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Braintanned Buckskin Writeup *warning* dead animal pics *Udates will be in RED*

Discussion in 'The Great Outdoors' started by mofugly13, Sep 7, 2006.

  1. mofugly13

    mofugly13 1 ton bucket of rust Premium Member

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    'Fumes asked for a writeup on how to make your nasty bloody, hairy, slimy deerskin into a beautiful, soft, supple buckskin. I do it the 'primitive' way, not with the chemicals that modern tanneries use. Cromate tanned skins are succeptible to rot and will start falling apart after a few years. Braintanned skins are extremely durable, soft, and can be washed without stiffening up when they dry. I learned from a book and it's companion DVD. The book is called 'Deerskins into Buckskins' by Matt Richards. The DVD goes by the same name. You can buy thenm together on Amazon. If you really intend to do a buckskin yourself, I HIGHLY recommend, at the least, the DVD. Matt shows you, from start to finish, how to braintan a buckskin. Definitely visit his site www.braintan.com and read up.

    I had a deer hide frozen from two years ago, I had always wanted to brain tan a hide with the hair on, but everything I read about it made it seem to require a LOT of time and effort, and the results were not guaranteed. Later, I learned that a hair on deer hide is really only good for a wall hanging, deer hair is hollow and becomes brittle over time, eventually breaking and falling out if worn as a garment, or as a blanket or pillow covering. So it stayed in the freezer. Then based on other books I had ordered on Amazon, one day athey recommended that I might like "Deerskins Into Buckskins". The reviews on Amazon and elsewhere on the web were nothing short of excellent, so I bought it and the DVD. I put the DVD in and began thumbing throught the book. At every different step on the DVD, I was saying to myself, "That doen't look difficult at all". So I made myself a fleshing beam, and a scraper and pulled the hide out of the freezer to defrost.

    [​IMG]
    This is my fleshing beam, made out of Madrone. All you need is something round, 6-8 inches in diameter, propped up at one end to hit you right above the belt. The longer it is, the less steep the angle will be, and your back will thank you. I have a piece of 5" PVC in my backyard at home for a scraping beam, the PVC works REALLY well.

    You will need to make a scraper, or buy one. If you live near a lumber mill, and can get a used planer blade, the kind they use to make 2 x 12"s, that's the ticket, but anything with an edge will do, even a piece of 1/4" by 1 1/2" flat bar. It's 90* edge is just fine. Make sure the edge is distinct but not SHARP. If you use a planer blade, you'll need to dull it with a few passes of a sharpening stone. A tip I have read is, if it's sharp enough to nick your thumbnail, it's too sharp. Put some comfy handles on it, you will need them. My scraper is 14" pice of 1" half round stock. I ground an edge perpidicular to the flat side, and then dulled the very edge with a sharpening stone. The scraper is used to separate the layers of skin where there is a natural separation, there should be no cutting into the skin at all.

    Now, you got your tools, lets get started. I am assuming that you have a fresh deerskin in hand. You need to remove all the flesh from the hide Put it on the beam, hair side down, and use the scraper to 'bulldoze' the flesh off the hide, get all the muscle and fat off. This step is pretty easy, and will get you ready for the real scraping you'll have to do later when you remove the hair and top layer of skin from the other side. So, get allthat flesh and fat off. Here's a photo of a hide midway through the process:

    [​IMG]

    You can see my scraper settin on the end of the beam, not a very good picture, but there it is.

    If you need to store your hide for whatever reason before you can get around to tanning it, here's what to do. You can freeze it, lay the hide out on the ground, flesh side up, and fold it over, flesh to flesh, then fold or roll it upinto a neat package, put it in a plastic trash bag, get the air out, and seal up the bag, then pop it into the freezer indefinitely. The other method is to 'wet-salt' it. It is best to flesh it first, get the fat and flesh off as I have heard that the fat can 'burn' a wet salted hide, resulting in holes and weak spots. Anyhow, lay the fleshed hide out on the ground, flesh side up, then pour a couple of handfulls of salt into the middle of it. Now use your hands to push the salt all the way out to the edges. Make sure you go ALL the way to the edges, ALL around, leave no skin exposed. Then fold flesh side to flesh side, and make a neat package and put it in a plastic bag and loosely seal it. After a week, pour off the liquid that has accumulated and then seal it up tight. A five gallon bucket with a tight fitting lid is perfect. It will store for over a year like this. When you are ready to tan it, take it out and soak it in plain water for a day or so to rinse off the salt, then proceed as usual. What you DON'T want to do is salt your hide and then let it dry, as it will never rehydrate to the way it was when it was fresh, and tanning will be considerablt harder.

