|Regalia - Tanning & Hide Preperation|
|Home Page | About The O.A. | About The Dance Team | Schedule | Contact The Team | O.A. Photos | Dancer's Photos | Dance Photos | Favorite Links | Dance Styles | Regalia | How To - Drum Care | How To - Beadwork | How To - Hide Preperation | Guest Book Page | Photo6 Page | Photo5 Page|
PREPARING AND PRESERVING YOUR DEER HIDE, TOES AND TAILS.
TANNING THE INFIRM WAY
Greetings from Sundog Traders in central Montana, to all of you experienced tanners, as well as to all others who are interested in learning a simplified brain tanning process I believe to be the most efficient.
I will present to you, a method of brain tanning which I have settled upon after many years of brain tanning evolution. I will instruct you in methods which I use now, after using other methods which were, and continue to be, more labor- intensive and expensive.
This system has been, through experimentation, chosen and used by many tanners ( many that have various physical ailments) who required a method that demands little in the way of physical strength and stamina, hence the title of my book.
My brain tanning experience started in 1985 when I was traveling extensively by horseback in the mountains of northern and central Idaho. Due to my life of wandering the trails therein, I found myself without access to cloth or store bought clothing. At that time I was wearing a set of "skins" I had constructed from chemical tanned leather, like the sort of leather one would purchase at a Tandy Leather Shop or any commercial tannery. I found them to be absolutely the pits! What I mean by that is, I was either hot and sweaty or cold and damp. And Ooooooh MISERY ....... those long horse rides in the sun were sweltering ! Talk about unfriendly body rashes ! Because of my extreme discomfort (and after hearing how much more comfortable the old Indian style brain tanned hides are because of their ability to breathe and wick away body moisture in the summer and it's insulating quality during damp and cold weather), I began my quest to learn as much about brain tanning as possible with the intention of giving the process a try.
In my attempt to educate myself in the best known tanning procedure, I purchased the usual assortment of how-to books, invested time visiting various tanners and spent many attentive hours talking with the experts, who, if I were lucky, would throw me small tid-bits about the "big well- kept secrets" concerning their methods. Looking back, I now realize that there are experts and then there are "experts". A lot of misinformation came my way which, in turn, caused many years of tanning "the difficult way." For instance, my many long years of laborious trial and error period consisted of experimenting with all sorts of tools of various stages of sharpness, dry scraping, all sorts of beams for laying the hide on when scraping it, brains rubbed in with various rocks and tools, brains in the raw stage to brains well cooked, brains smashed through screens, frames for stretching the hide as opposed to none, smoking hides sewn into tubes over fires and tubes over woodstove pipes in large boxes. At one point I discussed the chemical reaction of the process with a bio-chemist who told me about the enzymes in the brains that break down the hide-glues. Upon reading in my wood stove manual, which stated that smoke contained pyro-lignious and acetic acids I theorized that these acids enhanced the enzymatic reaction of the brain solution thus allowing me to use less effort to achieve a nice hide consistently.
Later, through research, I began to discover in historical books, ancient brain tanning methods of various people, both Native American as well as others who currently use the same method as I now use, that of smoking their hides before they brain them. This seems to be the big secret that I had heard so many rumors about!
I have settled on this method because it is far easier and successful to use. I also find I can easily and consistently turn out good quality hides with the least amount of time and effort. The goal of any tanner!
Since starting the use of this method, my hides have improved in quality and the time spent on each hide has been cut almost in half! I can now produce quality hides in quantity. I have since become a "tenured" tanner, now often selling my hides to some of the authors of "How To" books I purchased years ago. Another dream of small brain tanning businesses!
I find that I can ask a good price for my hides and because of the obvious quality I produce, people are willing to pay my asking price.
I have traveled to different states and taught seminars on the method I use. More often than not my students turn out good hides on their first attempt and I find that the experienced tanner, as well as my first-time tanners, are amazed at the simplicity and ease of the method I teach. I have students who after learning this method, have soon gone on to successfully operate their own brain tanning business. Often times I am asked to do hides for museums or for people who make articles for museum acquisition. Unlike some tanners who do tanning for a hobby, or only tan several hides a year, tanning is my livelihood. I tan all year long. Because of the simplicity of my method, I have, out of necessity, done up to eight hides in one week and regularly do two hundred and fifty hides or more in a year.
I have been told by experienced hide buyers, ones who purchase my hides for re-sale through their own businesses, that they consider my hides to be among the best around. The pre-smoke method made all the difference in the world in my hide quality and quantity as it will in yours.
My sincere desire is to bring this method out of secrecy, out of the history books and the protected tribal traditions and help demonstrate to interested students, what people have known for centuries, just how easy tanning can be. Eliminating all the unpleasant odors of rotting brain solutions and unnecessary labor. And let¹s not forget those nasty blood infections!
So let me start at the top and present to you, what it is that you need to make good quality brain tanned leather. Each step will have a number that will be referred to at the end of this book when doing other types of hides.
By looking around your home you might find you already have some of the tools listed below. I have always said that the average novice tanner can get started in the process of tanning, for as little as . Talk about a low start up cost! Often times the necessary tools can be purchased at a second-hand shop. You might decide to purchase all new tools. Good tools that do not break and work as intended are always desirable. For tanning hides I suggest you need the following items:
Sharpening File or stone
Awl with three sides
Pot for wood
Barrels for Soaking
Rocks for weighing down hides in barrels
Just about any knife will do. I suggest you use a knife with a locking blade to prevent the blade from folding over onto your fingers. A fixed blade knife is also ideal. When skinning the deer you will want to keep the knife blade sharp. If the knife is sharp it cuts better and makes your job of skinning much easier than if you are using a dull knife. Keep in mind that it will also cut your own skin easier so please be careful. Knife cuts on yourself should be immediately cleansed due to the high possibility of infection. Always clean your knife thoroughly after use.
I prefer to use a file to keep my knife sharp. It puts a sharp edge on a blade quickly. A small flat file works well. Some people prefer to use a stone which is fine too. However you must know how to use a stone properly in order to have your knife hold an edge.
The type of draw knife I use is the type also used for taking the bark off of trees. I prefer a draw knife, whose handles turn down at a 90 degree angle. With this type of scraper, my wrists and arms remain in a comfortable position with little stress on the upper side of the hand, the wrist and forearm. I find that if I use a drawknife whose handles curve slightly downward I get cramps in my hands and forearms. I prefer a drawknife that has a bit of weight to it and is made well. The drawknife that I currently use was purchased from Lehman's hardware store in Kidron, Ohio and is called the Logger's Drawknife. Mine is the one of larger size.
The awl is used to punch holes in the hide. An awl is made of metal, has a three sided point and slices through the hide as opposed to a leather punch or nail which merely pokes a hole. Holes poked with a leather punch or round nail will make a hole that will stretch apart. You can keep your awl sharp with a file like the one used for sharpening your knife. Be sure to take care to sharpen the awl on the three flat sides and not round down the flat sides. An awl can be purchased at a leather crafts store or one can be made by filing a medium size nail into a three sided point and wrapping the flat end with tape for more comfort. Or if you are, or know a craftsman, a portion of an antler can be placed over the end opposite the point to make the use of the awl more comfortable.
