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Thread: Braintanning pelts the easy way

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    naturalist primitive your_comforting_company's Avatar
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    Default Braintanning pelts the easy way

    Ok, maybe some of you remember me asking about the black squirrel.
    I finally finished it yesterday. It's Oh-So-soft and very nice to look at.
    Most likely it will be a scope cover for my gun, or a pouch to carry little stuff in. Here goes.
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    I did a good job while skinning so there was 0 meat left on the hide, only a small amount of connective tissues. Gotta get that stuff off there to get good brain penetration. No, the vice grips were for something else I was doing lol.
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    after that bit of work, next step is to get him in the frame without drying out too much.. wanna keep it damp. I have a solution of our home-made laundry powders in the little spritzer. the borax in the solution will change the pH just enough to get really good brain penetration.
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    now the fun / gross part. mixing the brains. It makes your hands really soft ladies. give it a try next time you run out of lotion!
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    as the skin soaks up the brain slurry, it relaxes. this is a great indication that the brains are penetrating the hide.
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    tighten up your strings and continue braining and softening
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    Once you are satisfied that the hide is thoroughly saturated with brains, allow it to start drying. Check it often to make sure it doesn't need stretching. If it does, stretch it. you want to keep the hide wide open (whitish color is a good indicator that the hide is opened)

    as the excess brains dry on the outside of the skin a crust forms. I felt the need to make a tool for more efficient scraping of this crust, so the next bit will be making the tool from a spoon with a hand file.
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    then scrape off the crusties
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    and the scraped hide. wide open.
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    Once it's dry it's time to buff it with my sandstone, take it out of the frame and smoke it. There is a pecan tree in the yard with some rotten wood near the bottom. I mean really rotten. almost crumbles to powder. good stuff for smoking. I just use elmers glue to attach the edges to themselves to make a sort of "pillowcase" of the hide.
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    Now it can be washed without worry of it becoming stiff again. After that, it's up to you what it becomes.

    Don't hate me Ken!!
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    Senior Member hunter63's Avatar
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    Very well done, I do believe even a cave man can do it.
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    Super Moderator crashdive123's Avatar
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    Great tutorial. Deserves some rep.
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    Well done.........must have been the camera angle but in the first photos it looked like a 40 pound squirrel......

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    Makes me wonder what kind of pelt you'd get out of "Fatso", the squirrel that I watched as a small child get past every bird feeder protector... We honestly thought one day he'd blow up.
    "Tread lightly and carry a big stick."-Ben Franklin

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    Nice!
    Thanks YCC.
    Did you just use the squirrel's brains? Or a larger quantity acquired elsewhere?

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    naturalist primitive your_comforting_company's Avatar
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    This particular squirrel was shot in the head by someone other than myself. I like fox squirrels and don't care to kill them. I have only seen one other black one down here, ever, so it's something of a unicorn for me to have this pelt for myself.
    Our grocery store sells brains in 1lb plastic containers for $2. Smithfield Farms in VA packs them out. I used about 1/4 lb to a cup of water, and that was about twice as much as I needed. I kept adding to the skin and drying till most of it was gone just because I already mashed it up lol. Each animal is supposed to have enough brains to tan it's own hide. It's holding true for deer, but I always seem to have a little deer brains leftover to tan out smaller stuff too. Hog brains are a good backup plan if I think I'll run short on deer later. Right now I have the brain for the same animal the skin came from sorted in the freezer. Each one is supposed to be enough!

    And other than the skinning, this whole process took only an afternoon. If you had several frames you could do several of these just as easily as one at a time. I mostly used my fingers and a tulip poplar twig as stakers. They are a lot thinner than deer so you gotta have a lighter touch.
    Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. Helen Keller

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    Great tutorial, thanks for the details.
    I Wonder Who was the first person to look at a cow and say, "I think I'll squeeze these dangly things here, and drink what ever comes out?"

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    I'll have to check if the weird grocery store in the next town sells brains. Doubt it. I haven't seen those for sale anywhere here for years. The yuppies who've moved out here would faint or probably call the board of health. But the weird store did have 'chicken paws' though...maybe you just gotta ask for them.

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    yep. I bought them at Harveys. surely someone sells them. they were in the frozen food aisle. right next to egg rolls, go figure.
    of course, if you wanted a whole case, you could probably call up smithfield farms.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sourdough View Post
    Well done.........must have been the camera angle but in the first photos it looked like a 40 pound squirrel......
    That's exactly what I thought.

