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Hideworking

For a long time I've thought that it would be interesting to learn hideworking. Something like fifteen years ago I tried to process a reindeer pelt : I managed to succesfully dehair it, but something went wrong with the tanning process, so I ended up with something resembling a piece of quirboilly - but to be honest it was actually just a ruined piece of rawhide, not usable for anything. Later on, when I started rearing sheep, I tried processing couple of hides. First I tried to make a fur. I found a recipe using kind of a sour porridge for tanning - I applied the goo on the flesh side of the fur, and wrapped it for processing, waiting for two weeks. After that I washed the porridge away and found that it only had turned all the hair loose - so I had made a rawhide. I gave that one away, as one person asked for materials he could use for his handcrafts. And several other unprocessed pelts I just gave to people I knew, so that they can process them for their own use.

Well, earlier this spring one of the daily pictures sparked a nice discussion which inspired me to finally try again. Reading the link posted by Ben Trawford helped to clarify my thoughts. I mean, years ago I read a book about processing hides, and it left me with a feeling that it is a somewhat complicated process with plenty of alternatives. And I was always thinking that I should read that book again, trying to pick a simple but reliable recipe to start with. And Ben's link did exactly that - it described a simplified version of the process, using alum and salt. I visited the local pharmacy, asking for alum. They didn't have it readily available in the shelf, but they promised to order it for me. So I bought a 1 kg of alum.

First I made a mild tanning solution with coarse sea salt and alum, soaking a hide in it for two days. Since it is a long, untrimmed winter fur of a ram, it needed quite a lot of liquid to get the whole pelt properly soaked. The purpose of this first soaking is to soften the flesh side of the pelt, so that it becomes easier to remove all the fat and fascias. I did that with a dull knife - but since the internal structure of skin is like layers on top of layers, I was not exactly sure how deep I'm supposed to keep on removing those layers. But to me it seemed that all the fascias are gone, and the spongy inner layer of the skin is bare. After that I added a bit more water and a double doze of alum and salt into the tanning solution. Now this second solution should be strong enough to do the actual tanning, absorbing into the inner structure of the skin. I let it soak in for eight or nine days. (The recipe says seven days, but I wanted to be sure.)

Using my garden bath tub I heated up a lot of water. I washed the fur using mild soap, and rinsed with plenty of water. After that I let it dry for a day. When the hide is still somewhat moist it needs to be softened. At this point I had borrowed the book from our local library, and the book described several traditional ways of softening a hide. The purpose of this is to stretch and to loosen the inner structure of the skin so that it will not turn rigid when it dries. I pulled the hide back and forth, against sharp edges of a piece of sawn timber. I repeated that process the next day. After that the hide felt like it was almost completely dry, but it had not turned rigid as a rawhide does. So, it seemed that this time I had some success!

For maintaining horse harness I had already bought leather oil and wax. First I applied oil onto the flesh side of the fur. After a day the oil was absorbed into the skin, and I applied a protective layer of thicker wax. Once again I let it stay for a day. And today it seems to be ready. There are some places near the edges where the skin has turned hard and rigid - but those are places where I failed to remove all the fat, thinking that I can anyway trim away those parts. I wish I could make myself a sheep fur mattress I could sleep on when camping. Maybe if I stitch together two ram furs, it would make a big enough piece to sleep on. Yup, but next I need to tan another fur =) I have stored some white furs, so maybe I should try tanning them next. I haven't yet decided, but maybe I could try couple of more hides with alum, before moving to more traditional methods. Although the book said that alum has been traditionally used in such areas where it is naturally found. But in Finland the traditional methods include using willow or spruce bark.

I have kept on checking the fish traps on a daily basis. Yesterday there were several roaches, and a pike with a roach in his mouth - apparently he was busy swallowing his prey when I came to check the trap. So, I think this means that the spawning season is over, and the pikes are now hungry for food. Which should mean that they might also catch a lure. Today I tried rowing around, dragging a lure, but with no luck. Well, but since I've been eating a pike quite a lot for now, I'm actually waiting for the bream spawning season to begin, hoping to catch some in my traps.

