View Full Version : Black Walnut for bark tanning

11-26-2010, 09:27 AM
This post will be more or less supplemental to the "Utility Leather" thread (http://www.wilderness-survival.net/forums/showthread.php?t=9701).

As I mentioned in another post somewhere, Mr. Irv gave me all the black walnuts I could fit in my truck with tools, etc. still in there. Black walnut husks are extremely valuable to tanners for their high levels of tannic acid, and for the extremely dark brown (almost black) colors they impart to leathers.
(Forgive the mess.. I've been busy lately!)
Think that's enough?

Okay.. now we have our material, we just have to process it, which is as simple as using a knife to "peel" off the husk.

This is my youngest son using my favorite knife ever while helping to de-husk a few.


So, you are left with a bucketfull of husks, and only a handful of walnuts

The nuts can be smashed with a rock, hammer, or whatever and are quite delicious to eat, but I recommend roasting them as they taste better to me.

The next step is to boil the husks in water. This helps to get the tannins out of the husks. I gathered a few nice long limbs and set up a little tripod. Since I have some chain with a hook on it, it made the most sense to use it to bind the tripod and suspend the bucket all at the same time.

Then you just build a fire, and let it cook. The steam has that familiar "bark boiling" smell, with a bit of added spice. I thought it was quite a pleasant odor, if a little on the strong side.
You'll notice the bricks on top of the husks. They float! To keep the husks in the bucket and still fill it with water, put a weight on top!

I boil my stuff for about an hour before pouring into another container. This is the first pouring after boiling and already the stain is quite potent!

My wife stuck a light colored stick into the bucket as a test to see how long it would take to stain. This is after about a 30 minute soak. The stick was white before soaking...

I suppose if I had a spirit animal, mine would be a toad, because I sit like this pretty much all the time. A little off topic, but I thought it was a neat pic.

This same method can be used to make wood stain for the home. This is a natural stain and it really puzzles me why manufacturers would add all the toxic stuff into their cans when this obviously works just fine with water.

Now I have two buckets half full of black walnut tanning liquor, which need to be condensed for storage, and added to the bucket with the tanning skin in it. As before, it is a gradual process of maintaining a certain consistency / concentration of tannic acids around the skin.

I will thaw out some of the cow hide today, and probably drop it in the solution this evening. I'll keep this thread updated as the process goes along so you'll have an idear what to expect and how long it takes. Of course, deer will be thinner and take less time.

According to my research, Black Walnut already contains the mordant required to make it colorfast, and it's used as an additive to other dyes for the same reason.

So, whether you're a woodcrafter, metalworker, or tanner, if you find a black walnut tree, you have found a wonderful resource. Wood stain, Metal dye (for blacking traps or knives), and black leather.
It also is considered toxic to other plants, so use caution when disposing of the husks!

Justin Case
11-26-2010, 09:40 AM
Nice Post YCC !

11-26-2010, 09:45 AM
Thanks, I use walnut for staining traps and snares.

11-26-2010, 10:23 AM
Very cool. Looking forward to your progress.

11-26-2010, 10:28 AM
Another great tut!! I suppose adjusting the amount of tannins you add would control the level of color in the end product. Is that correct?

11-26-2010, 10:38 AM
supposedly black walnuts grow here, but ive never seen one. plenty of pecans though.

11-26-2010, 11:39 AM
awesome post. I have a couple questions. how much liquid per hide and how many husks per gallon of liquid?

it's funny this thread came up now, I just picked up a few bags of walnuts recently when I visited my brother in ky.

11-26-2010, 02:09 PM
I find that when using walnut dye on fabric it requires a stronger mordant. I ususlly add 1/2 pound of salt to the 5 gal bucket.

Without the salt the walnut dye simply washes out on the first run throught the washer/dryer.

With leather this would not be an issue since you do not wash and dry leather.

One nice feature of walnut dye is that it gives a different intensity on every fabric. You can dump a pair of kaki pants, a linen shirt and a cotten shirt (all of them the same shade of white) into the same vat for the same time and all will come out a different shade.