    After you have it fleshed, the next step is 'Bucking'. We are going to soak it in a lye solution to loosen the mucous that is trapped in the skin. There are a whole bunch of hows and whys to this process, but I won't get into it. (Get the book) Soaking in the lye solution will also swell the 'grain' which is the next layer of skin we will scrape off. I mix a 1/4 Cup of KOH (Potassium Hydroxide) with 5 gallons of water, mix it up well, and put my fleshed hide in. Let it soak for 3 to 5 days, up to ten days.

    In primitive and pioneer times, a soultion of hardwood ash and water was used. Wood ask contains KOH, and I used it on my first hide, and it worked really well, but the hide might stain from the ash. To test for the proper ph, a fresh egg was put into the solution. If it floated with an area the size of a quarter to a fifty cent piece above the surface of the solution it was good to go. Specific gravity and whatnot, smart fokkin' pioneers...

    We are ready to move to the next step when the whole hide takes on a swollen, tawny appearance. Put that fokker on the beam, hair side up, and scrape down, through the hair and the top layer of skin, which is the grain layer. You are looking to remove all the grain. This is the hardest step to get right, and very hard to explain. It's best to watch the DVD or have someone there telling you, "this is grain, this is not." Luckily, after bucking, the grain is swollen and is easier to distinguish from the part of the skin we want to keep. Dont worry about goung too hard with the scraper. If it is properly un-sharpened, it will not cut the hide, no matter how hard you scrape (except the thin parts around the groin and armpits, go with a little less gusto in these areas.) Try and scrape in the direction the hair grows, or sideways to it. If you scrape against the hair, it will cut off instad of pull out, leaving roots in your hide. The neck is really tough to grain, and you will have to scrape against the hair in one or two spots, c'est la vie. Heres a pic of a partially grained hide on my PVC beam in my backyard (my neighbors probably think I'm nuts):





    [​IMG]


    Here's a good pic of the grain. You can also see a few little spots of grain I missed, and will go over with the scraper. Generally I'll grain a patch about 4" wide or so, and however long (12-18") then I'll go over the spot pretty vigorously with the scraper to get all those little patches that escaped. This is an elk hide, which turned out to be quite a bit harder to grain than the blacktail hides I've been doing.


    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2006
  2. mofugly13

    mofugly13 1 ton bucket of rust Premium Member

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    Here's another good pic, about the same as the last, but better light. You can see a sheet of grain in my fingers, you can also see the little bits left on the skin. The strip (more or less horizontal in the photo) right through the middle, is clean to the skin and free of grain, thats what we want all over. I've circled some of the little specks of grain that were missed, as well as a large patch near the strip I am holding. After seeing those, you can easily pick out the rest of the grain in the photo.

    [​IMG]

    When you have all the grain off the hide, you will need to rinse it. I noticed that after graining my last hide, It wasn't fully swollen, so I put it back in the bucking solution for another day. *It's important to break up all that mucous so we can rinse it out.*

    Here's the grained hide in the buck, this is a good photo to show the tawny swolleness we are looking for:
    [​IMG]

    To rinse, go to your nearby creek, tie your hide to a low branch and toss it in, or you could put it in a barrel (20 gallon plastic trash can works great) and put a running hose into it. It might take up to three days to rinse all the lye out, so if you have to pay for your water, it's best to put it in a naturally moving body of fresh water, I cant afford to leave my hose on for three days, so I usually do this step at my cabin, where the water is free.


    Here's a photo of the rinsed hide, right before I take it out of the rinse. You can see how it's nice and white. Compare this with the photo above of a swollen, tawny, bucked, hide.

