Making Rawhide; Chapter 1

YTBM
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February 9th, 2008, 4:31 pm #1

The Invisible Tanner Makes Rawhide



Fleshing
It seems like there is some interest in making rawhide for bow backing and other craft uses. I make lots of rawhide for my business, mostly for drum makers. There may be some things that I do that are a little extra in my process. Because I am making my rawhide for sale, I do a few steps that are not absolutely necessary, in order to end up with a well finished product that doesn't have a strong smell when it's re-soaked.
My employee, the Invisible Tanner was making deer rawhide and consented to let me photograph him. Unfortunately he's invisible so all you'll see is the hide and the tools.
He started out with a deer hide that had been soaked in plain water for about 24 hours. He uses an upright fleshing beam that is a 4" plastic pipe leaning against a tree. A smooth log of similar proportions would work just as well. His scraping tool is a drawknife with the edge slightly dulled to the point that you couldn't cut yourself with it. Thus there is no possibility of cutting the hide with the knife. He scrapes all the meat and fat off, scraping right off the edge of the hide so it's totally clean. He doesn't get too hung up on getting every scrap of membrane just the meat and fat.


Liming
Next IT mixes up the hydrated lime. First he puts about 12 - 15gals. Of water into a trash can like in the picture then adds two 1 liter yogurt containers of hydrated lime and stirs well.
We get the hydrated lime in 20kg (about 50 lbs.) bags at a garden supply store. It's less than $10 for a bag that size. That's probably enough to de-hair at least 70 deer hides. The bag should say hydrated lime or calcium hydroxide.
He adds the fleshed hide to the lime solution and stirs it well with a wooden stick until only the hair is floating on the surface, no bare skin

Wear rubber gloves when working with lime, it can be hard on your skin.

Leave the hide in the lime for at least a week at room temperature. Longer will not hurt it. I've left them for a month with no bad effects and no increased smell. Stir it whenever you possibly can. In tanning, everything works better if it gets stirred often. Two common mistakes made by home tanners are soaking in containers that are too small and not stirring. You want lots of room to stir the hide around and you want to stir it a lot.

Lye aka sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide can be substituted for hydrated lime here. Also wood ash.
You must be careful using lye because it can be made too strong, in which case your hide may swell to the point of cracking the grain layer.
Wood ash is free and not hard to come by. You don't want ash from burnt garbage, just wood. Hard wood ash has more lye in it and also can be made too strong so be careful with it. With softwood ash the chances of making it too strong are slim. I sift ash through a screen to get the big pieces of charcoal out.


There's no risk of making a hydrated lime solution too strong. The water can only soak up so much and the rest settles to the bottom.
Last edited by YTBM on February 9th, 2008, 5:15 pm, edited 3 times in total.
"The world needs both perfume-makers and tanners; happy is he who is born to be a perfume-maker, woe is he who is born to be a tanner."
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YTBM
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February 9th, 2008, 4:49 pm #2

De-hairing
When he can easily pull hair from the hide, IT takes it back out to the beam for de-hairing. Dragging the back edge of the drawknife, he scrapes the hair off the hide. If it has been left in the lime long enough, it's often possible to actually wipe most of the hair off with a gloved hand. This is good because the risk of gouging the grain layer is a lot less. When he uses the drawknife IT is gentle with it. Although functionally it probably doesn't make a huge difference we like to avoid losing strips of the grain layer because it just doesn't look as good and this stuff is for sale. Don't worry if your hide has areas of dark epidermis left. Leave it. It will come off later.




Re-fleshing
When the hide is totally de-haired IT turns it over and gently re-fleshes it. This does a couple of things. Without the hair as a padding now it's possible to flesh a bit more of the membrane and little bits that got missed the first time. Also, hydrated lime can leave a calcium residue on the surface and a lot of this gets removed now.
IT is not bearing down hard at this point he's just going over the flesh side gently. Bearing down too hard can cause strips of grain on the hair side to come loose now.





