Working with rawhide
Here at Absaroka Tannery, we produce rawhide which is created using organic materials. Elk, deer, antelope, moose and beef hides are hand scraped to remove the hair, we then neutralize in food grade white vinegar so there are no harmful chemicals to deal with. If you would like to order some, please go to our web site at www.absarokawesterndesign.com.
So now you just received this hard stiff piece of rawhide and are wondering how in the heck do I get this soft enough to use. I have received many calls from clients asking how to best rehydrate the rawhide. This is the best method I have used.
The best way I have found to relax rawhide lace is to place the entire bundle in lukewarm water. Hot water will destroy the tissue in rawhide and you will have gelatin. Leave the bundle overnight, if you even think you might leave it longer than 12 hours, add some pinesol or a bit of bleach to the water, usually a cup of pinesol or a couple oz. of bleach. This is to keep bacteria from developing. If you don’t, the rawhide will stink after a couple of days. Doesn’t affect the rawhide much, but your friends will avoid you for a few days after working with this stinking rawhide. If the rawhide in not relaxed enough, soak longer but add the pinesol/bleach.
After relaxing the lace, rinse with warm water and begin your project.
The larger and thicker the skin, the longer it will take to relax it. Please note, no skin will ever relax to its original state (i.e. When the skin was first removed from the animal and hair was removed) It will be close, but once processed into a dried skin, the fibers shrink and just cannot fully rejuvenate.
OK, lets start with deer and elk skins. Find an container large enough to get at least half of the skin submerged. A 32 gal plastic trash can works, or you can simple fill the tub up with water and lay the skin in it. It is preferable to remove rawhide before taking your wife takes her evening bath! As the skin relaxes, just keep pushing the skin under water. You may need to weight it down with something like a rock or brick.
Here’s an idea I use to relax a rawhide completely, but I am warning you, get permission first or wait until the wife is gone. After the skin is relaxed enough in the tub or plastic container, fill the wash machine with warm water. Fill the machine first and leave the lid open, check the temperature to be sure it is not hot. Add some detergent, any brand will work. Place the skin in the water and allow it to agitate. Again leave the lid open so the machine will not drain and spin at this time. Allow the skin to work itself soft. This is the best way to fully relax rawhide. It does not ruin the machine or the hide. Just don’t use hot water!
Once the skin is soft enough, close the lid and let the wash machine go through its cycles on a cold rinse. If your machine is not big enough, go to the local Laundromat and use the commercial machine. People will look at you funny, tell them it is a new type of material used to deflect bullets and is being considered for use by the military.
On large rawhide skins like cow or buffalo, you will need a large container. If your neighbor has a swimming pool, that will work just fine, just use necessary precautions. Actually, you can use a large plastic trash can, just keep pushing the hide down until is fully submerged. This may take a few hours. The thicker the hide, the longer it will take to fully relax.
Some ideas on working with rawhide. Look for fleshing cuts on the back side of the skin when laying out your pattern. These thin areas can break through when the rawhide is drying. Also brands can be a problem. Darker rawhide is stronger than light, lighter spots usually have a higher fat content and can be weaker. A thought for drum makers. I have cut my pattern out while the rawhide is dry then soak just that piece. If you do decide to soak the whole skin, and either have scraps left over or find you do not have time to work with the rawhide right away, just place it in a plastic bag and freeze. Thaw out in water or room temperature to use again. Do not take out and forget it, it will begin to spoil after a couple of days. Or you can just hang and dry it out again, but you will have to go through the soaking process again.
Dry rawhide will last for a very long time, in humid climates you may have to watch for mold or bugs, not in Wyoming though, drier than a popcorn fart around here.
Which ever project you are making, consider what type of rawhide will work best for you. We have made drums, lampshades, rawhide containers, laced furniture and snowshoes, and braided rawhide. Each project requires careful thought as to just how much do I relax the skin.
Have fun with your rawhide and if you have any questions or need some tips, just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org