Deerskin: How to flesh a hide

fleshing closeupThis is the first year I have done anything myself with hides. Usually I just give them to my friend. She is amazing with Native American skills, and she is involved in an African drumming group as well, so some of my hides have gone onto djembes. The drum master apparently has decided he prefers goat, though. I have 2 hides in the freezer, because it is so cold and damp that they wouldn’t dry well outdoors, and my husband wouldn’t be too thrilled to have them indoors even if I did have a rack to stretch them on. So I planned to wait for spring to nail them to the side of the milk-house.  My friend showed me how to flesh the first hide over at her house. The next day I stretched it out with nails on the side of the aforementioned milk-house, sawed open the head with a handsaw, put the brain in the blender with a little water, mixed it into more water, and painted the strawberry milkshake colored result on the hide with a paintbrush. Kinda gnarly, but it could have been worse. Still, it wasn’t really drying and absorbing like it needed to, so I folded it fur inwards, bagged it, and threw it in the freezer. The next one I didn’t even flesh.

even with the holes I made this is big enoughThe reason I am writing this now is that one of our congas that we use at work has a split head. Rather than spend the 30 bucks to buy a new one, we decided to do the sustainable thing and use what we have. So let’s see what happens!

First I took out the skin and thawed it by the woodstove. Then I put in on the kitchen floor and put the head ring on it to cut around. I didn’t feel like fleshing the whole hide because I knew I really wasn’t set up to do it, so I wasn’t sure how it was going to work out. My friend uses a length of large-diameter PVC pipe; about 9″ I think, to drape the hide over. She braces the bottom of the pipe against a wall and the top end against her hips, with the hide caught between the top edge of the pipe and her stomach. To scrape the hide she has a piece of stainless steel about 14 inches long that has a sharp beveled edge to it. The ends are covered with pieces of garden hose for grips. The edge is sharp enough to remove membranes but doesn’t cut the hide. I think she bought it from a website. Here is an Amazon link for fleshing knives so you can see what they look like.:fleshing knife What I used was a length of 2 x 6 lumber and a machete. This worked ok but the machete was a little sharp (cut my fingers a bit) and the 2 x 6 had corners, so I did end up going through the hide three times. Luckily the holes are around the outsides of the circle, so it isn’t a disaster.

fleshing a hide (16)What you need to do here is remove all the scraps of meat, fat, and membranes from the flesh side of the hide. First make sure you have the hide braced so you can scrape it while pressing down pretty hard.  Hold your scraper at about a 60 degree angle. You have to get under the stuff you are scraping off, but your scraper can’t be too sharp, so you just scrape until you get through it and it starts to form a bar of membranes that you can make short, hard scrapes against. Keep working it down towards the edge of the hide. If your blade gets too much hair and fat stuck around it just wipe it off and keep going. Hair around the blade does slow down the scraping a little. Be patient. Talk to a friend or think about something. Have your dog near to pick up the scrapings and talk to him or her. Once it gets going it is very satisfying, especially when you get to the edge of the hide and the pieces of membrane disappear into the waiting jaws of your canine buddy.pushing towards the the edge, dog helping It is starting to look like a usable hide now. You will see that some of the hide looks red or discolored. This is soaked-in blood and I don’t think there is too much we can do about that now. If I keep doing this I will take more pains to keep blood off the hide, which is very absorbent. Maybe when I soak it in wood ashes it will improve.

even with the holes I made this is big enoughNow that the hide is scraped I need to remove the hair. My husband asked why not soak it first- maybe the fleshing would be easier after a few days in wood ashes. I don’t know about this, and I will ask my friend, but it sounds nasty. We have a wood stove which fills up with ashes every week, so I half-filled my big enameled canning pot with those, added water enough to make a slurry, and submerged my piece of hide. The next day the hair was loose, but not very. I want it to come off very easily. I decided this after I had dumped it out, so I piled handfuls of wet ashes back unto the hide and set it to work some more. When I pulled out some of the hair, my fingers suddenly pruned up like they had been in water for hours, and I was reminded that wood ashes and water was where country women used to get their lye for making soft soap, and I went for some rubber gloves! I should be able to get the hair off in the next few days so I’ll continue then as a new post.

Link to next post: dehairing the hide.



2 thoughts on “Deerskin: How to flesh a hide

    • Thanks I am glad it helped. I find that deer hide works for djembes, where goat or antelope is usual, but the sound can be a little deeper like a jun jun, especially if it is an older animal. Do dry it slowly or it can get brittle and crack, because you will be tightening it a lot. I cracked a bongo head that way.

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