Muzzle Blasts Online
June/July 1998      Volume 3, Number 3
Past Issues Index

Deerskins Into Buckskins-How To Tan With Natural Materials
by Matt Richards. 160 pages in length, available in softcover format only; $14.95 (+2.50 shipping/handling). To order a copy of this book, write to Backcountry Publishing, P.O. Box 343-D, Rexford, MT 59930; phone (541) 955-5650.

Book Review: Deerskins Into Buckskins - How To Tan With Natural Materials



Did you know that nearly six million deer are sustainably harvested every year, and that comparatively few of their skins are getting used? Author and noted proponent of primitive lifeways Matt Richards wrote his book Deerskins Into Buckskins in an effort to have a positive influence on this statistic. He stresses that the hides of these deer are as potentially useable as the meat itself...if one knows what to do with them! "Whether you are a hunter, an admirer of beautiful materials, a traditionalist, or just looking to live lightly and wisely on this earth," says Richards, "making buckskin can be a fulfilling part of your life" (from the Preface).

Deerskins Into Buckskins is an easy to read yet amazingly thorough primer on tanning. It covers every phase of the tanning process; from removing the hide from the animal, through fleshing and dressing, to the creation of primitive garments out of the skins you have tanned yourself. The first nineteen pages of text lay the foundation needed for understanding the actual hands-on material. This introduction discusses the nature of skin, the history of tanning, and the scientific principles at the core of any successful tanning process (how the process works). Practical advice is freely offered, particularly in regard to skinning the animal effectively, where to find sources for more hides, how to store them for later use, and the best types of tools for completing the tanning process.

The bulk of the book is a step-by-step guide to tanning. Aided by numerous explanatory drawings, diagrams, charts, and photographs, the text gently but firmly walks the reader/craftsman through each of the ten phases of tanning. These include fleshing, bucking, graining, membraning, rinsing, wringing, dressing, sewing, softening, and smoking for durability. Rather than insisting on one particular manner of doing every step, Richards frequently discusses several possible options and then suggests that you experiment until you find the one that feels most comfortable to you. An example of this is in the section on fleshing. Readers are introduced to a couple of beaming board set-ups and then left to make a practical decision about which to use based on their needs and situations.

Immediately following the "how-to-tan" section are several interesting chapters on a variety of tanning-related topics. One chapter is a closer look at the various tools for tanning and a discussion of which one might be most effective in which situation. Another chapter talks about rawhide and its many uses. Of particular note is a delightful chapter looking at the manufacture and use of genuine hide glue. The text closes with a section devoted to the creation of primitive clothes (appropriately titled "Making Stuff"), and a resource directory. Of this directory, Richards says it's "designed to help you find local hands-on instruction, tools, books and videos, custom garment designers" or even more tanned buckskin--of which he says "you can never have too much!" (p. 155)

To be honest, when I first picked this book up I was thinking to myself that it would probably be just another volume in the current succession of how-to-tan guides (of which there are many!). After reading it cover to cover, I am pleased to change my opinion. There is information and practical advice in Deerskins Into Buckskins that you won't find in any other book. To top it all off, this volume is well written in a wonderfully personal style, with just a touch of twisted humor in the right places! Deerskins Into Buckskins is a terrific little resource book and field guide.


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