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Thread: Braintanning pelts the easy way

  1. #21
    Senior Member flandersander's Avatar
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    Okay, I think I'll be able to rig something up. What else can I do, as well as salting, that sets the hair? Or is that it? If I ruin it, it's not a big deal to me, it's all about learning right? haha. And the resmoking suggestion means I would to the stretching and softening little bits at a time? And the smoking is the "save" button? I could see how that would be easier on the fur.
    Last edited by flandersander; 12-28-2010 at 04:32 AM.


  2. #22
    naturalist primitive your_comforting_company's Avatar
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    The only two methods I'm aware of, are salting, and bark-tanning. I'm not sure why salting sticks the hair, but it does, and bark tanning will tighten the skin, making the hair fast.
    There are chemical tans, like tawing, which will set the hair without staining, but IMO these are heavy, greasy, and sloppy leathers which don't feel very natural. My neighbor shot a big buck last night and his hunting buddy had a piece of buckskin that was made into a little bullet bag (keep the extra shells from rattling) that someone sent off to have tanned. It felt much like the pigskin leathers from tandy or michaels (craft store). The fella was really impressed with the feel of the buckskin I was wearing. now he wants a hunting bag!

    P(re)-smoking is just like using the save button on the computer. It's not that you soften in little bits, but more like a few big bits. braining and softening the first time with any skin with the grain attached is going to leave it a bit stiff, like construction paper (which is why we remove the grain from buckskin). Smoking will preserve all the soft areas, and make them wettable without compromising the softness at "dry". Any areas that didn't soften on the first round will usually soften the second time. If the brains turn "smokey", sometimes you can slide by without a second smoking, but I prefer to smoke properly again anyway. The hide-sack (pillowcase) really is efficient in transferring the aldehydes to the fibers.

    Using the frame will allow you access to the entire hide at once, reducing stress on the fur by less handling. This often produces less bouncy hides, though. Not necessarily a bad thing with tender skins. It's a give/take trade-off here. Less bounce means less fur slipping in use, while more bounce means softer skins.

    Large game like buffalo were tanned using several different methods for setting the hair. Just touching on this as an option... They used canine dung and urine to tan the hides with hair on.

    cattle salt is so cheap (like $5 for 50#), that's what I'd use, and after a good rinsing, brain-tan.
    Any time you want to stop, or re-do parts, smoke it before you re-wet it, and all your progress is saved, leaving room to experiment.

    Wondering and experimenting are great motivators for learning.

    Good Luck FS. If you need any more assistance, you know where to find me!

  3. #23
    Senior Member flandersander's Avatar
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    I wish I would have taken pics, but I skinned it (not cased like I wanted), fleshed it, and threw it in a frame. I couldn't get the brains out of the skull no matter what I tried, so I'm using eggs. It seems really watery, so I'll soften it, smoke it, then use just an egg, no water added. It's going good, the only promlem I'm having is telling the difference between the meat and the membrane. But I think it'll be okay, as long as I buff it a bit at the end. I'm excited, it's going good! It might not be too watery, the strings are going slack. This is fun
    Last edited by flandersander; 12-28-2010 at 05:43 PM.

  4. #24
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    the more slack you leave in those strings, the bouncier it'll be. Glad you are having fun with it. Keep at it. The end result makes it all worthwhile.. and hey, you can't really mess it up! If it gets stiff, smoke it anyway and try again

    (I think most folks just use straight eggs, but let's see how yours turns out)

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    Senior Member flandersander's Avatar
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    Well, It was sloppy wet, so I left it for a bit, and when I checked on it, it was already getting stiff, so I started working it, stretching it, and my utensil pushed right through the hide. It's wrecked... Oh well, I caught a coyote today... Maybe I'll try a small section of that...

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    This is a very well written guide YCC, thank you for the effort involved.

    I am a trapper at heart and have fleshed and stretched many hides, but never knew how to tan it myself. I sent some out to be tanned, but was always disappointed in the results and honestly I am a hands on kinda guy anyway. I would love to be able to make my own muskrat mittens and things for family as Christmas presents.

    I do have a couple questions though, this stuff might have been covered somewhere else, but I couldn't find it.

    First I was wondering if you salted the skin side of the pelt before you went through this tanning process.

    Second, I am wondering how this process would be different with a fleshed and stretched hide, how you would get it soft again to do this, or if you even CAN brain tan a stretched and dried hide.

    Lastly I was wondering if you wouldn't mind sharing solution of laundry powders with the borax you use to keep it damp.

