The skin is placed on the graining log with the neck drawn over the upper end of the log about six or eight inches; the operator places a flat stick between the neck and his body, to prevent slipping, and presses his weight against it. If the short notched log is used, the neck is caught between the notch and the limb. The hair and grain (black epidermis) are scraped oft by working the knife down the skin the way the hair runs. If the hair is stubborn, a little ashes rubbed into such spots will offer resistance to the knife and will make the grain slip.
The hide is now turned over and fleshed with a sharp knife, by removing all superfluous tissue and working the skin down to an even thickness throughout. This operation must be performed with extreme care or the buckskin will have thick and stiff spots: which make it comparatively worthless—a point to be considered in buying buckskin. In olden times, when a squaw wanted to make something particularly nice, she would patiently work down a deerskin until it was almost as thin and pliable as a piece of cotton cloth. After cleaning in this manner the skin is allowed to dry and then is re-soaked overnight.
Now comes the job of stretching and softening the hide. There is only one recipe for this: elbow-grease and plenty of it. The skin is pulled, twisted, and worked in every direction until it becomes white and soft, after which the operator rubs into it the brains of the animal, which have been removed by splitting the skull lengthwise half in two. Sometimes the brains are first dissolved in tepid water, being allowed to simmer over a slow fire while the lumps are rolled between the fingers till they form a paste which will dissolve more freely. This solution is then rubbed into the hide on the hair side, which is coarser than the flesh side. The brains act as a sort of dubbing; if there is not likely to be enough for the job, the macerated liver of the animal is added to the brains. Deer brains may be preserved by mixing them with moss so as to make the mass adhere enough to be formed into a cake which is hung by the fire to dry. Such a cJte will keep for years. When wanted for dressing a hide, it is dissolved in hot water and the moss is removed.
A skin may be treated by soaking it in the solution, wringing out, drying and re-soaking till it is thoroughly penetrated. After this process the skin must again be pulled, stretched, kneaded, and rubbed, until the fiber is thoroughly loosened and every part becomes as pliable as chamois skin. If two men are available they saw the hide back and forth over the sharpened edge of a plank or over a taut rope, lariat, or a twisted sinew as thick as one's finger. Large and refractory hides may be softened by stretching them firmly on elevated frames and dancing on them. It is a hard job for one man to soften a large hide, but he can accomplish it by throwing the wet skin over a convenient limb, forming a loop at the other end, passing a stout stick through it, and twisting into a hard knot-leaving it to dry; then he re-soaks it and repeats the operation as often as necessary. The oftener a skin is wet and softened, the more pliable it becomes.
The final process is smoking, which closes the pores, toughens the skin, gives it the desired color, and insures its drying soft after a wetting. Ordinarily the skin is made its own smoke-house. A small hole is dug in the ground and a smudge started in it. The best smudge is made from "dozed" wood, that is, from wood affected with dry rot until it is spongy; this, when dried, gives out a pale blue smoke without flame. If a particular shade of yellow or brown is desired, some discrimination must be used in selecting the fuel. Above all things, the smudge must not be allowed to break out in flame, for heating would ruin the skin. Several small poles are stuck around the hole and the skin is wrapped around them somewhat like a teepee cover, the edges being sewed or skewered together; it is best, when practicable, to smoke two or more skins at once, so as to have plenty of room around and above the smudge. When two skins of about equal size are ready, a good way to smoke them is to baste their edges together loosely in the form of a bag, the outside of the skins forming the inside of the bag and the after part of the skins forming its bottom, the neck end being left open ; to the edges of the open end sew a cloth continuation, leaving it open. Suspend this bag from its bottom to a tree or pole. Bend a small green stick into a hoop and place it within the bottom of the bag; under the mouth of the bag place a pan containing the smouldering wood (the cloth mouth is to prevent the skin from heating). Inspect the inside of the skins from time to time and when they are smoked to a deep yellow or light brown the process is finished; sometimes both sides of the skins are smoked; otherwise, fold the skins with the smoked side within and lay them away for a few days to season. This sets the color, making it permanent. The skins of antelope or any of the deer tribe are treated in the same way. Antelope, deer, moose, and caribou hides make good buckskin, but elk hides are comparatively weak and inferior material.
Rawhide is often useful in camp and is easily prepared. Soak the fresh hide in water, or in a weak lye made by adding wood ashes to water, until the hair will slip. The alkali is not necessary for deerskins. Then remove the hair and stretch the hide with great force on a frame or on the side of a building, extending it in all directions as tightly as possible, so that when it dries it will be as taut as a drumhead. Dry it in the shade. Use no salt or other preservative.
This is all, unless you wish to make the rawhide supple, in which case rub into it thoroughly a mixture of equal parts of neat's foot oil and tallow, and work it thoroughly over the edge of a plank. Butter, lard, or any kind of animal grease will do as a substitute for the above mixture. Viscol, rubbed in, not only softens but waterproofs the skin.