We sometimes leave items in a cold soak for several weeks or months.

Hot dying only takes a few minutes to an hour. We often have a dye vat over the fire for a whole reenactment. Self service dying. Dump what you have in the vat and come back latter and pull it out.

YCC do you keep a vat out back for constant use? Most hard core reenactors have a back yard dye vat as a permenant fixture in the back yard.

11-26-2010, 08:42 PM
Rick. In my limited experience, the color seems to be proportionate in some way to the amount of tannins present. Ultimately you want the center of the hide to take some color which would indicate tannins have penetrated at least that deep. I don't know if there would be a way to make a lighter shade, if that makes sense, but once a hide is "struck through" to the center, you can continue to tan it darker. I think it will be what it will be, because I'm usually so eager to see them I only get "done" and don't keep going hehe.

Ravenscar. Pecans will work too. I have no idea what color they give. Remember you're only using the husk, not the hull, and not the nut-meat.

RandyT. (I'll try my best here) Husks:gallon - as many as you can cram in there. boil it, strain it, add more water, and boil them again. You want it to be concentrated.. I'll dilute it when I add the hide and slowly step up the strength.
Gallons:hides - it will take about 3 gallons to fully submerge a deer hide, I usually end up with a full bucket of weak solution, and a full bucket of strong solution, so I'm not real sure how to answer this.. Start with 3, add till it's full, then move to next stronger. If you wanted to tan 5 deer at a time, I'd use 25 gallon trash cans, starting about half full.
I cram a metal 5-gallon bucket full of bark (husks, whatever), cover with water, boil, repeat about 4 times, then condense that 2-1/2 buckets worth of liquor down to about half a bucket (super concentrated) and add a little at a time to the hide bucket. Hope that makes sense.. If not, you'll see as the thread goes on ;)
I'll add a quart or so to a half filled bucket and set the hide in. Wait 10 seconds or so and pull it back out. If it's taking color that fast, it's good, else add a little more and check again.

KYRS. I'm no reenactor. I am just a hobbyist. I don't have a vat, just some barrels and buckets. I try to work with what I can find, or what gets donated.. like empty buckets lol!

11-26-2010, 10:17 PM
Interesting! I'm subbing to see the progress.

11-26-2010, 10:22 PM
thanks for the info, it makes sense or at least I think it does. I've been wanting to try bark tan for quite some time. I need to get after it.

11-26-2010, 10:26 PM
YCC, when you say concentrated/condensed, do you boil it further after straining?
Nice Post.

11-26-2010, 10:44 PM
KYRS. I'm no reenactor. I am just a hobbyist. I don't have a vat, just some barrels and buckets. I try to work with what I can find, or what gets donated.. like empty buckets lol!

It's all the same. My hot vat at home is a 5 gallon waterseal bucket. My cold vat is a plastic trash can from Wallmart.

Big old 30 gallon tc with a good lid. Put about 20 pounds of walnuts in there and about 15 gallons of water. Let it perk in the summer sun for a year or two. Throw in a few rusty nails and some more walnuts now and then. I once forgot a shirt was in there and left it for nearly a month. It took a good color!

Only the patterns are 200 years old.

It is only at the historic sites that we use the big iron caldrons.

We had a beginner throw a brain tanned hide into the hot vat at a site once. Before we could fish it out it was already cooked.

11-27-2010, 07:00 AM
LowKey. yes. I boil it down to remove the excess water for storage.. then I can re-dilute it as I need to use it.

kyrs, do you have any picture to show color? I'm eager to see what this will look like!

(now if that hide will just thaw out!!)

