About rachel koski nielsen

fur- and hide-tanning. old skills. zone 3b planting.

Fox friend

Under salt, the roadkill fox skin.

Yesterday the temps started breaking the freezing mark, so it’s time for me to work on the animals and hides I’ve accumulated over the winter. They’ll thaw and I’ll lose them if I don’t act.

The roadkill fox was still frozen stiff, so I soaked him in a bucket of salt water until he was pliable. I then removed his broken bones, four feet, and what was left of his digestive tract after the eagle was on him in the road. His organs had all been eaten and most of his ribs taken as well as his vertebrae. His skull, which was very tricky to pull out of his mask, was crushed and broken in two. I had to be careful of sharp broken bones piercing my gloves.

Eventually I got his legs, bones, skull, and tail removed from the hide. Unfortunately, the tail ripped off while I was fleshing it. It was a little damaged, and I got cocky using a buck knife because I couldn’t find my tail stripper. Rookie mistake and very disappointing; I’ll sew the tail back on after tanning.

I did manage to remove his whole mask (face) in one nice piece, including ears and nose.

I rinsed him a few more times in salt water, hung him briefly to drip dry, and got him under a thick layer of salt. I used more salt than usual because I haven’t fully fleshed him. I’ll do so after he’s salt cured.

Also awaiting my attention are:

A skunk (shot)

A roadkill squirrel

An entire roadkill deer

Five chickens killed by skunks and raccoons this winter

Fox, deer, happy new year

I took some time in the bitter, bitter cold yesterday to get a better look at the fox. I’m glad to have him, but it hurts my heart to see the state he’s in and the evidence of being run over by a motorist. I want to take care of him now. It wouldn’t have been right to leave him out there to get more squished and mangled.

I question the state of his skull – it may be smashed. Some of his vertebrae might end up being alright. His front legs and hind feet are okay (hind legs are broken).

And of course, his pelt. I think I’ll be able to salvage a good bit of it. Most of the back and shoulders, some front leg, maybe the face, and the tail. I think the belly portion is a loss. The birds got to him before I could.

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Last day of the year according to the Gregorian calendar

By my reckoning, the new year began at dawn on 12/22. But, I suppose it’s NYE today.

I wasn’t slash am not satisfied with the custom deer hide for the young hunter. I just couldn’t get the stiffness out of it no matter what I did. So, I took a closer look at my neatsfoot oil – the oil I used in my soap solution to dress it for tanning – and here’s the thing:

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Happy Yuletide

Some final softening, scraping, thinning, oiling for the young hunter’s deer hide.

I’m still shaving off membrane that I missed around the edges. I’m also rubbing it down with pure neatsfoot to try to get some more drape. And working Hubbard’s in as well.

I’d like to deliver it in 2 days.

The days are starting to lengthen again. We’ll be seeing more of the sun every day now.

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Printed

What an actual joy to create this with my guy, my bff & husband.

David and I have had this in the works for about a month now. Amazing to get anything done with an almost-6- month-old, while he works full time, I run a business part-time and also tan hides, and we somehow both also manage to keep our house habitable, etc.

If you’ve got a couple successful seasons of fat and smoke tanning behind you, this little book probably isn’t for you. But if you’re a new beginner, just getting started with tanning, done some hides but want to do better, or just curious, you might get a lot out of it and love it, too.

Available on my Etsy.

Sunday skin smoking

My version of church.

5:30 pm, 32* Fahrenheit.

The deer skin before smoking: looking good! No further hair loss, fairly supple, decent drape. I scraped it a bit on my beam with my mezzaluna, to remove the dry alum and soften it a bit more.

Then it was time to smoke it.

No pictures after this point in the process because guess what? My phone died.

I also smoked the egg yolk-dressed sheepskin, and re-smoked a small shearling just for the hell of it (and to add more color).

I used the last of my punk maple, which I forgot to take pictures of.

The smoking took about two hours.

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Tawing for the save

The deer hide is fine!

It lost a bit of hair to slip, but it’s mainly undercoat and not visible from the front unless you’re looking closely in the right place.