You will need two types of needles. When the hide is wet and I am sewing up the holes, I use a glovers needle. You will notice that a glovers needle, like the awl mentioned above, has a three sided point. These needles come in various sizes. I prefer #11 or #12 sizes. They slide through the hide easier than the larger ones and easier than regular needles. These types of needles can be purchased at a leather or crafts store. With these needles I use a strong thread such as button hole twist or thread for hand made for sewing and quilting. The thread needs to be strong enough to hold up to rubbing and pulling of the hide during the breaking out process. When the hide is finished, I use a regular needle of small size and fine thread of a color similar to the finished, smoked color of the hide to sew any holes closed. Often times thread that has sat in stores for years is dry rotted and will easily break. I suggest you purchase thread from a popular crafts or fabric store who will have a quick inventory turnover. Always buy plenty of needles as they are often lost and sometimes broken.
I use a metal strapping band to soften and break the hide over. This is the same type of metal banding that is used to secure large boxes and wooden crates for shipping. It can be obtained at appliance stores or lumber yards, usually for free.
The log beam I use is supported on one end at waist level by two by fours and butted up against a tree on the other end to prevent a backward movement.
Mounted on top of the log beam is a broom stick that I slide the PVC pipe onto. The end of the broomstick is even with the end of the log beam. It is secured to the beam in two places, one at the furthest end away from you, and the other is located 18" from the end of the beam and stick. It can be secured with screws or fence staples. It is necessary to secure the broomstick in two places so there is no side to side movement of the stick when you are scraping. There is also a modification to this beam that made it even more simple. Please look at the diagram for an explanation
The PVC pipe is in 18" lengths and range from 2" in diameter to 8" in diameter. Make sure that the pipes are of thickness to avoid fatigue cracks and to ensure that they will not bend when scraping hides on them. Schedule 80 pipe works for me. The pipe provides a smooth surface on which to scrape the hide. Often times when a log beam alone is used, the log becomes nicked and rough. Not to mention the check cracks a log will get as it dries. The result of using a rough scraping surface is nicks and holes in the hide. Different size pipes are used to create various widths of surface. If you are scraping an elk or moose, and the hide is thick and difficult to scrape, you will want to use a small diameter pipe. The surface you will scrape will be smaller and thus more pressure can be applied. If you are scraping an easier thin hide such as a white tail, you will want to use a larger pipe so the surface your scraping will be larger and thus will proceed quicker.
The pipe is easily changed and replaced if need be.
The smoker can be easily and inexpensively made with four and a half sheets of plywood and several two by fours. The roof should be flat and inclined to the rear so as to shed moisture if need be. Support wires should be strung back and forth across inside near the ceiling. They should be several inches apart. The hides can be hung close together but should not be touching. If the hides are touching during the smoking process the areas that are together will not absorb the smoke. To hang the hides onto the support wire, in a manner that makes the putting on and taking off of the hides fast and easy, I use what are known as Hog Rings. They can be purchased at or ordered through a hardware store.
On the ground in your smoker you will need a metal pot with some sort of a lid or cover. The pot is to put your punky wood or well rotted wood in. The lid is to limit the amount of oxygen available to the burning wood and also to prevent flare-ups, which sometimes occur, from burning the hides. It is also a good idea to insulate the heat from the bottom of the pot from the ground. Turf underneath the pipe has been known to catch fire. A piece of asbestos can be obtained from a woodstove supply store, or you can simply dig a hole in the location where your pot will sit and fill the hole with sand. This works just as well. Be sure that there are no rotten roots in direct contact with your buried pot or hole as this may cause a "creeper" to start and cause a fire to surface at some distance from your smoker. This actually happened to me and caused 4 acres to be burned before the fire was put out.
Punky Wood is used to make the smoke which best colors the hide. There are many types of wood used to obtain different shades from a light tan to dark brown to green. I found that green wood can also be used, but the temperature must be kept higher in the pot to keep the coals from going out and this, in turn, may cause the moisture in the box to become a high enough temperature to effectively cook your hide.
The brains used to tan the hide, were once many years ago and often times even now, obtained from the animal which the hide came from. I do hundreds of hides a year and it is not possible to use the brains from the individual animal so I purchase the brains I use from meat packing plants via my local grocery store. I purchase the brains in bulk. There are pork and beef brains available. I prefer the beef brains. They come in convenient one pound packages.
Rubber gloves should be used if you have any abrasions on your hands. Hides that have been soaking contain vast amounts of bacteria which can quickly cause blood poisoning once they enter through the skin. If you are scraping in cool or cold weather, glove liners can be worn under the rubber gloves. One trades off lack of feel for the hide for comfort.
Protective clothing may be desired. A rubberized butcher's apron works well to protect the upper and lower front of the body. High top rubber boots protect the feet. It is a good idea to rinse them off after use. Some hides you will receive have been salted and the salt is bad for the rubber.
I use plastic garbage pails for my soaking barrels. For the initial soaking to remove hair, I soak the hides in a 55 gallon garbage pail. To ensure the hides stay completely submerged I weigh them down with a large rock, making sure all the hide is under the water. For soaking the hides while braining them I soak them in a 10 gallon plastic kitchen garbage pail. I prefer plastic because they stay flexible in cold weather, they are easy to clean, will not rust and they are inexpensive. Good Luck and Enjoy!
Chapter One: Choosing The Best Hides
In the quest for success in brain tanning hides, the first and most important step is choosing hides that will contribute to a well tanned, soft finished product. I have known many first time tanners, who began their project with hides which are too thick, too large or are of inferior quality, which resulted in failure and discouragement for the novice tanner. This usually keeps the novice from attempting the tanning process again. In this chapter I will give you instructions which will enable you to choose the right hides which will increase your likelihood for success.
There are many different hides used throughout the world for tanning. I will concentrate only on hides most commonly used here in North America, and ones I prefer to use myself; elk, deer, and antelope. In nearly all species, the male has the thickest hides, followed by the female and then the youngest having the thinnest hides. Summer killed animal hides tend to be much thinner than winter killed animal hides. If you do not know when the hide was taken, you can usually tell by the type and color of hair and by the size of the blood vessels. The longer and thicker hair, and larger blood vessels suggest a winter kill.
Elk, which are mostly located in the Western United States, have a very thick hide. Moose, which are found in the northern states, also have very thick hides and tend to be more fibrous than elk. The mule deer, which are found in the western states also have thick hides. The White Tail deer has a thinner hide and the Pronghorn or, as it is sometimes called, the antelope, possesses the thinnest hide of the large game animals most commonly used for brain tanning. Animals in the northern states will have thicker hides and hair due to the colder climates. All will usually carry some kind of scaring from wire cuts.
