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Thread: Making your own utility leather

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    naturalist primitive your_comforting_company's Avatar
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    Default Making your own utility leather

    There's a lot of interest in making leather and making products for sheaths, and holsters.. lots of things. But where does that leather come from?
    Likely, you got it from a store, who got it from some industrial tannery, that uses chemicals and produces massive amounts of waste and pollution. It is likely stiff, or greasy, or rubbery and not very "natural" feeling.
    How would you like to make your own leather from things you probably already have around the house? You can do it with natural materials that will return to the earth naturally. This is somewhat of a lost art in today's "I wan't it now" society.
    I am no history expert, but I think it's safe to say that skin is probably the first thing our most ancient ancestors ever wore for coverings. Very likely they found some carcass and discovered the warmth provided by the fur of the critter. The earliest skins were very likely un-tanned, sloppy, stinky, stiff, hideous creatures to behold. Most of what we know about tanning was (like most other things) discovered by accident. With a whole lot of trial and error (and more the latter) the art was perfected to a science.
    This post is intended to be a primer on skin so that you understand what we will be accomplishing with bark tanning. I will touch on the bark for now but will hopefully as the post progresses and other tanners contribute, have more information.

    There are also different types of tanning that produce different types of leathers. Buckskin is a soft wearable leather that is washable, comfortable, stretchy, and durable. It is soft and supple.. not something you want to carry a sharp object in.
    Furs are utilizing the animals hair as a layer of insulation, or as decoration. They are treated totally different from buckskin and produce a different quality of leather.
    We are going to be talking about what I call "utility leather". the tight-grained tough abusable leather that you guys use for sheaths and boots.

    So lets get the skinny...

    the attached picture shows the layers of the skin. it is composed of 3 main layers. the primary ingredients are collagen, protein strings that comprise the fibers, and mucus, mostly made of hydrogen-based compounds. It is the organ responsible for keeping out bad stuff, and keeping in good stuff. A little bit more about skin and we'll move on.
    The outermost layer of skin is simply dead epidermal cells, filled with keratin, that provide the initial barrier for external harm. scratch your arm and you'll see it flake off. The epidermis has 2 layers. the inner layer is living cells that reproduce simply for the function of dying to make an new outer layer (more research may prove more uses).
    The middle layer of the skin is called the dermis, and contains all the living tissue and most of the fibers we will be working with. It contains the hair follicles, sweat glands, etc.
    The main thing we notice here is that the epidermis and dermis have no clear definition of separation. they fit together like egg crates.
    The inner layer of skin we call the membrane. It is mostly mucus and serves the purpose of allowing the skin to move freely across the muscles and bones without much stretching or tearing.

    We will be working with the outer two layers, the epidermis, and the dermis.
    Furs leave the whole skin intact, hair and all. This is outside the scope of what we are trying to accomplish so we'll leave that for another time.
    Buckskin utilizes the dermis. By removing the tight-fibered epidermis (grain layer) and the loose fluffy membrane layer, you are left with a very fibrous dermis. Hereforth I will call it the "fiber network" or the "network". Buckskin is much more involved than the scope of this article, so we'll leave it out too.
    Grain leather, on the other hand, is much less work than buckskin, and only a little more work than a fur. you can handle it pretty roughly and when it's done it's super tough. For grain leather, you utilize the epidermis to be the shiny outer surface, often textured, and the fiber network which is the bulk of the leather. This is what we typically call "Leather".

    In bark tanning, you make use of tannic acid which tightens the skin, shrinks it and makes it much tougher than buckskin or fur. The astringency of the bark liquor keeps the skin from rotting, prevents bacterial decay, and keeps it "clean" (although you might disagree once you smell year old bark liquor). To my knowledge the only thing that can grow in bark liquor is mold, which floats on top (not submerged) and feeds off the sugars in the liquor. We call it liquor because it actually does ferment, getting a sweet, pungent cider flavor. Vinegar is acidic, so is bark liquor, and the fermentation only provides more acids.
    additionally there are mineral "stains" in the bark that color the skin.

    Is that enough to absorb at one time? wait.. I have a little more to say..

