Woodland Wayer Hide working weekends
Here is a brief insight into some of the skills of our Woodland Wayers in this case an overview of our two hide work weekends where our students begin with a raw deer skin and go home with soft smoked buckskin.
Firstly we address the skinning process, in this case a Muntjac, hung by the rear legs for ease of skinning.
Here a front and rear leg go into a dutch oven on top of a bed of sweet potatoes, carrots and parsnips before being buried in a traditional ground oven surrounded by red hot rocks from the fire.
After soaking in an alkaline solution our Muntjac hides (pre soaked) are ready for the challenging step of graining, whereby the hair and surface skin layer is scraped off meticulously from every square inch of hide – above a PVC pipe is used as an improvised work beam.
Some hours later… the hides are thrown into a slow flowing deep river to rinse out all of the alkaline solution – in this volume of water the KOH solution breaks apart as it is released from the hides forming harmless by products and resulting a well rinsed flexible and neutral hide for the next stage of the process.
following rinsing the hides are acidified in a small amount of vinegar to prepare them for the dressing stage – this method follows closely the advice set out in Matt Richards’ excellent and concise publication “Deerskins into Buckskins”.
Finally, following acidification its back onto the here more traditional fleshing beams to membrane the flesh side of the hide breaking up a lot of connective tissue to allow for better penetration of the dressing. This concluded the first weekend and leaves the hides in a state suitable for long term storage as dried raw hide.
…And when we re-convened, the dried and acidified hides went into an oily dressing here made up of a mixture of Muntjac brain and eggs. It took a few hours for the hides to soften and become ready for the next step
Wringing – all part of ‘the bushcraft work out’ Wrapping the well dressed hides around a horizontal pole a second pole is inserted and twisted up tourniquet style to remove all excess dressing.
The magical transformation! Using staking posts the hide is stretched, mauled and generally ragged about the place to loosen up all the fibres and begin the transition from hard dog chew into luxurious cloth leather.
Stitching any accidental tears or not so accidental gun shot holes with simple needle and thread can help the skin to re align itself around these eyesores and improve the overall quality of the finished buckskin.
Mean while back in the bat cave… hide shavings were being boiled up for many hours to produce the mind blowing material that is hide glue – carefully painted along the edges of our softened hides to glue together into hide sacks ready for smoking – the final and crucial step if you want your buckskin to remain soft and supple after getting wet.
And then the heavens opened…and so in true Woodland Wayer style they improvised, adapted and overcame and re-purposed this old shed into a most effective hide smoker! We had intended to smoke the hides by creating hide ‘chimneys’ and channeling the smoke through them to tan them, but with the torrential rain we would have ended up with rawhide once more!
A great couple of weekends with a great group out in the Oxfordshire woodlands, the excellent quality of buckskin produced spoke for itself.