I recommend that first time tanners use a smaller, thinner hide for their first tanning project. I suggest using a small deer hide, but not a "Bambi" hide! If you do not have a small hide then I suggest cutting the neck area off of a larger one. Large thick hides are much more difficult to tan. Only after tanning several larger deer hides with success should you attempt to tan a elk or moose.
There are many ways to obtain hides. If you hunt or have friends who hunt you can usually obtain as many as you need. If you find you need more hides than you can obtain in this fashion, you can advertise in a local paper, contact commercial tanneries in your area, or contact wild game meat processing plants. I sometimes trade for hides. I offer to return one tanned hide for every ten untanned hides sent to me. You could also do hides for others. Lots of loaded freezers out there waiting to be emptied!
If you plan to use a hide from an animal you yourself have "reduced to possession," you must take care to skin it properly. Hanging the carcass to skin it is best because the entire hide is easily reached. Avoid slashing the inner layers of the hide. This slashing is referred to as "scoring" and will cause much difficulty during the scraping process, by being prone to causing the scraping tool to cut holes into the rough hide. If it is possible for you to pull or peel the hide, so much the better.
If you are acquiring hides from others be sure to inspect the hide. Consider the number of holes it possesses. A hide with many holes is not at all desirable. Most hides will have an entrance and exit hole caused from the killing projectile. They should be small holes. Avoid hides with large holes. They are not easily neatly sewn closed and detract from the beauty and usability of a finished hide. When the hide is finished the holes can be neatly sewn closed to the point they are nearly invisible.
Avoid hides that already have an offensive odor and hides whose hair are already slipping off. It is more likely than not that the hide has already begun to rot and will result in a hide you will put many hours into only to have it fall apart. Very fresh hides often have ticks on them, be cautious. Avoid hides that have been allowed to set with the meat and fat on them, or stacked one on the other in an enclosed area that lacks ventilation. The decomposition of the hides stacked one on another causes heat and thus causes rotting. Much of deciding whether or not a hide has gone bad or not can be done just by using your nose.
Hides that I use are hung up in the open air, flesh side up, to dry until I can get to fleshing and dehairing them. Often times I have kept hides in this manner for a year before getting to them, with no ill effects to the hide. Keep in mind, though, that I live in a very dry climate most of the year. This might not do in humid areas where mold will probably form on the surface of the hide and cause the hide to be permanently stained.
The most ideal time to work a hide is when it is fresh, or as fresh as possible. If you can not work a hide when it is fresh and you must let it set, freezing it is best. In order to avoid freezer burn, a condition caused by the arid environment in a freezer, soak the hide before you put it into a plastic bag and then freeze it and the water will protect the hide from drying out. I advise you to not use plastic bags for the storage of hides other than the ones you are freezing. Plastic tends to make the hide rot more rapidly. If you do not have a freezer available, you can often rent a cold storage locker at a meat processing plant. This is ideal if you are storing several hides. You will find meat processing plants listed in your phone book.
It is best to store the hides indoors where bugs can not get to them. Some of my hides have been ruined from bugs boring into the hide. This results in the hide having lots of tiny holes that make the hide eventually fall apart. The best way I've found to get rid of them at no cost is to drown the heathens. Soak the hide for 24 hours in plain water and they'll all be gone until their relatives discover that no one is home and move in. Some folks I know use salt water for this purpose instead on plain. Another method is to use Sevin brand insecticide by Ortho. Either liquid or dust will work. Follow directions as for proper strength. I got this idea from Larry Belitz. I'll take this time to thank him ever so much for getting rid of one more problem!
The best way that I have found is to flesh the hide out for storage, salt, and then dust lightly with Sevin and lay some place cool and flat. The salt keeps the hide pliable. You can spray the hide with liquid Sevin, but you must make sure that you get all the nooks and folds.
If the hides are stored outside you must take precautions to keep predators away from them. Dogs are notorious for eating hides in the raw stage as well as in the tanned finished product. It is only natural for them to do so. They do not differentiate between your hide and the rawhide chew toys sold in stores. In fact, your hide probably smells more inviting and has much more of the flavor dogs love.
If you have a hide with meat on it that you decide you can not use, throw it over a fence meat side up during the winter and the birds will love you for it.
Chapter Two: The Right Hide For The Project
If you have a project in mind you will need to learn to choose the proper hide for what you will be making.
Often times I can not tell how thick a hide is until it is scraped. I usually have ten to twenty hides of different grades, scraped and ready for the tanning process to begin. In this way when I get an order I know which hide to choose for the project I plan to undertake. In order to more easily choose the proper hide for a project, I like to keep them in stacks according to the species, size, as well as the thickness and hide condition. I call this the grading process.
My grading system consists of:
Number One Hides - large, thick, minimal holes and minimal scoring.
Number Two - medium, some holes, varied in thickness with some scoring.
Project Hides - small, varied thickness, holes and scoring.
Let us assume you, as a tanner, get an order for a pair of moccasins, a set of leggings, a summer shirt and a pipe bag. You will want to use a number one, thick hide, like elk or mule deer for the moccasins. The thick hide will not wear out as quickly as a thin hide. When I am scraping a hide that I can see will be thick, I usually do not scrape down as far, leaving some of the outer layer on the hide. . The result is a soft hide with very little stretch but one that has more strength and durability. If you are going to make leggings or pants you will want a number one, thicker hide such as a mule deer or a thick white tail buck. A summer light weight shirt should be made from a number one ,thin white tail or even better, a Pronghorn hide. The pipe bag can be made from number twos, threes or scraps of any of the above mentioned hides.
When my hides are completed I grade them again. I consider which hides I will use for clothing, moccasins and project hides. The most ideal hides to use for clothing are the ones with the least amount of scoring, the ones whose thickness is uniform and are the largest hides. Hides that have scoring on them tend to be weak in those areas. Clothing items have a lot of stress points and a weak point on the hide will result in severe stretching or tearing. The reason large hides are desired when constructing clothing is because the finished product is much more attractive when it is not unnecessarily pieced together.
Chapter Three: Soaking The Hides
When you have a hide which you have inspected and decided to use, it is time to soak it. Over the years I have soaked hides in running streams as well as in lakes. The problem I found with this method is that the hides were out of my sight, away from my home and susceptible to varmints that would drag them off in spite of the large rocks I used to keep them totally submerged. Therefore I prefer to soak them near my home and near my scraping beam, where they are available for frequent checking.
Use as pure water as you can obtain. If you have chlorinated water, which is all that is available in most cities and towns, try to find spring water or ground water to use . Since chlorine is a chemical, I have found that it effects the nature of the hide and the brains are not as effective as they could be. If it's all you have , let the water stand for a day or so, so that the chlorine will evaporate out.
