Jan 31 2011
The pictures below are from a pair of mittens and choppers I completed a little while ago. I´ve just recently started to take more pictures of the crafts I´m working on, and will keep in mind to have photos of work-in-progress available in the future.
The choppers are made from grain-on buckskin (with the hide being from a whitetail deer, Odocoileus virginianus, a species common in the area where I currently live), the mittens are tanned hair-on racoon skin, with the hair turned inside. Both are sewn with artificial sinew, though sinew would work just as well.
The advantage of having separate choppers and mittens is that they can be dried out much faster when wet, which is especially important when you only have a small fire or body wamth to dry out your gear.
The racoon mittens are soft and warm, and I find them to be a good alternative to wool mittens.
Buckskin tends to absorb water fairly fast; leaving the grain on helps a little bit with water repellency. To increase the latter, I applied a mix of beaver oil and pitch to the chopper. I find that I never get the fat-pitch mix quite to the point where they completely mix (some of the pitch settles on the bottom of the container I use for mixing and heating), though it seems to do the job. Below is a picture of the oiled choppers, the color changed to a pleasant reddish-brown.
Beaver oil has a very low melting point (around 30F/-1C) and therefor makes an excellent choice for leather work. Beaver fat is also very nutritious and tasty – I prefer to eat it unless I come across some rancid fat (which I then render to be used as utility fat, like in this case).
It´ll be a while till my next post since I´ll be in the woods for the next few weeks. To make it clear, I don´t consider myself as an “expert” in any of these skills and crafts. Like probably most of you who read this, I didn´t grow up in a traditional (hunter-gatherer) culture where those skills are practiced from early age on, though I´ve experimented with and used a variety of them over the years (and the people who know me could probably make a better judgement of that anyways). I say this because following a passion like this may not get you a lot of encouragement and recognition, especially from the dominant culture, and it can sometimes be a challenge to keep going with it. Yet I´d choose this life of richness and connectedness any day over one of comfort and material wealth.
I appreciate questions and discussions, as I think that those can help us all with learning and growing. Have fun on your journey.