A tanned sheep hide
A tanned sheep hide
A pike with a roach in his mouth
A pike with a roach in his mouth
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Comments

Now that is a beautiful fur! I had the same hardness develop on my rabbit furs but as you said, its easy to trim them off to keep the softer skin, its quite a taste getting those layers down towards the edges, I found a rather nice seawater eroded piece of slate from the coast I've been using for rubbing the layers down, something I notice they use in Asia a lot, works well yet a knife seems unbeatable!

I'm proud that the solution worked for you though, the bark method would be really interesting to see, I wonder how much bark would be required for the tannins to take effect, I suppose nothing will tell apart from experimentation :D

As for fishing, I've pulled plenty of Bream out when fishing in the UK but we're never aloud to eat anything! coarse fishing is a big money maker for pool owners over here, you'd be hung by the angry fishermen if they ever saw you eating one aha and then the big fine would arrive from the enforcement agencies :/

That is really cool, it looks like it turned out super well! :D I am hoping to tan some raccoon hides this fall. I may try your method since the brain tan was such a failure last time I tried haha.

I wish it was legal to use fish traps here in the states (edit: well, to be fair it's the state government that bans is, not the federal government). We're only allowed to use rod & reel or a trotline, and I don't like the trotlines because they swallow the hooks so often, so I can't let some go if I catch too many. Well I mean I guess I could, but they'd just die, yanno.

Of course, our hunting/fishing regulations here are not really about managing the wildlife. They function more as a way to most efficiently enable the state government to make money from it.

Just to make it easier to find later on, I re-post the link with the tanning recipe:
http://www.motherearthnews.com/diy/how-to-tan-a-rabbit-hide-zmaz83jfzraw...

After this experiment I see that scraping the meat side clean enough is the key to success. If there are inner fascias left, the tanning solution can't get properly absorbed into the inner layers of the skin. When butchering a sheep, I try to skin it as clean as possible, as it also seems that it is easier to remove fat and some fascias when the skin is still fresh and warm. But, yes, I need more experimenting with this, to get a better idea of what is "clean enough".

In Finland the fishing has also this "two level" model, a lot like our dirt roads. The state legislation sets a general framework, and the details are decided on a local level. Local waters are divided into smaller areas, and people fishing on those areas have their annual meetings where they can settle the details of fishing regulations. That way it is always adjusted to the local situation - for example, if the people see certain fish populations decreasing, they can temporarily set stricter regulations to allow the fish population to regenerate. Which also means that, ideally, if I'd be unhappy about some regulations, theoretically speaking I can go to the annual meeting and try to convince the others with some good talking and argumentation =) But I don't need to do that, as generally speaking I feel that I'm mostly unaffected by our regulations.

I mean, most of the people use much more modern tools - they drive a motor boat with multiple rods attached to a rack, and they use a sonar to spot flocks of fish, and they set multiple nets in a row. But I'm just rowing my boat with a singe rod and reel, and I don't even set nets as these small fish traps are easier to handle alone. So, most of the regulation is about those more efficient methods, and small scale old fashioned village idiots like me are left free to do what they please =)

Ah, but of course the finnish model comes with some funny side-effects, too. For example, I'm living near the border of one of these local areas. If I row a bit farther away, I reach the next area - and I don't know if they have slightly different regulations. So, in a worst case it might become rather messy, having to apply different methods depending on which side of a lake you are on =) But as far as I know, here on my place that next area always has looser regulations, so I don't need to bother them getting angry about how I fish on their area =)

wow, fishing can be that complicated.. in my place, i can fishing wherever i want and eat as much as i want :)

Erkka, is that Pekka's hide?

Nope. Pekka The Ram is alive, strong and hale as ever =)

I haven't been able to decide what exactly to do with him.

As much as I like rearing the sheep, then on the other hand I have greatly enjoyed this spring with no lambing taking place. Lambing is always such a busy season which ties a lot of my daily time and energy, and then it leads to animals to be butchered the coming autumn... So, I feel that I'd better just have less animals to take care of, which means the horses (and the cats). OK, so this is the general plan - when there will be no more sheep, I hope I will have more time and energy to spend with the horses, and with gardening. But should I just keep Pekka until he dies because of old age? Or should I eventually just kill him and bury him without using his meat nor skin. I don't know for sure, so I have been just postponing the decision. At the moment I still have Pekka and two of his sons, so they make a nice little herd.

Well, I see.

It's a hard decision anyways, as Pekka became a sort of a friend of yours through these years.

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