11-27-2010, 08:03 AM
thank you ycc

11-27-2010, 08:09 AM
i found a tree site for those without black walnuts http://www.willisorchards.com/product/Black+Walnut+Tree?category=259

11-30-2010, 04:27 PM
here we have several different buckets. A tanner can never have enough buckets.
The top left bucket is about half full of straight hull liquor, the top right bucket is the hulls (notice they are molding already), and the bottom right bucket is straight concentrated liquor. I poured about a third of a bucketful in the tan bucket, and added another 1/3 with water (the bucket is 2/3 full).

Remember that cow hide? Well it finally thawed out enough to put in the liquor. This is after about a 10 second stain test. I could not wipe the color off, so it's working!

For reference, I didn't do an extraordinary job on the membraning, but this is how quickly the flesh side became dark.

About an hour later, I went to check it to see what was going on and this is what I found.

This is a VERY thick cow hide, so I have no idea how long it will take to tan through. I will stir it every day till it's done, and add more concentrate as needed. When that bucket is full, I'll pour about half the liquor into another one, and add more concentrate. I'll do a neck check in a few weeks. It might be a while before I add much more to this thread.

The only thing I'm worried about right now is the temperature. It is unseasonably warm. I know a lot of you are covered in snow right now, but it's hot enough to wear shorts here.. around 80 degrees. That's a prime temp for spoilage. For now I'm moving the bucket under the house where it's much cooler. Hopefully this cold front will push through tonight and I won't have to worry.

Reverend Greg
11-30-2010, 04:40 PM
Excellent posts YCC,Im just now getting back to my "roots" and this is an excellent way to do so...Im just allergic to walnuts and pecans,so I will be using bark.We hav an abundance of urban racoons around here,hopfully they will have only one hole in the forhead area when thay go in the vat..

11-30-2010, 04:46 PM
This might be a good time to discuss "case hardening", also sometimes called a "tan lock"

The idea is to slowly move tannins into the middle of the hide. Much like the air filter in your central unit, tannins build up on the outside, like dust. The more tannins that build up the smaller the window for tannins to move deeper into the hide.
The worst case scenario is to fully tan the outside (grain layer and flesh side) before the middle of the hide is tanned. The problem this causes, is that the hide will forever be succeptible to rot if it ever gets wet. Yes.. even humidity will affect it!

The idea is to start off with a diluted tanning solution, and slowly increase the strength as the tannins trade places with water in the hide. I believe this process is called osmosis, where materials seek balance with concentrations. Once some tannins have reached the center, more can be added to the bath. As the inside and outside of the hide continue to seek balance, it continues to tan.

think of it like sifting sand through a screen.. if you pour a whole bucket of sand on the screen at once, only a little falls through. If you slowly pour the sand through the screen, all of it passes through.

Hopefully I've described this in a way that makes sense.

Most chemical tans are done with salt's that are relatively small molecules, so this isn't a problem. Natural tannins are quite larger and must be kept a watchful eye on. The one great advantage is that you are using natural materials that will return naturally to the earth. Another advantage is that they are FREE.

11-30-2010, 04:47 PM
Man that stuff looks rich. I find it a little ironic that you're concerned about heat and I'm concerned with freezing temps.

11-30-2010, 04:47 PM
Rev, I would recommend using sumac leaves in the spring, rather than a dark colored bark, primarily because they will stain the fur. Sumac produces a very light yellow tan that might not be so invasive on a beautiful fur.

11-30-2010, 04:48 PM
Freezing is FAR BETTER than heat when dealing with things that will rot!

12-02-2010, 07:15 AM
Nice tut YCC.

12-06-2010, 09:04 AM


This is very close up with the flash on. It looks black in the bucket or under normal light, but this shows that the stain really is only on the surface at 4 days.

After 7 days the hide is significantly more stained. I have not cut into the hide yet to see about penetration. I'll probably let it go at least another week before I do a check. This photo is very close up with the flash on also. You can see that the stain is much deeper after 4 more days.

Remember to stir it every day!! This seems to be tanning much faster than I had anticipated, BUT I have not cut into the hide yet. Only time will tell!

12-06-2010, 04:06 PM
Did you do different pourings or just straight into the dark stuff? It looks like used motor oil it's so dark.

