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Thread: Braintanning the simple (or overcomplicated) way

  1. #101
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    Default Why did my buckskin get stiff?

    I don't know if I covered this already, but the question was proposed at class, and I thought I might include it here.

    One reason a buckskin might get stiff, is that you didn't scrape all the grain off, or didn't scrape deeply enough.
    • Always scrape at least twice, in a different direction. The first scraping, I like to do while the hide is completely saturated with alkali. This keeps the hide swollen and the glues disturbed enough that it won't start to "set up" while you are working. After the first scraping, I give a quick rinse, working the hide into clean, running water. It will begin to resume it's former floppy, clothlike texture.
    • After the rinse, scrape a second (or third) time in a different direction. The initial rinse will reveal any grain you missed. The fiber network will have a very white, alabaster color. Grain will have a yellow tinge and often you will find it in strips between your initial scraping stripes.


    Another reason, it might still have alkali (buck) in the thickest areas
    • Rinse, wring, repeat. Alkali left in the hide will immediately react with the brain solution; The buck being alkali and the brains being acidic, will react with one another to create a "salt" precipitate. In water, this would fall to the bottom, but within the fiber network, they just sit there, filling in the spaces. Multiple wringings and rinses, although time consuming, will prove valuable to the braintanner.
    • The neck, down the spine, and two pads on each side of the rump, are very thick and VERY absorbent when properly scraped. A second or third scraping helps to squeegee out any alkali, in whatever concentration, as well as removing any grain that might have been missed. Multiple scrapings not only improve the quality of your buckskin, but also aid in removing excess alkali.


    Your brain slurry mixture is in too low of a ratio.
    • On the last wringing, collect all the water that you squeeze from the hide in a bucket, and measure this amount. This is almost exactly how much water the hide can hold. use slightly less water than this when making your slurry.
    • One deer's brain is enough to tan it's hide, true, but this does not account for environmental conditions, like humidity (or lack thereof). Use more brains than necessary if you have them available. If not, use slightly less water. The water soluble oils are the important factor. As the water evaporates, the oils are left behind, and as the hide is worked the oils keep the glues from reattaching to one another and making rawhide!


    You took a break and the outer layer "glued" itself back together
    • This is particularly common on windy days with low humidity. Use your buffing tool to break up this thin layer of glue.
    • Often, the flesh side sets up first. This is the side that goes against your skin and you will find it very uncomfortable as it chaps your tender parts. The stringy bits that might have been missed, will dry quickly. If your staker is abrasive, this is easily remedied.
    • If you must leave the hide, roll it back on itself, bag it, and stick it in the fridge. At this point, you've probably got the edges soft and you don't want to lose your progress. It is better to start over with those parts being slightly damp, than to try to FIX parts that got stiff!


    You stopped softening before the hide was completely dry
    • My hands are not very sensitive to things like moisture or temperature because my palms are covered in callouses. Use the BACK of your hand to test if the hide is dry. A dry hide will have a "warm" feel while a hide that has even a slight amount of dampness will feel cold. Don't stop until it feels warm to the back of your hand!


    So.. something, somewhere in the process, went wrong, or something came up... What do you do now?

    There are two options: Rebrain, or Presmoke (another misnomer). As I said before, I think the two terms are interchangable, so call it whichever seems more suitable to you!
    Rebraining is just that, dunking it right back into whatever brain slurry you have left after wringing, and starting over. Often this is a perfectly viable solution, especially if stiffening occurs early in the softening process.
    However, chances are that you've been softening for a good while before it gets stiff and you don't want to start over. You can save your progress on the soft parts, by continuing on with the steps, and smoking the hide. Remember, it only takes about 20 minutes of smoke for a hide to be functionally tanned (using the "sack" method). When that time is up, you can go right ahead and dunk it back in the brains. You won't have to worry about the parts that previously softened, you can focus on the areas that are the toughest and take longest to dry. It will fade the color slightly, which is why you shouldn't spend a lot of time smoking a stiff hide. Once it is soft and supple, like you like it, you can smoke it again to get the rich colors you want.

