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my views on some tanning aspects

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I really enjoy brain tanning. To be able to take a wet, greasy, sloppy, hairy mass of flesh and turn it into this fantastic, chamois-soft, sweet-cigar-smelling piece of washable cloth amazes me every time I do it. These views are mine alone and are simply observations made during my experiences.

Comparing Tans:
buckskin is great but absorbs water like a sponge. soft, lightweight, washable. excellent cool weather wardrobe, and it's sexy as all get-out. It is a very physical task to make.
Bark tanned leather is heavy, tight, and tough. great for moccasin soles, straps, belts, sheaths, etc. It can be treated to be water repellent and so is very utilitarian. It's very easy to make (basically 30-50 days sitting in a bucket, stirring occasionally). I call it 'lazy leather'.
Furs can never be as soft as buckskin (because the grain is left on), but the hair on the fur is excellent as insulation in cold weather. The fur patterns are also very appealing to the eye and double as natural camo. Some animals are better for making furs than others. Deer have hollow hairs and thus they break easily, whereas fox and coon have solid hairs that stay put well.

Comparing softening techniques:
hand softening/ staking: pulling a hide by hand over your knees or stationary stake. This is not very physical and if you need a break, just wrap the skin in a plastic bag and come back when you are ready.
cabling: pulling a hide back and forth over a vertically mounted steel (or other material for us primitives) cable. This is a very aggressive softening method. I have yet to perfect how to get consistent surface texture using this method. As with hand softening, you can take a break if desired. The advantage is that it raises the knap while you work, eliminating the need to buff with pumice or sandstone.
Frame softening: suspending a hide by cordage to a framework so that all surfaces are exposed and workable. This method is probably the most physical and commited. Once it's framed you can't leave it until it is dry. This is my preferred method because I can observe the whole hide and concentrate on each area as it needs working. It is also the most material commited method, requiring lots of cordage, wood for the frame, and a staking tool. Dry scrapers have the advantage of having the skin already in the frame. It also provides the tanner the ability to regulate the 'bounce' left in the finished skin.

Comparing scraping techniques:
Dry scrape is very tedious, requiring diligence and perseverence. You are using very sharp tools that need resharpening often and it is super easy to make holes with sharp tools. Dry scraping also requires framing meaning more materials and time, though there is a long waiting period of drying time. It produces thinner, lighter buckskin
Wet scrape is a self regulating process, seperating the skin layers at the natural borders. It is physically intensive exercise but requires little attention. I prefer this method to dry scrape as it leaves thicker, bouncier skins. It's really quite hard to screw up wet scrape and make holes except for places where the hide is naturally thinner, i.e. belly and inner leg skin.

Thats the rundown on the varying methods used to produce types of leathers. I have had much success in using frame softened wet-scrape, and bark tan. Furs can be a bit more tricky to keep the hair from slipping and more often than not I mess up a little on the legs and belly. Hopefully this will give some direction to anyone wanting to get into tanning.

I will tell you this about tanning, the first 3/4 of the buckskin process is pretty stinky. It's not for those with a weak stomach.

If anyone needs assistance, I'm available for questions. All comments welcome.

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  1. your_comforting_company's Avatar
    Me and some buddies hand softened a skin this weekend. The shape was rather odd when dried. It was much less physical than frame softening, and we all had a good time doing the work.
    Hand softening lends an extremely stretchy buckskin. It seems a bit thicker than frame stretched skins, and was a little more difficult to buff by hand. My staker has a grinding wheel on top which helped to buff it.
    I like hand softening as far as the work is concerned, but the end product felt much different. After working it into something, I'll comment on the tactility.
  2. jake abraham's Avatar
    when I have the time I will probably contact you with some ?