Fleshing a Sheepskin | An Overview [with VIDEO]

by | May 5, 2020 | Ancestral Skills, Hide Tanning, Visual Arts & Photography

Hi friends! Have you ever wondered how fleshing a sheepskin looks like? Neither most people 😄 HOWEVER, if you got curious, today is your lucky day ’cause I’m sharing an overview of the process for anyone interested in learning more about it! I am not a super experienced tanner – meaning I still have tons to learn -, however, I feel sharing my experience can be of value to others and hopefully help someone out there just starting on their own tanning journey. Hope you enjoy this post!

What is fleshing?

Fleshing is one of the first things I do when preparing a sheepskin to be tanned (more about my tanning methods here). When tanning any skin, it’s important to remove all the meat, fat and membrane attached to it, so that the skin can absorb the tanning solution later. In the case of sheepskins, I tend to focus mostly on removing the fat and meat since the membrane can easily be removed later on during the softening stage.

fleshing a sheepskin

What tools are useful for fleshing a sheepskin?

There are many ways to flesh a skin, perhaps as many ways as there are people tanning hides. Therefore, I’ll focus on how I personally do it for the sake of this post. Here goes a list of the tools I use at the moment:

  • A regular sharp knife: I use a classic carbon steel Mora knife
  • A blunt fleshing knife or any other fleshing tool: I use a handmade reindeer antler scraper as well as a metal fleshing knife by Dave Budd
  • A metal file to sharpen the antler scraper (it needs to be sharpened several times during the fleshing process)
  • Gloves and hand disinfectant: sometimes I use my bare hands to work with the skins. However, if they are too dirty or if I have small cuts or wounds on my hands, I prefer to use gloves to protect me from possible wound infections. I also keep water and soap nearby as well as hand disinfectant to keep my hands as clean as possible
  • Fleshing beam: I prefer to work on a beam with one end supported by some kind of cross brace and the other end on the floor. This way, I can press the hide in between the edge of the beam and my stomach, and this way keep it in place while scraping it (as seen in the video bellow)
  • Old wooden table: I’ve worked for quite a while without one, so it’s not strictly necessary. However, now that I have one, I don’t want to ever go back 😄 It definitely makes the work a bit easier on the back

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How do I flesh a sheepskin?

As you can see in the video bellow, sometimes I receive cased sheepskins, which basically means they were skinned without being cut open in the middle. When this happens, I start by cutting the sheepskin open over the table (or on the floor) and then proceed to cut out the head. In the video, I also cut out the legs, which makes it easier to soften and smoke the skin later on.

After this part, I move on to the fleshing beam. With the wool facing down, I use my fleshing tool to remove all the meat and fat from the skin. One good way of scraping a skin is by placing the tail side towards the tanner and scrape from there all the way to the head, then rotate the skin to work the sides. I work with quite blunt scrapers that prevent me cutting into the skin by mistake.

For a more clear picture of the process, check out my video bellow! There you can see in more detail all the steps I described above.

WARNING: The video shows the fleshing of a sheepskin. Viewer discretion is advised.

Note: The sheepskins you see in the video were salvaged from being thrown away into the garbage. I know the shepherds personally and asked them if I could keep the skins to give them a new life. They were happy to.

Book suggestion about Hide Tanning

If you’re interested in learning more about natural tanning in general, I suggest you check out Lotta Rahme’s book “Traditional Tanning: Leather and Furskin“. This book is like a tanning bible to me and, even though it’s not very big (about 100 pages), it’s incredibly packed with valuable information! It covers the prehistory/history of tanning, knowledge of different Indigenous Peoples, different methods (fat tanning, bark tanning, pelt tanning), tools, dyeing, curing… and more! Her book is just amazing 😊traditional tanning - leather and furskin by Lotta Rahme

More content like this?

If you enjoyed this post and video, please do let me know if you’d like me to make more!

In the meantime, you can check out my previous posts, such as My Handmade Winter Clothing and Stone Age Winter Week | Photo Compilation. Last but not least, if there’s any question I can help you with, let me know in the comment section bellow.

Much love and take care,
Filipa 🌸

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