Sunday, December 7, 2008

Tanning 4

I pulled the hide out of the egg and water mixture and got it ready for wringing. I lashed a broom to a forked branch of a tree and draped the hide over it.
Then I rolled it up into a ring on the broom handle, stuck a shovel through the bottom of the ring and started twisting.
Next, I spent a long while stretching and pulling the hide so that the fibers wouldn't glue themselves back together.
Once they hide was completely dry it was nice and soft buckskin. To me this is the most magical part of the process. It baffles me that you can take a gross noodley animal skin, soak it in brains, stretch and pull on it till it's dry, and all of a sudden you've got this beautifully soft material in your hands.
After the hide was dry, my friend Jason and I went into the thicket at the end of my street to find some rotten "punky" wood. We found this dead tree and started collecting.We filled up a bucket with the wood. It was more than I needed, but why make two trips?I sewed the hide into a "bag" and then lashed some sticks together to make a tripod. Dug a small hole in the ground and put the tripod over it. While I was doing all this I had a fire going to some coals ready. Then, I tied the bag to the tripod, filled the hole with coals, put punky wood on top of the coals, and then draped the hide over the hole.

Once the inside was sufficiently smoked, I turned the bag inside out and completed the other side.

Now I've got a finished bit of buckskin.Now let's go over why this hide turned out pretty crappy, step by step.

First step: Skinning - The people who did the skinning really did not have hide preservation in mind while they did this. There was quite a bit of good deer skin left because they were only focused on getting the meat and head. Skinning an animal is something I feel that should always be done with care and respect. You KILLED an animal, please have the respect not to hack it to pieces blindly. Try to make as much use of it as you can. I'm not trying to badmouth the people who killed and skinned this deer. In fact, I greatly appreciate the skin and meat I get from them every year. I just wish people in general had a greater respect for animals.

Second Step: Storage - This hide was stored in a freezer for 1 year without being fleshed. This caused some of the meat to become so stuck to the skin that they would not separate and I had to lose some more of the hide. It also caused some grease burns because of the fat that was left on. Always flesh a hide first thing. This will save you from the two problems I just mentioned and, fleshing is just way easier when the skin is fresh off the animal.

Third Step: Fleshing - During this step I put far too many score marks into the hide. Why? Impatience. One of my biggest problems. I just wanted to get it over with and I did not take my time. Looking at it now I see that I have fallen into the category of people not respecting the animal. Luckily none these scores led to a loss of hide, but they easily could have. They certainly make for a less uniform piece of buckskin.

Fourth Step: De-hairing - I could have definitely let the hide soak a little longer. I pulled it out too soon and while most of the hair came out, there was a large tuft around the neck area that was still held fast. I later had too much trouble scraping that part of the hide to get the hair out and had to lose some hide. Again, my impatience has resulted in lower quality buckskin.

Fifth Step: Stretching - I decided, during this step, not to cut slits all around the hide before racking it to save time. Instead, I would just cut each slit as I felt I needed it while racking. What ended up happening? As the hide got tighter and tighter on the rack it became difficult not to cut the slit way too big. I also cut the bare minimum number of slits to get it stretched out and therefore didn't stretch it nearly as much as I could have, making more difficult to scrape. My impatience has bested me again.

Sixth Step: Scraping - I must say that I did a much better job in this step than on my last main part of the hide anyway. I skimped out quite a bit around the edges and near holes. I also should have made more time to keep my scraper sharp. I again just wanted to get the job done and have buckskin instantly. Are you started to see a pattern here of the lack of a certain virtue causing problems?

Seventh Step: Braining - This is a fairly simple step...I think it went well.

Eighth Step: Wringing - If you take a close look at the picture for this step, you'll notice that some of the edges are loose and not really getting in on the wringing process. Because this really drives the oils from the brains (or eggs) into the hide, I now have a piece of buckskin with hard unusable edges. Also, the set-up I used for this step was very poorly planned. A broomstick and a shovel? What was I thinking? Also, you can't see this, but I picked a spot that was way too high up and during the entire wringing process I was standing on a chair. IMPATIENCE!

Ninth Step: Pulling - I think I did alright with this. I took my time, got into a groove and didn't really get impatient. At first I thought that the edges being hard were because I didn't spend enough time stretching them while they were drying. However, I think now that they are hard because of what I described in the wringing step.

Tenth Step: Smoking - I did not take the time to make a skirt for the hide, so parts of it aren't nearly as dark as the rest. I also chose to start this process when I didn't have time to really finish it, so my buckskin is not uniform or nearly as dark as I would like it. Impatience again.

So what has all this taught me?

Patience Patience Patience

When making buckskin, the hide does not give a crap about your schedule. You MUST listen to the hide. The hide WILL NOT be rushed. Take care and pride in all things you do.