    [​IMG]

    Leave it in the rinse until every trace of swollen tawnyness is gone, the neck will probably be the last part to rinse completely, and it is important to rinse it completely or you wil have stiff spots in your finished skin. You can also neutralize the Lye with a quart of vinegar in 20 gallons of water, I have not tried this method yet. I'll post photos of a rinsed hide when I do my next one. The hide should be white to bluish white, and very floppy, no tawny or swollen feeling spots at all.
    It should also be stretchy, here are a couple of photos of the elk hide, rinsed and membraned. You can see the bluish-ness of the hide, and the stretchiness.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    Here are two hides, an elk and a blacktail, completely rinsed and ready for membraning
    [​IMG]

    The bucking, graining, and rinsing steps are the easiest to fukk up (don't despair, they're easy to do right also), it is important that the hide fully absorb the lye, all the grain is OFF, and all the lye rinsed out, or you will end up with stiff spots.

    Next we go back to the fleshing beam. We need to scrape the flesh side of the skin again to remove the membrane layer. This is a layer of loose skin fibers. There is no distinct "end" to them, so scrape off as much as you can. This step is pretty easy, and also helps "wring" out the moisture, so it will be ready for braining. You will also see that your hide is no longer "nasty" but actually turning into somethng nice.


    Here are a couple of photos of the elk hide. The first one is membrane on, the next is with a strip of membrane removed. The cool thing is thatthe membrane stains very easily and by the time you get to the membraning step, it has been colored by hair, dirt, ashes if you used a harwood ash buck. This makes it easy to see where the membrane still needs to be removed. Try to remove as much as you can. After membraning you will have a nice clean, white hide. Ready for brains.
    [​IMG] [​IMG]
    After the membrane is removed, the hide should be wrung out, we are trying to get as much of the "free" moisture out as we can, like a damp sponge ready to absorb. This is called "the perfect moisture content".

    Now to dress it. To "dress" the hide we are going to soak it in an emulsified oil solution. The oil molecules need to get into the hide so they can attach themselves the the individual fibers so that they will be lubricated against each other, which keeps the glue in the hide (this is where 'hide glue' comes from) from grabbing the fibers as it dries. The emulsified oil solution the Native Americans typically used was a mixture of brains and water. It is said that every animal has enough brains to tan its own hide, though there are exceptions, buffalo, whale, etc... But one deer brain will be plenty to tan a hide, super cool, the deer comes with everything you need to tan its hide, a rib can be used as a scraper....

    but I digress...

    You can also make dressing from eggs, or soap and oil. Recipes follow:

    1 pound of brains mixed with one gallon of warm water. Take a cup or two of the water, put it and the brains in a blender, and liquefy (or you can mash the brains up with your fingers) Then pur the pinkish milky mixture into the rest of the water and add the hide. I just finished my third hide, which I used brains on, brains smell strange, not bad, but strange.

    Mix 1/4 Cup of olive or neatsfoot oil with 1/4 bar of natural soap like Ivory or Fels Naptha. Grate the soap into the warm water and add the oil, mix well, it will turn a milky white. Put the hide in. I did my first hide this way and liked the "clean" soap smell it had as I finished it up.

    Crack 1 dozen eggs (you really only need the yolks, but there's no harm in leaving the whites) into 1 gallon of warm water. Mix until milky looking. I did my second hide this way and I think I left it in the dressing too long (about 24 hours) and when I was finishing the hide up, it smelled like straight DEATH! Stinky as all get out, but it softened very nicely, and after smoking it, it doesnt smell at all.
     
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2006
  3. mofugly13

    mofugly13 1 ton bucket of rust Premium Member

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    OK, now you have your hide in the dressing, get your hands in there and stretch it every which way, really working the brains in there. You hide should feel nice and stretchy. Pull and stretch it, all the way to the edges. 'Pluck' all the edges to stretch them out. Put an edge between your thumb and forefinger and pull them right off the edge. After you feel that you have
    really worked the brains into the hide, let it sit for about 15 minutes, then work the hide again. Now pull the hide out of the dressing, and wring it out. This is pretty physical, we need to get as much dressing out as we can. Then it goes back into the brains for one more round. I drape my hide over a horizontal bar. First get as much moisture out by wringing it like a towel. Next, let the top 4 inches or so hang over the back of the pole and then take the bottom of the hide and bring the bottom 6 inches or so over the pole, forming a 'tube' of sorts. Then start at one edge and roll the hide towards the middle of the bar, like a donut. Then do the same from the other side, so your donuts meet in the middle.
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]


    Now, put a strong stick, 2" or so in diameter, through the loop you have hanging on the bar. Twist that bar to wring the hide out, wrap it up as tight as you can, you won't rip it.