12-06-2010, 11:07 PM
I used two boilings, poured both into the same bucket, then filled my tanning bucket about halfway and diluted with 2 more gallons of clear water.

This stuff was as dark as motor oil BEFORE I boiled it. just pouring water over them turns the water black. Since this is my first time with this material I really didn't know what to expect, so I'm pretty much going on intuition alone. If you notice how thin it looks on my fingers in the first pic.. that's what I was guaging by. What is in the storage bucket is thicker, like syrup. Notice how it clung to the stick and didn't really run off. That would be much too strong for a first bath.

12-07-2010, 09:56 AM
Yes I see, it looks way richer than my oak bark liquor that's for sure.

12-07-2010, 11:53 AM
Great thread!

This year the squirrels got my nuts (and I thought my ex wife had a pretty good hold on them) :blush:

12-07-2010, 07:28 PM
Now that right there is funny!

12-16-2010, 05:01 PM
"Neck check" done on a rump quarter today, day 18.


The color and texture are amazing!


Day 14 I needed to strengthen my liquor, but I've been busy, so I'll do it tonight while the weather is bad. It's still strong enough that the hides aren't spoiling, but the temps are high again today, so I might have to move it somewhere cooler.

It's basically a waiting game, with a few checks on score. The larger of the two pieces will become my hunting powder bag.

12-16-2010, 08:08 PM
That looks awesome!

01-07-2011, 09:37 PM
An update

I don't think the walnuts had much tannins left in them. I think I only accomplished a dying of the skin. But it is completely struck through. I do believe the husks need to be GREEN in order to get the most out of them.

That means it has taken some color in the center of the hide. In this case I don't necessarily think it means it's tanned.

I have confused myself with this one. See.. I went to do the neck check about a week ago and the hide had a bad odor. Very reminiscent of rotten things.
I immediately removed them from the liquor and put them in a bucket with running water to rinse.
I figured the liquor was no good so I poured it into an old tree stump hole in the yard.

A few days ago, I was rounding up all the buckets I could from past and present projects. I ran across the bucket of walnut hulls that apparently never got dumped. A hide had never been in that bucket.
OMG it smelled like the 6th level of hell. So... the rotten hulls smell really bad after being wet and stored.
So I wasted all that liquor, whether it was any good or not.

Yesterday, while fleshing a small hide, I started a fire and boiled some live oak bark. I filled a 55 gallon drum last year with bark from a tree my co-worker had removed.
I used a metal bucket to boil some, and took a sample when it got warm.
I hope the black walnut that is already in the cow hide doesn't ruin the color of this liquor. Oh well.. I expected this to be a sacrificial batch.



I'm going to soak the two pieces of cow skin in this liquor and hope for the best. Either it'll tan, or rot.
Guess we'll find out!

01-08-2011, 02:18 AM
Hmm, this scares me. I wonder if that's what's going on with mine as the oak wasn't alive, although it seemed very astringent.

But, mine is very dark on the outside and barely penetrating the inside. I haven't noticed any rank odor yet though and had a buddy over showing him and he said it smelled weird, but not rotton or bad in any way.

01-08-2011, 12:31 PM
I really think yours is good to go. It would most likely have started to get a smell by now if it wasn't tanning. This was a totally bad smell. It's supposed to take several weeks.. like more than 3-4 to tan a hide. I tasted a small piece of this oak bark and it was still really strong, even after being stored.
This cow smelled NOTHING like "fermented wine".. It was definately a rotting smell.
Since your tree still had leaves attached, it had to be pretty darn fresh.

01-08-2011, 02:54 PM
Do you wring it at all or squish it around as with the brain tan, or do you simply stir it every day and let it soak?

the first 30 days flew by because I was busy with other things, now it just seems to be dragging. LOL!

