Casting footprints is not as easy as one might think, and it takes time.
Preparation can make casting a smoother process. Here is a list of things we recommend, but you are NOT limited by this - here are some things to carry in your vehicle when your out looking for evidence.
There are many ideas on this subject but there are some consistencies on what most of us recommend.
1. A 5 Gallon Plastic bucket
2. Latex gloves
3. 1 - 5 Gallon Water Jug (You can buy one at local grocer for $6.00)
4. Quik Roc or Ultracal 30 (Home Depot or Lowes)
5. Container to keep unused plaster in and dispense from
6. Scoop for plaster
7. Knife, I use a buck knife, works very well
8. Trash bags
9. Hand towel
10. Cardboard box
11. Newspaper or bubble wrap
12. Tape measure
Before you start – Take as many photos as you can and try to take some different angle shots with lighting, use a white tshirt if you have one to help bounce light on the print, but try to get as much contrast to the detail as possible. Also don’t forget to lay something of reference to next to track, ideally a tape measure or something commonly tangible is best. A shoe print while good isn’t tangible unless we have the shoe so if you have something commonly found try to use it. (A Soda can for example is something easily someone can compare size against.)
Casting footprints is time consuming and messy, and before you start casting, you'll want to thoroughly photo document all the footprints. After photo documenting tracks, choose the ones you wish to cast. It will take normally one 5 pound box of plaster "per footprint" (Sasquatch). Plaster can be obtained from most hardware stores (Lowes, Home Depot, etc.).
Before starting with Sasquatch footprints, practice on animal and human footprints; begin with your dog or cat's footprints. Practicing will enable you to perfect your skills at casting before casting the important ones and help prevent mistakes that could cost you that important print.
When you are ready, take your plastic bucket, and pour in the contents of one 5 pound box of plaster. Wear latex gloves as it works best to mix the plaster with your hands, removing as many dry lumps as possible. The plaster dries your hands, the gloves help prevent this. Also, clean up is much easier. You will want the plaster to be the consistency of pancake mix after adding water. Add water slowly so as not to make the plaster too runny. Thick is good, but it should be liquid enough to be able to pour it quickly and easily. After practicing this for a while, you will get the hang of what thickness works best. When you get the thickness you want you're ready to pour. Be careful not to wait too long while mixing as the plaster begins to set up (harden) as soon as water is added to it. Pour slowly and lightly use your hand to push the plaster to fill in all parts of the footprint.
Repeat this with all footprints you want to cast. You may have to clean your bucket depending on how many tracks you are casting, you will be able to tell as you go along. After the plaster is poured, you may have up to two hours to wait for it to be dry enough to remove from the ground. Once in a while, after the surface of the plaster feels dry and hard, tap it gently. It will feel hard enough eventually. This is where the knife comes in. You will have to dig around the cast; do not try to just pull it from the ground because it will break apart. Dig around it entirely and as far under it as you can, then lift it gently out when it’s loose enough. The plaster will still take up to a week to dry enough to handle it and clean it. You can brush some of the larger pieces of soil off the cast, but it's best to give it time to dry; you'll have plenty of time later to clean it properly. Wrap it in newspaper and gently place it in a cardboard box for transport. When cleaning casts, a dental pick with a rubber tip and a toothbrush with soft bristles helps with cleaning the small cracks. Don’t try to clean it fast or all at once. Take your time and you will end up with very nice footprint castings. Best Materials for Making Casts of Tracks "Ultracal 30" is one of the best materials for making casts of tracks. It's manufactured by U.S. Gypsum. You can find it in building supply stores that sell plaster supplies to building contractors.? "Ultracal 30" sets in 30 minutes.This casting plaster has almost no expansion or contraction when it sets. The cost is about $20.00 for a 100 lb bag.
Dental Stone is even better than Ultracal, as it is stronger, and shows greater detail than Ultracal. It is also, however, more expensive at around $30.00 for 25 lb bag. But it is often easier to find if the town is large enough to have a medical/dental supply store If it can be found, Quik Roc is an excellent casting material alternative. It is strong and durable, and relatively cheap at $25.00 for 50 lbs. Its best feature is that it dries in under 10 minutes. It can be found at some building supply stores. Another good choice is Hydrocal Gypsum Cement. If at all possible, don't use Plaster of Paris. Plaster crumbles too easily, so plaster should be your last choice.
Once set and when removing the cast don't worry if you are picking up dirt/debris initially just let them set up - you can always wipe the clutter away the next day at home.
Happy Casting - Chuck & Paul
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