Friday, 17 October 2014

Tanning hides

Lately, I've been havesting road kill for hides. I wanted to try out brain tanning. It has been an interesting exercise. While I've learnt a lot, I doubt I'll keep going. Why? In short, its a lot of work, a lot of gear I need to carry, I need to change my travel to fit in the processing, and I've no use for the hides anyway.
The process:
I find a fresh road kill, then string it up and start skinning. (People driving past slow down seeing me do this.) I then salt the hide so I can process it later. I need to make sure I have no cuts or scratches on my hands before I start. Afterwards I wash my hands with soap and water. The salted hide goes in a plastic bag. For a small wallaby I needed almost 1kg of salt. The water, is water I'm carrying for drinking.
Check the hide daily and add more salt. Make sure the edges are done, and that the edges have not roll up and miss out on salt. Wash hands after touching.
Stay somewhere with access to clean water. Flesh the hide. I did this with a knife and a piece of water pipe I found.
Rub in the tanning mixture. I tried eggs, but didn't like the the smell of working with them. So switched to soap and oil mix. Also easier for me to carry. Eggs kept breaking, or I'd eat them and not have enough to use on the hide. Work the mix into the hide. I'd spread the hide out and layer with oil, then rub in the soap with a bit of water. Eventually the hide goes white. While it is damp and until it is completely dry, keep pulling and stretching the hide. If it isn't completely dry, don't stop. If you do it will go hard. This will take a few hours. Any hard spots afterwards can be moistened and worked dry again. At the end of this - one tanned hide. Still needs smoking to finish it off, else if it gets wet, it will need all the stretching again to soften it. I've not smoked any yet. Places I've stopped have had no fire rules.
Problems:
So for me, I have to make sure I've no cuts or scratches on my hands. With setting up camp, taking it down, finding spot in the bush, I do get small scratches or nicks. When I do - no playing with hides. I could get gloves - but then another thing to carry, and more rubbish to carry afterwards.
I need to carry salt. At least 1kg of it. I'm currently carry 2kg to ensure enough. Salting is important, as it stops the hide rotting before its processed. Not enough salt, and it rots, or the hair starts to fall out.
I need to use water for cleaning the hide, and washing my hands. This is water that I had planned on drinking - so have to watch how much I use, and get to somewhere with more water if I'm going to run out.
Carrying the salted hide - its bulk and weight. Also need to not break the bag.
Fleshing needs time. And no cuts, nicks on my hands, and water.
The tanning process is time consuming. I have to be camped somewhere with water for a couple days to finish it. It also needs to be reasonably fine weather. I could do it in showers, but its easier in fine weather.
At the end of it I have a tanned hide.
There is a limit to the size hide I can do. Small wallabies, rabbits are about it. I think a large roo and I wouldn't have enough salt to salt the hide. I could flesh it immediately and dry it. But it would be awkward on the bicycle with a dried, stiff hide.
What am I going to do with the hides when done? I don't know. One is not enought to make a pair of gloves - not that I need fur lined gloves. Would take a lot for clothing - but I like my current wear.  So I've no use for the end product.
Been fun learning though.

The hide in the photo, I trimmed. Lost bits to damage when it was killed, and not salting the edges enough. 

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