01-08-2011, 04:24 PM
wringing is pretty vicious on a fragile soaked grain. I just squeegee (scud), and resoak.
The shortest amount of time I've veg tanned one is 45 days and the color from both edges still didn't quite touch, BUT the middle was colored, so I figured that was good enough. It holds up well on my moccassins, so I must have done something right lol.

01-08-2011, 04:28 PM
YCC - how would laying it flat (plywood?) and using a rolling pin to get the liquid out work?

01-08-2011, 05:00 PM
That is basically the same as scudding, but the wife refuses to let me use her rolling pin to I just use an old wood dowel or painters blade. In days of old, special wooden tools were used, where one edge was round, like a dowel, and the other was narrow, so that in cross section, it looked something like a teardrop.
Also, I like to use wood that has been either sanded on one side, or has been finished with shellac or the like. Usually I use an old slalom ski I found out in the old barn. I just removed the hardware.
You can take wet leather, roll (scud) it on unfinished wood, and the grain will take the texture and pattern of the wood grain.
If the hide is marbled with color, this can give a very interesting effect.

I don't know if this helps speed up the tanning tho, if done intermittently between soaks. Seems like I tried it on the last laurel oak tan I did and it took and extra 15 days. I believe you have some of that leather, crash.
Can't say if it helped or not, really.. it's hard to tell what's happening in the bucket other than to check it every so often.

I know when I checked the black walnut that last time, something was wrong.

Remember, your hide should never smell rancid, and there is a clear distinction between rotten and "fermenting", that I'm not sure I can describe with words.

I think I'm gonna start another piece of cow in some of the Live Oak, so be on the lookout for that thread and pictures!

01-08-2011, 05:16 PM
This is the pouring from the second boiling of the first batch of live oak bark. You can see it is still quite dark for a second pouring. Hopefully not too strong.

This was the piece that had the worst smell, though I'm not so sure anymore that it was the hides that smelled so bad, or the walnut liquor itself. The wet hulls smelled like (insert gag reflex here). It is a long piece that is pretty knifed up and is the piece I was intending to share, so keep your fingers crossed!

This smaller piece is going to be part of my powder bag and I aim to top it off with a red fox roadkill I saved last year (I knew I was saving it for something good hehe)

The bucket on the left is just a rinse, and the bucket on the right is the new bark liquor.

Please remember to put lids on your buckets. Please!!

01-28-2011, 08:37 PM
I have never tanned a hide before, though I am going to try tanning a fur in a few weeks when I can find a decent roadkill or something. And I know this is too little too late, but I always used black walnut husks to dye my traps with when I lived in Michigan. I have always found the green husks to be significantly better. Also I usually keep them in an onion sack with a piece of wire attached to it hanging outside the pot. That way I can easily pull out the husks after a while and put in new green ones without having a bunch of sludge at the bottom of the pot.

01-29-2011, 09:23 AM
Excellent advice Michael. Thanks. Next year I'll monkey up the tree and get some green husked nuts. These black ones make a nice stain, but I think that's about where they end. Since I swapped to live oak bark liquor and put another hide in a straight live-oak tan, I should be able to check it to see if the walnut hides have tanned. It'll be really hard to tell with those since they are already black.

The smell from the long piece of hide is almost completely gone, and the new liquor is taking that sweet smell.

02-09-2011, 12:10 AM
I have no idea how many days have passed, I'll have to look back at the thread to see when this cow leather went in the live oak. Maybe I should make a new thread just for the live oak tan?
Apparently the tannins are smaller, because the Live oak pieces are done. I'm gonna leave them for a few more days, and probably save one piece until the demo on March 5th, to show the finish breaking.
You can clearly tell that this is struck completely through. The scissors make the middle part look different, but trust me, it's all red.

If it smelled bad you can bet your backskids grandma wouldn't be holding it up for me!

handling it for only a few minutes stained our hands (theres some paint on there too lol)


As black as the walnut tan is, you can tell that the center wasn't tanning, because now it's reddish too. It also feels much tighter and thinner than when in the walnut liquor. I'm convinced the walnut liquor was no good for tanning because the husks weren't green.