    If there are any other complications, please get them up and I will do my best to address them!
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  2. #102
    naturalist primitive your_comforting_company's Avatar
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    Trying a new color. I finally used up all of my Post Oak, and didn't want the reddish color of red cedar, so I went stomping around the woods and found some rotten bald cypress knees near the edge of a nearly dried-up pond. They snapped off right at ground level with ease.
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    After an hour an a half, I had a pretty fair color. 30 minutes gave such a light color, I could barely tell it was smoking at all, except that I could see smoke permeating the hide. I let it go twice as long as normal, and used roughly 5x as much punk wood as normal.
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    opened up
    I smoked two hides with the bald cypress and got almost exactly the same colors given the length of time.
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    It is a very "mute" color. Not incredibly bright in the sun, nor reflective. Almost looks 3-D. I'll try to get better pictures if the sun comes out today.

    And just for kicks. Anybody remember the story about the 8 point I got last Christmas eve with the black powder rifle Grandad gifted me? This is that buck, softened and HUGE. I can wrap it all the way around myself the narrow way. I'm thinking of making a fancy buckskin jacket, but I don't know. "Fancy" really isn't my thing
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  3. #103
    Super Moderator crashdive123's Avatar
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    More great stuff.
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  4. #104
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    The 8pt I've been going on about. Looks better in the sun. It's a very creamy, flesh-colored tan. The pictures really don't do it justice.
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    two smaller hides, smoked for slightly longer times. I like the color and will be using bald cypress more often, I think.
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    What do you think? Good color? too light?
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  5. #105
    Super Moderator crashdive123's Avatar
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    I like the lighter color. Sort of looks more natural to me.
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    One of my students went home after the class and started tanning buckskin
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    My knapping mentor spent some time with me a few weeks ago and for his time, I gave him two buckskins for his "workshirt". He went with lacing from one of the utility hides instead of all that tedious sewing. Control yourself ladies!
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    My oldest son, with his first buckskin. I helped a little, but he did most of the work and he sure is proud! He says next year he wants to finish it with one of his own deer to make a nice shirt (fancy-froo-froo) hahaha.. I'm picking at him
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    Great stuff YCC!
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    Senior Member hunter63's Avatar
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    That's great, something about wearing your own hides......
    Nice work....and it is work, congrats!

    Have one hide from a deer I killed, that I had to chase down and find...dead.
    Dragged it back, no snow on the ground......when I go back to the truck, found I had dragged all the hair off on spot on the side.

    After I had it tanned, (I didn't do this one), there was a scrape mark on it, used that hide on the right leg of my buckskin pants.....when ever I sit down to eat, the plate rest on that scrapped spot.
    Brings back memories of that long drag...and my FIL sitting in the truck accross a 80 acre field, looking the other way...I would wave, he would wave back....but never knew I was dragging a deer back.....I can still feel the sore butte muscles right now, as I relate this......LOL
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    Its rewarding to see something you taught someone actually being used, great post YCC
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  10. #110
    Puff...the crashin' drago scottg's Avatar
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    Default Bucking agent

    I don't know if anyone is still reading this thread, but first of all, YCC, this is the best description of brain tanning I've seen on the net - and I've seen a bunch. Thanks so much. I've done several hides myself, but I am starting to use Sodium Hydroxide as my bucking agent and wonder if anyone has any words of wisdom on it. I'm finding (but I'm not blaming sodium hydroxide) that the hair comes off easily, but the grain is STILL very tough. 6 hours on one decent-sized hide just to grain. Anyone with experience with NaOH (sodium hydroxide)? I'm all ears....

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    YCC has been pretty busy lately but he'll get to your post.
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    The hair slips easily, but the grain is still tough.. My guess is that it needs another 24 hours in the buck. What are the temps in the area where you are bucking the hide? If it is super cold, it takes longer, and NaOH (I have not used it, btw) works quickly on hair. I suggest checking the strength of the solution, and possibly moving the bucket to a warmer area in the range of 45-50 degrees. Give it another day and try again.
    Sorry I've been out so much lately. Been busy during the slow season, which isn't so slow this year.