Fill your large plastic garbage containers three fourths full of water. Put the hide in the water and place a large rock or block on top of it to assure it stays totally submerged. If you are tanning in hot weather it may only take one or two days for the hair to begin to slip. Make sure that the hide is soaking in the shade and change the water every day! If you are tanning in warm to cool weather you should only have to soak the hide two to three days before the hair starts to slip. Change the water every day! If you are tanning in cold weather, anything above freezing, it may take up to a week for the hair to slip. I recommend that if you have to soak the hides in below freezing temperatures, to arrange to soak the hides somewhere that the temperature can be kept above freezing. Salt water will allow you to go as low as 28 degrees, but it's real hard on the hands!
Test the hide by putting it on the beam to see if the hair comes off easily when scraped. If it is not easily scraped off, soak it another day and try it again. Remember also to change the water every day! This will keep the smell down as well as allow you time to check on the condition of your hide.
In my large rubber trash container, I usually soak 3 hides at a time, totally submerged by a rock that is large and flat. You'll discover that hides can float very well and will attempt to slide around the rock. Many a time have I been in a hurry and didn't make sure that the rock was centered on top of the hides and pressing them on the bottom of the container. I have gone to check on them only to discover the hides on top of the water and the rock on the bottom! This situation will cause the hide to rot rather rapidly and ooh! what a smell!!
If you have not been able to attend to the hide for several days and when you do, you find that the hide tends to tear or is bubbly and an offensive odor is detected, the hide has started to rot and I prefer not to use it. The reason is it is more prone to continue rotting further along in the tanning process and in the end you will have a weaker hide because of the unnecessary breakdown of the hide fibers. You need to check your hide daily. If at all possible keep your soaking containers near your beam to make it more convenient to check the scrapability of the hide.
A word of caution: There is present large amounts of bacteria in the water and on the hide so infection is a real possibility. I never allow my hands to touch this water without rubber gloves if my hands have recent cuts. Did I forget to mention changing the water every day??
Chapter Four: Scraping The Hide
Over the centuries, from ancient times when man began to construct clothing from the prepared hides of animals there have been many different methods of scraping the hide. We know from archeological research that the first tools were used were of stone and bone. At first the more simple tools were only hand held implements, eventually however, these tools were secured to handles of wood and antler which gave the tanner more leverage and thus made the job of scraping the hide much easier. When the iron age arrived, tools of metal were fashioned and became popular.
In my traveling throughout the country to observe different methods of tanning by Native American people and other tanners I have observed many who still prefer the old traditional scraping tools of stone or bone mounted on a handle.
The scraping tool used most often depends of the surface, or lack of, that the hide is worked on. Some Native Americans, today still use the ancient method of pegging the hide to the ground. Beginning at the top of the hide, with the meat side up, a sharpened wooden peg of sufficient size, is driven through the edge of the hide and into the ground several inches. Then a peg is put through the opposite end, stretching the hide as much as possible. The sides are then stretched out tightly and pegged until the surface of the hide is taut and without wrinkles. With this arrangement, a tool with a long handle and whose scraping implement is at a certain angle will work best. The hide is scraped with a hacking or hoeing motion. Once the meat side is finished the hide is turned and pegged down as before and the hair is removed, starting at the neck and scraping in the direction of the hair growth.
I have also seen tanners scraping a hide when it is hung on a frame in which it has been secured with lacing. The frame is usually six feet by six feet and the lacing is spaced approximately 2 to 3 inches apart. The hide is again pulled as taut as possible and the tool used in this method is of bone, stone or metal with a shorter handle.
I was not comfortable with the two above methods. The first was much too hard on the back. The second, I needed to make sure that the tool was at the right sharpness and angle to keep the wash board effect from starting. And I just wasn't able to do all those thinner hides that exist out there.
I find that using a slanted log works best for myself as well as most people. The height of the beam can be adjusted to a level that gives the most efficient scraping angle and the most comfort. Both are of the utmost importance. You will want the beam to be high enough so you do not have to lean over very much. The motion of your body during scraping should be in your arms, shoulders and not in your waist! This eliminates the soreness that might otherwise develop in the lower and middle back. I find that putting the beam slightly above the waist works well for me. But that won't work for you so try this. The beam should come up at about a 25 to 30 degree angle to the body and connect with you on your stomach where your arms naturally bend. The log angle will depend on your arm motion as you push down and away. You should not have to bend over to flesh or dehair hides!
Dry scraping, which I used for over a year, has it's advantages. There is less mess from the soaking of hides in barrels, less mess on yourself and it can be done in extremely cold weather. Dry scraping no doubt originally came about in arid regions where water was scarce. Many tanners today prefer the dry scraping method.
The reason I changed from dry scraping to wet is because of the necessity of having to keep the scraping tool very sharp. When a sharp tool is being used it is more than likely that you will end up with more holes in your hide. This is very true if you are a novice tanner. The proper angle must be maintained and you must be sure that the tool you are using does not slip from side to side and result in cutting the hide. Also scraping the hide too thin is a possibility.
Again, let me stress that the methods I am presenting to you are the most efficient and less time consuming way of tanning I have found. You may wish to experiment with different methods. I recommend you save yourself time and use my method first. You fellows out there that make these tools for a living might want to come up with one for this method.
Also, I have evolved from the dry scraping method to that of being a wet-scraper because I find that the hair is more easily removed and since the object of my method is to make the tanning process the least laborious, I will be instructing you in wet-scraping.
After laying the hide on your beam, hair side down, look at the shape of the hide. If there are long irregular pieces of hide hanging down where the legs were, use your knife to cut them off and make the hide a more uniform shape. If you have any holes near the side of the hide, cut them off as well. Cut them in such a manner that the shape of the hide is retained. The few extra inches you would otherwise save will be more trouble than it's worth. Take my word for it. I sometimes receive orders for hides with the legs left on. Many of the old style Native American mens¹ shirts had the legs left on. I charge more for these hides since there is considerably more work in producing one. The big secret to make leg extensions soft is to thin them down without putting holes in them. I accomplish this by sandpaper over an 8 inch PVC pipe.
The first side that you deal with is the flesh side. I like to use a 6 inch PVC pipe for this side. I do know some that use a 8 inch, but this would require more pressure. Larger surface area = more pressure. On the flesh side you want to scrape down far enough to see small vein tracks in the hide. They will be indented into the hide. These should also be seen uniformly all over the hide. If these vein tracks can not be seen uniformly all over the hide, it is still under a layer of membrane and will be dealt with in another step. Also the hide will exhibit very tiny holes that are the blood vessels that transit through the hide. I like to scrape from top to bottom and from side to side as I go down the hide. There is no hard and fast rule. Just remember to get all that you can. There will be a very thin layer of membrane left on and one will be able to get this in another step with relative ease. Now flip the hide over.
