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Author Topic: Matt Richard's "Deerskins into Buckskins"  (Read 361 times)

Offline Smilingg

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Matt Richard's "Deerskins into Buckskins"
« on: February 02, 2004, 10:05:00 AM »
There are numerous books and videos marketed for folks wishing to learn how to braintan. Most of them will help you create a a hide as soft as a plastic tarpulin or, even worse, a deerskin-sized frisbee.

In 1997, however, Matt Richards published "Deerskins into Buckskins" and made it possible for thousands of beginners to turn out, on their first try, buckskin, soft as velvet that would turn the meanest thorns.

This is the best how-to book on any subject that I have ever encountered.

Richards' book has many virtues, but the one I was most grateful for is that he make it impossible NOT to understand how to wet-scrape braintan.  He anticipates the reader's every possible wrong turn. The world is full of  skilled craftsmen who are tongue-tied. Though they know exactly what they are doing, they cannot put themselves into the mind of a newcomer to their craft. Matt not only has a rare knack for doing just that, he also knows how to keep the nervous newbie calm. He forsees where a newbie might get lost--or paralyzied-- at every turn and keeps him moving along on track.

The wet scrape method requires tanners to soak the skin for a few days to loosen the hair. Plain water can be used, but Richards instructs in how to use various mild alkaline solutions. These solutions make the hide much more permeable to the oils within brains. It is these oils which coat the inner fibers of the skin and prevent it from stiffening. Native Americans made these solutions by mixing wood ashes with water or, if they lived near limestone, they worked that into the process. Richards walks readers through these methods and their updated versions which use  household lye or garden store hydrated lime.

All of these mild alkaline solutions also swell  the grain of the hide, raising it into plain view, making it easier to see and to scrape off--and to know you have scraped it off.

The book ends with brief chapters on making hide glue and, of course, buckskin clothing, bags, etc.  

Recently Richards has put out a video meant to be used either in conjunction with the book or on its own. It works best with the book. If you have to pick only one, pick the book. Though the video is almost 2 1/2 hours long, and of high quality, the book is more careful to clarify the subleties of this or that.

The book sells for about $14 and the video is roughly twice that. Either can be bought at braintan.com, the web site that Richards founded. Braintan.com must surely be the most valuable resource for anyone with an interst in the subject. Especially helpful is that site's message board, The Hideout.

Though I have focused on how helpful the book is for beginners, I should add that some of America's most experienced braintanners have expressed surprise and gratitude at this or that tip passed on by Richards.

For decades dry scraping was the method most folks learned. That is what I started with in the 1960s. Wet scraping seems more convenient and efficient to me, but folks can learn the dry method from Jim Riggs' 1980 "Blue Mountain Buckskin" and John McPherson's 1986 "Braintan Buckskin."

These will get you through the dry scrape process in which the hide is strung on  a frame and the hair scraped off with a sharp tool. McPherson's accompanying video is an even better aid than his pamphlet, and if you were going to have either his pamphlet or video, I suggest the video.

Offline Smilingg

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Re: Matt Richard's "Deerskins into Buckskins"
« Reply #1 on: February 04, 2004, 10:13:00 AM »
Richard's book and video deal pretty much exclusively with the wet scrape method of braintanning. However, his website, Braintan.com, does have extensive sections on barktanning and other sorts of other non-braintanning methods.

His book is easy to follow. As I say, it is the best "How To" book I have ever encountered--on any subject. He takes the reader by the hand and just does not let him get lost. He is pretty much perfect at anticipating when a reader will have questions and addressing them simply and clearly.

However, he doesn't much cotton to the use of modern chemicals, so you won't find his books or website of much use for those techniques.

One of the great things about braintanning is that, if worst comes to worst, and we all have to hide out from the Muslims or Space Aliens or Yankees, you can eat your clothing, bags, etc.

You can't do that with hides tanned with modern chemicals.

I got so damned curious about it once that I ate a whole bunch of trimmings and scraps that I was gonna make hide glue out of. I swear, in the dark, you wouldn't know it wasn't pasta. It tastes just like egg noodles. Even without butter or salt, you could live off this stuff for months. In the old days, when people faced starvation, they had a phrase--"We're down to our moccasins." They weren't kidding. They ate their clothes.

I felt kind of sheepish about having typed such a long post about the book. I'm glad at least one person got something out of it.

Offline et

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Re: Matt Richard's "Deerskins into Buckskins"
« Reply #2 on: February 18, 2004, 01:35:00 PM »
Smilingg, is right on about this book I have found the wet scrape method as described in this book to be a very doable project compared to the dry scrape. Soften the hide is more work than dry scrape but for convience I prefer it. If any of you have considered or want to tan a hide this is the way to go.
Matt does describe using eggs instead of brains. I feel that brains rot quicker than the eggs   "[dntthnk]"   and only use eggs now.
The best advice is to start with a deer hide. DO NOT START off with ELK! I have done 3 of them. Deer is very managable.
Smilingg might have to take this topic to a different forum but have you run into "freeze" tanning hides? Saw a post on the LW about a guy trying this methode. Have yet to hear his results. Wet scrape is not very attractive here in ID during the winter time.
Eric

Offline Smilingg

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Re: Matt Richard's "Deerskins into Buckskins"
« Reply #3 on: February 18, 2004, 03:42:00 PM »
Eric--I would echo your suggestion not to start with an elk.

As cold as it gets in Idaho, you must have to buck your hides in a heated garage or something similar. In a Virginia winter, I have kept hides outside in the bucking solution for as long as 3 weeks with no ill effects. We hardly ever go below 10 degrees south of the James.

I have heard of several versions of freeze tanning. The one mentioned on the LW recently, as I recall, said that you could let the wind take care of the final stage of softening. To put it mildly, I have my doubts.

If you are really interested in it, why not email Matt or swing by Braintan.com and ask a question on the Hideout Messageboard? Somebody there will know.

I have never tried eggs or soap because brains are so easy to come by. Most years I take 3 deer, and my friends take another 40 or so. I have found that rotten brains work great for tanning. I get about 3 hides done per pound of brains, and sometimes, in warm weather, the brains will have gone off by the 3rd hide. The hides don't smell too bad after softening, and when you smoke them, that covers any remaining scent.

Some folks spray a stinky hide with Febreeze, or you could just use the old standby--a combination of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and a bit of liquid soap. That will take care of almost any organic odor, even skunk.

For a while, I experimented with pig brains from the grocery store, and they worked fine. They cost about $1.50 for a 1 pound tub. We used to eat them for breakfast every Saturday when I was a kid.

Down here we say that every animal on earth has exactly enough brains to tan its own hide, except one--teenagers.

Offline et

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Re: Matt Richard's "Deerskins into Buckskins"
« Reply #4 on: February 19, 2004, 12:00:00 PM »
Smilingg, Thanks for the info on Hide Out great site! If I find a way to tan in below freezing weather I'll post it.
ET

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