I haven’t experimented with hide tanning for years. Back then, I used a hide scraper to remove membranes, fat and meat from a wet hide.
I had no idea it was even possible to scrape a dry hide clean. The red squirrel that found my trap provided an unexpected opportunity. I started with basic instructions provided by Barry Keegan. I skinned the hide while at Hawk Circle, but with all we had to do, I didn’t get to the tanning until I got back home.
- Skin the animal and tack or staple the hide to a flat board.
- Holding a spoon at a 90-degree angle, scrape the fat and meat.
- Put a thin layer (3-4 pinches) of powdered unscented clay to help grip membrane for easier removal. (Cat litter will work.)
- Put a thicker layer of powdered clay on hide overnight to help it dry faster.
- The next day, scrape off the clay. Use sandpaper (120) to buff hide, working from tail toward head.
- Work gently if the skin is delicate, or you run the risk of scraping too much. Avoid scraping through to the hair follicles.
- Mix equal parts brain and water. in a plastic bag or glass jar. You can substitute egg yolk for brains. The hide will feel soft and slippery.
- Press this mixture into the flesh side of the hide; keep mixture from getting into fur.
- Work the flesh side of the hide over a rounded stick (I used a broom handle), pulling gently until the hide feels dry when touched to your cheek.
- To smoke the hide, make a fire using punky wood. When the flames die down, put the hide on a forked stick and hold the flesh side of the hide over the smoke until the hide turns yellowish.
Here are the photos I took along the way:
The squirrel after being removed from the trap:
The hide has been removed, without sacrificing the head, ears and eye holes, thanks to one of my classmates.
The hide is then tacked to a flat board:
The hide is covered with clay after initial scraping:
Here’s where I begin to fly solo. I got home and dutifully followed the written directions. I scraped and sanded gently, but I may have scraped a bit too far. My hide went from feeling like cardboard to parchment. It never actually had a soft feel.
I went off to build a fire. I had no trouble finding punky wood, but I wish I had thought of a way to channel the smoke instead of trying to chase the breeze.
I did manage to get it to turn a yellowish color and sent my results to Barry.
Barry’s critique was that I had possibly scraped too much, exposing the hair follicles. If I were working on a hide that had been scraped on both sides, I could back light the hide to ensure I didn’t scrape too much. With the hair on, it’s a matter of experience.
But, Barry suggested I tan the hide again. I didn’t know that was possible, either. But I did, leaving the egg mixture to soak into the hide for about six hours. I worked the hide over the rounded stick again until it was soft.
The next day I noticed that the flesh side felt more like suede and less like parchment. The fur side was sticky from the mud, smoke residue and handling, so I took a risk.
I rubbed a microscopic amount of my No-Poo (no detergent) shampoo on my fingertips and massaged the fur. I then took a worn out soft toothbrush and brushed the fur in the wrong direction until the brush and my fingertips were clean. When the fur dried, it was soft. With all the cleaning, no fur came off on the brush or my fingers.
I sent these results to Barry:
Barry said the hide looks great. I may not have done as much damage to the hide as we originally thought. I now understand that using the clay means I don’t have to scrape as much. Rabbits, squirrels and young animals tend to have more delicate hides (Duh) and would need less vigorous scraping than hides of mature animals.
This red squirrel has taught me a great deal.