The size pipe that I use depends on the kind of hide I have on the beam. Elk and moose require 2-3 inch pipe. Deer require a 4-6 inch pipe (2-3 inch for those necks at times). And 6 inch for antelope. Be sure to scrape with the lay of the hair. Scrape from the neck to the tail. I always scrape from top to bottom going from side to side as I do so. This allows me to systematically do the entire side without skipping around. Remember, the hair should easily slide off or at least be capable of being pulled out. To do the neck area it will be necessary to scrape against the flow of hair, but this is the only time that you should do this.
Scrape the epidermis and part of the dermas off. This is this step that is most difficult and discourages novice tanners but keep in mind that if it is not done properly will leave a skin barrier which will prevent the hide from absorbing the brain solution into it's pores and fibers. Now for the sake of this book I will refer to the skin layers as I see fit and not by actual name. I divide the layers up as follows:
Epidermis- the uppermost portion of the hide. Yellowish in color. Dermas- the smooth layer that appears. Pale blue in color. Will have little grooves in it similar to the top of your own skin on your arm.
Fibrous layer- The hairy stuff most folks like to get down to. The membrane is attached to the bottom side of this.
Scrape the layers of skin down far enough until you come to a layer that seems smooth, but has a slight fibrous look to it. The small dark spots you might see are the blood vessels in the hide. They will look like holes in your hide and should not be confused with the roots of hair that you have just taken off. Roots tend to be up around the neck area of mostly male deer and elk and will usually come out during the process.
As I mentioned before, this step is the most difficult and time consuming. Keep in mind that the more hides you scrape the better and faster you will become. A large hide for me takes about 30 to 45 minutes to do.
At this point you should have a hide with a smooth appearance on both sides.
In preparing hides for most projects, if they are not scraped enough on both sides, the rest of the tanning process will be in vain because the hide will not come out as well as it should. This only creates extra work. You don't have to worry about the hide at this point as you'll have a chance to get at what you have missed at a latter stage in this method.
Chapter Five: Stretching (Breaking) your hide
Now at about this point you have 2 choices. What I do is scrape 10 hides at a time and then go on to this step. As a result I will have a few rawhides that I have put to dry on a line between 2 trees. I find that I can do 8 sides (4 hides) in one day and still feel like doing more the next. I did 12 sides per day for a 9 days once and didn't want to see the beam again for a month! Another name for this might be called the breaking process as this is where I break my hides in my process. We'll cover the two different ways that this can be accomplished.
After letting the hide soak over night in plain water it should look like blue/white piece of rawhide. I've let hides sit in the water for several days always making sure to change the water every day. You'll notice that any excess blood will go into the water as well as some hide glue. A scum will start to appear on the surface over time and the water will cloud with whatever else comes out of the hide. Some folks I know will do this for days because it helps in the final drying/stretching by removing hide glue now. Do not be tempted to add soaps or softeners as some have suggested to help clean the hide. Plain water does just as well without the chemicals. We're talking pure brain tanning here and not partial or plain ol’ chemical tanning.
If the hide is a large hide, I will take the hide over to my stretching rack and hang it up. Now the method that I use is I hang the hide tail side up in a frame that measures about 54" wide by 72' tall. I have 4 such frames connected together to form a box with an added piece for my entrance into the middle of the box. This allows me to stretch 4 hides at one time. My frame is made from 2X6's for added strength. (see diagram)
The inside edge of each frame has 2 1/2" fence staples nailed in at 3" intervals. I use 1/8" braided nylon, or even better, parachute cord (sometimes called 5-50 cord) to attach my hide to. This line is run through the fence staples and tied off at the corners. The line will need to be about 50' long per side. I prefer to use 4 separate 50' pieces as opposed to 2- 100' or even one continuos piece. This method allows me to tighten an entire side in a matter of seconds and only have 4 knots to deal with as opposed to multiple knots.
The connector that I use is called a hog ring. This little gem has two sharp points so be careful!
I like to hang my hides on the frame butt up and flesh side out. There is no hard and fast rule for this though. Just habit with me is all. I attach the hide using hog rings starting with the top, then bottom, and proceeding to the sides. My average hide will have 6-9 hog rings for the top, 5-7 for the neck, and 7-10 for the sides. I don't have to place the rings 2 inches apart as some suggest. Just enough to keep the hide on the frame and be sure to place your holes at least 1/4 of an inch in to as to prevent the hide from pulling free when you go to push in on the hide. Tom Orr taught me that stretching a hide is important and he is very much correct on this subject. The idea is not to make your small deer look like it came off a large elk, but to work the fibers apart so as to allow the smoke to get at the inside of your hide. Over stretching a hide will show as dark streaks coming from each of your connection points.
Now that I have my hide hanging I'll work it lightly at first for a couple of minutes. I do both sides. This has the effect of turning my hide from a dull bluish white to white as the hide dries and the fibers pull apart. This can be seen by back lighting it. The fibers and hide structure will stick out like a sore thumb! Water will sometimes come out as I run my tool over this. I'll let the hide set for 20 to 30 minutes before doing both sides of the hide again. But this will be determined by the weather conditions at the time. As you can see I can easily do 4 hides at a time at this point and still have time to sit a read a few pages of a good book or be doing another step in my process with other hides.
I eventually reach a point when the hide starts to stiffen up. Let the hide dry all the way. No sense wasting effort on stretched rawhide! Now at this time you should have a hide that is white with bits of dried membrane or even a soft fuzz on the flesh side and with the hair side showing fine ridges where the dermas has pulled up. Coming off of the frame the hide will be like paper for small or thin hides and like rolled rawhide for the thicker deer or elk hides.
When you have a hide that is small or thin you can take this hide over the metal strap, instead of hanging it on the rack, for about 5 minutes on each side. This has the effect of pulling the fibers apart and of also pulling off what large pieces of membrane that you might have missed. I suggest that you always hang the hide on the rack for this step regardless of the kind of hide that you have until you become familiar with this process.
They are now ready for the smoker!
Chapter 6: Pre-smoking
Well folks, this is the part that you¹ve all been wanting to read about. This is the big secret and the heart of this method. So let¹s get to it shall we?
This chapter was the hardest part to write about as research was ongoing for quite some time. The woods used for the smoking will vary depending on what part of the country or globe you happen to be at so I¹ve had to try to average things out and come to some sort of standard. Where differences will effect the quality of the hide, I¹ve put little notices in to help you along.
The wood that is available to me here on the lower Musselshell River in Montana is cottonwood. There are some pine, but the punky stuff is mostly cottonwood. Cutting up these logs into 1 inch wafers, I¹ll stack about 10 for the smoker along with the sawdust and prepare the fire. I¹ll get a small bed of sticks going and then place on and around it these wafers until the pot that I use for smoking purposes is full. This pot by the way is an enameled speckled pot of 8 quart size. On top of all of this I¹ll place some of the sawdust and on top of the pot I¹ll place a large piece of metal to help choke off most of the air and effectively prevent the fire from flaring up and scorching your hides. One fill is usually good for about 90 minutes and each refill will be good for 60. Remember that each time you add more wood, the bed of coals will increase and thus cause a much greater amount of heat to be generated. Heat is your worst enemy and is the reason the box is not built air tight.
