Brain tanning Elk, Moose and other BIG hides: page 4
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What I've Learned



One of the most important things for me in recent years has been bucking (soaking the hide in alkali). I successfully tanned hundreds of deer hides without bucking but I never made garment quality buckskin from Moose or Elk before I started bucking the hides. It was just too labor intensive and I could easily do three deer with that time and effort. Having said that, I'm starting to realize that the real benefit to bucking big hides is in better brain penetration. Not so much or maybe not at all in easier graining. With these thick hides they may already be thick enough to grain just as easy before bucking. Like I said before, if the hide is too swollen it rolls in front of the blade. A dull blade doesn't do anything and a sharp one digs in. So in some cases it may be just as easy to grain before bucking, then membraning the hide afterwards will squeegee out some of the mucus or ground substance before rinsing. Also I'll try leaving the hide in the lye for a longer period of time.

Key Tips for Big Hides
  • Do a deer first and expect to work harder.

  • Buck the hide (soak in alkali) for better brain penetration.

  • Buck the hide longer and then rinse longer.

  • Use a longer wringing stick for leverage.

  • If it doesn't soften the first time, smoke it and then re-brain it.
    This will make softening much easier.

  • Soften in warm, dry conditions, so it doesn't take forever.

  • Note that the interior of the hide can still be moist and need to be worked even after the exterior feels dry. 

Re-braining after smoking is a great thing to know about for doing these big hides. It's so much more relaxed and efficient than re-braining a white hide and having to work the whole thing out again. I can concentrate on the area that needs more work and just move the rest around to keep it soft. The areas that came soft the first time will come soft again with very little effort.

I have one more idea about doing big hides that I have yet to try. I think the lye solution could start out the same strength as when bucking a deer. Then after graining put the hide back into a stronger lye solution for a few more days. The lye would work it's way into the middle of the skin quicker after the hair and grain are removed.

If it's at all possible to predict the weather, try to soften big hides on a warm sunny day, with a light breeze. They are thick and will test your endurance. The time when they seem to be almost done really drags on compared to a deer skin, especially on a cool damp day.


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