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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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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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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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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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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3:30 pm

Progress on sheepskins today! I scraped the shearling that I’d recently pickled. It was mostly done already, but I got some membrane off.

I also stretched it a bit over my beam because it’s stretched unevenly, which I’ve noticed seems to happen easily with lamb skin. Then I got a tanning dressing on it. I used my trusty soap, water, and neatsfoot oil solution.

When I apply the tanning dressing, I spoon it on first to try to control it. I don’t like it running off the edges and sinking into the hair/wool if I can avoid it. (If you’re a real stickler for that, then make the dressing with less water so that it’ll have a more gel-like consistency when it cools.) Then I rub it in with my hands.

I scraped the large hide that I had pickled as well. It’s still soaking wet and not likely to get any drier until I get it on a frame, so I applied the tanning dressing to it.

It’s a bit oddly shaped. The edges of it were actually nibbled on by rodents; this happened because I hadn’t fleshed it fully before curing and storing it in my garage for, oh, years. Rodents will apparently eat salt-cured sheep fat, and happily. I don’t usually trim hides until I’m done stretching them, but I made an exception here and cut off a couple parts that were just silly.

These two hides will sit with their dressing for at least 24 hours.

I’ll hand-stretch the shearling, but the full-fleeced hide will have to go on a frame; it’s the only way I can imagine the wool will dry. It’s just so wet still, and not going to dry easily in this freezing, snowy weather we’ve been gifted.

I need to get the woodstove set up in my shop, but I also need to buy a couple pieces of chimney pipe and I’m quite broke at the moment (life, etc.) so it’ll have to wait!

I’m very grateful to have sold two sheepskins recently, and to have the potential for some paid custom tanning in my near future.

My “micro tannery”