So I'm gonna let them soak until I have time to finish them out right. hopefully catch a sunny day while it's still cool, but most likely it'll be thursday during the rain..
Been waiting on this so I can make my powder bag! Lots of projects coming from this stuff so watch for it!

02-09-2011, 12:28 AM
so it looks like around Jan. 8 I put the black leather in the Live Oak, and maybe a few days later got fresh pieces in seperate buckets of the same liquor.
Last week I made 20 gallons of liquor from one 5 gallon bucket of bark (5 pourings) and put it in a 55 gallon barrel. The liquor had gotten weak with the hides and I didn't feel like they had room, so I split them up into 4 buckets instead of 2 and boosted it with a dose of all 5 pourings combined. A week later they are done. Today is the 8th, so I guess it only took around 30 days. That's my fastest time yet.
The tannins must be smaller to move in so quickly, or the skin is just looser because it's cow.. not sure, but it's really thick and for it to be done already is making me want to get that yote in there.. might just put off a deerskin I'm bucking to work on him. gotta build another size frame for that.. always something to do around here! If you ever get bored, come to my house. We'll get dirty.

02-09-2011, 11:53 PM
That's awesome, can't wait to see what you make.

02-13-2011, 11:29 PM
Got the two black walnut pieces scudded and curried today, no pics yet, they just look like wet leather. Special note here: All the bad smell that was in the one piece of hide is completely gone, and nothing but the sweet smell of the live-oak liquor is left.

Curry was 1/2 bar Dial bath soap
1-1/2 cups (Wesson) canola oil
2-1/2 gallons water, soaped and sloshed

I should point out that I rinsed and squeegied about 10 times till the water ran clear.
Dunked and sloshed in the curry for 5 minutes or so turned the curry a deep rusty brown. I think the soap helps loosen excess tannins, and perhaps the oil entering displaces some others.
You can tell if your curry has an oil surplus if oil floats on top. I probably could have gotten by with 1 to 1-1/4 cups oil. Well mixed curry will be almost opaque, but whitish (till the stained skin goes in).
I hope to finish them one day this week as it's supposed to be low humidity and clear skies all week.

I saved the live-oak liquor for doing hocks and possibly some squirrels and hocks, even though it has a bit of the black walnut stain in it.
Haven't decided on all the finish oilings but I'm sure each piece will be a little different. Want my powder-bag to be water repellent so I'll probably use lard or crisco for that one.

02-14-2011, 12:56 AM
Once you've got them curried and worked dry can you dress them later with a different oil? Can you work them later to get them softer?

02-28-2011, 08:05 AM
Ok.. I tried an experiment with these two pieces.. sorry for the delay in the response, but I wanted to give you a real answer.

After being curried once with lots of soap and oil, I hung them on my rack to dry without softening AT ALL. It's a bad idea.

The pieces dried into something much like cast-iron. It's taken two weeks to get them re-saturated in a second curry and several days of slowly breaking them back soft.
The simple answer is yes. Let me elaborate.

Curry is used to introduce emulsified oils into the skin. Skin still has it's "rawhide" defense mechanism built in. Currying is not enough to keep the hide from setting up, and it must be broken. A curried and broken hide can be stored and worked more later. Currying is NOT finishing, which is generally reserved for adding texture and/or another type of oil to the skin. Once it's been curried and broken, you will have a much nicer time finishing. Keep in mind the finer the oil (molecular level) the softer and lighter the finished skin will feel.
Whatever finish oil you choose to use, try to limit yourself to oiling the grain side, unless your hide has gone "stiff". Oiling the flesh side at this point will make the hide heavy and greasy on the inside. In some cases this is desirable, such as for a sheath. Not so much for clothing pieces.
Keep in mind that bark tanning tightens the skin, so you will never get it to resemble braintan buckskin, but you can get it softer the more you work it to a certain point, and eventually it will get as soft as it can be. Beyond that, you are just spinning your wheels. Hopefully that answers your question.