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    Hey, Michael. I'm glad you're interested! tanning your own pelts, no matter how they are stored is very rewarding.

    I do use salt sometimes, but I prefer to freeze them for storage. When I use salt, it is to draw out the ground substance from the skin. It has a similar effect to bucking.. getting the goop (Science word alert!!) out of it.
    If you are wanting to store it dry, it needs to be left salted till it's dry, changing the salt when it turns yellow, then rewet with plain water and rinsed a few times before braining. I do use this same method for doing hair-on deer, and I have one hanging on the ceiling in my shop smoking now. It was fleshed on the beam, framed, salted dry, and stored for a while. I resoaked in a bucket to get it limber and rinsed, reframed it, and as it got damp instead of sopping, I started adding brain slurry and working it in with the stick.
    Dry salted hides are totally doable. If you're going to be doing it soon, wet salting is the way to go. Same thing, just don't let it get dry!

    The laundry powder recipe is here http://www.wilderness-survival.net/f...-Getting-Clean
    I just mixed some (don't know how much) with water in a little squirt bottle. Not sure how it affects pH, but that black squirrel hide gets me quite a few compliments.

    If you have any more questions, or run into any problems, let me know. I'm happy to help!

    I have to agree with you about the processed hides.. they just don't feel the same. they are heavy and rubbery and just don't feel natural to me.

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    Sorry for the delay in responding, my weekends are busier then my weekdays (when all I have to deal with is work).

    I appreciate the help, I like to know everything I can before giving something a try, learn from other's mistakes so I dont make the same ones.

    I have been trapping since I was a kid. The way the fur buyer has always wanted the hides was stretched and dried, no salt. I would skin them, flesh them on the beam, put them on stretchers and let them dry out in the fur shed. When they were good and dry I would take them off the stretchers and let them hang until time for the sale if it wasn't too far in the future, or I would wrap them and stack them in a big chest freezer I kept on hand (didn't really have to freeze them, but I liked to, and made sure mice and such couldn't get to them).

    Am proud of the fact that over the years I got REALLY good up to that point and always brought top prices for my fur, whether from auction or local fur buyers.

    I was actually thinking about writing a guide on how to skin, flesh and stretch to get the most money for your hides, profit margin is small enough as it is, no sense getting less then the best prices. But I wouldn't have any pictures for it other then what I could draw, and that is NOT one of my talents. Still I might write it and add pics in May or whenever I can find a good roadkill.

    I couldn't trap this year as I gave all my traps to my younger cousin who I kinda took under my wing. Plus that is a LOT of steel to haul all the way to Alaska from Michigan hehe. I am going to have him set aside a couple pelts for me, and when I go down in May I am going to try my hand at brain tanning them (I will be butchering a hog for the family's hog roast while I am down there so will use the brains from that). I just wanted to know if I needed to have him salt the hides first or not. Will have him salt them after reading your post.

    Will also try softening one that wasn't salted by soaking it, may as well, wondering why the fur buyers want them unsalted. And if I use a small hide it shouldn't take long to dry back out.

    Anyway, I rambled enough. Thanks a ton for the help, and if you can think of anything else I am always happy to learn

  9. #29
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    If you're gonna keep 'em, it won't make any difference in the end product. If you're selling them to tanners who want unsalted hides, it's best not to.

    Salt will make them get wet anytime the humidity is high. It also requires extra rinsing to get the salt out. Maybe they don't want the extra little bit of handling? Not sure since I don't sell my skins.
    The benefit outweighs the extra work, IMHO, in that the salt helps tighten the skin to set the hair, and it draws out the mucus which is really in the way for getting brains in there.

    Try a small one with salt and see how you like it. It's no big deal to me to rinse a couple times.. or just leave it out in the rain like I did today with one

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    Lol, sounds like something I would do for sure.

    Gonna ask him to salt the ones he is holding for me. The ones we are selling they will get however they want them hehe. Now I just can't wait til I get down there lol.

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    Good Luck, and remember, they aren't as tough as deer, if you noticed Flandersanders' post above.. you can poke through them if you go at it like a neanderthal (like I do most things LOL)

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    Yeah, will be just using my hands so I dont over do it (hopefully). Keep hoping for a roadkill, but there just isn't much here in Anchorage.

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    Well, finally have some fur to work with, I picked up a 10 muskrats for practice at the auction this weekend. I also got a beautiful arctic fox to tan after I get good lol.

    The rats unfortunately were not skinned with the faces on them, and were stretched and dried with a lot (to my mind any is a lot) of meat and fat on them.