    To do bark tanning, you will need a few things that you probably already have.
    Bark source from a tree that is high in tannins. There are fruits that are high in tannic acid as well, like hickory nut hulls, though I have no experience with that. I use laurel oak, which we cut for firewood.once a tree is cut it will no longer produce tannic acid (logically). It is imperative that you keep your bark source DRY. Water will leach out the tannins and your bark will be of no use.
    Wood ashes to make a lye solution. My ash source and bark source are the same. you can use hydrated lime in a pinch. It's called "pickling lime" at the grocery store. It's chemical name is Calcium Carbonate or CaCO3.
    A container to boil bark in. Do not use metal containers with exposed surfaces or rust. It WILL turn your liquor black. Ceramic coated cookware or enamelware is the best to use, although you use what you have.
    A bucket with a lid to store the hide in while it tans.
    A container to store extra liquor in. It will take several doses throughout the process to keep the strength of the liquor up.
    a wood dowel, a drawknife (dull), or piece of flat metal for cleaning the skin. The hair and membrane are removed for grain leather.
    of course, you need a skin to tan
    there are a few other things you might need along the way and we'll cover those as we get to them.

    now a brief rundown on the process, and I'll let you take a break.
    The skin is prepared by fleshing, then bucking in lye solution, then mild scraping, and rinsing out the alkali
    The bark is prepared by removing from the log and boiling.. pretty straightforward.
    the bark liquor is mixed and diluted.
    put the skin in and wait..
    curry, or "dress" the skin.
    enjoy

    thats all there is to it, and when I get more time, I'll post up details about each of the steps involved. Most of which will deal with the skin itself. So .. when you are out cutting firewood, take your tree ID field guides and locate one that is high in tannins. Chinkapin Oak was the original bark tan in the US valued for it's high tannin content and beautiful tan color.
    I posted before about proper skinning, so if you don't have a skin, you should be able to offer a hunter a free skinning in exchange for the skin. My knowledge only encompasses deer skin due to it's availability to me. Cow hides take considerably longer to tan, and smaller animals are so thin that I haven't warranted any use for "thin leather". I prefer to keep the hair for furs on smaller animals.

    Ok I'm done.... For now!

    More coming soon!!
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    Senior Member hunter63's Avatar
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    Good job on the info.

    Will be waiting for more.
    I have made rawhide from deer skins, but leave the hair on stuff for the pro's.

    BTW, animal skins don't have sweat glands.

    Some think that one of the main reasons humans out did all other animals to be the top of the predators, The human ability to sweat, you could literaly "run down" almost anything as a human can sweat when he runs, where an animal can't, has to slow down/stop to cool off.
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    Super Moderator crashdive123's Avatar
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    Nice post YCC.
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    Great job. I made it a sticky.

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    naturalist primitive your_comforting_company's Avatar
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    Default Bucking solution and hide prep.

    So, you got yourself a nice clean skin from a hunter or game processor. Now you have to do a little prep work. get ready to get nasty.
    Grab your rubber gloves, and plastic apron. Get your fleshing tool, i.e. draw knife, bone flesher, or metal bar. You will need some sort of scraping beam to lay the skin over to remove the chunks of meat and fat from the skin.

    Here are my tools: top to bottom, modified draw knife, push-plow I made, wood dowel for squeegee, and a bone fleshing tool from a deer leg.
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    for the moment, the best pic I have is one of the butchered hides with gashes all in it to show the beam.
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    This is a 6" irrigation pipe, and you'll notice in the background I have a smaller 3" pipe which allows more lbs of pressure to surface contact area.
    For now you don't need to get all the slimy, stringy membrane tissue off, just the meat and fat. In a few days it will all come off super easy.

    now you have a skin that is meat free, and mostly fat free. It's time to buck it in a bucket (lol). The purpose of bucking is to swell the hide, remove the ground substance, and free the hide of hair easily. Buckskin uses this to do all the above but includes the removal of the epidermal layer. We want the epidermis (grain) to stay on ours.
    In your bucket you need to add about 2 gallons of cleaned hardwood ashes to about a gallon of water. Charcoal in the ashes will stain the skin so you should pre-clean your ashes through window screen or whatever you have. get all the big chunks of char out. the little ones will float to the top later and can be skivved out.
    Give it a good stir and wait for the ashes to settle. Drop in a brown chicken egg and it should be suspended in the solution. Not floating on it's side on top, and not sinking to the bottom. This is a specific gravity test and I won't pretend to know why it works, but at a certain pH range, the egg will have a surface exposed that is the diameter of a half dollar. If you have this, your bucking solution is "just right".
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    pH paper is not accurate enough to test this. Your pH should be right around 13.0 which is very alkaline. 13.0 is ten times as concentrated as 12.9 and pH strips will only tell you that it is 12.x... somewhere between 11.0 and 13.0. This just isn't accurate enough to clean the mucus from the interior of the network.

    A little redneck science here.. Your bucking solution is now liquid lye. that means it is a "hydroxide" or OH-. It lacks a hydrogen atom to become a stable molecule, aka water. OH- ions really want to balance out and not be negative ions, so they steal a H atom from the mucus in the skin.
    Mucus, as gross as it sounds, is the stuff we are all made of. We, in tanning, call it the ground substance: what makes a thing rot and return to the ground. By removing the mucus, you have changed the chemical characteristics of the skin. It is necessary to remove the mucus because it is what inhibits outside harmful substances from entering our bodies. We want to bind tannic acids to the collagen fibers (protein chains) in the network and grain which is next to impossible with mucus in the way.