Now a few pictures to help folks visualize (maybe I should include these in the "bark tan" thread too?)

After a second curry and a LONG soak, and several breakings, We have a very supple, heavy hide.

You can see the emulsified oils on the surface.

It looks like brown-tinged axle grease, but is just soap, water, and cooking oil that is well mixed.

I used an old shop towel to wipe off excess, let it hang out in the sun for the water to evaporate, and broke it twice more over my e-tool (trench shovel). It got dark before I finished, so I wrapped it in the towel, bagged it and set it in the shop till I get time to work it more this evening. Didn't get a chance to take a picture of the smoothed, less-messy hide, but I'll try to get a shot this evening as I work it. I want to save the other larger piece for the demo this coming weekend.

02-28-2011, 11:35 PM
Thanks! I was curious because I put a small one inch piece directly out of the bark tan into 100% canola oil. After three or so weeks i pulled it out and it was hard. But, I worked it and it became soft, it's still soft now. I don't know how easy it would be to work a large hide like that, but it seemed to work for the small one inch piece and eliminated the need to slick, curry, and finish it. I just simply dumped it in oil dripping wet, waited two weeks and then worked it real good without applying any more oil.

Do you stretch them as you work them or simply keep them moving without stretching?

03-01-2011, 12:42 AM
The rounded point on the staker sort of does both at the same time. It pulls in different directions as the "bulge" in the hide conforms to the shape of the tool. I don't try to add much stretch to the utility leathers, but prefer to work them in one direction.. the one I expect it to lay. For example one that will be a belt should be stretched in the direction you intend to cut the strip, and not worked very soft at all. You wouldn't want a belt or shoe soles to have a great deal of stretch. Some working must be done tho, to prevent the rawhide effect.

I would imagine that's a pretty heavy 1" piece, because this piece of cow, with a relatively thick curry is HEAVY.

03-01-2011, 03:44 PM
Thanks, I think I may have stretched mine a bit much trying to get it soft. I look online at the storebought leather and it appears stiff, like thin sheets of plywood almost.

03-02-2011, 01:02 AM
This cow is going to turn out a lot like that. It's so thick and tight till it's really difficult to get soft. Deer, being so thin can be worked to a more likable texture, that's why I like the deer. I want to try some pigskin to see if I can get it as pliable as deer, while being thick like cow.. now that would be the best of both worlds. A lot of what you buy at craft stores is pig, sheep, or goat, or split cow for suede type projects. I really doubt you stretched it too much. It's nice for it to have a little "give" when you stick a knife in the sheath for snug fit, or a strap that isn't like a steel pipe.

Got one almost dry today, it's getting stiff no matter how much I work it. It's hard to go from doing buckskin and making things so soft, back to making leathers that can stand in the corner on their own LOL.
I'm going to soften the large piece at the demo Saturday, for kicks.

03-07-2011, 11:40 PM
RWC, did you look at the pictures in this thread's link?

03-08-2011, 08:49 AM
I did now! Lots of leather and big vats for bucking, nice!

03-08-2011, 07:59 PM
Their leather was stacked in very stiff sheets as well.
Pictures of these old tanneries still functioning always give me pause.

03-09-2011, 03:19 AM
That's the thing, I saw one vid where a factory still does veg tan in the US, but they use modern methods to speed it up a bit and the sheets of leather were the same, like stacks of thin plywood or veneer.

BTW, that little piece is still really soft, but I imagine it would have been hard to work an entire hide that way. Being so small I just rolled it between my fingers for a few, but a big skin you can't simply roll between your fingers. LOL!

03-20-2011, 10:24 PM
So I decided to make myself a more gentle staker for working with grain-on skins. The abrasive disc just grabbed the flesh side too much to be effective.

In the process of drying, it gets stiff enough to stand on it's own like cardboard (more like plywood)...

But after a good go at the staker, it's floppy and pliable again. Sad to say though, it didn't last.

