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Making and using rawhide.

I've been a skinner (buckskinner, that is) since about '73, but I find that I must also be a homesteader as well. I grew up on a small farm in Indiana and remember when our house was electrified. I attended school in a one-room schoolhouse. This makes me sound like I came through the Depression, but I was born in '44. We didn't call it homesteading then -- we called it survival.

Mom liked the old woodstove better than the gas stove and did her canning and baking on it. The large garden provided fresh produce in the summer and preserved vegetables the rest of the year.

The Jersey cow provided milk for us and the pigs. She also gave us mostly bull calves for meat on the table. Dad liked to watch things grow, so we were always trying something different with garden varieties and fowl. I went off to school, but maintained a love for providing for myself.

It is all an attitude. We have come full circle, as we live on 10 acres of rocks and trees with a large garden. I work in town, but wages are poor in this area. With five children at home, we are classified at poverty level, but anyone who sits at our table wouldn't know that.

Our grocery budget runs about $50/week, which includes all of the miscellaneous non-food items one brings home from the grocery. Beef, venison, pork, chicken, fruits and vegetables are preserved or fresh depending on the season. I build Shaker furniture and do leather and rawhide work as hobbies.

We raise our own beef from three-day old Holstein calves. When we butcher them, I keep the hide and turn it into rawhide. This material is quite versatile, and it has numerous uses.

It can be cut into pieces, soaked and used to mend or protect ax, hammer or maul handles. A strip can be cut that wraps around the handle. With the help of an awl, the strip can be sewn with strong nylon cord while the hide is still wet. When it dries, it makes a strong, tight repair.

Rawhide can also be cut in tight, narrow strips and wrapped around most anything that needs to be held together. It will last as long as it doesn't get wet or eaten by an animal. This is how many rifle and shotgun stocks were repaired in the old days.

Rawhide is not that difficult to make. Once the hide is free of the animal, it is fleshed by scraping all the meat and fat off the flesh side. This can be done by placing it on the belly beam (a sturdy plank on a frame that slants the beam from the ground up to a little over waist high) and scraping it with a sharp knife.

I like to lean into the beam, holding the hide with my belly and working the knife away from me. I prefer using a drawknife. Another technique used by the natives was to attach the hide to a solid frame and scrape it until the flesh was removed. In either case, fleshing is done while the hide is fresh. It doesn't hurt if it sits a few days, but the hide can't be dry.

After the hide is fleshed, the hair is usually removed. This can be done in several ways. The hide can be placed in a barrel of water and left until the hair slips off. If this technique is used, the water should be changed daily to keep the smell down. When the hair begins to slip all over the hide, the hide can be pulled out of the barrel. Use the same procedures and tools as you would for fleshing.

There is a chemical that can be purchased from tanneries. It is made in a paste form and applied to the flesh side of the hide. The hide is then rolled up and set aside overnight. This removes the hair easily and speedily, as it washes off and leaves no hard spots. The negatives are the strong sulfur smell and disposal of the chemicals.

Another way of removing the hair is to put the fleshed hide in a frame and allow it to dry. Once the hide is dry, a sharp knife can be used to scrape the hair off the hide. As the hair is shaved from the hide, it also pulls part of the epidermis. This is the method I usually use, as I like the way it works and looks.

Once the hair is removed, the hide needs to be put on a rack to dry. This can take two to three weeks depending on the time of year. I keep the frame on edge so the hide dries as flat as possible. The hide will shrink a great deal and will sometimes break the cords that hold it. If this happens, just re-tie to keep the hide flat.

The hide is ready for use when it is dried. When I want strips, especially long, thin ones, I cut a large circle and then cut the strips in a circle on the handsaw with a guide. Any unusable scraps make great dog chews.

One can also construct all kinds of rawhide containers. The Indians used rawhide to make storage boxes. Parfleshe (meaning raw hide) is the name for the folding container they used to store their food. Other uses include knife scabbards, tool holders, snowshoes or shoe soles.

I have sold a large number of canoe chairs that are laced like snowshoes and fold for easy storage. They sit close to the ground and work great around the campfire. I have been able to sell rawhide by the square foot to people who needed a little for repairs. It is a versatile material and offers a way to increase the value of a hide.

To help preserve and protect rawhide from the weather, I paint it with shellac or polyurethane. This also helps discourage dogs from chewing up your ax handle. Anyone who has used a pair of snowshoes knows they need a frequent coat of shellac.

I'm always looking for new things to try. We have been getting Holstein bull calves from a local dairy. They are great for beef, but I want to try raising a couple steers for oxen. I have been looking for a source for Guernseys, but haven't been able to find them in this area.

I would be glad to answer any questions about rawhide. Please enclose an SASE.

PAUL STRONG 691 McCaffery Rd. Bigfork, Montana 59911
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Title Annotation:tanning
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Jan 1, 1999
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