    If your buck is too weak, the egg will sink; add more ashes, stir, and test again. If it is too strong, the egg will float to the top, and lay over on it's side; add more water, stir, and test again.

    Once you have it "just right", submerge the hide in the buck. WEAR GLOVES! THIS IS ACTUAL LYE AND WILL BURN YOUR SKIN! Use a rock, or a couple bricks to weigh the hide down in the ashes, make sure the whole hide is completely covered. put the lid on and wait. Hide with hair on will float because the deer's hair is hollow.
    You will know your hide is done bucking when you can RUB THE HAIR OFF WITH YOUR FINGERS. It is imperative that the hair come off effortlessly, I mean, you can almost spray it off with the waterhose. during your wait, you will need to monitor the hides progress. Stir it once a day at least, twice if you have time, as OH- ions will be used up close to the skins surface and in order to get more H mucus out, it will need to move around to a higher concentration.

    Once the hide is completely done bucking (the hair sloughs off), you will be ready to use your wood dowel or other tool to finish removing the hair. Be careful not to bust the grain when doing so. It is most noticeable on the belly and armpits of the hide where the network is thinner and the grain is not attached so rigidly. Use care and you won't bust the grain.
    With the hair removed, you can easily finish membraning. put a towel over your beam to cushion the grain so it isn't damaged and go to your metal tool and scrape deeply on the flesh side of the hide to remove as much of the loose stringy membrane as possible. If you don't get it all, don't worry. With the mucus removed, particles (tannins) can move freely from flesh side toward grain side, as they would naturally if still on the critter. Still be careful that you don't bust the grain by using too much force on the flesh side. I've done this, not paying attention so it can happen!!

    With the bucking done and the hide cleaned, you now have to wash out the lye. This rinsing step is necessary to bring the hide back to a neutral pH. If you don't have running water nearby, I suggest you relocate. put the hide in a bucket and leave the hose trickling in the bucket (or weigh it down in a stream with rocks). The excess lye ions will move out of the hide and it will return to a pure white color. If it is still brownish (tawny) It needs to rinse more. It should not feel rubbery or slippery, but be stretchy and have a "grip".

    your skin is now ready to be bark tanned. during all the wait time, you will need to be getting your bark together. I'll talk about the bark in the next post but for now, let me just say that this is the hard part. It works on a surface area scale. the smaller the bark particles, the more tannins you will extract at a time. but thats another post.

    In summary, you are preparing the skin for tanning, by removing unwanted chaff (hair and membrane), AND THE GROUND SUBSTANCE, MUCUS. The whole ordeal should only take a few hours, not counting bucking time which is typically 3 or 4 days depending on temps. time spent frozen does not count. I find that above 80 degrees, you can quickly get into decay.. I lost 2 hides like that over the summer.. the best range of temps is between 50 and 70 degrees in my experience.

    More coming soon!!
    If anyone has any questions about what I've covered so far ask away!

    Thanks H63 for pointing out that deer don't have sweat glands. I forgot to mention that
    Last edited by your_comforting_company; 12-16-2009 at 05:50 PM. Reason: added tool pics
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    naturalist primitive your_comforting_company's Avatar
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    tool pics are up.. back to softening.. got one in the frame and a nice day for tanning.. more later!!
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    "sorry backside" rebel's Avatar
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    This is an excellent tutorial. Thanks YCC.

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    naturalist primitive your_comforting_company's Avatar
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    Default Preparing the Bark Liquor