    [​IMG]

    Keep it tight until the stream of drerssing turns to a drip, be sure to catch all the dressing in you bucket! You'll need it for the second braining. Anyhow, unwind the hide and twist it as hard as you can in the other direction. Then unwind it, rotate your hide on the bar 90 degrees, and wring it in both directions agin. Unwind, rotate 90*, repeat. You will end up doing this four times total, in both directions each time.

    [​IMG]


    Here's a photo of a wrung-out, donut

    [​IMG]

    After you have wrung it out really well, you need to 'open' the hide back up. It should be really stiff in some areas, and other areas will probably be a bit wet. Stretch the hide this way and that, break it over the edge of your beam. You will see how the stiff, tawny, brownish areas open up and become white, you want to go over the whole hide until there are no stiff spots left, don't forget the edges!

    If this is your first time wringing out of the dressing, put it back in and rebrain, working the brains in, and then wring it out as well as you can, basically repeating the steps you just did. This time, when you have opened it all back up, it's time to start softening.

    Heres the hide, opened up and ready for softening.

    [​IMG]


    As the hide dries from this damp state that you have it in, you need to continually work/stretch the fibers so that the glues dont set up. I lken this part of the work to the way a slurpee machine operates. It continually mixes the water while freezing it at the same time, resulting in a frozen beverage that can be sipped through a straw, rather than a big block of ice.

    So, were going to keep stretching and breaking the hide as it dries, so we end up with a nice soft buckskin and not a stiff rawhide-like piece of skin. This can take up to six hours on a cool day. On a hot day it can dry faster than you can work it. I continually stretch the hide ovr my fleshing beam, and pull it back and forth rapidly over a 3" piece of 1/8" cable I have secured at both ends. The edges will dry first, so pay most attention to them. There will be a point where the hide will seem dry and you'll want to put it down. It may feel dry on the outside, but the inner layers will still be damp, and will stiffen up if you stop working them. You can tell the hide id dry if a sopt will reboud after you stretch it. Grab it from two sides, pull it and see it stretch, now let up. Does the hide rebound or does it stay stretched? If it rebounds, you can move on to a still damp part of the hide. If it stays stretched, thenm the inner layers have not dried out completely yet, and you need to make sure you keep working that part of the hide.

    I like to go over the edges, starting at the nutsack and working my way around the hide until I get back to the nutsack. Then I go a few passes over the rest of the hide, then back to the edges. You will get a feel for which areas are drying out too fast, and you mightn eed to concentrate on them while letting wetter areas go for a bit. The neck and rump areas will be the last to dry out.

    When it is completely dry and softened, you are done. It is now a softened buckskin, but to truly 'tan' it, it needs to be smoked. Smoking the hide intoduces aldehydes into it, and makes some chemical changes in the fibers, or at least that's how I understand it. It also colors the buckskin, gives it that brown or honey color we are familiar with. I fold the hide in half and use elmers glue to make it into a "sack". Then I sew on a "skirt" and smoke it over smoldering punk wood. It can also be draped over a fram built over a smoky fire, but this takes longer. Making a sack forces the smoke through the hide, and colors it quicker. Once it is adequately smoked on one side, 15 minuites or so, or as long as you want for darker color, turn the sack inside out and do the other side.
    [​IMG]
    Once the smoking is done, rip off the skirt and open up your sack and enjoy your new buckskin! Now start planning your next one....
     
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2006
  4. mofugly13

    mofugly13 1 ton bucket of rust Premium Member

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    [​IMG]

    Finished Buckskins!! The light one is my first and was smoked over a frame, the tan one was smoked as a sack. I need to smoke my third one, it's my best yet.

    I got go for now, but I'll finish this up later and I'll add photos as I take them.
     
    Smokinthehippies likes this.
  5. walla2k5

    walla2k5 1/2 ton status

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    Nice write up.Pretty much the way the wagon burners of old use to do it.:D
     
  6. mofugly13

    mofugly13 1 ton bucket of rust Premium Member

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    Yepper. The methods used to tan hides are as varied as the folks who have tanned them. Before denim came along, buckskin was the material of choice for everyone from mountain men, to miners, to infantry. It was a huge industry that was pretty much crushed when Levi's came along. The method I described is wet-scraping. There is also dry-scraping method for buckskin. Historically, ancient tribes all over the world used some variation of one of these methods for tanning skins for clothing. China, Russia, the Americas, the Euopeans, they all did it.