I hope these lessons stick with me.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Tanning 3

I finally got around to scraping that hide yesterday. I used my home-made scraper which I love. I basically just took a 5" long piece of quarter inch thick steel, bolted it to a tree branch and rounded off the top of the end until it was sharp.
This is the hide almost completely scraped.
The deer wasn't skinned very well and it was kept frozen with the fat and meat on for about a year. So, as you can see, there are a lot of grease burns around the edges and it's a pretty misshapen hide. Next, I used my sand stone to scrape the areas around holes. I also sanded all over the whole hide just to make sure I didn't miss anything and to soften it up. When I was done it had this nice fuzzy texture.

I cut the hide out of the frame, leaving behind the grease burned areas. I would hope for full use of a hide, but maybe next time. This is still going to make a decent bit of buckskin. I didn't have any brains, and around here even the redneck hunters will kick you out of the butcher shop if you ask for brains, so I'm using eggs. I've heard this works, though I've never tried it. There really doesn't seem to be any common consensus as to how many eggs to use per hide. I've heard anything from one to a dozen. So, I used five, because that's what I had. I broke them all and dumped them into a bucket. Then I added just enough water to cover the hide completely.

That is where the hide will have to stay for today. I don't have the time to pull it out right now and start stretching and pulling all day. Maybe I'll try anyway...we'll see.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Dog House

I've been wanting to build a dog house for Daphne (my dog...obviously). I was originally thinking I would just find old fence boards and 2x4's that people have been throwing out since hurricane Ike, but today I was looking at mud ovens online and I thought, "why don't I make her a dog house that's a mix between a mud oven and a wigwam?". So that's what I'm doing now. I went out and got some saplings, cut them to the right lengths and sharpened the ends.Next I started making the main frame by sticking the saplings into the ground at an angle so that they wouldn't pop out, Bending them to meet each other and lashing them together.What I have so far is the main support sapplings creating the dome shape.What I plan on doing next is lacing the whole thing with smaller branches, leaving a doorway, and then spackling the whole thing with "survival cement".
As a side note, I used my Gerber Big Rock Camp Knife to cut the sapplings, de-branch them and sharpen the ends. Unlike my Benchmade, the Gerber is still sharp and intact. So far I'm still a Gerber fan.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Tanning 2

Well, the hair on the deer hide I've been soaking finally started coming out today. I removed it from the bucket and rinsed it off. Then I threw back on my "fleshing beam" and removed most of the hair. Some of it still didn't want to come out, so I guess I'll have to dry scrape that hair out.
Once I had it de-haired I started tying it to the rack to stretch and dry it.Now I just have to wait for it to dry.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Early New Year Resolution

I have been drinking way too much soda and eating way too much fast food lately...ok, my whole life. I know how bad both of those things are for me and I've wanted to cut them out of my diet completely for a long time now. Unfortunately I haven't wanted it bad enough. Another thing I've been wanting to do lately is to start the second level of the Kamana Program. However, I'm really broke and the program is not free.
You may be wondering what these two things have to do with each other. Well I'll tell you. I recently started keeping track of how much money I spend on both fast food and soda, and though I'm not going to bother putting the amount in this post, let me just say that IT IS A RIDICULOUS AMOUNT!! So, since I have the brain of a genius, I had an epiphany moments ago in the shower.

If I stop drinking soda and eating fast food, which I want to do anyway, I can easily afford the Kamana 2 books in two months.

So that is my early new year resolution. Wish me luck. (I just amused myself by typing "wish me luck" with full knowledge that nobody reads this blog)

Saturday, November 29, 2008


I spent Thanksgiving with my girlfriend Krysta at her grandparent's house in Llano, Tx. The Colorado river runs straight through their backyard, so we hung out down there and skipped some rocks.
We also tried to break some rock and make discoidal knives...not much luck there though.
Where I live and where I grew up, there are literally NO rocks. So my knapping skills are really really lacking. I guy named Bill Metcalf teaches knapping in Killeen, Tx, which is several hours from where I live, but I hope to go and learn from him sometime soon.

