I received a hand tracing from a self amputee for the first time in 1994 when a pen-pal from Kentucky who I had met through Ken Schein’s Unique included it in one of our correspondences. I had photographed several amputees by that point and was aquatinted with several others through mail exchanges but I had never thought to ask for a tracing of their altered anatomy.
My friend, it turned out, had been making hand tracings to swap with other amputees and admirers and with that in mind, I began asking my other amputee friend to document their modifications via tracings, including my friend Roger (Stonehenge, Toecutter, Subtracting) who sent me his in December of 1997.
No doubt influenced by the popularity of RE/Search Publications classic Modern Primitives, the publishing group responsible for the Outlaw Biker family of magazines released IN THE FLESH in the early 1990s, covering body modifications that fell outside of the spectrum of ‘just tattoos and piercings’. Unable to show the kind of explicit content allowable in independent publishing, In the Flesh was at best PG-13 rated so when they first exposed the world to ‘Stonehenge’- they relied on tracings and text to share the story of one of the most interesting characters I’ve met in my years in the Body Modification Community.
Stonehenge (who’s photos would make their debut on my spcOnline site under the name ToeCutter, and later Subtracting) used amputation as eccentric body sculpting; cutting his fingers and toes off at alternating joints to reshape his hands/feet as well as self tooth removal to make his smile ‘look like a jack o’ lantern’.
Most of these procedures were done without the aid of anesthetic; in the documentary with him shot/edited by Shannon Larratt of BME he walks the viewer through his technique which includes a tourniquet, ice water soaks, a chisel and eating liberal amounts of yogurt before the procedure. He didn’t use suturing after a ‘subtraction’ instead favoring using prescription pill bottles to protect the wounds.
In this photograph, taken in the early 2000s at the NYC Tattoo Convention at the Roseland Ballroom, Stonehenge/Toecutter/Subtracting was showing me the small piece of bone sticking out of the end of his most recent amputation, which he planned to remove with ‘dental tools’ he purchased at a flea market.
In the Flesh magazine went through two different launches but never had the longevity of it’s (significantly inferior) main competition Tattoo Savage 1 My copies are missing.
I’ve been unable to reach Toe for several years and all attempts to locate him have been unsuccessful.
- Published under the Easy Riders imprint through Paisano Publications; still in print. ↩
This article originally ran in 2000 on the spcOnline site and is being republished for archival purposes. It should not be considered a how-to.
At a very early age, I found myself thinking about what would it be to have a finger missing, and I use to tie my fingers back and even at the time glue them down.
When I turned 16, I could no longer do that cause I had a job and did not have the time to play with my hands, so I decided that I would go for the real thing. So one evening as I was helping my manager close the store where I worked at, I closed the gate on my index finger and it just came right off, very little blood until I saw my hand then the blood began to really come out. Well, that night I became a finger amputee, and the feeling was, this is right. I knew then that my desirers were not false, these were true feelings, this is the way I am supposed to be. My family just saw it as an accident, and that was fine they were upset and I had to play the roll.
A few years later, I still wanted more but I wanted to do my own, in a controlled situation, where I knew how long, how much bone to clip how to stitch so on and so on. So I did some homework and at the age of 22 I did my middle, ring and thumb.
I know that to some this is not what is call NORMAL, But this to me is as right as anything anybody would want. Some people want Large Breasts, Some Men Want to be Women, Some Women Want to be Men, and there is nothing wrong with that. Why? Cause from birth this is the way they feel and this feels right. And so is this for me. Unfortunately you can’t go to a hospital and say I would like to have these 2 fingers taken off and get it done. So I do them my self. But there is a safe way of doing it and you really need to find out how it is done with as little loss of blood as possible and I do recommend that if you are going to do something like this, make sure you are ready.
The right tools.
1. Need to have all the right tools.
2. Everything should be sterilized
3. Practice on something other than your self. or someone else.
4. Numbing the finger would be best. there are many ways, choose what you feel is right for you.
5. Get sutures to close the wound to avoid infection.
6. If possible in case anything goes wrong, make sure you know where the nearest hospital is, and then have a good plan for what has happened cause you will get arrested or even put into the LOONY bin, and we know that we are not crazy.
7. Most important, if in any way you can, please, please, please make sure you have ANTIBIOTICS because if you should get an infection, how will you explain the missing finger or fingers and the stitches.
