About rachel koski nielsen

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

Round 2 complete

Yesterday was for deciding which finished skins to keep and which to offer for sale. Part of me wants them all for my home; on the other hand, they’re valuable, and my little family needs the income.

The good thing about having unsold sheepskins is that, while I wait for them to sell, I get to use them. Right now they’re on my dining chairs.

I did end up cutting the nape off the big one, and it created just the cutest little “mini sheepskin”.

Sheepskin cat bed anyone ??!?
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Smoking skins; not getting everything right

My hair still smells of woodsmoke, even after showering. The sheepskins in my home smell darkly smoky, cleaner somehow than they were.

Hide smoking tent
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The Why


My reasons for tanning animal hides have evolved along with my skill level and preferences for method. Along with my personal feelings about raising animals for slaughter.

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Short update

The deer hide got a bit of a scrape and stretch today. Then I decided to wash it in a bucket of cold water, since it was a balmy 40*.

After drip drying all afternoon, it’s now in my bathroom, because I guess I just don’t learn.

Post scrape, pre wash

I also opened up the egg dressed sheepskin.

Nice color, but it didn’t seem as soft and full in the skin as when I use soap and oil. I did a little scraping but it wasn’t quite ready, I don’t think.

Very… eggy.

I folded that bad boy back up for tomorrow.

Let’s try “egg tanning”

1:30pm, 32*F.

My soap tanning dressing did get a bit stiff on the hides last night – it went down to 10. The deerskin looked fine and I’ll leave it another night before I scrape again and start breaking.

The sheepskin, which was dressed after the solution had cooled considerably, was a bit stiffer and some of the dressing looked frozen.

It was just barely stuck together when I unfolded it, but since it shouldn’t be stuck at all I decided to scrape and redress it.

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Turkey day

5:30pm, 21*F

Recognized holidays mean my guy has off from work, which means I get some much deserved time off from baby care and can get in some serious hide work.

I’m sore. My hands were freezing even in my enclosed workshop. But I’m satisfied.

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27 degrees

You guys. It’s cold. But. I did hide work for a couple hours after dark today.

This bad boy, who is definitely getting split into 2 pelts after smoking, finally doesn’t have wet wool anymore.

I was getting a little worried about this one because the skin side felt a bit strange – like a little extra greasy from the tanning dressing maybe. I worried it wouldn’t soften or the leather dry correctly. But it’s acting just as I expect it to.

That’s just from hand stretching. Pulling on it, basically. Where it’s white, it’s done. Where it’s yellow- brown, it needs to be broken and softened. I used my hands and my ulu to work it tonight.

You can see the difference that softening makes. It really transforms it.

This sheepskin isn’t even dry in the leather yet, so I’ve got much more stretching and breaking to do. I’ll need to keep doing it – softening with hand and tool – until the leather is totally dry. Then it will (finally) be ready for smoking.

Final result for today

I also started dry membraning the custom deer skin.

Basically I just sat on the floor with it and scraped it with my dull tools. I needed to scrape off the stuck salt, and then get at the membrane. It’s not as dry as I thought it was (thanks weather!) so I didn’t get all the membrane off tonight.

Hopefully you can tell from the photos what the membrane is, if you’re not sure.

The membrane is that thin, papery layer. It lives between the flesh of the animal and the actual skin. If you think of the skin as an organ (because it is…) it makes sense that it would be encased in its own membrane. Almost like the skin’s skin. Technically you can tan with it on, but removing it yields a softer more supple result.

I’d really like to get it off before I tan this deer. I just don’t enjoy wet membraning as much, and the cold isn’t conducive to it.

Next time I’m able to get back to it, it’ll be even drier and I’ll get the rest of the membrane off. I have some pumice coming, which I’m excited to try and expecting to be a tremendous help.

Progress is happening, but for the sake of my purse I wish it was faster.

Round 2, 1/2 done

With highs in the low 30s and lows in the teens, Minnesota is definitely getting ready to welcome Winter. I have to plan my tanning work around the weather, balancing the feeling of rushing for holiday hide sales with how cold I’m willing to be, and taking care of my baby and unrelated small business while my husband works full time.

All this is to say: I haven’t gotten a lot done lately but I’ve done a few things!

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It’s 4:45 pm. I walk out my front door. The snow that fell the other day is a slushy wet mess, and I don’t have the heart for winter boots just yet, so my hiking shoes are damp already. I walk 100 feet to my garage and into my workshop. It isn’t warm. It’s less than 40 degrees, and I have to give myself a little pep talk to start this work as the sun is setting.

Laced and framed sheepskin
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7 pm

I received a small deer hide today with a request to tan it for the hunter it belongs to. I’ve wanted to do custom tanning for a while, so I’m looking forward to fulfilling this order.

I got the little guy all fleshed and salted.

Took about an hour.

I had to rearrange my stash of skins to make room for this one. All the sheepskins that are awaiting tanning are nice and dry and piled high.

I added tanning dressing to the larger of the sheepskins I started tanning the other day this evening as well. It had taken the dressing and was beginning to dry in places, which I don’t want it doing too much of until it’s laced up on a frame.

The shearling is fine where it lays, soaking up tanning dressing and waiting to be stretched.

I’m repurposing some “scaffolding” that my husband had built for putting up a drywall ceiling; it’ll do for a frame to stretch and dry the hides that need it.