Zack Hribar came over to show me his first batch of bark tanned leather. We shot an informal video talking about them and vegetable tanning options, troubleshooting the hides, stories and that sort of thing. It was fun. Zack is an enthusiastic new bark tanner, check him out on instagram as z._hriack_bar
Last winter I started a project oak bark tanning a deer skin to make leather for the axe strop project. The project follows the collecting and processing of materials to build pocket sized sharpening strops as prizes for people who completed the Axe Cordwood Challenge. I'm making everything I need for the strops and decided to show the whole tanning process and everything else in a series of videos. Almost 6 months ago, I laid the prepared skin away to tan in oak bark. It sat in there about 4 months longer than it needed to, but I took it out and finished it this week, and it looks like it turned out pretty decent.
The leather is perhaps a little light and spongy, "Empty", as they say in the tanning trade. Emptiness results from the loss of structural proteins in the skin by chemical or bacterial action. It isn't much of a surprise considering that I over-limed it to start with, and that it sat in a weak vegetable tanning (plant based) solution for 4 months longer than it needed to. Those are actually the type of things that a tanner might do on purpose to a hide in order to make the finished leather soft and pliable. That's not what I was planning though. I would prefer a rather firm and weighty leather for this project, but that is not even the nature of deer to start with. Deer skin, at least our deer skin here in the Western U.S. has an open, coarse-fibered, low density character that lends itself well to softened leathers. It would have been better to move it through the process faster with shorter liming time. But, a process that uses somewhat preservative solutions like lime and tannin, begs for procrastination. Add that I have to make videos of it all and it's a perfect storm for not getting things done in a timely manner. It will probably work fine for the project, but I haven't assessed it closely yet. If it doesn't work out, I have plenty of other skins I've tanned over the years that are suitable and I got to show the process start to finish, with some of the warts and mistakes that any home tanner is likely to experience.
The next steps will be making the wooden paddles, making glue and putting it all together into the finished product. I only need a small amount of leather for the project. Seven brave and industrious individuals chopped one cord or more of firewood for the cordwood challenge using axes only and will receive a finished strop and a leather patch when they are made. The balance of the leather will be stowed away with the rest of my leather cache, to wait for a suitable project.
In the 90's I wrote a book with the my partner at Paleotechnics and Wife at the time, Tamara Wilder. We need to reprint and were sorting through the original copies so I made a quick video showing some of them. We have a few copies of the book available on http://www.paleotechnics.com but I took it off of Amazon until we reprint, though some sellers may still have a few strays for a while and there will be the inevitable copies selling for hundreds of dollars claiming that it's out of print. Which, I guess it almost is now. Hopefully we'll have it back in print soon.
In this segment we repeatedly rinse and scrape the skin to remove lime and unwanted gunk, then soak the skin in an acid drench made from fermented bran and water. Oak bark is prepared by chopping and cooked to make the tanning solution.
This is part 1 of my project to build up Pocket axe strops from scratch as incentive/rewards for the Axe Cordwood Challenge. I may also sell some on the website depending on numerous factors. For those who don't know, a strop is a device for polishing or refining a sharpened edge. it is the last step in many sharpening sequences and can also be used to touch up edges, especially if polishing compound is used. It usually involves leather, which my design of course does, but the act of stropping can also be done on wood or even cloth. In this project, I'm building strops from the ground up, which involves, tanning, glue making and working up some wood from it's raw log-like state. There should be no materials used in these strops that were not processed by me here on the homestead, down to the lime and fat used in preparing the leather. The project will span an undetermined number of videos, as well as a short version of making an easy high quality hide glue from scraps that most hunters or butchers of animals typically throw away. Almost anyone who is not me should learn a lot from this series and I hope to learn some stuff too! ;) Feel free to vote on names for the pocket strop or think of new ones... Stropet, Pocket Strop-It, Pixie Paddle (the woods are a dangerous place full of mischievious pixies!).