Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bison Hide Tanning Part 1

My brother and I might be the only people ever to try to tan a bison hide in a two bedroom apartment. It's quite ridiculous if you think about it. It's one of the more messy and stinky projects one can work on indoors. We started with a raw bison hide fresh from the butchering class. The fur side had a lot of dirt balls, poo and other natural materials matted into it. The flesh side had meat, fat and membrane to remove. All together it produced quite an aroma.

Our first goal was to clean the fur so we wouldn't get mud and poo everywhere. It was not an easy task because we didn't have a convenient way to clean it outdoors. The bathtub was the option we choose. It took many, many rinsings before the water was not black with filth.

We soaked it in the tub for a couple days and started to become concerned that it would start rotting. My brother actually managed to take a shower with the thing. We got the fur about 80% clean and then propped it up to dry it. It was a heavy son of a gun with the fur saturated in water.

After wringing out the hair, we laid it out in the living room inside a frame. Andrew made the frame with some 2 by 6s about 8ft by 8ft. We laid out a bunch of blankets and plastic wrap underneath to not destroy the carpet.

Notice how dirty the flesh side is at this point. The white sections are places where we cut off meat and fat.

We used a heavy duty hole punch to make holes around the perimeter of the hide. Then we used little S hooks for stringing it up. These really made it easy. Without them we would have had to run the rope through each hole which is a pain. Also with the hooks it was a lot easier to adjust the set up which we did a few times.

After framing it we set it up against the wall. You may notice that the hide is really bigger than the frame. After a couple days we ended up cutting a few square feet of the hide off and restringing the whole thing. Otherwise the saggy parts like the top would have taken a long time to dry out.

For a few days the hide was still wet enough to use a wet scraping tool. In the picture, Andrew is using a sharpened bone.

As the hide dried out, we used a sharper metal scraping tool. We had to resharpen it many times to complete the scraping.

The red bowl is filled with hide scraping that we used to make hide glue.

To completely dry out the hide it took about two weeks. We had a couple fans running 24/7. In this final picture you can see how the hide was trimmed down in size. At this point most of the scraping was finished.

So far it's been an interesting project. Its progress could best be measured by the smell. The farther along we got, the less stinky it became. It was definitely pretty awful for the first week. At this point we have completed the scraping and thinning. While this was a lot of work, the hard parts still remain. Next we will finish washing the hair. Then we'll soak it, soften it and smoke it. I'll post the results of those steps in Part 2.