Hide Tanning Workshop-Lafayette, CO

Scott had a fun and physically challenging hide tanning workshop with Doug Hill from Gone Feral.  Making full use of animals was obviously very important to our not so distant ancestors.  The hide has several uses, including tanning it to use as material for clothing and other purposes.  It would take approximately three hides to make a pair of pants and each hide takes an expert approximately 8 hours to complete.  Doug’s course was 3 days long for one hide per student.  There are many methods for tanning a hide, we roughly followed this process:

  • Pronghorn Hides were provided by Doug:  Most hunters do not want the hide and often leave it in the field.
  • Bucking was also done by Doug:  An alkaline solution is created and the hide is soaked for a few days in it.  Bucking artificially decomposes the hide, swelling the grain and membrane layers making them easier to scrape.
  • Scraping:  We wet scraped the hair, grain and membrane layers leaving the densely fibered inner layer accessible for tanning and softening.  The grain and membrane layers are less dense and mucusy.  The mucus prevents the dressing solution from penetrating to the inner fibers and therefore needs to be removed.
  • Sewing:  Artificial sinew was used to sew holes that were in the hides.  Ideally there would be no holes, however pronghorn hide is thinner than most hides and the initial hide removal from the animal must be done with care.  Holes make the process much more difficult.
  • Brain dressing:  We opened up skulls of the pronghorn to access the brains.  The brains were mixed with water and smashed up into a solution.  A general rule of thumb is that the the brain of any animal is enough to tan its hide.
  • Wringing:  The hide was twisted tightly draining off the dressing from the hide.
  • Softening and stretching:  As the hide  begins to dry, it shrinks and hardens.  Stretching the hide while it is drying softens it so that it becomes more like a fabric rather than stiff rawhide.  This is very labor intensive.
  • Smoking:  Once dried and soft it is ready to be smoked.  Smoking the hide provides a degree of weather proofing.  Buckskin is not waterproof, but the smoking increases the resilience to moisture and retards the hide from become stiff when it gets wet. The hide is folded in half and and the sides secured to each other forming a “bag” of sorts.  This can be done by sewing, glue, or clothes pins.   The hide bag is then sewed to a denim pant leg which will go over the stove pipe.  The denim provides a channel for the smoke and provides a buffer area to prevent sparks from burning the hide.  Coals are covered with punk wood to generate smoke.  Fifteen minutes for the first side, reverse the bag making it inside out, and fifteen minutes of smoking on the other side completes the hide.

~Go, Do, Share, Enable

Recommended Resources: Deerskins into Buckskins: How to Tan with Brains, Soap or Eggs; 2nd Edition