Making a buckskin hoody

The following blog is an overview of and by no means a definitive guide to the steps involved in the dry scrape process of making buckskin.

I make no mention of the physical structure of the skin here or the physical changes you make on a structural level. There is so much to learn on the subject of buckskin you could easily dedicate a lifetime to trying out all the various ways and means of preserving animal hides.

A key text for the dry scrape technique is Jim Riggs Blue Mountain Buckskin (ISBN: 0-96568672-1-8) Matt Richards Deerskins into Buckskins (ISBN: 09658672-4-2) is also well worth a read for a detailed how-to of making buckskin through the wet scrape method.

Finally the fantastic and free online resource of is very useful where any trouble shooting has been needed as it hosts a forum where questions can be asked, ideas shared etc.

Without the above guiding resources I would have been lost in a world of rotting hides!

Nothing of what follows here is new or technically difficult/ advanced in terms of skill sets it just takes a bit of time. I hope that a more general overview of the process of making buckskin clothing starting with the animal right through to the finished garment complete with photos of each stage will inspire others to take on this incredibly satisfying craft.

Roe Deer in our woodlands in Oxfordshire
Roe Deer in our woodlands in Oxfordshire

We have many deer species to choose from in the UK for processing buckskin each with their own peculiarities and limitations. Muntjac for example tends to be nice and thick but can be somewhat limited in size. Roe are certainly larger and tend to be a more uniformly thin hide which can be much easier to soften. Red deer is something I have absolutely no experience in working but I am told is also a nice hide to work – plus you get a lot of hide per red!

For the production of a garment like a shirt or in this case a hoody it makes sense to go for one of the larger species. Fallow hides can get to very large sizes but can have quite a range in thickness varying from very thick along the spine and into the rump to very thin along the belly skin and into the legs. Even within a single species deer hides can be notoriously unique in their qualities and often one hide reacts nothing like another despite similarities of species, age and sex.

We deal a lot with game suppliers and have good access to both Muntjac and Fallow hides which are technically considered industrial waste to the game dealer and can usually be obtained very cheaply. The down side is very often the skins can be damaged through hasty skinning to get to the butchery stage.

Many American authors recommend making friends with deer stalkers who will skin an animal in a careful and specific way in keeping with treating it as the valuable resource it is. Occasionally there will be deep scores in the skin from careless skinning with a knife and these nearly always end up as holes further into the process, certainly that has been my experience!

So once you have a hide to work with it helps for the dry scrape method to neaten up around the edges of the hide removing any jagged edges, tears and bits of skin with holes very near the edge. Obviously the aim is to preserve as much of the skin as possible so be conservative with what you cut away – rounded flowing edges will be easier to lace into a frame uniformly than messy, jagged edges.


Raw Fallow skin or ‘green hide’.

A solid frame is one of the most important tools for this method to work well. The contracting forces of a drying hide will easily warp a weak frame and I have even had screws shear at the corner joints on a quickly made frame! Corner bracing is a good idea for added strength. The frame will need to be just larger than the intended hide type you will be working.


Green hide stretched into sturdy wooden frame.

Making holes every 3 or 4 inches around the entire edge of the hide will help you tie it into the frame with some strong string – paracord is ideal. It is important not to over tighten and stretch the hide out of shape at this stage as it will shrink considerably as it dries and this may lead to your lacing holes tearing out.

Here you can see the stunning fur pattern of the Fallow deer as the fresh hide dries in the frame.


Green hide framed and drying.

With the dry scrape method you need a tool with a very sharp edge, these can be improvised easily enough or bought specifically for the job – again is a great source of hide working tools.

Starting here on the flesh side the entire surface of the hide is uniformly scraped to remove any adhering fat, flesh and connective tissues left on from skinning. The hide must be completely dry before scraping and this step can be repeated several times in the thicker portions of the hide to create a more uniform thickness which in turn will soften more predictably.


Hide scraping tool used to remove hide shavings from framed and dried Fallow hide.

The fur side of the hide is treated in much the same way. Remove all the fur and the thin epidermis layer directly beneath and then scrape deeper still to really get down below the grain layer of the hide. Many ‘buckskinners’ understand that removing the grain layer effectively is one of the trickier parts of the process but taken slowly and methodically on one portion of the skin at a time it really is fairly simple. The books I mentioned at the start go into incredible detail on how to recognise and remove the grain layer from buckskin if you want a thorough explanation of what you are trying to achieve.


Systematically removing hair and grain layer.


Half grained Fallow hide.

Once the hide has been carefully and uniformly scraped on both sides you can remove it from the frame. It is easy to roll up and store almost indefinitely at this point. Keep all the hide shavings removed as these can be used later in the process.


