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Making rawhide.

To some, rawhide is a dog chew. To some it is webbing on a snowshoe and hopefully never confused with the former. Not so long ago, it was part of every cowboy's gear, Indian parfleche and the first fastening material better than baling wire. Long ago, rawhide strips bound a sharp stone to a strong stick. Few materials today have such a history of usefulness and art.

This is not about all those uses or how to be artistic. This is how I make rawhide. It is not the only way, maybe not even the best way, but it is simple and makes good hide. I braid cowboy gear. Most braiders make their own hide.

Materials: A large strong frame, 2 x 4s bolted and braced at comers, needs to be larger than hide; a lot of strong rope or cord or even wire to lace hide into frame; large sharp knives to trim and flesh; old dull hoe or shovel; drill with drywall paste stirrer; sack of fresh masonry lime; four to six boxes Ivory Snow powder; two-quarts cheap sunflower cooking oil; water, and shade to work in.

Hide selection: Avoid all fat animals, bulls or young feedlot animals. The best hide is from old poor cows, dairy or Longhorn types. Use only fresh or frozen unsalted hides. If you skin, avoid cutting into the hide. If you buy, inspect carefully for slices/holes and excess fat.

To frame: Spread the hide out flat and position frame over it. Trim off tail, weak flank and other odd parts. Start at neck and punch slit with knife every six-to-eight inches all round edge, about one-to-two inches from edge. Start to lace at neck and go down each side. Work to space hide evenly in frame. When loosely laced all around, begin at neck and pull all slack and get fairly tight. Set framed hide up on blocks about knee high. Rinse hair side clean and drain.

The mix: In a five-gallon plastic bucket, by volume, 60 percent lime, 40 percent Ivory Snow powder. Add warm water and use drill to stir until all lumps are gone. Should be a thick paste at this point. Add one quart sunflower oil and more warm water until barely fluid. Needs to be fluid, not runny -- add water or lime to correct.

Pour the mix onto hide. Large beef hides take two buckets. Use old dull hoe to push "frosting" all over hide. Work into hair real well. Slight stain indicates you have reached down to the skin good. Spread frosting deep over hide and let set overnight. Warm weather works better/faster than cool. Use smooth edge to push hair in flank or belly. Will slip very easily when ready. Push all the hair off. Spots of tight hair means the mix was too thick or not worked into hair well. It's okay to reapply small amount of mix.

When the hide is de-haired, lean the frame against a wall or tree and let dry. Do not try to flesh too soon. The hide will go through several stages of drying. This is the time that breaks weak frames.

Fleshing: When the hide is dry enough to be slightly tough, use a sharp knife to remove all bits of flesh, fat and membrane. I like to lean the frame almost straight up a wall, flesh side out. Work carefully to avoid cutting into the lower layers of skin. Any cuts made skinning or fleshing will show up as weak string You can use a drill with sanding discs of medium grit on very, very slow speed t remove membrane when completely dry.

When the hide is completely dry the frame, undo the ropes, wires, etc. Use a tin snip to cut the ragged edge o the hide. I have also used a jig saw with fine tooth blades.

At this point, you have a dry hide ready to use or store until needed. If the hide is still greasy, wash it with liquid Ivory while still in the frame. If there is any lime residue showing, just wipe with a rag dipped in sunflower oil.

There are several ways to cut the hide into useful sizes. Some use the whole hide and make a circular cut one inch or so wide all around the hide. Others use only shoulders, back and hips. Flanks, brands, cuts, scars and other blemishes should be well marked with pencil or cut away.

To cut the most string, cut the whole hide; for the best string make circular cuts from back, hips and shoulder areas. A pistol grip strap cutter with a strong blade will cut the hide... after you case it.

Case. Soak hide in water until soft, then put in plastic trash can or wooden box for a few hours. Lay it out and let surface moisture dry. Must be firm to cut easily.

If you want a certain width string, always make initial cut wider, trim later. If the strap is too thick or you need uniform thickness, you can use a very sharp plane, mounted in a vise. Again, proper moisture content is important anytime you try to cut or skive string.

A lot of very fine string has been made with very simple homemade tools. sit a library or leather store and look books by Bruce Grant for ideas on tools and projects.

Making rawhide is for people with access to hides, who have time and a lace to work it and for those who wish use this prehistoric craft material.

Braiding can also be done with leather, nylon cord and plastic lace. These materials are less demanding than rawhide and are cleaner to work with. Braiding is ideal therapy to improve your patience, persistence, concentration, eye/hand dexterity and even expand your vocabulary when ya make mistakes.


A word of caution: Lime is caustic material. Observe the warning labels. It will cook your hair off, too.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Countryside Publications Ltd.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Duncan, Wayne
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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