, which allow them to pour a liquid two-part foam mixture that expands within the mold. Using commercial forms is a fantastic place to start in your taxidermy journey since the material itself is solid, durable, and gives you a great place to start in terms of the anatomical elements of the individual species you are working on. Since the forms themselves are made of polyurethane, they are easy to alter and modify to fit your specific specimen. Head turns, sizing, and general pose changes are easily achievable by using a liquid two-part foam to change and adhere the form into a perfect fit.


Plaster and polyurethane foam death mask to custom polyurethane taxidermy head
A polyurethane custom head mold of a cat made from a death mask.


We always keep big rigid foam kits in our studio. Our favorite local company is Silpak, which is located in Burbank, California. If you are outside of California, you can locate a rigid polyurethane foam kit from Smooth-On, which has an extensive list of available Smooth-On suppliers near you. Liquid foam kits is great to have on hand if you are carving your own forms, creating custom heads from death masks, or making modifications to existing commercial forms. I recommend using between 4 lb and 12 lb, depending on the project. The lower the pound, the less dense the foam. For habitat or larger pieces, use a less dense foam. For very tiny birds, I use 12 lb. Once the foam has "kicked", or hardened and cooled, the foam can be cut down and shaved into any shape. 

 Polyurethane foam carving of a baby young harbor seal
Custom harbor seal pup created entirely out of the rigid two-part polyurethane foam.


If you have been to the Prey studio, you may have noticed our stock of purple foam boards, which we use as temporary bases or the starting structure of our custom made taxidermy forms. These boards are a cheap way to get a general structure and sculpture started. There ares similar insulation boards available across the world that allow artists a good jumping off point for hand-carving larger mammals. You can use a liquid kit to glue several pieces of the foam board together for a larger mammal.

As a complete alternative to foam, you can always wrap a body. Using wood wool and thread, there are plenty of mammal and bird bodies that you can create. Creating foam bodies is a reductive sculpture, whereas wrapping is an additive sculpture, since you are building the form rather than carving from a block (more on wrapping bodies in an upcoming blog post!). 

Safety note: When working with polyurethane foam, always make sure that you are following safety precautions, including wearing long sleeves and pants, masks, and protective eyewear. The dust generated from shaving can be dangerous and can be a skin irritant. While small quantities of cured foam may not require a mask, we recommend following PPE guidelines when working with larger quantities or cured foam or mixing the two-part liquid. Don't believe us? Ask the experts:

About Polyurethane Foam

Cured Foam Safety Sheet 


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