We saw quite a bit of wildlife, but the only things I got pictures of were some moths and a bee on some asters growing near the river.
I made some nice hand-drill stalks from yucca, but they mysteriously dissappeared when all the children started showing up. Oh well.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

New Knife

After my knife broke last night, I decided to buy a new one. I don't have the money for The Scout right now, so I went to Academy and bought the Gerber Big Rock Camp Knife.I've always had good luck with Gerber knives and it was only $34.99, so I figured I'd give it a try. I'll take it to the woods tomorrow and try it out. Hopefully I'll return with my opinion of Gerber intact.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Knife Recommendation

I called this post "Knife Recommendation" because I recently bought a knife that I recommend that you NEVER USE. The knife I'm talking about is the Benchmade Model 10505 RANT DPT by Mel Pardue. Earlier this evening I decided to go to my sit spot to test myself and see if I could make a bow drill kit and start a fire with it in the dark. I grabbed a few dead branches off the ground and started to carve all the pieces. I finished all the carving except for the "V" notch in the hearth board. At that point I needed to make the bow so that I could burn the holes in. I quickly found a good branch and proceeded to hack off the smaller twigs and branchlettes. I think I got three good wacks in before part of my blade literally snapped off!I used to have a Gerber knife that I would love to recommend, but I can't seem to even find a picture of it online. I suppose they discontinued the model and I don't remember the name of it. It lasted me years and only cost about 20 dollars or so. Hopefully in the somewhat near future I'll be able to buy The Scout knife by Tom Brown Jr.. I have The Tracker, and if I knew I was going into a survival situation, it's definitely the knife I would choose to bring. However, for every day use, it's far too bulky. If The Scout has even half the quality of The Tracker then I have no doubt it's worth the money.

Tanning 1

Well it's deer season again. Which means it's time to try my hand at brain tanning again. I went to my girlfriend's dad's house to pick up my hide rack.

I'm only partially proud of this rack. I used wing nuts to bolt it together, so it's very easy to take apart and transport. What I don't like about it is that it's not quite sturdy enough. I would like to build another one with something thicker than 2x4's. Anyway, when I picked up the rack, my girlfriend's dad also gave me a deer hide to work on.

Here's a picture of the hide just after I thawed it out.
Once I got the hide thawed out, I brought out all my tanning tools.The deer (as usual) was poorly skinned, so I had a lot of fleshing to do. I bought this fleshing knife from Gander Mountain for under 10 dollars I think. It works really well.

I have a fairly nice fleshing beam that I made from a section of large pvc pipe, but I left it at my friend Jon's house so I just used a garden timber leaned against a tree. I think I actually like the upright method better, so I might stick with that. Here are some before and after fleshing pictures of the hide on the timber.

and after
Now the hide is soaking in a bucket of water and dish soap to loosen the hair. I'll continue posting this project as I go.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sense Test

Today at my sit spot I practiced my hand drill technique for a few minutes. It's been a while since I last practiced and my hands have become soft. I'm really trying to avoid getting blisters as bad as when I first started learning. The rest of the time I tried to focus on expanding my hearing. I tried to pick out as many different sounds as I could hear and identify them. Of course I heard cars, sirens, a couple planes and dogs barking in the neighborhood, but I also heard a breeze blowing through dead leaves in a tree, leaves falling through the branches of other trees, one possibly two bird calls I couldn't identify and some type of woodpecker. I hope to hone my sound awareness and knowledge base to the point of not only being able to accurately identify the sounds I heard but also to hear all the sounds I'm sure I didn't notice.

I also noticed these scratch marks on the uprooted dirt at the base of my sitting tree. Another mystery I hope to one day be knowledgeable enough to solve.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mostly Pictures

I didn't have much time to spend at my sit spot today, but I did take a few pictures.
Here are a few of the tree I sit on.

This is the trail leading toward the sit spot. There is also a lot of Black Berry growing nearby.

I'm not sure what these plants are, but I see them a lot and I want to figure it out.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Sit Spot

Part of the Kamana Home Study Program involves finding a spot in the woods to spend some time at as often as possible. After many failed attempts to find such a spot, I finally succeeded today. The problem I was having before is that I was being way to picky. I wanted to find the perfect spot. I had an idea of what it would look like in my head. The problem was that every time I would find a good spot it would be so far out of my way that I would never end up going back. I finally put my ideal spot out of my head and went with a functional one. There's a really nice tree that has fallen over that's really pretty comfortable.

-I'll post a better picture when I put more batteries in my camera.-

You can hear and almost see the road but it's really close to my house (about a 5 minute walk) and opens up into a very large section of forest. So when I need to go deeper I have the option. I think what's most important right now, though, is the fact that I can so easily get to my sit spot.


Hello, my name is Joshua. I am a student of nature. My love for the earth began while I was very young. I grew up playing in the woods and camping with my father and brother. When I was a bit older I randomly decided to buy and read "The Tracker" by Tom Brown Jr. That threw me into a new world. Suddenly the woods were no longer just a place to play, they were magical, beautiful, wonderous, and they were a part of my life. A very big part, I've realized. Since then I have completed the standard course at The Tracker School and level one of the Kamana Naturalist Training Program. I wanted to start this blog for two reasons. I want to keep a journal of what I'm doing, and I want it to be public so that it might help others who have the same interests.