The Invisible Tanner Makes Rawhide
It seems like there is some interest in making rawhide for bow backing and other craft uses. I make lots of rawhide for my business, mostly for drum makers. There may be some things that I do that are a little extra in my process. Because I am making my rawhide for sale, I do a few steps that are not absolutely necessary, in order to end up with a well finished product that doesn't have a strong smell when it's re-soaked.
My employee, the Invisible Tanner was making deer rawhide and consented to let me photograph him. Unfortunately he's invisible so all you'll see is the hide and the tools.
He started out with a deer hide that had been soaked in plain water for about 24 hours. He uses an upright fleshing beam that is a 4" plastic pipe leaning against a tree. A smooth log of similar proportions would work just as well. His scraping tool is a drawknife with the edge slightly dulled to the point that you couldn't cut yourself with it. Thus there is no possibility of cutting the hide with the knife. He scrapes all the meat and fat off, scraping right off the edge of the hide so it's totally clean. He doesn't get too hung up on getting every scrap of membrane just the meat and fat.
Next IT mixes up the hydrated lime. First he puts about 12 - 15gals. Of water into a trash can like in the picture then adds two 1 liter yogurt containers of hydrated lime and stirs well.
We get the hydrated lime in 20kg (about 50 lbs.) bags at a garden supply store. It's less than $10 for a bag that size. That's probably enough to de-hair at least 70 deer hides. The bag should say hydrated lime or calcium hydroxide.
He adds the fleshed hide to the lime solution and stirs it well with a wooden stick until only the hair is floating on the surface, no bare skin
Wear rubber gloves when working with lime, it can be hard on your skin.
Leave the hide in the lime for at least a week at room temperature. Longer will not hurt it. I've left them for a month with no bad effects and no increased smell. Stir it whenever you possibly can. In tanning, everything works better if it gets stirred often. Two common mistakes made by home tanners are soaking in containers that are too small and not stirring. You want lots of room to stir the hide around and you want to stir it a lot.
Lye aka sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide can be substituted for hydrated lime here. Also wood ash.
You must be careful using lye because it can be made too strong, in which case your hide may swell to the point of cracking the grain layer.
Wood ash is free and not hard to come by. You don't want ash from burnt garbage, just wood. Hard wood ash has more lye in it and also can be made too strong so be careful with it. With softwood ash the chances of making it too strong are slim. I sift ash through a screen to get the big pieces of charcoal out.