Rinsing / Neutralizing

Putting the hide in running water for two or three days is the easiest way to neutralize it.
If you are only doing a hide or two and you don't have access to a free source of running water so you can rinse for a couple of days, just get a box of baking soda and a bottle of vinegar.
Put enough water in a barrel to easily cover your hide with lots of room to stir it around. Put a double hand full of baking soda in for each 5 gals of water (don't worry you can't use too much). Put your hide in there for 8 hours. Dump that and do it again. The hide should look totally un-swollen now (if not, then do it one more time). Now rinse it in a bucket of plain water for an hour or so.
Now, put enough water to cover your hide in the barrel again and add 1/3 cup of vinegar for each 5 gals. of water and soak your hide in that for 1/2 hour min. up to overnight.
You should now be ready to do whatever you want with your rawhide.
Background info:
This is all about ph. A ph of 7 is neutral (where we like things to be.) Anything below 7 is getting acidic. Anything above is getting alkaline. The lime or lye is alkaline. It raises the ph of the hide which makes the hide swell and the hair slip. Also creates a somewhat sterile environment which is why the hide doesn't smell like a sewer. If you don't bring the ph of the hide back to neutral (somewhere around 7) before you dry it or use it, it won't act right. Baking soda is commonly used to neutralize both acid and alkaline. It leaves the hide somewhere around high 7's or 8. Which is why I do the vinegar soak to get it just that little bit farther down to low 7's or high 6's.
Last edited by YTBM on February 9th, 2008, 4:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"The world needs both perfume-makers and tanners; happy is he who is born to be a perfume-maker, woe is he who is born to be a tanner."
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YTBM
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February 9th, 2008, 4:57 pm #3

Framing / Stretching / Drying

At this point IT's hide feels totally limp and relaxed, no rubbery feeling or swollen spots in it.

Now he is going to stretch it on a frame and dry it. He finds the two front legs and attaches strings to them and ties them into the frame. Then he pokes holes across the top of the hide with a fish fillet knife and laces the top to the frame. Fillet knives are great for this because they have a very sharp point and a thin blade, so they don't make a huge gaping hole.






Next IT ties the rear legs and laces across the bottom. The reason he works in this order is to stretch as much length out of the hide as possible. We sell our rawhide mostly to drum makers. Ideally we would like to have the hide be twice as long as it is wide so that two drum heads of the same size can be cut from a hide. Some animals just don't allow that but that's what we shoot for.

Now IT laces down the sides alternating from side to side in order to keep the shape somewhat symmetrical.

We use plastic baler twine for stretching hides because it has no stretch itself and we have an unlimited supply of it from horse hay bales.
"The world needs both perfume-makers and tanners; happy is he who is born to be a perfume-maker, woe is he who is born to be a tanner."
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YTBM
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February 9th, 2008, 5:01 pm #4

Now we come to some more of the steps that are not necessary but make for a nice looking hide. Once the hide is secured in the frame and pulled tight, IT takes a "not real sharp" dryscraper and goes over the hair side of the still sopping wet hide. This basically just cleans it up one more time, removing hair roots and bits of the dark epidermis that may have been left. Contrary to what many people think the epidermis is not the grain layer. The epidermis is a very thin dark layer that lies on top of the grain. Two separate layers.
Next IT turns the frame around and goes over the flesh side with his dryscraper. Again, this just cleans up anything that has been missed up until now. This also stretches the hide open some more.

You will notice when you do this, your hide is now sagging loose in the frame. So now IT tightens the hide up again. This time trying to get as much stretch as he can.


