Monday, March 29, 2010

Buckskin - Overview and Steps 1 and 2

The sugaring season is over.  The taps have been pulled, the buckets cleaned, and the gear stored for next year.  We were fortunate enough to boild down about 6 quarts of syrup and we have the maple brew fermenting.

With the warmer weather, I have continued the MooseBoots journey by continuing the work on all of the hides I was given last year.  It is a lot of work and I have hides in various states of completion.

According to Tom Brown, the steps to making buckskin are:
  1. Skinning
  2. Soaking (optional, hair off only)
  3. Fleshing
  4. Racking
  5. De-Hairing (optional, hair off only)
  6. Scraping
  7. Braining
  8. Stretching
  9. Buffing
  10. Smoking
1.  Skinning
Most of us never experience first hand the process of skinning an animal.  If you want to get intimately familiar with the whole process, I would recommend it.  Of course, every animal is a bit different, but there are primarily two methods, split or cased.  Casing an animal is like pulling a sweater off of it.  It is done by slicing around the legs and slit up to the abdomen.  After that the skin peels off like a tube.  Large animals are typically split up each leg and then "neck to nether regions."  Use a knife only in stuck spots after the initial cuts otherwise you could inadvertantly damage the hide ... no bonus points for extra holes on this.  When you are done, you should end up with something that looks like:

This deer hide, from the road crossing impaired deer, has been soaking in the brook for about a week.  Don't worry it will clean up.  Of course, if you start with a chipmunk skin, your skin may look much smaller, so don't email me that your hide doesn't look like this one.

2.  Soaking
The soaking step is merely to loosen up the hair, if you are going to remove it.  I soaked the hide above because I planned to remove the hair.  I have read of many different things to soak the hide in - lye/wood ash solutions, running water, chemicals, etc.  I am trying to make this a naturally as possible, so I used the brook behind my house.  I have tried wood ash solutions, but really didn't find that it worked any better than the running water.

I will continue this in a few days.  As I stated, I have hides in various stages although most are salted and stored so that they didn't rot before I got to them.  I am fortunate to have them and would hate to waste them.

Of course, when this buckskin is complete, I will have re-gained knowledge, but will it qualify as a step toward my MooseBoots object given that it is deer hide?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Maple Brew???

The last few days have been busy and warm.  Unfortunately, that means my MooseBoots journey has slowed.  I have been unable to get to boiling fast enough.  When I opened the barrel today, I found that the sap had started to turn ... it was milky.  I am not sure what the "spoiling" mechanism is, but I decided that I could still boil the sap down, killing any harmful bacteria, and make some maple brew.  Normally, I would not waste the sap for a brew, but we have boiled "milky" sap down  to syrup before and it tastes funny.  Fermenting it though ....

I boiled the sap until it reached 6% potential alcohol.  I then placed it into my brewing bucket.  I tried to gather yeast from a Quaking Aspen ... I have read that it is possible to harvest yeast in this way.  We'll see.  If the yeast proofs, I will use it and try to retain some from the bottom of the fermenting barrel for future use.  If not, I'll pick some brewers yeast up tomorrow.

While walking through the woods, searching for standing dead wood to start the fire, I found that the blueberry bush stems are green.  They are coming back to life.  I hope this year is a good year for them ... last year the bushes did not seem to produce terribly well.  I also found deer sign ... it looks like a doe and a fawn have been wandering around back there ... eating some acorns.  I have been hoping to find some of the skeletal remains of the deer parts that have been given back to the forest.  I stumbled upon this ...

... the perfect start for a bone tool ... if I can keep the dog away from it.  I think it will come in handy on this MooseBoots journey.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Healing and Protecting Earth

With the arrival of Momma Daughter and Mr. Field and Stream (they are living with us for a while), some nasty little bug has invaded our home.  It started with Mr. Field and Stream.  Now, Granddaughter and Precious have it.  Neither Wendy nor I want it.

I took a walk and gathered some lovely boughs, with only my virtual MooseBoots because I have not made the physical ones yet.

We made tea last night from Eastern Hemlock tree boughs.  We steeped them in hot water for a while.  It makes a nice tea ... no sugar or cream required.  The tea is packed with vitamin C and should help us avoid this bug.  Of course, White Pine and Douglas Fir tea works just as well.  If you live in Maine and want a good book on tree identification, check out Forest Trees of Maine Centennial Edition 1908-2008.  The book is packed with histroic information, identification keys, and great color photos of bark buds, fruit, and the whole tree.  My favorite parts are the Summer and Winter identification keys.  You can also download an older version, but it does not have the winter key or color photos.

Isn't it amazing that nature provides us the cures and tools we need, if we only look.  Of course, that is what this whole MooseBoots journey is all about.  Not only learning these secrets, but using them.

Friday, March 12, 2010


While I may have known Spring has arrived, a few other have noticed.  The Earth is coming alive.  On the way to work two days ago, I saw a large flock of geese returning from "winter vacation."  Yesterday, I was driving to work and heard a red-winged blackbird singing.  And, last night while coming home from dance class, we saw a raccoon crossing the road.

The sugaring season is winding down ... I have collected only 6 gallons of sap in the last few days from 15 taps.  The season was short this year and I didn't trust my gut and tap immediately when I "felt" it was time.  We were still fortunate to be able to boil down about 1.5 gallons of syrup.

It is time to resume hide tanning.  I think I will have to work with Mr. Field and Stream, who seems interested in learning if given some instructive guidance.  There are a lot of hides to work still.  I guess I will need to start posting a bit about the process I am using.  I will also need to keep working on my "practice boots."

Additionally, we will need to continue working on our awareness and begin our work on our foraging this year.  The greens and wild edibles won't be long now.  And so, my MooseBoots journey continues....

Sunday, March 7, 2010

More Sugaring and Learning Experiences (a.k.a. Failures)

Today was the latest round of boiling.  I lit the fire at about 0800.  Before that, I made a quick run in the woods to find standing deadwood.  The fire built, it was time to boil.  I did things a little different today ... I have been concerned that we are nearing the end of the season in my area.  It had not fallen beloew freezing for almost a week.  This morning, though, the rabbit water bottles were frozen solid.  I am hoping the season holds a bit longer ... we've only boiled down 6 quarts of syrup; we need 12 to make it through the year.  Notice that the middle bottles are dark ... I think that this, too, is an indication that the season is nearing the end.

While boiling, I tried my hand, not so successfully, at rock boiling.  Perhaps, I had too much sap in the pan and not enough rock.  Or, I didn't let the rocks heat enough.  Or, I had the pan resting on the damp wet ground.  I don't know ... I did get it to steam a bit.  This will take more experimentation.  I tried a few rocks ... one became very brittle and fell apart in sheets in the sap (I may now have some blanks for stone tools), the other two did not break in the same way, but did crack after a while.  Better luck next time!

As I worked, I tried to make a set of thongs by carving the belly of a stick and bending the wood over.  I carved too deep ... the stick broke instead of bending.  So, next time, I will not carve so deep and I will steam the wood before trying to bend it.  Additionally, I cut a few pieces of grapevine to play with basket weaving ... another skill I have no experience with.  These seem a little too brittle too ... perhaps they need to be soaked in boiling water or steamed.

I believe that it is wonderful to learn.  I also believe that unapplied knowledge is useless and that the best way to learn something is to do it.  I tend to learn more from my mistakes so I am not too disappointed overall.