    Up to this point, we've dealt with the hide itself. While you are waiting for the buck to take it's toll on the ground substance, you can work on getting your bark liquor ready.
    There are many, many sources for tannic acid. A little research shows that in settled America, Chinkapin oak was the most widely harvested for making bark tanning liquor. I personally use laurel and live oak. They are very rich in tannins, sugars, and mineral stains. I like the nice deep browns and reds. Many people use Staghorn sumac leaves. Most leaves do contain tannins and this is what makes "brackish water" that you see in stagnant ponds.. it's the dark colored water, stained by tannins leeching out. Other tannin rich sources are acorn hulls, hickory nut hulls.. possibly pecan, this is something I'm going to be trying in the near future.
    This is where your tree identification skills will come into play. In your searching and identifying of trees make notes of the ones indicated in your literature that say they contain lots of tannins.
    We mostly burn oaks of different species and some have higher concentrations than others. this is my source of wood ash, and bark.. firewood! The key factor is keeping the bark dry. If it rains on it repeatedly you will be left with no tannins or sugars in the bark to tan with, so it is critical to either remove the bark from the logs and store it, or keep the logs covered until you intend to use it.
    I use an axe, or hand axe, or machete for the whole process, which is really very simple.. Remove the grey, scaly, outer bark, you will see the inner bark. It is very fibrous, often colored. It is between the outer bark and cambium, which is right next to the grain wood. The attached picture shows the different layers. Tree bark functions much like our own skin, working in layers. The inner bark is the second line of defense, behind the outer bark, to stop insects and such from getting into the heart of the tree. The tannic acid and other astringent materials contained in there are responsible for stopping intruders.
    With the outer bark removed, which isn't absolutely necessary, you can see the very fibrous inner bark and cambium. These are best scraped off with a draw knive, or similar device, and shredded or crushed. Extracting the tannic acid and sugars works on a surface area principle.. it comes out quicker the more surface area is exposed. To tell you the truth.. since we are boiling it completely submerged in water, I just dont think it makes that much difference. I crush it into small chunks, and leave the outer bark on most times.. everything works just fine.
    This pic shows mid-process.. removing the outer, exposing the inner to be shaved off.
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    *Handling the inner bark of the wood WILL stain your hands and make the skin tight. It won't hurt you, but it kinda freaked me out so I thought I'd warn ya!

    You are going to need roughly 5x the dry weight of the skin in dry bark. A dry skin weighs somewhere around 3 lbs (just a guess) so I work out about 15 lbs of dry bark for boiling.

    Once you have your bark, you need a container to boil it in and a few containers to store it in. I like the 1 gallon pickle jars because it gives me a fairly accurate measure. I use an enamelware pot that holds about 3 gallons (I guess), fill it 3/4 of the way with the crushed bark, add enough water to cover and let it boil for about an hour. pour off the liquid through a cheesecloth or piece of window screen and boil a second time. The second pouring will be slightly weaker than the first. If this is your first liquor, I recommend boiling the bark one more time to get a really weak solution, which will be diluted.

    This is what laurel oak liquor looks like in the pot
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    Using your third pouring, which should be roughly a gallon of liquid, add this in a bucket with a lid to 2 gallons of water. DO NOT USE MINERAL WATER AND IF YOU HAVE HARD WATER FROM YOUR WELL, EXPECT COLOR CHANGE. Iron WILL turn your liquor black, so blood stains in your hide will be very dark. care should be taken to remove as much blood stains from the hide by repeated rinsing, washing with soap, and squeegee-ing.
    Now you have a very weak bark solution to dip your hide in. It should stay in the weak liquor for 5-10 days, sometimes longer if it's really cold. time frozen does not count. When you check it, notice the color of the liquor. It should consistently LOSE color INTO the hide.
    Everything in nature seeks balance. water will move from the hide, into the liquor, and the tannins and stains in the liquor will move into the hide until the concentration IN the hide is the same as that of the liquor surrounding it.
    When the liquor becomes weak, add your second pouring and another gallon of water.
    *a note here. I check my bark liquor once every 2 days to start, then once a week, moving to longer and longer times until I think it is almost ready.

    I stuck this hide in the weak bath long enough to come inside, grab the camera, and take the picture, and you can clearly see where it took color instantly. Of course it takes much more time to get color all the way into the interior.
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    When the second batch becomes too weak, add in the FIRST pouring. This is a maximum strength pouring, going into a diluted solution. It may be necessary to have a second bucket for this batch. I have 2, one for a weak bath, and another for a strong bath. Traditionally, tanneries used huge vats and would do many hides at once, moving in stages from vat to vat, usually 10 or 12 times before reaching the final bath and striking through.

    The reason we are doing the bathing in increments is a phenomena called "case hardening" where the outer surfaces of the skin become so tight that the tannins cannot move further into the interior of the skin. this leaves you with skin that will rot! It is better to move slowly (over a few weeks) to a strong enough bath to tan the interior so that the tannins reach all the way through. This is what we call "struck through".
    remember, we had a clean "white" skin. If you make a small cut on the neck (the thickest part of the hide) and it has turned color, it is struck through. My liquor is red and the interior of the hide turns pink. It helps to have a good light to be certain that the hide is struck through.
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    Certainly at some point the sugars and acids in the liquor will begin to ferment. This will produce more inane acids that help tighten the skin and further "re-nature" it. It should not smell rancid, but rather sweet and pungent, like fermenting wine. Mine smells more or less like the bark itself, but with a sweet-cider pungency. The astringency of the liquor will prevent bacteria from building up so it's safe to stick your hands in, and probably is good for little nicks and cuts you might have, but it WILL stain your hands!!
    To my knowledge, the only thing that can grow in the bucket is mold, which will float on top. It is a product of the sugars fermenting and can be skimmed off, or stirred back in (which is what I do). It's fine for mold to be in the bucket.

