Flesh, skin, & salt alchemy

It’s so important to listen to your body. Yesterday I rested from hides; today I worked. I got a text that made me happy. “I have deer hides, you want?”

So, let’s talk about fleshing.

I actually did two types of fleshing today: what I call dry fleshing and wet fleshing. The difference is in whether or not the hide has been salt cured (or dried another way) or not. Often I flesh hides before I salt them, and other times I salt them first and flesh them later when I have more time.

I used to think dry fleshing was easier, but after today I’m not so sure. Here’s a sheep hide i was dry fleshing.

When dry fleshing it’s harder to mar the skin with gouges, but easier to cut cleanly through it because it’s less elastic and more brittle. I use a dull Ulu or dull draw knife. It’s important to hold the blade at an angle to the skin, between 45 degrees and perpendicular.

I find with wet fleshing I can usually remove larger pieces of flesh (fat, muscle, and sometimes skin membrane) at a time. Look at the way I’m holding my tool to flesh this deer skin.

I fleshed two large deer hides in about 3 hours, which included a break to nurse my baby (plus wash up first, duh) and have a quick lunch. That’s pretty good time for me, especially since I haven’t done it in a couple years. But my hands remember even if they’re softer than they were once.

When fleshing a hide before the actual tanning step you want to remove all the flesh and fat. Sometimes, depending on the animal, the difference isn’t clear. On deer, sheep, goats, & groundhogs it’s pretty obvious.

The actual skin is so white it’s almost blue. And there’s usually an obvious, clear, stringy substance between the actual skin and flesh.

Some people say that you have to remove every scrap of flesh and fat before you salt, but you don’t. Trust me. I’ve left entire hides under salt without fleshing at all and they’ve been fine. If there are stubborn bits, get them off when you membrane before tanning.

Ideally the skin looks like this after fleshing.

Don’t worry about the bloody spots – the salt will draw out the blood.

After I got this skin fleshed, I covered it with agricultural salt, sometimes called mixing salt. I like it because it’s loose and coarse and a 50 pound bag is cheap. Now, I know some tanners swear you have to cover a hide 4 inches deep in salt, but I never do that. I throw several handfuls on the skin and run the salt in. I do pay extra attention to bloody areas, but ultimately I use a fairly thin layer of salt. It’s really important to get it everywhere, don’t miss the edges. Anywhere that isn’t salt cured is susceptible to hair loss and skin rot.

Depending on how the animal was skinned you can end up with a bucket of stuff you cut and pulled off. If you’re interested in cooking the meat for your pets and rendering the fat, they’re pretty easy to tell apart. The fat that’s worth rendering, in my opinion anyway, is these big chunks.

I plan to render them for soap. We’ll see if I have time.

Both of these deer hides have good fur but some butcher cuts and other imperfections on the skin-side, so I’m going to tan them both hair on. The hunters I got them from say they could end up with 3 or 4 more, so I’m hoping to make some buckskin.

Next up for these hides: I’ll fold them in half tomorrow if they’re dry. If not, I might add more salt if it seems needed. Then they’ll wait to be membraned and tanned – I want to finish at least one more sheepskin first.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s