Thursday, November 17, 2011


One of the best, all around usable items on a place is rawhide. It is even more useful than leather, and so much easier to make.

This time of year we have lots of hides around - deer, elk, even cow hides when we are butchering.

Usually we just get rid of them, but last year we made rawhide, and we used it up so fast, we are keeping all of our deerhides just for that!

Here's what we do.

All of the hides we folded and hung out to dry in the WYoming air, after we scrapped off the biggest chunks of fat and meat.

Don't put more than 5 minutes into the hide. Its that easy!

In wetter climates, I suggest salting the hide before it dries - it will keep bacteria and smell down.

The next step is taking off the hair.

We soaked a hide in Wyoming while hunting in water - in the summer this is usually enough to loosen the hair and make it "slip" or come out easily when pulled.

The cold air slowed the process down in WY - some hair started to pull out, but not much after 3 days. So... we simply dried out the hide again and brought it home. Easy.

The best way of slipping the hair out is to lower the pH of the hide.

We have a bunch of hydrated lime on hand for the garden, so we added a quart of lime to every 15 gallons of water to soak the hides.

They will need to soak a week.

Wood ash or lye can also be used. We haven't tried those because we will be trying to make soap instead.

The only other tool needed is a plastic garbage can or barrel. Easy!

Oh, and a good stick for sturring.

You can see the untreated hides are just fine sitting around. We have left hides sitting for a year with minor damage or rotting. Besides - its just rawhide so if we have to throw it out, no problem.

Here we have 2 hides soaking - you can see the milky water from the lime. Some pink from blood on the hide - no problem!

While they sit this week we stur them as often as we think of it. Good chore for the kids.

Wear rubber gloves or avoid the water though - it will dry your skin.

We also put a bucket on top of the hides to help keep them in the solution instead of floating.


After being in this solution for 3 days, the hair is already starting to slip. We can pull pinches of it our without too much trouble.

Stay tuned, we'll soon start scraping the hair off and show more of the process.

Rawhide really is nature's solution to plastic. It is really easy to work with when it is wet - it softens right up. Minimal processing and scraping are needed, and it is very versatile and tough, especially when it dries.

Indians used it for drums and even shields that were reportedly bulletproof (we're going to test that one in the future). It makes the best cordage, and can make custom knife sheaths, containers, and . It can be worked to be more transparent to even work as a replacement pane for a broken window.

Early pioneers used it instead of nails to make carts (google Red River Cart). When it dries out it is tough and durable. Many hungry pioneers also trimmed pieces of it to boil off of their wagons and carts when starving. We don't plan to go that far.

Best of all, you can set it aside for when it is needed. A little salt to keep off smell and bacteria, and a deer hide can fold up and fit in a shoebox for later use.