Bark Tanning: page 6
"Currying is defined as "the preparation of
tanned skins for the purpose of imparting to them the necessary smoothness,
color, luster and suppleness".
Mark Odle, The Book of Buckskinning VII
in Europe, currying was carried out by specialized tradesmen in an entirely
different shop as it is an art unto itself. How exactly this is done, again
depends on what you are looking for in the final product. First we'll give you
the general rundown, and then cite specific methods for specific types of
Once the hide is tanned as thoroughly as you want it, rinse it in fresh water for a couple
Between each rinse use a slicker and a beam to squeegee out the liquid. (We've
done this using our wetscraping tool on the flesh side of the hide, putting a
towel between the hide and beam to help protect the grain layer from tearing).
are trying to remove as much unfixed tannin as possible. A slicker can be a round,
smooth rod or a hand-sized, rounded edged slab of glass. Slickers
can also have slate, brass, copper or heavy glass blades. You want to be real careful not to
tear the grain off.
Next the hide is dried a bit, then greased and softened. Any dyeing should be done before oiling the skin.
A Couple of Dye Recipes
from A.B. Farnham: "A good black may
be made by putting clear iron filings in 1/2 gallon of
vinegar and letting it stand a few days. Add enough filings from time to time
so there will always be some un-dissolved. Sumac solution is made by crumbling
ten or fifteen pounds of dried sumac leaves into a barrel containing
thirty-five or forty gallons of warm water." "Stir it well and when
cool hang the sides or strips in it for about two days. Plunge and stir
frequently and on taking out rinse off any particles of leaves, drain a
few minutes and brush over with the iron liquor. Rinse off any excess and
put back in the sumac over night. If not black enough the next morning,
repeat the brushing with iron liquor and return to the sumac for twelve
hours more. On completion, rinse well, scrub with warm water and then wash
for some hours with several changes of water."
from Edna Wilder: "To
prepare alder bark, the Eskimos scraped the bark in fine pieces, mixed it
with a little water and let the mixture stand for a day or so. If they
wanted it darker they would boil it for just a few minutes first. They
applied the tanning solution generously to the skin in the evening and let
is soak overnight, turning it once. The brightest alder color, came from
bark collected just before snow, after the first hard freeze (ed. note:
I've read this in other sources too). They scraped it off in very fine
pieces and rubbed it directly on the skin to be dyed. The dryer the skin
the quicker it took the dye. Some skins required two or three
At this point your bark tanned hide will be whatever color was imparted by
the tannins, usually a tan or reddish brown. Once the hide is oiled, this color
will darken somewhat. If you want to change the color of the skin, you can soak
the hide in any tannin based dye. There is a good chapter on
dyeing in Steve & Tamara's
Oiling the bark tanned hide makes it dry softer, darkens it and prevents it from
cracking...much like oiling a pair of leather boots. Neatsfoot oil,
olive oil, tallow, brains, bear fat and fish oil have been used to finish bark
tanned leather. Using tallow (a waxy body
fat from deer, elk, cows and other ungulates) imparts a heavier feel and more
water resistance to the leather. Using a light oil such as neatsfoot, fish,
bear or brains results in a lighter, stretchier leather.
The hide should be damp
with all excess water expelled by working it on both sides with the slicker.
Stretch the hide in all directions. Oil is then spread evenly on the hide and
it is either worked soft as it dries or not depending on the type of leather
desired. When the
hide is dry, it can be lightly dampened or "damped back" by rolling
it up in a damp towel. This process of oiling, working and drying can be
repeated until you get the softness you desire. When the hide
has dried, any surplus oil or tallow can be removed with a rag. To smooth
the flesh side, it can be
"sleeked" with a slicker.
Various activities in a currying
shop. Note the men at the table using 'slickers'.
A.B. Farnham, describes
different finishing methods
To finish sole
lay the sides or strips down and press out most of the water by covering with
some old dry cloths and treading over the whole surface to compress the
fibers, then hang up until
they are only damp. While still damp give them a good coat of oil on the grain
side only, and hang up again until fully dry. Sole leather can be waterproofed
by greasing heavily. Recipe: 3 parts tallow to 1 part fish or neatsfoot oil.
and belting are finished by taking the still quite damp hide, pressing out the
rinse water, slick over the grain side thoroughly and give it a liberal coat
of neatsfoot or fish oil. Hang up or better, take out, spread smooth and let
dry slowly. When dry, damp back by wetting or rolling up in wet burlap
until damp and limber all over. Prepare a stuffing of equal parts tallow and
neatsfoot oil (or fish). Heat them together, and allow to cool until soft and
pasty but not liquid. Apply a thin coating to the grain side while it is warm
and hang them up to dry. When dry remove the surplus stuffing by working over
the grain side with the slicker. If there isn't enough grease in the leather
yet, dampen back again and repeat the process of greasing, drying and
slicking. Finally rub over with sawdust to remove a surplus of the
Softer leathers are
finished by oiling the damp leather, stretching out and drying, damping back,
slicking, staking and drying. Repeat if necessary. Do not apply tallow or
heavy grease to light skins and spend plenty of time slicking and staking it.
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