Frame, scraping tool, cordage, rolled scraped hide and hide shavings.

The skin is now ready for the dressing stage where it is soaked in an oily solution – traditionally this was a brain mixture taken from the animal but there are a whole load of ingredients at your disposal which will affect the same result; most accessible to the average bush crafter are probably eggs. In this case 12 eggs were beaten smooth into a few litres of hot/ not scalding water before the dry hide was rolled up and crushed down into the mixture.


Fully scraped hide soaking in egg dressing.

We now move into the wringing stage and it’s an important one for a few reasons. First off you need to squeeze as much of the dressing back out of the hide as possible to reach what’s known as an ‘ideal moisture content’ aka the perfect level of moisture in the hide to aid softening without wasting hours drying out excess dressing solution.

Secondly this is the first real manual manipulation of the skin itself where you really begin stretching, pulling and twisting all the tiny little fibres that make up the animals skin and will eventually become your lovely soft buckskin cloth.


Dressed hide rolled into ‘doughnut’ on wringing bar.


Dressing being wrung from hide.

The hide is draped over a smooth beam and arranged into the ‘doughnut’ shape seen here by overlapping the neck onto the rump to form a tube. You then roll in from each edge until you meet in the middle. A second smooth bar is inserted through the finished doughnut and by twisting to take up the slack you can begin really forcing out the egg/ water solution.

I repeated the dressing and wringing a full three times per Fallow hide of which there were three used for the hoody. This is a physical work out but an essential part of the process. Repeating these stages really forces your oily dressing into every fibre of the skin.

Your hide is then re strung into your frame before softening with a round ended stick. This is used to push into the skin first taking up any slack and then physically stretching the fibre structure of the skin open. This is a very efficient and effective way of softening a hide.

Once this stage is started you are committed until it is fully dry and (hopefully) luxuriously and uniformly soft all over. The fastest softening here took around 3 hours, the slowest almost 7. Occasionally it is necessary to repeat this stage to get exactly the softness you’d like for clothing.


Softening hide in the frame – note the still damp areas.

There is a very definite transformation of the skin during softening where friends and family will go from ‘Yuck! Get that thing out of the house’ to ‘wooooow that’s sooooo soft’.


Winning over family is the hardest part of a buckskin makers task…

Once you have softened your hide you are ready to start all over again until you have the number of hides needed for your project. Once you have a number of hides you are ready to smoke them. This is the final preserving and colouring stage of the process.

There are many ways to go about smoking a hide and here I opted for creating a hide ‘sack’ which then has a skirt sewn under it so that the whole assembly can be strung above a smokey fire. Essentially you are creating a dead end chimney and this gets you very good results as the smoke builds inside the sack until it actually penetrates through the skin.

This is an essential step in preserving your hides and ensuring they do not return to a ‘cardy’ raw hide like state after contact with water. Essentially smoking buckskin helps to keep it soft and supple even after it is thoroughly soaked through but again I won’t go into the science of what’s happening inside the skin here!

First of all then you need to create a sack. I tried both gluing the hides and sewing them together on a sewing machine. Both methods worked extremely well although making your own hide glue is a slightly more involved process than bunging the hides through a sewing machine.


Sewing hides into a sack pre smoking.

All those little scraps and shavings removed from the hide can be boiled up for a few days until you get a syrup like liquid which once cooled will set like jelly. You will need to sieve out any skin scraps that do not dissolve.

If you are using it straight away you simply re heat until melted and then apply to whatever you are gluing. It’s quite likely however you’ll have a lot of shavings so if you make a large batch, once you have your glue set cut it into thin strips and allow to completely air dry for about a week. I threaded mine onto string and hung in a fire place. These hard resin type blocks will now keep forever until you dissolve them in hot water when they are needed.

The following sequence should give you an overview of hide glue making and use but a more detailed blog will follow.


Add water to hide scrapings.


Boil shavings up on a low heat for between 1 and 2 days.


Sieve out any bits and pour into container to set – cut into blocks once set.


Blocks threaded onto string and hung up to dry.


Glue blocks being re melted for use in a bain marie system.


Hide sack being glued together with hide glue.

Whichever method you follow for making your sack it needs to be closed off at one end – I left the rump end of the 2 skin sack open which is where you will need to attach the smoking skirt.


Hide sack sewn together and ready for attaching smoking skirt.

You could just place the skin sack directly over a smokey fire, trapping it against the ground with rocks but losing your skins to the fire gods would be unbearable! The smoking skirt here was an old tarp and was hand stitched directly to the skin sack thereby protecting the hides from any heat and potential flare ups inside the fire pit over which the smoking skirt is fixed.