Got wrapped up in other projects and they got a little stiffer than I wanted overnight, but that's okay because they've been well oiled and should only take a few days soak to be pliable enough to mold again.
While this should probably have been it's own thread, I thought it fit here since it's where I first mentioned using Live Oak. This bark gave a deep bloody red.. almost black color. You can see how the colors and textures changed as I added oil as it dried. It's vegetable oil so after I break them once more, I'll use a lighter oil to keep it lubed as I mold it into shape.

Don't know how long it will have to soak to become pliable again, this is only my second attempt at cow, but I've got some other stuff going on and work's picking up, so as long as it's preserved, we can find out later. I'll keep y'all posted.

03-20-2011, 11:18 PM
Do you think there's any oils that shouldn't be used? I've read to stay away from petroleum based oils, and also wondered if some oils may go rancid or the like. I was wondering what you thought about that.

BTW, I saved out some scrap 1x's to make a staker, using the cutting board and clamps was a pain in the "neck".

03-21-2011, 12:29 AM
...and the knees, and lower back and sometimes the knuckles.. lol, yeah I know what you mean!

I wouldn't use any petrol oils on principle alone. Some of them are bad on my own skin so they can't be good for leather, in my mind. I have read about using mineral oils and the like, but I haven't tried it myself, mostly for cost. I use what I have, and cooking oil is fairly affordable. I know lots of folks that use antifreeze (glycol?) to tan reptiles, though I doubt it gets disposed of properly.

Natual oils that might go bad would include things like fish oils, used cooking oil, thin fats or tallows that haven't been clarified well enough. I would stay away from chicken grease and the like for obvious ecoli type reasons. I'm sure there are more that I can't think of right now. If you are familiar with any grease that molds or grows bacteria-type-stuff, don't use that for sure!

Some that could be tried would be things like lanolin, if you perhaps had sheep. marrow-grease if you break bones open, spinal fluid (hey, if you're braintanning, why not?) or any of the fluid from the joints (I think that's called condroitin??), soy lecithin which I've read works, or any parrafin or wax or tallow, provided you can keep it warm enough to work in without damaging the skin.
The knife sheath I finished with tallow is still mold and smell free, so whatever oil it is, it needs to be clean.

03-22-2011, 11:13 PM
As stiff as it was, Only took one day to rehydrate to make pliable again. Now it's just a matter of having time and energy to get it soft.

03-22-2011, 11:17 PM
Oh, and fluid from joints is called synovial fluid. It feels very greasy, yet very thin. I'll have to try it on a small piece sometime this winter. Not much left in the way of skins at this juncture, and it's a good thing too, because it is HOT here.

03-28-2011, 07:22 AM
Staker softened for the most part, then rolled. This piece is about as soft and flimsy as this cow is going to get. I know you can't "feel" the picture, but hopefully it will convey a bit of the texture. It feels like most commercial cowhide leather that I've experienced, except it's much thicker, since I didn't split it.

This is the texture after rolling grain to grain

Gryff had asked me before if there was a way to tell which way the grain runs on leather. Without actually seeing it being made, the distinction can be hard to make. I mention the "triangle" where the hairs come from. If you look closely, you can see the triangle, and you can tell that the hair in this area ran from top left of the pic, to bottom right (maybe you can tell lol).

05-20-2014, 10:07 PM
I love the knowledge from this site. It will be interesting to see what shade my 'alpaca' fiber turns out after dying it with black walnut...

10-11-2014, 06:57 PM
Did you ever finish tanning the hide, and did it turn out well? I read on one webpage that tanning with black walnut hulls may result in a brittle, I've collected a bunch of black walnut hulls that I would like to use at least some of for tanning, so I'm really curious to find out if it works to tan with them or not.

10-13-2014, 06:44 AM
Yes. Some pieces are like body armor, and easily soaked and molded, and the pieces I softened are pliable yet tough enough for moccasin soles.
Let's see... I made this leather three years ago, so it's pretty durable with no sign of molding or rot.