    This weekend I will be softening them again and fleshing them. This week I will be walking through the woods looking for punky wood, shouldn't be that hard to find, birch tends to rot fast. I am going to try hand stretching them instead of framing, seems a little easier to avoid tear it to me, though I have zero experience either way.

    Not in any hurry, want to take my time and do it right. I intentionally bought thin skinned animals for practice (figure it is like learning to drive; if you can drive stick you can drive anything).

    I will keep you informed of my progress.

    Edit: Spelling
    Last edited by Michael; 02-28-2011 at 03:39 PM.

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    Glad to hear you got some skins to work with Michael. Please keep me informed on your progress.

    I will tell you to expect a little bit of fur loss on the edges as you pull. Just can't help but break a few, but don't let it discourage you! The edges are usually so mis-shapen it's hard to use much of them anyway. 1/4" right on the edge is not terrible when hand stretching and can always be trimmed and boiled into hide glue.

    Can't wait to see your progress!

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    Figured the 1/2" outside edge would be rough no matter if I did hand stretching or if I punched holes in it to frame it, so no real loss there. Not expecting my first one to turn out great anyway, that is why I bought 10 "practice" hides. Plan to make mittens out of the muskrat since mine are getting pretty rough after years of use.

    My main concern is softening them again to work them without the hair slipping. From what I hear soaking it is the best way to soften it again, but if it soaks too long it will cause the hair to slip. My plan is to put a damp towel around it (they are case skinned and I dont want to split it until they are flexible again) since muskrat hides are pretty thin.

    Going to find out soon enough I guess, just not really looking forward to fleshing them since I dont have a shed or anything to work in and last few days have been pretty cool with the wind. Necessity is the mother of invention though, got a couple plans hehe.

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    the next option for your case would be the towel trick. Sopping wet towels. Given how thin they are (going on your word, I've never even seen a muskrat that I know of) you shouldn't have to soak them very long to get them pliable enough to open. It's the prolonged exposure that gives trouble with the hair. Since you have 10, I'd try at least one in a soak for a few hours, or maybe put it in before bed and start softening in the morning. If you rip all the hair out you'll know it was a bad idea! (haha)
    compared to what might take a few days with the towels, I think it'd be worth a shot.

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    Muskrat is a little thicker then rabbit a little thinner then the squirrel you did.

    Going to soak it tomorrow night for 2 hours, then check it, if it isn't soft enough change the water and do it again. I think it should be ok if I just keep paying attention to it. Also will dry the hair with a hair dryer once the hide is soft enough to flesh. Like I said I do have 10 of them so loosing one isn't gonna be the end of the world. I expect the first couple to not turn out the greatest anyway, but will be happy if they do. Will be using the rats to make some mittens to replace my old worn out ones.

    Will let you know how things progress, hoping to take pictures as I go.

    Tonight I am going to cut a hole in the side of a paint can to make a stove to smoke it.

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    well I have been working on the hide for a couple hours now, it only took half an hour of soaking to get soft. Fleshing it took a while, and due to poor lighting where I was doing it I think I got a little over zealous with it since I could see the hair roots on a lot of it when I brought it out into the light. went ahead and used eggs on it and stretched it til it was pretty dry, then put a second coat of eggs on it and repeated just to be sure, while it was still a little damp I put it in a bag, sealed it up and put it in the fridge til tomorrow.

    I did have some hair slipping, not sure if it was because of the hair being damp while I was fleshing it or if it was because I scraped it too thin, anyway it wasn't really bad slipping, no bald spots or anything so going to go ahead and smoke it tomorrow. Will post pictures when I am done.

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    Glad you are having some success. Hair slipping on the edges is pretty common, so as long as you didn't make bald spots I would consider it great success. Can't wait to see the pics! You'll get the feel for the fleshing, Like I was telling folks yesterday, you just gotta get a little dirty and test the waters. Most of this stuff is something you just gotta get a feel for.
    Maybe on the next one, don't worry too much about the tatty fibers, and just focus on the meat and fat.

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    Fleshing was the hard part, have fleshed MANY hides before but always when they were fresh, with all this dried on it was a real pain. I looked at the hide again today and notice the fur that I am loosing is the soft under fur, imagine that is because the roots were exposed. I had read on a different site that I needed to remove the film on the hides, but on a skin this thin removing that film exposes the roots. I think next weekend when I try another I will just buff it with some sandpaper or something to remove that, or try it without removing it. My hide isn't too white after stretching it and things you will see on the pictures, but that is because a muskrat's skin is actually a blue / black color. At least on the back.

    Anyway will smoke this one this evening and try to get some pics up.

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