Why stabilise your inclusion?
This is a common question i get asked all the time so i thought i would share with anyone who wants to learn how to stabilise wood, insects and porous objects.
If specimens are not 100% dry and stabilised before casting into resin they will very quickly degrade and rot.
A micro amount of uncured insect can trap bacteria that will continue to “eat away” or rot the specimen from the inside out.
What went wrong with this ant casting?
I encased this inch long ant specimen I had collected from a nest marked for council poisoning. This was before learning about correct stabilisation and it is a perfect example of what can go wrong.
Although i thought at the time that many days in the dehydrator would work, i soon found out this was not the case.
The original ant was a red colour. You can see from the photo only a small amount of red is left on the tips of the legs.
You can also see the bubbles that have been pushed out of the porous stone and specimen under pressure whilst curing.
This would not of happened with stabilisation of both the stone and the specimen.
How to fix this problem.
Vacuum stabilising in a vacuum chamber.
Many people use a product called “cactus juice” or cactus juice stabilising resin to stabilise wood. I don’t use this product for insects but this is where i started out.
“Cactus juice” is a resin that has low viscosity and can penetrate into porous objects under vacuum. You can google this for more information. Basically you soak the wood in a container of cactus juice and place it in the chamber. Under vacuum the air is pushed out and resin is impregnated into the piece.
A good trick i found is to open the vacuum release valve tap “on and off” as its building up pressure to help push it into the piece. Depending on the thickness this process of pushing the resin into the piece may have to be repeated multiple times.
After this process the wood is taken out, cured, then ready for the next step of pressure casting into the final piece.
This is a great method for wood and stones but i found that it heats up very hot during cure and will cook most insects.
Over the years i experimented with many resins and now instead of using Cactus juice for the insects i now use a low viscosity long cure river casting resin. And heres why….
Long curing river casting table resin does not heat up enough to cook the insect. It can take 4-5 days or more for cure but the wait is worth it.
After a long learning process i now use this method below for stabilisation of insects.
For live specimens please Google "Humane methods for euthanasia of insects" first.
Sterilise your insect by soaking it in a jar with isopropyl alcohol for half an hour.
Remove from jar then pin the fresh specimen to a small piece of foam matting with insect pins.
This has to be done fresh whilst the specimen is “relaxed”. Use the pins one each side of the legs or body to “hold” it in place not pierce into place.
This method keeps the legs and body undamaged but firmly in the desired position. I will only pierce the specimen once underneath in the thickest part, for example in the back of the abdomen of a large spider to help release moisture.
Place specimen into a dehydrator on lowest setting to slowly dry. Be patient. It takes days sometimes up to a week depending on thickness of the abdomen. The lower the heat the better. If you don’t have a dehydrator this can be done on a sunny window sill in low humidity but the time can take weeks.
In a container i pour some well mixed, long set , low viscosity resin. There are many on the market. I use table river casting resin. I then place the foam upside down floating on top of the resin. The specimen is fully immersed underneath but not touching the bottom or sides of the container. The foam “boat” floats on the surface while the insect is underneath covered in resin.
Place container in a vacuum chamber and bring up to full vacuum. Then release back half way then bring back up again a time or two. I then leave this under full vacuum for about 15 mins to half an hour. I then release all vacuum.
Remove the specimen from the resin and carefully remove the pins. Place the specimen onto a piece of baking paper to cure. The cure will take 4-5 days but i leave mine for a week before pressure casting into the final piece.
Where to source insects for castings.
I do not recommend taking insects from the wild as this can be damaging to natural ecosystems.
The only place i will collect wild specimens is in areas that are marked for council poisoning. Like fire ants nest ect.
You can buy live insects online from many sources. Search terms like “Buy Live Scorpion” to find places near you who sell live insects for study, pets and for zoo animal feed.
Note regarding left over resin.
I stabilise many insects in the one cup of resin.
When i am finished i pour the left over resin into a silicone ice cube tray and leave it to cure.
These cubes can be used to fill up large spaces in other castings and art projects.
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