Brain tanning a goat hide, three pages of observations by Vaughn Terpack
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Observations On Goatskin

By Vaughn Terpack, © 1998

This article originally appears in The Bulletin of Primitive Technology Vol. 16

hmmm...so you gonna brain tan this goat hide? In all of the books on tanning, somewhere there is the mention that goat hides can be brain-tanned. And while these brief mentions confirm the idea, they go into no detail on what differences there might be between goat and deer. There is sure to be some discussion on tanning elk and buffalo, and maybe even moose, but the common goat is given only a sentence or two. So, for what it is worth, here are a few notes from my solitary goatskin experience. (ed. note: use this article as an adjunct to one or more of the recommended books on brain tanning)

First Impressions

Greasy & Thin! The fat deposits that lay under the skin were not solid like what is found on a deer; rather, they were watery and full of air bubbles. Even when the hide was dried in the frame, it still maintained some of that greasy feel, reminiscent of a raccoon.

With the hide off the carcass, just how thin it was, was very clear. I had heard that goatskins were thin but it was still surprising. The neck and shoulders were no thicker than the thinnest flank of a deer skin and when dried in the rack, the goat flanks had the thickness of fax paper. The skin was so thin in fact that fresh off the animal, you could see the sunlight through it at its thickest part

Scores

Because the hide is so very thin, it will not tolerate knife cuts or scores. Every place a blade touched my skin would later open up under the stresses of tanning. If you do not take the skin off yourself, check it very carefully. If you do take it off yourself, use your hands to pull the hide free. (read the braintan.com tutorial How To Skin for further instructions.

Grain

Thankfully, the grain on the goat skin was darker than the underlying layer, ranging from beige to black, and made it very easy to see if you missed a spot. The epidermis on goats, however, is covered with what are called hair pits. Looking similar to the dam one builds around a freshly planted sapling to catch rain water, each and every follicle of hair gets its own pit, giving the grain the look of chicken skin and making dry-scraping more difficult. The slightest letup in pressure on the blade causes it to skip down the grain making washboard inevitable.

goat hide, racked up for tanning
Note these black areas on the
lower flanks. This is the black grain
showing through the sparse hair
.
this goat hide is not quite ready for tanning
Here you can clearly see some of the chicken skin.
It might work better to sand the grain at the flanks.

(ed note: sorry folks, this photo doesn't
do the original justice)

 

On the rump, the grain was very thick and black in color. This black grain had the tendency to grab the scraper blade like a puddle grabs a car tire. One minute you're doing fine and the next, the blade is going off in an entirely new direction.

 

The best way I found to remove the grain was to crosscut the inevitable washboards. Stopping every fourth stroke to sharpen the blade, just keep scraping until there is only white before you. Whatever you do, don't scrape in one spot so long that you generate heat or you will suffer the consequences. Goat skin rips nicely.

a lovely hole for a brain tan goat
Remember that goatskin is thin and is not as tough as steel. Ouch!
(ed. note: here I believe is a glimpse of
the ever elusive Vaughn Terpack)
 
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