But most of all if all, what you really wanted was a finger or two gone and you get an infection you could wind up with an arm amputation, and it may not be what you had in mind.
Like anything in life look before you leap, I know of several whom have amputated a finger then after it was done, THEY WISHED THEY NEVER DID.
So be sure cause to tell you the truth, they don’t grow back.
To: ****@***.com (shawn porter)
From: ***********@*****.com (RK)
Subject: thumb and big toe amputation. October 1997
Recently I heard of a fellow who decided to amputate his big toe. There have always been warnings. There is an artery there. You could end up in the emergency room of the hospital. It will affect your balance. You will join the school of funny walks from the Monty Python Flying Circus. Don’t do it!!! BE CAREFUL!!!!
Curiosity killed the cat and Satisfaction brought him/her back. Well, when one experiments with amputating a big toe or thumb, there is little room for experimentation OR if you are alone you could get in big trouble! I heard that fellow one did not end up in the ER and fellow two did. Fellow three ended up in the ER without even amputating a thumb or big toe. He only did a regular finger.
What is the problem. Foolhardy me- I decided to go the route and do my own experiment. My only minor goof was that I did not have the number of a car service in case I got into trouble. WHAT IS THE TROUBLE??? Excessive arterial blood that is probably the major problem. I was a boy scout and their motto is be prepared so that is what I did- I got prepared, at least that is what I was TRYING to do.
How can one cut off a portion of big toe and not bleed to death?? Here is a list of my preparations and what I was going to do:
The farther out on the thumb or big toe one amputates, the smaller the arteries get so I decided to only amputate to the first joint. The further back you go the bigger the artery. By allowing for that short stump I was allowing room for my next secret weapon of caution and preparedness. In case there really would be excessive bleeding I decided to have light rubber tourniquettes. I placed a wide rubber band on my thigh, two narror rubber bands (postal size) on the intep arch, and a wide rubber band on my two middle two stumps and the big toe back of the first joint.
I got all my bandages, and tools ready, and ate my yogurt 30 minutes before operation. I took my two pain killing pills 30 minutes before operation. I got a bucket of Ice Water ready, because I numb the big toe. Of course I scrubbed and used alcohol on me and my tools.
The moment of decision came, and I started to numb the big toe. It took longer than the smaller toes. Finally, I positioned my 25mm chisel, and hammer and discovered that I could have used a wider chisel, which I didn’t have. Thunk, thunk, thunk, it took a couple more but I did go through with it, but it did take gathering up some courage, after all, I have never dealt with an artery. Would all my preparations work??
At a certain point of going through with the chisel was a spray of blood a little like a little water pistol. Immediately after going through and lifting my foot and noticing that my big toe was now seperated, I started pressure with 75mmx75mm bandages. If I would have not used the rubber tourniquettes, I might have excessive bleeding, but I didn’t. The blood was about the same as my other toes. Eventually I rested, although I did not sleep well. There was more shock than other toes.
The next morning I went to work and while at work, after 12 hours since the amputation, I noticed that after all my bandage changing, the bleeding had stopped. I hardly limped when I came home from work. It will probably take 4 weeks to stop completely limping and 8 weeks to heal over the scab. It may take even longer due to the larger size of the big toe. Would I do the other big toe?? I probably would because I know that the bleeding can be controlled. I had been walking up to one mile, (1-1/2 km) not using the ball of the big toe and I don’t think I will be limping, but my gait will lose it’s spring.
In order to control the bleeding, I stopped taking aspirin and other anti-inflamatory medicines which thin the blood. I eat a lot of beets, tomatoes, and drink grape juice to aid the blood, so I did quickly coagulate.
If any of you have further questions, feel free to email me and I will answer any questions you have. Right now I just have three stumps on my left foot and the big toe and 3 stumps on the right foot.
Yours in more and better stumps,
This article ran in 1997 on the spcOnline site. Toecutter’s emails were always presented as-is, with the grammar/spelling errors intact. In 1998 he allowed BME’s Shannon Larratt to visit his NYC apartment and document a self-done fingertip amputation procedure. The video is wonderfully surreal, a perfect video portrait of Toecutter.
I ran into my buddy Roger- AKA The Toecutter AKA Subtracting at the 2001 NYC Tattoo Convention at the Roseland Ballroom and snapped some updated pictures of his feet. One of the most common bits of ‘wisdom’ that always seemed to circulate around toe amputation was that if you were missing enough toes you wouldn’t be able to maintain balance and that walking would nearly impossible. Roger, wearing nylons that day, decided to take his shoes off and jump up and down and spin around to prove his nimbleness.