Now some folks I know use just plain sawdust for the smoking and others use a half and half blend of wafers and sawdust. This is more of the preference of the tanner than anything else. What is important is the wood used and how well the excess heat is vented. With cottonwood, the smoking time is about 3 hours. Pine and cedar need about 2 hours and some hardwoods that I¹ve used (punky white oak for the video) can get by with 1 good hour of dense smoke. The smoking process will leave the hide slightly discolored and if your results reveal a very dark hide you can lessen the amount of smoking time by half. I¹ve smoked individual hides for as little as 15 minutes so as you can see there is no hard and fast rule for smoking time. One thing that can really help you is start your smoking fire with dry stuff and add damp wood on top. This puts some moisture into your smoke box (though not enough to cook your hides) and gets the smoke to adhere faster to the hide. There are many variations of your smoke fire that I¹m aware of. Open fire pit in smoke box; Small stove in box; Stove outside of box; Fans in and outside of box.... and on and on. Whatever feels most comfortable for you should be the method that you use.
Now in my box, I hang my hides (up to 10) on strings that are run back and fourth across the inside top of the smoker. These hides hang to within 2 feet of the smoke pot and I always hang the longer hides to the outside strings. Always keep distance from the smoke pot so that no damage occurs to the hide. Keep 4-6 inches of space between your hanging hides so that the smoke has a chance to circulate.
There are some woods that, if used, cause a hide to become rubber like in texture. Call Al Ballard at 308-247-2507 for an up date. He's not closed mouth when it comes to helping other tanners. His wife developed a method whereby she smoked towels instead of the hide and will then place these in their washer with the hide to reap the same results as if you had smoked the hides themselves, BUT without the danger of cooking your hides! Ask him about it. He does 500 hides a year and has 26 years of tanning behind him.
When you have finished this step it¹s on to the used brain solution for a soaking that will help remove any of the excess membrane and dermis that you might have missed.
Chapter 7: Back to the beam
After the hide has been smoked, you can either let the hide stand as is or go on to the next phase. You can use either an old solution or make up a new one. See chapter 8 for a more detailed look at the solution.
The hide is placed into the prepared solution and is left to soak into the hide as to soften it up. This might take as long as a couple of hours. It is very important that the hide be as pliable as possible so as to not allow the scraping tool to cut into the hide when running it back over your beam. Some of the smoke will wash off into the water causing the solution to become gray in color from its' original foamy pink. Then, for you folks that are just starting out in this, take it back to the beam.
When starting out on the beam, do the flesh side first. Starting at the neck you will see the fibers start to pull apart as you remove any excess membrane that was left on the first go around. If the hide received a lot of smoke or heat the hide will seem to be very stiff, almost like armor, and will need special attention when soaking in the solution. The excess membrane will come off looking much like paper, in the case of a hide that has not soaked long enough, to thin gray strips of flesh. At this point you will begin to notice the little holes that are the blood vessels that transit the hide. Sometimes the holes look more like indentations and you have to look very close, but they are there. Another sign are the blood vessel grooves that will start to show up. These are found especially along the spine of the hide. This means that you've reached the limit that you want to pursue on this side. You will have also noticed that the smoke colored hide changed color as you scraped to a lighter shade. The smoking shows you where you have scraped before so you do not go over the same area again too often. Get what you can off and don't be to meticulous or they hide might dry on you and you will have to soak the hide again for a few minutes. Now turn the hide over. If at this point you feel that the hide is too dry on this side, soak it in the solution for 10 minutes or so and throw it on the beam.
The same procedure is followed on the hair side as well except for seeing the blood vessel holes. You will notice that some more of the dermas will scrape off and cause the hide to really stretch as you go over this side. Concentrate on the neck, middle back, and the area on either side of the spine at the rear of the hide in the flank area. These areas will either be much thicker or usually contain long scars that will have to be cleaned out if the cut did not transit the hide. Cleaning out the scar tissue will leave a small groove, but it will also allow you to soften those areas. A thru and thru scar will come out stiff in the final process and some old punctures will even tear open when running the scraping tool over those areas. Another hole to sew up is all. You will notice that as you go over this side that the fibers will stand out at you. The blood vessels might even present an outline of themselves such as you would get from a pencil rubbing.
One of the nice things about putting your hide back over the beam a second time is that this really works the fibers in the hide around even as you thin it a bit more. When you have finished this phase you can now go and place the hide back into the solution. You might notice that the hide will swell up as it soaks the solution in. This is what it is supposed to do. You will then wash the hide around in your soaking container every couple of hour so as to allow the solution to cover the entire hide. Want to really work that hide? Use an old agitator type washer and leave them in there for a few hours or even all afternoon. This will really put some stretch into that hide!
Another thing that can be done at this point now that the hide is rather dry and pliable is to rough up and stretch the hide over my metal band. A few minutes will suffice. In between you can sew up any holes that you might have. I use a #11 glovers needle, quilting or button hole twist thread in a light brown or tan color and sew a blanket stitch for this job. I double the thread over to add some strength. This stitch allows the hide stretch around and if the thread breaks it will not unravel as fast if the thread should break. After the holes have been sewn up, but before the hide is completely dry you can go an put the hide back into the solution. Sometimes, though, you might be able to break the hide out from this point. The hide will tell you. It will act like damp brain tan and will come out very fluffy and stretch.
After putting the hide back into solution there is one last check to see if the hide will break out for you. I call this the "bubble test". This simple test will keep you from wasting your time when it comes to the final breaking. I have in no other place ever read or seen this test performed to check hides. Simply take areas of the hide that lack holes and bunch it up so as to trap some air in it and squeeze it. Air should pass thru it very easily from flesh side to hair ( as seen in some methods) and also from hair to flesh in very fine bubbles. Some say that this can not be done. Well, maybe in their system, but not mine. Too many of my students have tried to shortcut this part and have had to go back over the hide again anyway. A waste of time ultimately.
At this time you will have been able to break out your hide or will have an off white stiff hide that is ready to go back into the smoker for another round of smoking.
Chapter 8: The Braining Process
In the olden days of tanning, each individual hide was tanned with the brain of the animal killed. Theory has it that the brain within the animal was sufficient to tan the hide. I have found this to be true, however with the amount of hides I tan I need a larger, continuous supply of brains. Ninety eight percent of the hides I tan, have been obtained long after the death of the animal and I do not have access to the animal's brains. Instead I use fresh or freshly thawed cow brains that I order in bulk through grocery stores or meat packing plants.
When I purchase brains, but are not able to use them for a matter of days I freeze them until I am ready to use them. Brains begin to rot even faster than meat and should be used fresh for this reason. Some tanners dry the brains in an oven, then reconstitute them as needed, by adding water in the blending process. When dry, brains look very much like grape nut cereal. Be sure to not confuse the two! Yeck!! I have also known tanners, who without refrigeration, process the brains in jars until needed. I have tried using brains which have been preserved in this manner, but find I get better results from brains that have not been cooked, which occurs during the canning process. There are those, though, that say that canned brains are better than fresh. Whatever works best for you.