    If at any time the hide or liquor starts smelling RANCID, then your liquor was either too weak for too long, the bark was not as good as it should have been, OR the temperatures were much too high, i.e. above 80 degrees.

    It may be necessary to make more bark liquor to add to the strong bath for really large hides or those that are particularly thick. I like to put bark chips straight into the bucket with the hide when it is very close to being struck through just for good measure.

    Here is a piece I did last year, before the currying stage.
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    The reason bark tanning works, is that we are working with ionic molecules, and we are manipulating the "nature" of the hide.
    By bucking the hide, we remove H atoms from the protein (collagen) molecules (de-naturing). Tannic acid has an extra H atom and binds back to the H receptor on the collagen fibers. It will do the same thing to your liver if you eat too many acorns or other things that are high in tannic acid. We are forcing the binding of molecules that are naturally attracted to each other anyway, we are just doing it in a controlled process.

    I'm writing this information from memory and experience. If I've skipped anything or left anything out, please bring it to my attention and I will ammend the post. It's a lot to remember, and it's certainly a lot to explain.

    The next post will cover currying, texturing, and finishing your bark tanned hide.

    at this point, I would like to hear from others who have experience bark tanning about what trees or other ingredients they use for their bark tan. I have read about using sumac berries for tanning, but have yet to try it, so anyone with any experience in this area is welcome to chime in!
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    Default Finishing your Leather

    I'd like to give you some kind of timeline but I just can't. I've heard of 10 day tans, but never done one. I've had one strike through in 40 days, and one take 50. This is on thin skins like deer. cowhide will take considerably longer and will require many more baths. I've heard of these taking months, and I just can't imagine what buff would be like. of course, thin skinned critters will tan much more quickly.
    I go into them expecting 60 days in cold weather.

    By now, you've waited and waited, and checked and stirred and added increasing strength solutions until you just can't wait any longer. You check the neck with a small cut and today you can clearly tell that the color touches the middle.
    IF IT DOESN'T, IT'S NOT READYput it back in and consider adding a dose of liquor or some bark chunks.
    So now you have a little time to spend with it. theres a couple things you got left to do before it's done.

    *dying goes in here, but I haven't experimented with anything other than iron filings. so if anyone can add that in discussion, that would be awesome.

    This thing is full of tannin-water and we need to clean out the excess. Do a good hand wringing of the hide. don't twist too hard, but squeeze as much as you can. the hide, though tanned, is still delicate at this juncture.
    The easiest way to rinse is in running water, but I prefer to wash with some gentle soap before a flowing rinse. we're just getting the excess out so expect your wash water to turn colors. squeeze it and slosh it and work it to try to get out all you can.

    you stripped the oils out of the skin in bucking and tanning. the hides "nature" has changed and now it needs some lube. Leather without oils is very brittle and weak. The fibers are loose while suspended in water, but when the water dries, all that tightening we did in the bark liquor makes it "set up" much tighter.
    We want to get the moisture out and oils in before it sets up. this will ensure that the fibers are pliable against each other when the "glue" in them dries. (hide glue is a whole 'nother discussion).
    You'll need a rolling pin, the edge of a boat paddle, a wood dowel.. something with a smooth surface to use as a sort of "squeegee". you'll need something to squeegee against, like an old boat ski, or your fleshing beam.. the smoother the better. GENTLY lay the grain side down and squeegee the excess moisture from the hide in all directions. The grain is most likely to bust in the armpit area, and on the belly.. pretty much anywhere there was white hair. be easy, it would be bad to go peeling the grain off after all that work/waiting! I don't want to tell you how I know lol. Be careful and you'll quickly get the feel of it.
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    hang it somewhere cool, or over your lap and pull gently in all directions to help redistribute the moisture that is still in the hide. then let it dry in a cool place while you prepare a dressing.