If you are looking for a transparent rawhide then leave the hide a little loose in the frame for drying. If you want your rawhide opaque then stake it some and stretch it as tight as you can in every direction for drying.
Last edited by YTBM on February 9th, 2008, 5:04 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"The world needs both perfume-makers and tanners; happy is he who is born to be a perfume-maker, woe is he who is born to be a tanner."
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jmcohea
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February 11th, 2008, 3:31 am #5

Thanks for taking the time to put together this and post it! I use a lot of rawhide making sheaths for my knives. and always thought I'd like to make it myself one day, and this answers every question that I had!!!!!!!!!!!!
John M Cohea ... Visit my website http://jmcknives.blademakers.com
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coogs
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February 15th, 2008, 10:05 pm #6

Great job!
Thank-you!
May the forest be with you.
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PaleoAleo
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February 16th, 2008, 3:41 pm #7

This is fantastic YTBM. Thank your friend for us too! Not too long ago I was given a small piece of deer hide to make backings for a bow. Not really knowing what I was doing, I made all the mistakes you spoke of! I eventually ended up with rawhide and a backed bow, but it was much more work than needed due to my ineptness!

Tom
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chairweaver
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June 24th, 2008, 7:36 pm #8

I have succesfully dryed my goat hide with the hair on for my djembe. the drawknife idea is just brilliant! I had access to a defleshing tool but it was far inferior by comparison and I was working green rather than salted. Due to the weather I found it nessesary to work inside and so I set up in the bathtub. That was a sight! but no flies and the lighting was great. Kids were pretty disgusted but I think it's important to expose them to whole processes.

thanks again,
Chairweaver
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Joe Hernandez
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April 29th, 2009, 4:33 pm #9

I would like to buy some rawhide. Please contact me. jhernandez@mastercorporation.com
Last edited by Joe Hernandez on April 29th, 2009, 4:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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arounthebend
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October 6th, 2009, 11:34 am #10

can i email you for some more tips am just starting out. and the info is hard to find on this subject. will barter tanks
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marcella54
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November 25th, 2009, 10:25 pm #11

I have purchased a drum made of deer hide. This drum smells bad. Is there anything that I can do to take the smell out of my finished drum?
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YTBM
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November 28th, 2009, 7:47 am #12

Marcella, unfortunately I don't know what you can do with a finished drum short of putting a different skin on it. You could try smoking it real good.
I have seen and smelled drums made with stinky skins before. They get especially smelly if you take them in a sweat. I was in a sweat where the leader sent that drum out of the lodge and told the person not to bring it in the lodge again.
If you are going to use plain water to slip hair for rawhide you have to really pay attention and keep the water from getting sour or you end up with smelly rawhide. Most of the time it's not too bad if it's very dry but in damp conditions the smell comes out.
"The world needs both perfume-makers and tanners; happy is he who is born to be a perfume-maker, woe is he who is born to be a tanner."
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larena
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February 15th, 2010, 3:35 am #13

I just saw your tutorial on making rawhide.  Do you sell your rawhide?  I would be interested in buying from you.
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alsoforum
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November 14th, 2010, 7:15 am #14

I just wanted to thank you for posting this message about this and I hope it helps some of the others on the board as much as its helped me. Many thanks for the help!!!
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MeganCameron
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September 13th, 2011, 9:44 pm #15

Hey thanks for the info ... curious to know if making something with the hair on would be largely the same? I'm looking into making some wigs out of horsetail for my horses tails ... so the leather wouldn't need to be stretched just formed around something and let harden ... hope my explaination makes sense :-)
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simcha
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March 28th, 2017, 3:48 pm #16

I am essentially going through this process with two goats and two sheep. I had to take a break though after liming and re-neutralizing pH so let two hides go to rawhide and froze the other two. Last week I put all four into a barrel of water to get them back to something usable. I didn't have time to work with them after 24 hours so they sat for 4-5 days in standing water. I mounted them yesterday onto the frame and they stink something awful. They're outside on the frame now and it's still 20-50 degrees where I am so I doubt they will stretch or dry, but if I bring the frame inside, the smell will overload the space. Why did this happen and how can I fix it? HELP!
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