The last time we spoke he mentioned he was going to remove the last remaining (big) toe; unfortunately I’ve lost touch with him (with all of his known email addresses bouncing back) so I don’t know if he ever ‘finished the set’.
In the mid/late 1990s, IN THE FLESH magazine (issue number needed; I can’t find them in my archives) ran a story on a voluntary amputee calling himself Stonehenge.They chose not to run photographs of his modification; instead they published tracings of his feet.
I was contacted by Stonehenge throughout he SPCOnline email account asking if I’d like to run the pictures that In the Flesh had been too cautious to print. I’m unsure of the date- it was approximately 1996/7.
I corresponded with Stonehenge- who was then calling himself ToeCutter (and eventually Subtracting) quite a bit before eventually meeting him in 1999 at ModCon1 in Toronto. I found him to be an eccentric fellow; someone who’s personality was so larger than life that his amputations (which have since moved on to his hands) weren’t the most dynamic thing about him.
Subtracting consented to a filmed interview with BME’s Shannon Larratt during which he amputated a fingertip.
His Apotemnophilia (Amputation fetish) presented as part of a bigger artistic statement- he cut fingers and toes off at different joints to create an asymmetrical aesthetic making it about much more than just becoming an amputee.
The last working email address I have for him bounces back, so if anyone has current contact information, please get in touch.
His first contribution to the SPCOnline site included a ‘self interview’ which is reposted below.
“I get asked questions by a lot of people who are really interest in why I got involved with foot sculpture and how I did it and what are the consequences, so here goes:”
Why did you cut off and change the lengths of most of your toes?
First, I was intrigued with the question, “does it hurt?” My answer would be no except when you amputate right up against the body of the foot; not when you do the actual amputation, but only as it heals. Second, I wanted to change the length of the various toes, with the idea of showing off one more body modification. A bit extreme, I will admit, but the look is quite jarring for a stranger.
When you amputate even the first toe, does this affect your balance?
I would say, that after maybe two toes, I could sometimes feel that when my toes get a message from my inner ears to correct balance, I might lurch or have to do a further correction.
What about the flow of blood? Did you end up in the ER?
When I am going to amputate a toe, I must have all my equipment ready and as sterile as possible. That includes pre-cut gauze bandages so that I can apply direct-pressure for 30 minutes to one hour. The big toes and thumbs have larger blood vessels than the other toes and fingers. These are smaller arteries, and one does not staunch the flow of blood with just gauze bandages. The further back to the foot you go, the more the blood you get. When I did amputate a big toe, I used small rubber tourniquettes and I found that the blood flow was controlled with the combination of tourniquettes and direct pressure. If one goes too far back, one could be unable to staunch the flow and end up in the ER. I did not though. There was more pain and this continued off and on for four weeks, especially at night.
You have now done nine toes or portions of them, can you go further with your feet?
I like the look of my feet now, but I may amputate the nail portion of my last remaining big toe.
Are you thinking about amputating your fingers or portions of them?
This would be a major decision, due to my work and family. My daughter does not know I have amputated my toes. She might want to take a look at my feet if I amputated a thumb nail. This is a major decision.
You have amputated just fingers and toes – – have you thought about amputating an arm or leg.
This is major and I do not like the idea of having to get up to put an artificial limb on in the morning.
Have you met or contacted other people who are involved with do-it-yourself amputation, or wannabes who are searching for a doctor to the amputation for them.
There are people I have been in contact with on the internet. There is a want-2-be news group, and aside from people who want to lose an arm or leg, there are also people in these groups who have already had legs amputated. There are two men who have had the operations. I have heard of several women, who had legs amputated, but they are not Americans. There are also women who are looking for male amputees, they are called “devotees.”
What other body modifications have you run into?
There are people who want to modify their genitals in such ways as castration, multiple piercing, nullification (amputating the penis), splitting the head of the penis. There are people who want to become paraplegics, and of course, all kinds of amputations.
Are there any other body modifications you wish to mention?
In Indonesia, apparently, the teen-agers are stretching their ear lobes and putting plastic bottle caps in their ears. I’ve been doing that here in the USA before I ever heard that they were doing it.