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Hide-tanning a Deerskin – Part 2

This is the second article in a two-part series on hide-tanning a deerskin to make buckskin. Click here to read part one for tips on materials, storage, graining and scraping your hide.

Day 2: Braining Your Hide

Take your hide out of the water and bring it to your work area. Fill a bucket with 4 gallons of warm water, add ½ cup of white vinegar, then place your hide in the bucket. Leave the hide in this solution for at least 15 minutes, stirring periodically. This process is called acidifying and helps soften the hide. This is optional, but I recommend it.

Next, set up an outside work area for wringing out your hide. Find a horizontal bar that is 2 to 3 inches in diameter and place it 8 to 10 feet apart between two trees.

Wringing out a hide is done twice: once after the vinegar soak and again after applying the brains. Take the hide and hang it over the pole you have lashed between two trees. Start by wringing the hide out with your hands. Once water stops coming off with your hands, begin wringing using a broom handle. About ¾ of the hide should be hanging on one side of the pole and ¼ on the other side.

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Take the ¾ side and bring it back over on itself, creating an oval shape around the pole. Then, roll each side in on itself. Be meticulous about this. When both sides are rolled up it should look like a donut hanging on the pole. Take your broom handle and put it through the hanging donut. Twist the hide tightly, and the vinegar and water will be wrung out. Then, untwist the hide and twist the opposite direction. Move the donut on the pole about a quarter of its length and do the process again. You may need to take the hide down and re-form your donut shape several times.

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Finally, when the wringing process no longer extracts water, take down the hide and spread it on the ground for braining.

Putting pig brains on your hide may seem gross, but it is a critical step in making the deerskin into soft buckskin. Take one package of pig brains and put them in a bucket. Add hot water and mix the brains into the water. Do not add too much water; you want a soup-like consistency. Two to three eggs can be substituted, but I have better results with brains. Put the hide in the brains mixture and work them into the hide with your hands. Do this for 20 to 30 minutes. Then, wring out the brains using the same method described above. The better you wring out your hide, the less work you will have to do in the stretching phase.

Stretching the Hide

After braining your hide, move inside to a warm room that ideally has a dehumidifier and a heat source such as a wood stove. Use your hands and start stretching out the hide. The goal is to make the hide as flexible and soft as possible before it dries. It is helpful to have more than one pair of hands for this step.

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Stretching is not an easy process and can take six hours or longer. Be careful; do not allow the hide to sit untouched for more than 10 minutes during this stage, because it will dry stiff. It can be helpful to let a strong cable do some of the stretching work for you. Lash or tie a cable on both ends. Slip the hide around the cable, grab each side and work the tough areas.

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Another trick for areas that are not feeling soft is to rub the hide using pumice stone. When you take breaks from stretching, drape the hide over a chair right next to the fire. This will slowly pull moisture from the hide, so be cautious about not taking more than a 10-minute break to ensure the hide remains soft and pliable.

Day 3: Smoking Your Hide

If you want the buckskin to be waterproof and durable, you must smoke the hide, which preserves it. You can leave the hide as is, but it will turn back into tough rawhide if water hits it. Gather some dry punk (decaying) wood. You have two options for trapping smoke with your hide: glue two hides together, or make a tipi-like structure to place over the fire.

I will describe the tipi-structure method. Make a fire, building it up so it has plenty of coals. Take 6- to 8-foot-long tipi poles and position them over where your bucket will rest. Clip or tie the hide up in the poles over the bucket. Remember where you tied the hide, because you will have to move the tie to get the smoke to penetrate areas that were covered by the ties. Take tarps or blankets and wrap them around the tipi poles as tightly as possible. Now, fill your bucket with a thin layer of coals from the fire. Put punk wood on top of the coals to create an excess amount of smoke. Place the bucket of coals and punk wood under the tipi structure. Let it sit, and make sure you are watching so the hide doesn’t catch fire.

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Flip the hide inside-out and repeat the smoking process. You will need to add punk wood periodically to keep the smoke billowing. You should not be able to see any coals when the punk wood is on top. It is critical to keep the fire small. After a while, the hide should appear much darker and yellowish in color. Once you are finished smoking, store the hide outside to let it air. It may take up to a month to remove the smoky scent.

This is an overview of an extensive process. Make sure to plan out when you will have three days to work the hide. Also, five days before you begin the hide-tanning process, you will need to put your hide in a solution to take off the grain, as described in part one.

Once your hide is done, consider the plethora of things that can be made with the buckskin. Moccasins, clothing, bags and other useful items can be crafted with your finished hide. Be creative!

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