    This step is called currying, and really is just "oiling" the skin. It needs some kind of oil to keep it from being brittle. this is the first dressing of the skin so this should be a preparation for whatever you intend to use the leather for. If you don't know yet.. I recommend the light dressing I use. If you are going to use it for shoes or something that is going to get heavy wear, go ahead and do a heavy dressing.. if it's just decoration you can get away with just about anything.
    Don't let the hide dry out completely, and if you notice a spot getting too dry, fold it over onto a wetter spot.. keep an eye on it while you do one of the following.

    heavy duty oiling.. pick whichever you prefer, Tallow, Lard, Neatsfoot, Mink, Vegetable, just about any heavy grease you can think of and do whatever you need to get ready to dunk the hide in it or brush it on. the grain side will be the hardest to penetrate so just coat the heck out of both sides. I use a sponge to help me distribute and work it in.
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    lightweight dressing.. This is generally any concoction that would normally work for braintanning. brains, liver, soap and eggs, soap and oil.. all sorts of lighter weight oils can be used in a water emulsion. I use soap and oil in a bucket because as a norm, the whole reason for making this kind of leather is because it's so tough. This method will leave room for changing the dressing later. About 1/4 bar of lye soap grated and dissolved into a gallon of bath temperature water. add about 1/4 cup of neatsfoot or olive oil, and slosh it around so that you emulsify the oil.

    Make sure no spots got too dry and when you've got your stuff together, submerge the hide in the dressing. You need to work it in, pulling in all directions in small areas all over the hide as it goes in. Don't just jam it in there, work it in. Go over it twice.. or 3 times, just make sure you worked it in everywhere. then let it soak. heavier greases will require the hide being dryer and worked more gently. I recommend 24 hours for any dressing. I'll usually do 2, wringing and drying a little between, just to make sure I got everywhere. Tallow and the really heavy greases likely only require one good application.

    Wring the hide out and take it back to your squeegee board. work out all the excess moisture/grease. get a sponge or old towel and one of the heavier oils. It's time to finish the leather. You're gonna work it dry over a period of time, making sure that the grain layer is lubricated enough not to crack. Remember we're working with two layers of skin, the fiber network underneath that slick grain.
    you need a flat surface and a towel for removing excess oil/moisture .For texturing ,basically you will lay the grain side up, and fold the hide over on itself and roll it in different directions. as the dermis dries and stays loose, and the grain gets little creases in it as it tightens.
    (picture coming)

    finishing just means working it dry with dressing. during this process you keep the grain side oiled while you pull or manipulate the hide to prevent the glues setting up into a rawhide state. As the hide dries the grain becomes more brittle and this requires some deal of attention or the grain will CRACK!
    this is starting to dry
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    and this is almost completely dry
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    You can use your knee, the arm of a chair, the back of a chair.. something smooth and roundish that you can stretch the hide over. I would stay away from stakers as it's just too easy to stretch too hard and too sharply.
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    I prefer to stretch it across my knees and use a tablespoon from underneath to "stake" the hide on a smaller scale. As the hide dries on the flesh side, oil the grain side with light coats so the grain doesn't crack. If a spot looks like it's about to crack, rub a coat of oil on it and let it soak in, then work it loose.
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    If you run out of time or patience, simply roll the hide up on itself, double bag it, and stick it somewhere cool. The hide is preserved and can be worked at your leisure.

    Once it's dry it's done. It can be wetted and molded, it can be left soft.. It just needs to be done something with! The final product will decide the final dressing of the hide, usually a heavy oil, parrafin, or beeswax. The flesh side can be buffed with sandpaper or pumice. I use sandstone. It will raise the knap on the "suede side" of the leather. If you used heavy oils, it might not buff so "fluffy" but it will help even out the texture.
    Last edited by your_comforting_company; 12-26-2009 at 09:30 PM. Reason: added pictures
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    I don't know if this is a craft, or an art, or just "doin' it yourself", but it is very tactile..that might not be the right word. As soon as you start, you will feel with your hands, observe, watch, make mental notes.. It's almost a part of you when it's done.
    I am fascinated every time I turn one out. You just sort of "know" when certain things need to be done, because the hide just looks and feels like it needs it. It's almost impossible to mess it up, except for rough-handling. There's a lot of waiting and a little work and the end product has real intrinsic value.

    It is also very rewarding to use another part of the animal that is normally discarded.
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  11. #11

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    YCC, my buddy has a 200 lb. doe hanging right now.

    If I wanted to keep this hide for future tanning how should I store it?

    I'm not sure if we're gonna brain tan or bark tan it yet, but it's very cold and wet here. below or near freezing with rain and snow in the forecast. I'm assuming this is not a good time to try tanning a hide, especially my first one.

    What would be the best time of year to tan a hide?

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    RWC, for long term storage I would salt it. There's two ways, wet, and dry.

    wet salt: no intention of keeping the hair on, lay the hide out flat, cover with salt all the way to the edges, roll up on itself, put in a bucket with a lid, check it in a few days and pour off the liquid.

    dry salt: sets the hair in the skin and takes up the most storage space. Tack out the skin on a piece of plywood, pull it tight with strings, cover with salt, tilt the board so fluid will drain, when it is completely dry take it down, roll it up like a paper tube and store.