Years ago, when I began tanning, I used to smash the brains with my hands and manually rub them into the hide. Then at one point in my hide tanning evolution, I pressed them through a screen to get them a mushy consistency. I've used pumice rock and antler bases to work the brains into and through the hide. I now prefer to use a blender.
Rubbing the brains in the hide is passé for me now. It's a time consuming added step which, in spite of the fact some tanners still teach it, is not necessary.
Put one package or one pound of brains into a blender. Add enough water to nearly fill the blender and blend until the mixture is the consistency of a milkshake.
In your small ten gallon garbage pail put enough warm, not hot, water to fill the pail half full or about 5-7 gallons. The amount of water depends on the size of the hides and their thickness. You should leave enough solution to allow the hides to move around freely. Be sure not to use hot water because in some instances it will cook the hide and the hide will fall apart. Cooked sections of the hide will have the look and feel of rubber and layers will peel off if the hide was not cooked all the way through. When dry, those cooked portions will even act like rubber, but will not last very long.
Add the milkshake-like brain mixture to the warm water and insert the pre-smoked hide. Push the hide into the water until it is fully submerged and mix it around for a few seconds to make sure it is thoroughly saturated with the warm brain solution. The solution, which at this time will be foamy and pink will start to turn gray and take on the smell of wet wood as the smoke combines with the water. This action slows down the rotting process of the brains in the solution. I do not waste this solution and recycle it back into a new solution and have even heated it up and used it for up to 8 hides further! For the adventurous at heart I recommend trying your smaller thinner hides in this solution at room temperature. I've found that the hides often times loft up better when done in cool water.
The hide should set for several hours before running it over the metal band to spread the fibers out and to allow the solution to penetrate further. Don't be surprised to see a white foam appear as you rub first the flesh then the hair side. Look to see if the fibers, especially on the hair side, start to rough up. Put the hide back into the solution and look for the hide to puff up and have the feel and consistency of wet brain tan. You should be able to press air through the hide in both directions at this point. You can now leave it overnight. Just remember to mix it occasionally.
You will find that the brain solution does not have a very bad smell. The pre-smoking keeps the solution from smelling. It is possible to use the brain solution for several hides.
You will find, after tanning many hides, that each individual hide is different. What works well for one hide, and gives good results, may not give you the same results with your next hide. This can be frustrating for even the seasoned tanner such as myself and is the main source of frustration for the novice tanner who has success with one hide and hardly any at all with the next. I have learned to watch for certain signs, or to "read the hide" to determine what I need to do with it. Experience alone, teaches one the lessons needed to be successful with each hide. Even now, after so many years of tanning I come across a hide that will cause me frustration.
Chapter 9: Final buffing
In this method, this is by far the easiest part. You start first by wringing the excess water out in any fashion that you may choose. Keep in mind that the dryer you make the hide, the faster you will complete this portion of the task at hand. Also, though, keep in mind the air temperature, humidity, and whether or not you are in the shade. I usually do my hides in the shade or even inside if the wind is blowing too much. Wringing the hide out can be done by making your hide into a tourniquet. Remember to twist the stick in both directions!
I now proceed to follow the clock so to speak and work the hide for 5 minutes on each side and then letting the hide rest for 15-20 minutes. This is very difficult for many seasoned tanners to do because of having to constantly work the hide under old methods. The smoke acts to slow down the rate of drying as well as allowing the brains to do whatever it is that you believe they do better.
Be sure not to rub too long a stretch of hide across the band as this might make you work harder than you would have to. Try to keep the amount of hide between your hands at about 18 inches or whatever is comfortable for you to hold and pull on without having to twist your body around 90 degrees all the time. Try to save the aerobics for another time.
When buffing up the hide it is recommended to constantly rotate the hide so that all areas are stretched first one way and then at least 45 degrees in another. Do not concentrate on any one particular area as this could lead to a hard spot forming. You will start to notice at this point that the fibers are becoming more pronounced .
After each round of buffing flap the hide as you would when cleaning a blanket in the wind so as to help it get back to its original shape. You can also pull the hide over your legs and knees and stretch it as well, but always end each round by flapping it. Make sure to do all sides and then hang it up out of the wind or direct sun light and let it rest and dry a bit.
This also allows the fibers to dry some so that when you go back to another round of buffing you will , in effect, pull the fibers apart more and create more drying surface.
Chapter 10: Pricing Hides
There are different ways to determine the selling price of your hide. Some tanners, usually not professional, will sell their hides according to if they are small, medium or large. Tanners who sell to professional hide buyers as I do, price their hides according the square footage of the hide as well as the quality it possesses. To determine the square footage place the finished hide on a flat surface. A yard stick works well for measuring since it can be placed upon the hide and stay straight as opposed to a tape measure that does not. Measure along the center line top to bottom and again from center line side to side. Then multiply the two, divide by 144 and then you get the square footage. This gives the best measure, but some I know divide the hide into thirds and do the same thing. Below is how I break down my hides by grade.
Moccasin Grade-Thick and very dense
Quality number one hides-No holes or scoring
Number one hides-2 holes maximum and some scoring
Number two hides-Many holes and scoring or weak thin areas
Scraps from projects-many holes, scars, some hard spots. Not worth doing again
Smoked / Non-smoked
Chapter 11: Wrap up
Some late modifications:
The fleshing beam can be changed by using a 2X6 on end and making an 18" long slice about 1.5" down from the top. This slice should be wide enough to accommodate the thickest PVC pipe section that you have. This was done at a weekend teach-in that I gave in Stanley, N. C. by one of their resident carpenters. I made one up for my students upon returning home. It¹s fully adjustable and is about the easiest beam to produce that actually works. Only a carpenter could have done that! Thanks to you folks at tribe for this idea. They were kind enough to let me use their drawings to show some of my stuff. Tribe is a pretty good source of information for those that are ‘abo’ inclined at an excellent contact for others to network from. Contact them about their newsletter and organization at Tribe,1403 Killian Rd., Stanley, NC. 28164 or at 704-827-0723.
FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
Are all deer hides the same?
A: No. I find I have more problems with deer from Ohio than anywhere else. I have to thin them more. Missouri deer are thick but have a dense structure which require more in the way of thinning to get any type of stretch. Southern deer are jokes to do! If only all deer were this easy!! Thinness creates a problem for the beginner though.
Is your system the same as the one you use in the Mark Baker video series?
A: To a point. The method required some modifications so as to fit with the theme of the series. A separate video taken from that series showing only my pre-smoking is available from American Pioneer Video, 1-800-743-4675. My beam, rack, and soaker are all different, but the method was presented in correct order.
Is you draw knife really as dull as it looks?