    I really dig being able to put more of the animal to use than just the meat and the horns for hanging on the wall. I hope to make a whole suit of buckskin someday, mountain man style. My ultimate goal is to eventually tan a mess of bison hides to make an authentic tipi. That will be a feat.
     
  7. mofugly13

    mofugly13 1 ton bucket of rust Premium Member

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    Here's my favorite president, outfitted in a bad ass buckskin suit. I'd love to have something like this one day, I'l like that Winchester, too.

    [​IMG]
     
  8. chevyfumes

    chevyfumes Court jester

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    Real nice write up Matt...Thanks...:waytogo:
     
  9. pvfjr

    pvfjr 1/2 ton status

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    Thanks for the write up, I look forward to some more pics. All I needed was another hobby to get excited about. :doah:
     
  10. blazindorito

    blazindorito 1/2 ton status

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    How come I can't see any pictures of dead deer. I don't even see X'x
     
  11. chevyfumes

    chevyfumes Court jester

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    He's just covering all his bases so no one can blow a gasket, and we can enjoy having this info as a sticky...;)
     
  12. mofugly13

    mofugly13 1 ton bucket of rust Premium Member

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    My parents just came back from Oregon, visiting my brother in Bend. My bro is the man. He sent an elk hide! It should be quite the project. He also sent a coyote and a badger hide, I'm going to try to do these hair-on. But those will stay in the freezer until I'm ready to do them. I am super excited about the elk hide. Also it's the second-to-last weekend of deer season, and typically a lot of bucks get shot during these last two weekends, so I hope to be in over my ears in hides.
     
  13. blazindorito

    blazindorito 1/2 ton status

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    Mofugly,
    That is one hell of a write up. That is really specific and visual for even someone like me to follow. Thanks.
     
  14. mofugly13

    mofugly13 1 ton bucket of rust Premium Member

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    I just laid out an outline, I will try to get more specific when I encounter steps that might be problematic. Like I said, the book is the ****, it answers the questions I haven't even thought of yet. There are also some variations on the process that I didn't talk about. But what I laid out is the simplest version. I still have to add photos, and more info as I add the photos. I also need to go back and fix all my typos in the original. But my plan s to take a detailed photo of EVERY single step, better pics of the scraper and whatnot. I'm glad you all are enjoying it. Finishing up a buckskin is extremely satisfying. If you get a buck, I highly encourage you to give braintanning a whirl. (Of course I'll take the hide if you're just going to chuck it.) You really can't screw it up unless you somehow let the hide rot. Any mistakes made are fixable just by re-doing a step or two.
     
  15. chevyfumes

    chevyfumes Court jester

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    I'd like to try maybe a coyote first, something smaller. I have a tendancy to over think and not really get done what I want when I want...
     
  16. pvfjr

    pvfjr 1/2 ton status

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    Yep, the elk hide should be a project. It always makes me a little sad when we have to leave an elk hide out there to rot. I think we ought to start shooting them critters closer to the road. :crazy: Sometimes the hides from the high country weigh over 100 lbs! Anymore than 5 miles from a road, and you just gotta bone them out and pack the meat. Seems like a waste to always leave those hides there like that, I'll bring one home one of these days.:o
     
  17. mofugly13

    mofugly13 1 ton bucket of rust Premium Member

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    Start with a deer, it's really tough to fokk it up irreversibly. Coyotes, I hear, are tough to do.
     
  18. mofugly13

    mofugly13 1 ton bucket of rust Premium Member

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    Here's me in the process of fleshing out an elk hide my brother sent me from Oregon. You get a good idea of how the beam should sit.

    [​IMG]

    Here is a good photo of the membrane that's left on a fleshed hide. Don't try to get this crap off now, it will come off easier after the graining step.

    [​IMG]
     
  19. chevyfumes

    chevyfumes Court jester

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    Watch for the muzzleflash!
    I may have missed it but what kind of time do you have to get your hide to the freezer/fleshing beam before it starts to get funky???
     
  20. chevyfumes

    chevyfumes Court jester

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    Watch for the muzzleflash!
    I may have missed it but what kind of time do you have to get your hide to the freezer/fleshing beam before it starts to get funky???
     

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