    Freeze it: take it off the deer, double bag it and stick it in the freezer till you have time to work on it. It will take time to thaw and takes up a bit of freezer space. I store most of mine that I intend to make buckskin of, like this.
    The hide needs to be fleshed before storing. get any meat that was left on and any bits of fat. If you skinned the deer using the fisting technique this should be a minimal effort and ought not take longer than 10 or 20 minutes.

    For me, the best time of year to tan is right now. I'm not sure of the climate up there, but in my experience here in the south, humidity below 60% and temps between 40 and 75 F. There are several steps in braintanning that require the weather to be "just right" and there are a lot that it makes no difference.
    I refrain from tanning in summer. temps over 90 degrees will cause your hides to rot in the buck, brains, etc. I lost two over the summer to the heat.. that bucket was quite unpleasant to open.
    fall winter and spring, cool, dry days.
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    got pictures of finishing, and softening yesterday. will add them when I have time.
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    A few pics so that you can see the hand softened and staked textures. this is a finished piece, minus the waterproofing coat.

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    this leather is very much like suede except it has the shiny grain still on. it's heavy, yet pliable, much like what you buy at the store with chemical tans. It is not "oily" feeling.

    tanning is a very sensory endeavor. If you follow your senses this is an easy project.

    oh yeah, pictures were added to the finishing post
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    Very cool! I think this is fascinating. I really appreciate you posting this.

    I do have a few more questions though,

    Brown egg? not white?

    How long is the rinse time after bucking and scraping?

    Is this when you should soap it to remove blood stains?

    For the liquor soak-

    Third pouring is 1 gallon plus 2 gallons water?

    Second pouring is added to third pouring and is 1 gallon plus 1 gallon of water?

    and first pouring is added to the previous and is 1 gallon?

    For a grand total of 6 gallons? So, I'm gonna need a 7 or so gallon pail to soak this in?

    Once the liquor stops losing color it's weak and that's when you add the next pouring?

    And it's finally done soaking when the neck is pink all the way thru or only halfway thru?

    Is the 40-60 days time for the soaking in liquor stage? 5-10 days for the third pouring and how many days for the others?

    I'm assuming all we're doing here is observing the liquor and when it stops losing color we move on to the next stage, right?

    I know that's a lot of questions but I wanna get it right. I think we'll be doing this is my buddies garage or basement, or would it be too stinky? That's the only way we'll be able to keep it above freezing. Or else I'll store it till spring.

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    Default questions answered

    Quote Originally Posted by rwc1969 View Post

    1 Brown egg? not white?

    2 How long is the rinse time after bucking and scraping?

    3 Is this when you should soap it to remove blood stains?

    4 For the liquor soak-

    5 Third pouring is 1 gallon plus 2 gallons water?

    6 Second pouring is added to third pouring and is 1 gallon plus 1 gallon of water?

    7 and first pouring is added to the previous and is 1 gallon?

    8 For a grand total of 6 gallons? So, I'm gonna need a 7 or so gallon pail to soak this in?

    9 Once the liquor stops losing color it's weak and that's when you add the next pouring?

    10 And it's finally done soaking when the neck is pink all the way thru or only halfway thru?

    11 Is the 40-60 days time for the soaking in liquor stage? 5-10 days for the third pouring and how many days for the others?

    12 I'm assuming all we're doing here is observing the liquor and when it stops losing color we move on to the next stage, right?

    13 I know that's a lot of questions but I wanna get it right. I think we'll be doing this is my buddies garage or basement, or would it be too stinky? That's the only way we'll be able to keep it above freezing. Or else I'll store it till spring.
    those are good questions. maybe I should check back over the posts to clarify. I'll do my best here to answer your questions.

    1 Brown eggs have a slightly different composition of minerals than white eggs. probably the largest difference between a brown and white egg is 2:1 (specific gravity). A white egg is still much more accurate than pH paper which is a difference of 100:1. pH paper is exponential so each decimal is 10 times stronger than the previous. 12.2 is 10x as alkaline as 12.1. Pioneers didn't have white eggs and so this method is BASED on brown eggs. White eggs will work.

    2 typical rinse times are 24-48 hours in running water. the best way to tell is with your hands. The hide is done rinsing when it no longer feels slick and rubbery. It will return to it's "grippy" and very stretchy state as the alkali are rinsed out and the hide "unswells". I usually leave the water hose trickling in the bucket for about 24 hours then proceed.

    3 yes. do all your soaping and washing before it goes into the bark liquor. Any point before liquoring is a good time for washing, but be sure to rinse the soap back out

    4 the first liquor needs to be the weakest or the tannins will bind to the outer layers of the hide, tightening it and preventing tannins from reaching further into the interior of the hide.