    Nice how to YCC! Maybe one of these days I'll get around to trying something like this.

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    Senior Member flandersander's Avatar
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    Does it have to go in a frame, or can it be softened in the same fashion you would do for buckskin? Frameless that is.

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    After having fleshed the deer I now have to ask, did you scrape off the membrane while fleshing or leave it?

  14. #14

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    I have a similar question. When brain tanning do you have to peel the membrane off or do the brains penetrate the membrane?

    BTW: Nice job, I am very impressed.

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    Flander, It is not required to frame a fur-on hide, but I highly recommend it because of the delicate handling to keep from pulling out all the hair with your fingers. Softening can be pretty aggressive and using a frame will keep the fur from being damaged. Still, hand softening a pelt can be done.. just gotta be careful!

    RWC, much of the membrane comes off in fleshing, so the flesh side only needs a little scraping after bucking. It's the same amount of work, just doing it in a different order, I guess. If you noticed the bone tool up in the "tools" section, it makes a really good flesher that takes off most of the membrane and connective tissue. The teeth in the tool really grab those stringy bits and get them out of there!

    klickitat, The membrane needs to be removed before braining. Brains can penetrate that layer, but the more "junk" you get out of the way, the less trouble you'll have softening. On framed pelts, I peel the membrane off; Shaved with a sharp spoon. On buckskin I scrape the membrane off in the graining/membraning stage. The membrane will make the inside (the side touching your skin when you wear it) stiff and bristly if not removed. Keep in mind we are working with wet hides to make buckskin, so there is no "peeling", only plowing with a dull tool

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    Default Eggs as a brain alternative

    I mentioned before that eggs and brains were very similar in composition. If you don't want to use brains, just take a dozen eggs, yolk and all, and beat them like you were making scrambled eggs, then proceed. According to what I've read, it often takes several eggings to achieve the softness we want, but if you don't have brains, it's a good alternative.
    I have not used eggs, so my only experience with that is what I've read and nothing more.

    Soap and oil is another alternative, but I suggest you try your best to find brains. Water is our medium and oil doesn't like to mix evenly with water. The way we counter this, is to emulsify the oil using soap. Dove dish liquid, about half a cup or so, mixed with half a cup or so of neatsfoot or similar oil, mixed with a gallon of water will do.
    These oils are not like brains at all.. these are very heavy and greasy oils and will not leave you with the light, airy, breathable chamois we want. These oils will make your buckskin rather clammy and very heavy and it reminds me of commercial suede like you buy at the craft stores.. Not really something I'd want to wear.

    I tried soap and oil on a very small scrap of hide and I did not like the results at all. Seriously, try to find brains as they will give you the super-soft product you are looking for.

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    Senior Member flandersander's Avatar
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    I've got a good first try (I think). I managed to catch myself a weasel this week. So I'm gonna try to tan it. I would like to case skin it though, so how do you suggest I go about braining and softening with a case skinned pelt, beings as I can't exactly put it in a frame... Thanks alot, great tut.

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    hand softening is one alternative, though it can be tricky to keep from pulling out the hair with your fingers while stretching. It might be possible to rig up a staker of some sort to stretch it over (inside out). Just make sure it isn't too aggressive. thin-skinned animals can have hair pull inward too. If you left the mask on it, that adds a whole new challenge!
    I have to recommend using a pre-smoking technique (or re-smoking as I prefer to call it) where you brain and soften a little, then smoke the hide, then rebrain and soften again. This allows less chance of ruining the fur and will make each pass at softening a lot easier.

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    Administrator Rick's Avatar
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    YCC - You mentioned using pecan wood. I assume you use it because it's handy and of the right consistency. Almost all wood contains phenolic compounds, formaldehyde and acetic acid giving the wood smoke a very low pH. I was wondering if you've found one wood to be better than another based on the chemical properties of the smoke?

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    as long as the wood is rotten, I find them all to do the same thing, just with a little different color. In my mind, letting the wood rot gets rid of all the organic junk that would gunk up the hide, like sugars, saps, etc. so that all you are using are the phenols and aldehydes (for the most part anyway..)
    Cedar, cherry, oak.. other than the color, I can't tell a difference in softness of the skin, nor the washability. Pecan is plentiful in my yard so I don't have to go far to get it, but I have made special trips to get punk like cherry heart, or live oak.

    I'm not sure the acetic acid is left in any of the wood by the time it's suitable for smoking.. remember, it's gotta be rotten enough to crumble with your fingers!

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