I gave it a brushing today so I could assess the “damage”, but really, it’s going to be just fine.

So there’s my reminder that alum is it!

I’ll be tawing my other 2 deer skins after I get this one and the sheep smoked.

After that, I may put my little tannery to rest for the winter. These very cold months aren’t the best for tanning, and this issue with the deer reminded me of that. This work is seasonal and I need to respect that. Especially without having my woodstove hooked up in the workshop.

I have a small (grateful it’s getting smaller) inventory of tanned skins for sale, and I’ll pick up with my 2 deer, and the last 2 sheep from ’19 when the weather starts breaking in (let’s face it) April.

Even with the excess shedding, this hide is so pretty.

Slip

While working (hand stretching, breaking with ulu) the deer hide in my house last evening, I noticed more hair than usual had “shed”. Then I realized it wasn’t the usual, minimal shedding that deer hides do – it was slip.

Hair slip or slippage is what we call the hair/fur/wool falling out of a hide when we don’t want it to. It’s a result of bacterial activity & decay in the epidermis, and means that the hide is not properly preserved or tanned yet.

In this case, my mistake has been keeping the hide in my warm home while also trying to dry it slowly. The hair is slipping a bit where the skin is still not dry – where it’s also the thickest – between the shoulders.

To try to keep the hide from drying too quickly between stretching sessions I’ve been rolling it up. Probably a fine idea at 45 or even 50*, but we’ve managed 67* in my home recently and that’s too warm to be mixing with damp.

The hair loss is not visible – yet. I hope it won’t be. As soon as I realized what was happening, I moved the hide back out to the extremely cold garage (it went down to single digits last night) and laid it out flat.

I also poured some alum on the center part, on the skin side where it isn’t dry. Tawing with alum is a step I usually include automatically in my tanning, but didn’t with this skin for 2 reasons: I taw in an alum pickle which would have meant submerging the hide in water when it was too cold for water to remain liquid, and because I thought I’d be processing the hide fast enough to not worry about slip.

So. I think the dry alum will prevent any further hair slip. I’d rather have a hide stiffer than usual than with bald patches. And I’d like to get this guy smoked in the next couple days. However, it’s 8* with negative 20 windchill out there right now. No smoking today!

The goal now is to smoke him on Wednesday or Thursday, which is 2 or 3 days from now, if the forecast for highs in the upper 20s/30s holds true.

Learn learn learn! It’s what I do. It’s what this process is. Every hide is truly different. The environment you tan hides in, like a river, is never now as it was before.

Weather wise

This may have been my last above 35* day for many months, and would have been nice for smoking a couple skins, but the deer just isn’t ready.

That’s one of the things I like about this work: it forces me to slow down, to do things not at my will but in their due time.

I can’t control the weather to make a hide dry faster. I can bring them into my warm home, but the other side to that coin is that I don’t want them drying too quickly or they may lack suppleness.

If the snow that’s predicted to fall tonight sticks around, then I’ll just smoke hides in the snow. When they’re ready.

Meanwhile, I have been alternating scraping and stretching the deer hide in my workshop and my home.

Tonight’s pre-stretching pic

As always, the white parts are dry and the blue parts are still wet.

Last night’s work on the deer:

Deer skins, in my experience, dry faster and harder than sheep. I think this is because of the insulating factor of wool – even though it’s only on one side of the skin, I think it hampers air flow.

Another thing on my mind recently – how’s that for a transition – is that the colder weather will give me opportunities to harvest roadkill. There may be some buckskin or bark-tanned deer hides in my future. If I’m lucky, some nice winter furs from unlucky raccoons. And if I’m really lucky, a fox.

Tanning dressing (again)

9:25 pm. 43*.

Tonight I had just enough time to get another round of tanning dressing on the custom deer. It had dried nicely under salt, especially after I rolled it up and brought it into my house overnight.

I started off by scraping off the salt.

I made my soap and oil dressing a bit thicker this time, by using less water. I remembered that it used to be thicker.

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