Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Bison Hide Tanning Part 2

Two weeks ago my brother and I made our first attempt at tanning the bison hide. We were given access to the TrackersNW facility so we were able to move the project from our apartment to a more adequate setting. We started Friday evening by cleaning the hair with shampoo and conditioner. As recommended on the bottle, we rinsed and repeated (about 8 times). When we finished we left it to dry overnight.

Saturday afternoon we took a short kayaking trip on which I capsized and got my brother's camera a little wet. As a result I wasn't able to get pictures of the tanning process which is a shame because they would have been good. Luckily, the camera is fine. After the trip we returned to the hide to apply the dressing. We mixed up soap, neat's foot oil and the bison's brain (a traditional tanning dressing) and spread it on the hide to soak in. We used a softening stick we made to push the dressing into the hide. A softening stick has a wide flat end so you can massage the hide with more surface area. We left the dressing on the hide overnight to give it more time to saturate.

Sunday morning we started the drying and stretching process. This is usually the most tedious part of the process because you have to continually stretch the hide until it is completely dry lest it become stiff. This can take many hours. The sheer size of the bison hide made this especially difficult. Luckily the weather was warm and we had sunlight to help speed up the process. We started by leaning the frame up against a tree. At this point the hide was still dripping with the dressing. We used the softening sticks we made to stretch the hide.

We were happy with how quickly the surface seemed to dry out. The hide got really stretchy and it took a lot of force to give it a full stretch. Eventually we laid the frame on 5 gallon buckets like a trampoline and used our body weight to fully stretch the hide. This is where it would have been nice to have some pictures. :( We took turns walking around on the hide. The hide stretched so much in the middle that it touched the ground and we had to raise the frame higher with some wood risers. We also rubbed it with pumice stones to soften it.

As the day wore on we realized that while the middle was fairly soft and stretchy, the sides were rather stiff. We decided to call it a day. We took it off the frame. The next morning the middle was still pretty soft. The rest was pliable, but still pretty stiff. For example, you could wrap it around you if you had to but you couldn't make clothes out of it. So that is the current state. We may try to tan it again, but we are afraid it might start to fall apart. We already lost some hair and put a few more holes in it while stretching it.

There are a few reasons why I think the sides may have been stiff. First, we may not have had enough dressing. When we left it overnight it settled in the center of the hide. Second, it was harder to stretch the sides because they are closer to the frame. On a trampoline the middle is where you get the most bounce. Next time I think we need to make sure the sides get saturated with dressing. Maybe we can loosen the hide in the frame so we can stretch the sides more.


Mungo Says Bah! said...

Can't wait to see photographs of the hide. Nice description. I'm going to check my shampoo bottle this morning to see if indeed I need to wash and repeat 8 times.

Anonymous said...

How did it turn out when it was all said and done?

Sassmouth said...

I'll post a picture of the finished hide soon. It turned out ok.

tarheelbigdog said...

Can you please tell me the portions of each ingredient you used to tan the hide? I would appreciate it it very much.
Stephen (

Anonymous said...

What kind of shampoo and conditioner did you use?

Sassmouth said...

I just used some cheap shampoo like Perell. It's just helpful for breaking up the mud.