  13. #113
    Puff...the crashin' drago scottg's Avatar
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    Thanks for the response. Yes, the hair seems to come VERY soon. I put 1 tablespoon NaOH in about 2 gallons of water at 45-50 degrees (maybe a little warmer than that...), and the hair started slipping very well in about 7 HOURS. The hide itself turns more like gelatin, though, so I took it out of the solution. The hide looked very strange (the gelatin-like stuff), and I thought I had ruined it, but it seemed to come out pretty well, actually, after soaking it in water. And, I did soak it in water for a while before graining. I'm assuming that was my problem? I was kinda concerned that the solution was still too strong (I've NEVER heard of anything working in 7 hours...), and that is why I soaked it in water first. Prior to this hide, I put 9 tablespoons of NaOH in the same amount of water and that hide's hair started slipping very well in under 2 hours. Too strong, definitely, which led me to think that the 1 tablespoon was also potentially too strong - even at 7 hours. Anyway, I was thinking about 2 teaspoons in 3 gallons or so. This would give the solution more time to work on the grain and not just the hair. Thoughts...? Again, I really appreciate this thread and your willingness to share your expertise. The pumice, by the way, and as you mention, is magic! :-)

  14. #114
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    Ideally, you want a pH of around 12.9 with wood ash, sometimes if I'm in a hurry, I make it just a touch stronger, especially if it came from a male deer in rut. I can't imagine bucking a hide in 7 hours.. that's like putting it in before bed and working it after the first cuppa joe the next morning, lol. I'll do a little research on it as I'm waiting for the fog to lift so I can get started braining and softening a big one today.
    I've never had a solution strong enough to create a gelatinous goo in the buck. Is there any way to get a few pictures? sometimes seeing it is better than imagining it, lol. I assume the mixture is mostly clear. Are you giving the mixture time to cool after adding to the water? I wonder if the heat generated is enough to actually cause the glues to release from the hide, as if making hide glue. The chemical similarity to KOH would lead me to believe so.
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    In a similar fashion, sodium hydroxide is used to digest tissues, such as in a process that was used with farm animals at one time. This process involved placing a carcass into a sealed chamber, then adding a mixture of sodium hydroxide and water (which breaks the chemical bonds that keep the flesh intact). This eventually turns the body into a liquid with coffee-like appearance,[12][13] and the only solid that remains are bone hulls, which could be crushed between one's fingertips.[14] Sodium hydroxide is frequently used in the process of decomposing roadkill dumped in landfills by animal disposal contractors.[13] Due to its low cost and availability, it has been used to dispose of corpses by criminals. In Mexico, a man who worked for drug cartels admitted disposing over 300 bodies with it.
    from Wiki. Sounds like you got the Mafia's bucking solution...
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  16. #116
    Puff...the crashin' drago scottg's Avatar
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    Don't tell 'em!

    I tried 2 teaspoons of NaOH in about 3 gallons of water. A full 24 hours and it seemed perfect - until I got to the neck. I put it back in for another 24 hours and it didn't seem to help the neck any, though. I think I remember reading that KOH and NaOH may lose their potency somehow...(I don't know how that would happen, chemically speaking, but perhaps....). So, I intend to make another solution tonight. I have no pictures, unfortunately. Do you actually check your pH regularly, or just use "til the egg floats" method? Also, the gelatinous goo is only the part I'm supposed to be scraping off. The part that remains seems fine and unaffected. I think I'll continue with the NaOH for now, and just be careful with the concentration - lest the mafia come down on me! I'll have to pay attention to the heat thing. I didn't notice it too warm at all, but I'll have to pay attention to it next time.

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    Super cool thread! A couple years ago I made some buckskin using the process outlined in "Deerskins into Buckskin" book. What a chore! I was already thinking about doing it again this fall and after reading this thread I will be doing so for sure!
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  18. #118
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    YCC, I'm back at it!