A: Only when working around beginners and on thin hides. I try to show that its the person behind the tool, and not the tool, that tan the hide. My tool that I use when not teaching you could shave with. This allows me to use even less pressure to dehair a hide and lets me thin that much faster. On thin hides I still use a dull knife so as to limit the chances of creating new holes.
Can I smoke with all woods?
A: Not according to Al Ballard. He also has some slick tricks on smoking that seem to work. His number is 1-308-247-2507. A very open person and willing to experiment and share his results with others is he. Been doing hides for 26 years.
I can't find a market for my hides!
A: Call me.
The results of this book were no easy task! Many years of practice and errors went into this. You'll never know the amount of pressure that was brought to bear to leave out portions of this book so as to not make the system too easy. It is speculated that the price of hides will come down as a result of all those new comers that are sure to spring up or even the loss of customers that might result as well. I did this to be helpful and clear some of the continuing myths that still are circulated as fact; either to mislead or out of ignorance of the subject. Why write a book and purposely sabotage it at the same time I ask!? Ultimately, you will be the judge.
PRESERVING A HIDE WITH THE FUR ON - by Cynthia Senicka
If the hide is hard and dry, soak the hide in warm water to soften it. Be careful to take the hide out as soon as the hide is wet throughout and pliable. It should be readily squeezable and flexible. If it is stiff, it is still too dry in the inner layers. If you soak it too long the hair will pull out easily with the end result looking mangy.
Use the wet scrape technique for the smoothest hide... Use a piece of spring steel bar about 1 1/2 inches wide by 1/4 inch deep by 1 1/2 to 2 feet long. Wrap the ends with some kind of padding and tape well. The bar is not sharp at all. It just has to have a 90 degree UNNICKED edge. Nicks will tear the hide.
Place the hide fur down over a smooth fleshing beam placing the neck end toward you and the tail end toward the bottom. To clean the hide, use both hands on the spring steel bar and push downward. Scrape the flesh off and peel off the inner lining to expose the dermis. You will get quite a shoulder & upper arm workout! Sprinkle water on the hide as needed to keep it from drying out.
Rub brains thoroughly into the flesh side of the hide and soak in the warm water bucket for a bit (15 minutes or so) using a rock to keep it under water if needed. Squeeze out the hide as well as you can (old wringer washers are good for that) saving the water, brain it again, soak a bit longer in the water & wring it out as tight as you can manage. The fur holds lots of water. roll the hide longways and put it around a sturdy pole or heavy duty rope. unwrap the ends just enough to overlap them & roll them together forming a ring around the pole. Insert a sturdy ax handle or baseball bat & carefully twist it as tight as you can wringing out as much water as you can.
Work the hide till dry by pulling the flesh side against a strong rope or pole or whatever is handy till dry. If it dries without being worked, it will be stiff. You can wrap it in plastic & stick it in the fridge for awhile if you want a break.
You can try an alternate method of stretching the hide in a frame & use a canoe paddle to continuously press against the flesh side here & there until dry. You may have to wet the edges if they dry too quickly. If the hide feels cool it is wet. If you stretch it in a frame, put the fur side towards the sun while you work it to dry out the fur otherwise the hide will stay wet. You have to be careful stretching the hide since some hides will shred just because they want to.
If you do not smoke the hide, Do not let it get wet or you will have to stretch it till dry again.
Items you will need:
Grubby clothes you don't care about or a long plastic apron of some kind.
Smooth log or pvc pipe to use as a fleshing beam:
Minimum of 1 foot in diameter and 5 feet long.
Prop the log/pipe securely at an angle so that the high end is waist high.
Trim the high end so it is smooth and mostly vertical to the ground and pad it.
You will be leaning and putting weight on the high end so make it comfortable.
REMOVING DEER TOES & PRESERVING DEER TAILS - by Patty, Richard, CG & Jim Mitchell
REMOVING DEER TOES
If you have access to the Society of Primitive Technology (Tara, please do not get upset over the use of the term primitive). In the Fall 1995, Vol 10, Bulletin of Primitive Technology, pages 42-43. There is an excellent description of how to remove the hooves and dew claws from the legs.
Lacking this, the best time to remove them without tearing them is when they are still fresh. Basically, boil some water (bubbling, without the legs in the water), place the legs in the water approximately 2-3 minutes, pull one of the legs out of the water.
At this point, look for the leg to be slightly gray and swollen (strong indication it is ready). Try to pinch one of the dew claws between your thumb and forefinger, it should pop right off. The same thing should happen with the hoof. If is still resistant to coming off, pop it back into the water for a few seconds (wouldn't want to cook it at this point).
Remember not to overboil, nor overly soak the deer legs, this may have a somewhat detrimental effect. You can do this with legs if they have not been frozen too long, but it isn't always successful. Sometimes you have to resort to the usage of a pliers to assist in pulling the dew claw or hoof from the leg, with possible tearing as a result.
PRESERVING DEER TAILS
I assume the tails are separate from the hides. If not, cut the tails off and skin down along the bone just enough to get a good grip. You may have to use a pair of pliers or a rag due to the fat. Pinch the tailbone between two finger-sized sticks. A specialized tool called a tail stripper is made just for this purpose, but the sticks will do as well. Squeeze the sticks together in one hand and give a sustained, strong pull on the pliers. The tailbone should slide right out leaving the skin in tact. Slit the skin down the underside all the way to the tip. The skin can be washed in a mild detergent if dirty. After washing, dry the hair with a hairdryer. Coat the flesh side with a layer of borax, available at most drug stores. Let the tail dry with the coat of borax for several days in a cool, dry place. The borax acts as an antibacterial and will protect the skin from hide beetles (something plain salt will not do).
If the tails are still on the hides and you want to leave them on, you should be able to do so, preserving them in the same way you will the hides, after removing the tail bone. Also, if you don't want to use the borax, you can just scrape the meatty, fatty stuff off and dry them naturally(still wash the tails with mild deterg. and dry)...of course the mildew and bugs may come, especially if you live in a humid environment. Store them with sage to help deter bugs. Also, someone here told me about braintan.com--you might want to check out their message board if you aren't getting the answers you want here.
First, no matter what animal you are working on. The skin and/or hide is easiest to work on when it is fresh. I generally will remove the skin/hide from the carcass, then cut the tail bone from the carcass (at this point, it is still inside the tail). You can do the next step by yourself, but I prefer to have a little help if I should encounter a little difficulty. Get two pieces of cloth, grasping the tail bone with one, and pulling the skin back with the other (you will be pulling the tail inside out). If you should encounter a difficult area, whereby the membrane is still attaching itself to the skin. You can either push your finger into this area, or do as I do sometimes, take a U-shaped piece of coat hanger (the U should be no larger that the area you want to push it into, my fingers are a little fat). Push the hanger into the offending area, then continue as before. The last inch or two, is usually the hardest area to pull from. If you are too anxious, and pull the skin too hard, you may instead tear the skin, instead of removing the tailbone from the tail. Work in a careful and steady motion and you should have no problem.