Since last writing I got the chance to do some hide work after a couple days without it. I set up some very junky lighting in my little micro tannery – a requirement now that the sun goes down at 4:45. Soon it will be dark at 4pm (yeah… I’m that far north) and I’ll celebrate the Solstice.
The two deer hides were cured under salt. Once I know a hide is cured (dry), I fold it in half lengthwise, and then sometimes in half again if it’s a big one. They take up way less room this way, and can wait until I’m ready to start tanning them.
I also put one of the shearlings and one of the full-fleece hides into a strong salt water pickle. I debated with myself about doing this – if I had tawed these skins years ago then it will wash out and I could then lose wool if I hadn’t also cured them well.
On the other hand, both need to be scraped more before tanning and I was feeling very sick of dry fleshing when I made the decision. Not to mention the full-fleece hide’s wool is filthy. So into the pickle they went.
I used about two cups of loose livestock salt in a large plastic bin about half full of water. I used a broom handle to push the larger hide with the full fleece down into it, then added the shearling on top and also pushed to submerge it. I planned to let these rehydrate over night.
I should mention that salt water probably isn’t a true pickle. Usually when I use the term in hidetanning, I mean water, salt, and alum.
I ended up leaving the hides in their salt bath for about 24 hours, because I have a baby and that’s just how time management goes right now.
I pulled them out and hung them outside on various objects hoping they’d dry a bit, even though it was about 40 degrees. The full-fleece hide was so heavy I almost couldn’t move it. It was really on the edge of what I can lift. But I did get it up on a dog crate to drip dry.
The next day (which was today) both hides were still soaked and it was even colder and damp out, so I brought them back into my workshop. I started scraping the shearling on my beam, but honestly my hands got too cold to work. It was 34 degrees. This means it’s time to get my woodstove in there or progress will really be stalled. I’m hoping to finish all 5 sheepskins so I can list them for sale no later than Thanksgiving.
Next steps kind of depend on the weather, if I can get some heat in the workshop, and if the wooly hide will dry anymore.
If it’s too cold to touch wet wool, I’ll just start tanning the deerskins tomorrow. I’m hoping to try eggs from my chickens in place of soap and oil on one of them. I figure if I don’t like the result I can still tan it my usual way.