Question—Please answer the following two questions. (1) How should a deer skin be tanned to make a tough leather such as lace strings? (2) How should I dress small skins to make soft leather like chamois skin?
Answer—(2). Commercial methods of tanning are too complicated for amateurs, and require machinery and materials that they cannot employ. Farmers' methods, with alum, soap, etc., produce inferior leather. The Indian way can be practiced by anybody, anywhere, and gives fine results, if enough patience and elbowgrease are used.
The strongest lace strings are not made from tanned skins, but from rawhide, the strings being supplied after they have been cut out.
First remove the hair and grain. A deerskin need not be soaked in wood-ash liquor or other alkali. Just soak it in running water until the hair will slip (three to five days, according to temperature). Scrape off the hair and grain, and work down the flesh side with a sharp knife to even thickness throughout. Use no salt or other preservative, but simply stretch the hide as taut as a drumhead in all directions, on a frame or the side of a building, where it will be in the shade all the time.
That makes rawhide. Cut it into thongs while in this natural state. Then supple them by rubbing into them a little animal grease and working them over the edge of a board. Do not use too much grease, or they will always be slippery.
(2). What goes by the trade name of chamois skin is merely the flesh side of split sheepskin, the grain side forming skiver, which is used in bookbinding, etc. Chamois skin is the weakest and least durable of all leathers.
A far better article is thin buckskin supplied and smoked in the Indian way. Formerly the skins of fawns, yearlings, and does were used, the skins of bucks being too thick for very pliable material. Nowadays we use skins of small animals that are not protected by game laws. The object is to tan them supple like glove leather.
After graining and fleshing the skin, as described above, let it soak overnight. Then soften it by pulling, twisting, and working in every direction until it becomes white and pliable as a handkerchief.
Now rub into it the brain of the animal, made into a thin paste with tepid water. If the brain has not been saved, the next best thing is unsalted butter (it need not be fresh).
Rub this dubbing in on the hair side, not the flesh side. Then you must again pull, knead, and rub the skin until the fibers are thoroughly loosened. Soak the skin again, and soften it by working as before. The thicker the skin, the oftener this must be repeated, to make it permanently pliable.
Finally the skin must be smoked, to insure that it will not turn hard after wetting. This can be done outdoors, over a smudge made in a small hole in the ground, the skin being rigged over it like a little tent, and turned when the lower side gets the desired yellow shade. But the best way is in a smoke-house, or a big box used for such purpose. Be careful not to overheat the skin.
Outing , Publishing Company. Outing. New York: Outing Publishing Company, 1920.
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