First, you need to know the terminology, so when people tell you
stuff, you know what it means.
There are four MAIN ways of preserving skin, and a couple of other
things that can be done as well.
1. Vegetable tanning. This is done with the tannins found in things
like oak and hemlock bark. It takes a long time and a TON of bark.
The idea is that you start off in a very weak solution and gradually
increase the strengh of the bath over a period of months. If you
start with too much tannin, the outside will tan too fast and the
center of the skin will stay raw. This kind of leather is stiffish,
and becomes soft and easy to mould when it is wet. Good for shoes,
belts, pouches, etc.
2. Alum tawing. (yes it's TAW, not tan for this one.) The skin is
treated with salt and alum. This kind of leather is soft and quite
white. White kid gloves were made like this, as well as some shoes.
Dyed different colours, it is used for fine book bindings because it
meets "acid free" standards. It was also the process used for the
skin on the back of fur. This leather is ruined if it gets wet
because the salt and alum will wash out leaving you with rawhide
3. Oil tanning. The surface of the skin is scraped or "buffed" to
allow the oil to penetrate evenly, then vegetable oil is added and
pounded into the skin. The working and pounding continues at
intervals as the skin dries so that it stays flexible. The oil forms
a molecular bond with the collagen of the skin as it absorbs oxygen in
the drying process which prevents bacteria from rotting it. Buff
leather is soft and flexible. It was the way they treated skins that
were destined for garments and needed to be both flexible and able to
get wet without damage. REAL chamois is a modern example (the cheap
ones are chrome tan). It tends to smell a bit, depending on the kind
of oil they use.
4. Chrome tanning. (correctly a TAWING process, but everybody calls
it tanning). This is modern, from about the 1880's. Produces a soft,
flexible leather, is cheap and fast. What you would get if you sent
it to a modern tannery who does custom tannage for hunters. Good
garment leather, but must be dyed. The chrome leaves the leather a
pale blue-grey colour. Not hurt by being wet, but it won't shape the
way vegetable tan will, nor go really white, like alum taw.
Other methods. These are primitive methods and can still be done for
Smoke. Skins are hung in the smoke of wood fires until they absorb
enough creosote to stop bacterial action, then pounded or chewed to
soften them. Smells strongly of smoke and gets hard and needs to be
pounded / chewed again if it's wet.
Brain tanning. The mushed-up brain of the animal is rubbed into the
skin. There is some sort of chemical reaction, probably similar to
oil tanning, that ends up preserving the leather. Don't know, never
tried it. Old saying: The Lord gave each creature sufficient brains
to tan its own hide...with the exception of the moose.
I think you can buy chrome-based kits for home tanning, but it's
pretty toxic stuff, and personally, I wouldn't get anywhere near it.
I've seen 14th century style shoes made from home oak bark-tanned deer
hide and they were SO PERFECT it was like looking at something in a
museum case. He said it was a pretty smelly process and he did it in
plastic garbage cans in his garage over a winter. Obviously lived
further south than me.
I hope this gives you a bit of help, or at least makes the subject
less confusing. Good luck,
--- In SCA-Garb@yahoogroups.com
, "lazybumbaleene" <lazybumbaleene@y...
> Hi Group!
> I am now the proud (?) new owner of two unprocessed deer skins.
> If anyone knows of any books or websites that will instruct me how
> turn the hides into usable leather I would be eternally grateful.
> : )