    5 third pouring +2 gallons of water. correct this is 3 gallons of solution. this is the first solution.

    6 second pouring is 1 gallon of bark liquor + 1 gallon of water + the 3 gallons of weak solution from the third pouring (first solution). = 5 gallons of liquor

    7 first pouring is not diluted. this is the strongest solution and is typically the final stage. More often it is the next-to-last and I'll add some bark chunks to finish it off. First pouring is added to the previous 5 gallons for 6 gallons total. If you can't fit 6 gallons in your container, pour half of your 5 gallons into another bucket and add the First pouring to that half. this gives you the same relative ratio / dilution factor of tannins : water : skin

    8 6 gallons. I use two buckets and If I do very many more of these I'll have to add another bucket with weakened solution from the first two buckets. this allows more room to add water or bark liquor to all my buckets.

    9 yes. as the tannins and stains leave the liquor and enter the hide the solution will lose color and the hide will gain color. It will stop losing color when the hide and liquor reach equilibrium. We want the liquor to be of higher tannin content than the hide at all times. If the hide is as dark as the liquor was, it's time to add more liquor.

    10 all the way through. the color on both sides of the hide will meet in the center. the center of the neck will be pink and the flesh side and grain side will be darker than the center (the solution moves from the outside in)

    11 please be aware that 40-60 days is only my experience with deer skins. they are NOT thick skins. goat and rabbit are thinner and won't take nearly as long. thicker skins will take considerably longer. Use your eyes and hands to know best when to add more liquor.
    If I had to estimate, I would say that first bath is typically 10 days, second 20 and third 30 but this is entirely dependent on the liquor concentration, temps and climate. the best way to tell is by "feeling". If it feels like it needs more, add some.

    12 absolutely right! observe and go with what you feel. if the liquor and hide are the same color, or the hide is darker than the liquor, add some more liquor. piece of cake

    13 I do mine out in the chop shop. Its a closed room in my garage and while it does have a rich dirt smell that is kind of sweet, I don't think it "stinks". I've had a fella tell me it stunk, but I've had my wife's friends (ladies) near when I open the bucket and check and they had no complaints at all. It's kind of sweet smelling, like fresh cut wood and a hint of vinegar. 4 out of 5 people say it doesn't "stink" and it shouldn't start smelling rancid EVER. keep the temps below 70F and you'll be fine. the liquor inhibits rot from bacteria, so the only rot that can happen is from heat decomp.

    I hope I've answered well enough. If you have any more questions dont hesitate to ask!
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    You more than answered em. Thanks very much.

    I was doing a little research of my own this morning and one guy said if the bark liquor ever starts to reak you can add vinegar to balance it back out.

    What do you think about that?

    and what do you think about bating?

    BTW, this is the most thorough step by step I've seen. Well done!

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    I used the same liquor from last year and mine didn't reak.. I would think it would take quite some time and abuse (heat) before it got really bad. I have not added any vinegar to any of my liquors, that's kinda what the liquor is, so I guess it would work, but I cannot say one way or the other from experience.

    I have never bated a deer skin. if you hand or stake soften it, it still gets really soft. I have seen no real need to do so in deer leather. It might be necessary with thicker hides to get the tannin to "take" but my understanding is that bucking takes care of cleaning it out sufficiently without digesting the collagen fibers. Bating is apparently like "liming" in that it changes the "nature" of the hide, I just go the opposite direction.
    did I confuse you? me too lol.
    water has a pH of 7, bating is around 2 and bucking is around 13. opposite ends of the pH spectrum and both serve basically the same purpose... get the stuff out to get the tannin in.
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    Very informative. All of my tanning is done with the fur on. I use a pH of 2.5 or less using a citris acid. In acid solution for two days then rinsed and broke as drying. I use a oil called curatan from van dykes.

    Paul

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    I would not think 2 days would be long enough to tan completely through the hide unless it's really thin-skinned animals like rabbit. I would have to see one of these hides in cross section and see the hide struck through for me to think 2 days is enough in any solution.

    I also would like to know the source of this citric acid because most citrus fruits do not contain tannins. If they did they would do some serious damage to our livers and kidneys. This must be some sort of chemical concotion with tannins added.

    Is curatan a lightweight or heavy oil? neatsfoot is a by-product of beef processing. they actually boil the feet and seperate the oil much like rendering fat into tallow. What are the constituents of curatan?

    certainly there are many chemicals that can be used in tanning, but this method uses all natural materials with very little purchased materials.

    Thanks

    a special note here: Bark tanning will stain the fur. Expect stained furs if you leave the hair on. there are alternatives that will not discolor the fur as badly as laurel oak but these barks previously mentioned are the only ones I have used.
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