Bark Tanning Glossary

As much as possible we like to use plain English rather than specialized terms, but sometimes these terms are so useful or so predominant in a tanner’s vocabulary or the literature, that you really ought to know them.

Bucking or Liming: To soak the hide in an alkaline solution made of wood-ash or commercial lye (bucking) or lime (liming).

Currying: The preparation of tanned skins for the purpose of imparting to them the necessary smoothness, color, luster and suppleness

Damping Back: Taking a totally dry hide and by one means or another getting it to be uniformly damp so it is ready to absorb oils and be softened.

Fullness: The more tannin is fixed to the fibers of the hide, the thicker and firmer it gets. This is the “fullness” of the hide.

Green Hides: Hides that have not been tanned or worked in any way.

Rinsing or Neutralizing: Rinsing the hide in running water to remove the alkalinity from bucking or liming. The alkalinity is released slowly, so this must be done for 12 to 72 hours. It is faster in warmer water and when acidity is added to the water (such as vinegar).

Sleeking or Scudding: Working (squeegee-ing) liquids out of skins by pressure and scraping.

Skiving: Thinning the thickness of tanned skins with a sharp tool.

Staking: Using a tool with a canoe-paddle shaped edge to help soften the hide. The tool is often embedded in the ground, in a vice, or some other contraption so that you can work the hide over it. The edge should be distinct but not actually sharp. 

Tanning ‘through’: Getting tannins to penetrate and fix themselves all the way to the center of the thickest part of the hide.

Words Used Incorrectly by Many Tanners:

Epidermis: The epidermis is a (usually) thin layer of keratinous skin cells that lays on top of the grain of a hide. The epidermis contains the skin’s pigments (melanin), so in the summer it is darker. Animals with a lot of hair generally have a extremely thin epidermis….in deer it is only a few cells thick. In humans it is much thicker. Many brain tanners mistakenly use the term to mean all the layers of skin (epidermis and grain) that need to be removed in brain tanning. This is because the term was used this way in some of the early brain tanning guides. It wouldn’t matter except that it does cause a lot of confusion.