I felt much better the next morning. I was even able to drive!
On the way back to Pt. Reyes National Seashore, I saw a road-kill raccoon. But I was good and drove on by. [There were a lot of cars behind me too...not that I've ever picked up road-kill before, though. Nope. Never. <sheepish grin>]
We started by wringing out the now-cold skins, the same way as yesterday, and stretching them again in the sun.
Back and forth. This had to be done in groups of two or four. It was too hard to pull in threes. The neck and rump areas were the problem areas, and are harder to tan. The neck because it is more protective to the deer, and probably has more muscles in it to make the hair stand up when frightened. Not sure why about the rump. So Steve kept coming over and reminding us to work on these areas. We were all pretty sore [well, at least *I* was!], and kept ending up working by hand rather than pulling fully with our arms. But Steve and Tamara were there to keep us working hard.
The hide I spent most of my time working on had a really thick neck. [Must've been a football player. :) ] And after working on it all morning, we decided to put it back into the solution and re-wring it. Another hide had the same fate. This meant we had a lot of work to do before the sun went down!
We were more fierce on wringing now that we realized how much more work it is to dry by pulling. You don't really want it fully dry, since you need the moisture to make it soft to pull on, but the real wet areas take forever to work.
Things were starting to come together in my mind as to what you need to spend your time doing, what's important, and why. This was where we could see places where the grain or membrane wasn't fully scraped away because the solution didn't soak in well. If we had spent a little more time carefully working on this part, the later parts would come easier. I could feel myself getting eager to tan another deer skin... [But I was also terribly exhausted, so I wasn't even *thinking* of trying again for a couple months...]
Back out into the sun...but I was getting pooped and broke for lunch at this point. I was really starting to lose serious steam. This was *much* harder than heading my drums.
The skin was getting dryer, though the neck and rumps were still pretty thick and needing working. Steve showed us how to use a 2' high stake thing in the ground with a dull blade attached to the top. You'd pull the skin over the top like you would shine shoes, but pull it slower and *MUCH* harder -- as hard as possible, to stretch the fibers out. You'd go across and pull in one direction, then turn 90 degrees and pull the skin along the opposing direction. More hard, hard work.
The other option was "cabling", meaning saw the hide back and forth along a cable strung upright. This was also a tremendous amount of work. I was running out of muscles which hadn't been worked to utter exhaustion, and I didn't last long with any of these methods. A minute or two then I was too pooped.
It was time to buy books. :) I bought Steve and Tamara's book, "Wet-Scrape Braintanned Buckskin," and another book, "Deerskins Into Buckskins", which looked to be a good compliment. I folded two dollar bill "bucks" to the delight of our instructors! :)
I then proceeded to pump Tamara for info on tanning while leaving the hair on. I plan to finally get to the lovely silver fox skin I "acquired" several years ago, on the Jordan Lake damn, in the middle of the night, coming home from my job at Virtus...
She said it's common for the hair to "slip" [fall out], so this is the main concern. Don't soak it fully. Wet it with paper towels and try not to get the hair side wet at all. I did a pretty good job of not leaving any flesh, so I'll mainly have to scrape off the membrane. She said to use a different tool than the ones we used to scrape. Something serrated, so I'll probably use an old table knife and mount it in a wooden tool somehow. She said to scrape it against my leg, or, if I use a beam, put a towel under it to protect the hair. Then paint on the solution instead of soak it, and smoke it only on the flesh side. If I don't take the bow-making class this weekend, or arrow-making next, then I might give it a shot in the next couple weeks! We'll see if my arms recover...it was a TON of work, and I'm a little reluctant...
I also have another deerskin, which is simply dried, not salted. I might tan that one too! [I've been saving it for another drum I have yet to finish...but I might just head that in goat instead, which makes a better drumhead anyway...]
By now I was starting to feel guilty about pooping out, so I trudged back to where the big hide I'd worked on mostly was being cabled. I jumped in for my usual two minutes, before pooping out again. I really was losing steam. Tamara and Steve were jumping in some to help too. Where they got their energy I'll never know! They just kept on going!
The hides were now turning a lovely white color -- almost the color of paper. The translucent spots were going away, though there were still some spots which were hardening -- mainly the neck and rump areas Steve so rightly warned us of...*sigh* I couldn't imagine working harder on it... <pant pant>
One smallish hide, which two people [Cynthia and Tom, I think] had worked on almost through from the scraping stage, was really looking lovely. It was utterly paper white, and they'd worked the edges nicely, so the whole thing was very soft and supple. I went back to working on this brute of a hide, with the thick neck...I might take a piece of this one, I said, and make some moccasins from that thick neck -- I was consoling myself...
Pulling the hide back and forth in the sun, which we did continually to see if there were any unused muscles in our arms left, really wore on our first knuckles, gripping the hide tightly and pulling. Many people had broken blisters, and the hides got a few spots of blood along the edges...blood sweat and tears...
Steve was quite ambivalent about the thick-neck guy we were working on, the neck and rumps seemed to "need more work", though I couldn't feel much difference at all. Of course, I couldn't feel much of anything anyway...
The lovely small hide Tom and Cynthia were working on was getting trimmed and sewn up, ready for smoking. We worked diligently, but seeing the other hide almost done was a tad disheartening...more cabling, but it was getting softer so that was encouraging.
When we got to the point where it was pretty well soft enough [basically, we gave up :) ], we started sewing the thick-neck guy together with another one. Two others were also being sewn together. They would be sewn together to make a bag, and this bag would cover the smoldering fire and catch the smoke. The skin side would be smoked first, then turned inside out and the flesh side smoked.
A cloth skirt was also sewn to the bottom, so it could cover the fire and not get close to it.
We sewed diligently -- those tough, untanned spots were *very* hard inside! Steve set up some tripods over old rectangular cracker cans [you know the type, 8"x8"x14" or so] that he built a fire in. I'll probably find a coffee can for when I do it at home...
He used "punk wood", meaning dry rotten wood from a log which had sat in the woods for a long time and gotten eaten by bugs and stuff. We put a couple long sticks into the skin bags to hold them open so the smoke could get to all areas. You can't use green sticks for this, because the heat will cause them to steam and the sap will bubble out the ends, and the wet spots won't take up smoke. You also have to move these sticks often so the spots under the ends get smoke.
The little skin was smoked first. Didn't take long. You have to be careful not to scorch the skin, and a sample piece was passed around. The skin had wrinkled, and it looked like brains! :) If the fire gets too much oxygen it can flare up inside too, so the skirts were kept tightly closed, opened only to check for hot spots, which got a handful of wood pieces to smother and cool them.
After about 15 minutes, the skin was carefully turned inside out, careful not to rub the skin on the smoky skirt. Wasn't so crucial the first smoking, since the skirt hardly had any creosote on it, but if it had been used many times, it could rub off. Steven also mentioned that you can rinse the skirt in the boiling water before adding the brains, and it'll preserve the braining solution for many days without refrigeration. "Creosote" means "flesh-preserver."
The small skin was finished, and the four larger skins were smoked too. The sun was about gone and it was starting to get cold. But we were almost done.
The thread used to sew the hides was cheap [on purpose] so we ripped the seams out by hand, and laid the skins out to view our work! We cut them up, the last three were cut into thirds, and I, indeed, chose the neck of the football player. Tamara said we could wash the smoke smell out and not have to rework the hide [now that it's smoked], but I didn't want to take chances just yet, and if I wet my hide and had to rework it...ow ow! My arms were far too sore! Maybe next week...
The car instantly filled with the smell of smoke on the way home, but I breathed it in, happy.
I can't wait to do it all over again on my own someday...
More about Steve and Tamara