Old tarp sewn to base of hide sack.

The tricky part is keeping the hides apart from one another on the inside of the sack once it is suspended at the correct height above your smoking pit so that the smoke can contact the entire surface of both skins. Using small twigs to prop open the sack worked well.


Back yard smoking rig.

Hides can be suspended from a handy sized tree or you can build a custom tripod to affect the same.


Quick improvised tripods for hanging smoking sacks and skirts.

The type of fuel you burn to get the smoke is quite important and ideally you want something not bone dry but just a little moist so that it resists combustion but produces plenty of smoke. Here I used damp Birch punk crumbled over some BBQ coal on top of an iron plate to retain everything.


If you can’t (shouldn’t on the lawn) dig a pit…

In Deerskins into Buckskins Matt Richards talks about a hide being ‘functionally smoked’ after about an hour. The longer you smoke however the deeper the colour in general and here the Birch punk helped produce a lovely dark orange/ tan which took around 3 hours of smoking per side.


Sack smoked one side and turned inside out for next side.

When one side of the hide sack is smoked you simply turn the whole set up inside out, re hang it and continue to smoke from the other side. Once you have smoked at least for an hour and for as long beyond that as you’d like, disassemble the hide sack back into two separate hides. These are now ready for garment making.


A couple of bucks…

For this particular garment I wanted to further colour the skins by dying in a tannin bath. This was achieved by boiling up a pot of Oak galls repeatedly to create a very strong tannic tea solution.


Oak galls ready for boiling to extract tannins.

The longer the hides are left to soak the darker the colour of the finished skin. I only wanted a very slight darkening and so these hides were soaked for only around 24hours.


Fully smoked hides soaking in oak gall dye.

After dying the hides are removed from the Oak gall bath and hung up to drip dry. As the hides dried out on a sunny morning they were regularly stretched gently from side to side to ensure they returned to their original soft and supple condition.


Died hides drip drying in the sun.

FINALLY the hides were laid out ready to mark up the pattern for the hoody I wanted to make.


Old hoody un-picked and used as template for garment.

This is another carefully considered step as despite pairing the hides down with a scraping tool there will still be some variation in thickness at different points of the hide – these differing thicknesses should be matched to areas of the garment that require a thicker more robust area such as the cuffs or a thinner more flexible area such as in the shoulders where more movement is needed.


Detail of varying hide thickness – within the same hide.

I wanted to create a garment that was super robust and suited to woodland life but at the same time would not give me the appearance of a pioneer America period re enactor… For these reasons I choose a pull over hoody design as I find them very comfortable for everyday life in the woods and chose a sewing machine to stitch it all together with instead of sewing it up with more traditional buckskin lacing.


Hood pattern, double thickness to be extra ‘snuggy’.


Front and back panels plus both arms pinned together and ready for sewing.


Folded cuff stitched prevents changes in shape and therefore fit.


Hood attached and garment ready for final sewing to close the arms and body.

Any scraps left over after cutting out your templates (I simply unstitched a retired old hoody that fitted me well to use as a template) can be spiral cut into uniform strips of lacing.


Buckskin scrap cut into oval and then trimmed into one long piece of lacing.

I wanted to create a few decorative strips of lacing on the hoody, most importantly along the ‘raw edge’ at the front of the neck hole – in this case a French twist was used. If you have any edges of un seamed buckskin you run the risk of them stretching and becoming ‘wavey’ over time. By lacing along the edge you help to maintain the shape of the edge.


Subtle but important lacing along top edge of neck hole.

Another great idea in Matt Richard’s book is to test out different lacing patterns on a scrap first to see which you like best. The thickness of the lacing used and the distance between holes will both affect the pattern used.


Left to right: Herringbone, French twist, Cross stitch, Back stitch and Running stitch – as per Deerskins into Buckskins.

I also used some of this lacing to create a round braid which was threaded through the rim of the hood as a hood-closing draw string. The ends were knotted and had a small Elder wood bead slipped over them.


Four strand round braid with Elder beads.

Another consideration was the type of thread used on the sewing machine. I wanted a natural fibre so I choose 100% cotton thread and tried to match the colour in the thread to that of the dyed skins. A word of warning! Standard sewing machines are not designed to sew through tough buckskin, I completely blunted one needle and dangerously snapped another clean in half trying to sew this stuff – take care and get a heavy duty needle. Or do it properly and use a bone awl and buckskin lacing 

The finished garment is soft, supple, comfortable and has a couple of times now been mistaken as a regular hoody… albeit a slightly smokey, weird looking hoody!


Front view.


Back view.


In use on the Bushcraft Year.

Adam Logan


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