    I am definitely finding that the neck area is almost impossible to grain. I'm curious how hard it is for you using wood ash. I know this part of the hide is harder, but I'm talking almost impossible compared to the rest of the hide. I use KOH (about 1 Tablespoon per 2-3 gallons of water). It takes (for a big hide) about 2-3 days before it is ready. The hair comes off pretty well, and the grain does too (except for the neck). I'm just wondering if my results would be substantially different if I used wood ashes.

    Would it be okay to resoak in the KOH after a previous soak in order to work on the neck some more? I've rinsed it due to my fear of it dissolving the hide itself if left in too long (which I've done....). I guess my question is, "do you ever NOT get a hide grained properly and have to resoak it in your bucking agent"? In other words, you thought you had it grained well and you rinsed it all out only to realize that you missed a whole lot more than you thought so you resoaked it in your bucking agent.

    Thanks!

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    I have done that! The wood ashes will stain the parts of the hide where the grain was removed, but if you are using something "clean" like KOH or CaOH, you should have no risk of staining. GENERALLY speaking, I wait until the hair will rub off easily with my fingers, then grain. Last one I did took 8 days in wood ash and it grained so easily. *of course, there were about 3 days where the temps barely got in the 40s, so it was really only like 5 days*
    I'm not sure what you are using for a beam, but try something with a smaller diameter. I have 3 different sizes of PVC pipe I scavenged. On a big buck, I use the 3" pipe for the neck, and the 6" for the rest. Every once in a while, I get one that works well on the 4" for the neck area. It all has to do with how much surface area is between your tool and beam. If it is terribly hard, then the resistance created by the larger surface is what's hurting you, and a smaller beam will make it easier.
    Wood ashes contain all those different agents, KOH CaOH CaCO3, among others, so I would not think ashes would necessarily be "better". I recommend resoaking it and trying a smaller beam, but to answer your last question, Yep!

  20. #120
    Puff...the crashin' drago scottg's Avatar
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    Thanks for the response.

    I use about a 4 inch PVC pipe, so I don't think that is the issue. This is (for me) a very large deer (buck, I assume). The neck is just giving me nightmares (and tennis elbow). The hide is definitely clean (using KOH), but clean doesn't matter if it isn't working!!! In one of your earlier posts in this thread, I think you mention that one of your hides was weak and you were putting holes in it during scraping. I think (but not sure) that you just put it back in water to rinse it more and it seemed to get stronger and you could continue to work on it. If that's true, I'm wondering if a hide can get to a point where resoaking in your bucking solution just doesn't do what it used to do. In other words, the hide actually gets tougher and no amount of bucking solution will separate the grain layer correctly. Does that sound possible, or have you ever experienced anything close to that? The reason I'm asking this is because I've had two separate hides (the current one being one of the two) where the hide was graining fine, I got to the neck area, got tired, put it back in the bucking solution for another day, and when I got back to it, the neck seemed even harder than it was the first time I was trying it (when I got tired). And then, no amount of bucking seemed to help it. It only made it worse, in fact. It seems that the very first time I grain a hide is the best, and if I come back to it later (whether soaking in bucking or just water), it is nightmarish.

    Anyway, the rest of the hide is really going to be nice!

    I have NEVER had a hide grain like your videos show it, and I'm just wondering if the combination of all the chemicals in wood ash is what really provides the perfect blend for graining.

    Lastly, my graining seems to work better when the hide is NOT in its "rubbery" stage. If you put a hide in buck for the appropriate amount of time, all the hair is coming off just fine, and then you rinse and soak it in water for a day BEFORE actually trying to grain, does the hide completely go back to what it was BEFORE the bucking soak? My thought is that the bucking solution did make some permanent change to the hide and soaking it in water first before I grain gives me an unswollen hide, but one that still is ready to grain and has all / most of the benefits of the bucking soak anyway.

    A lot, I know. Don't feel like you have to respond to all this unless you really want to! Thanks!

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