Hide scraper or fleshing tool
North America: Plains
Unknown date: likely 20th century
Materials: Antler, metal, rawhide
Leather has been an important material throughout much of human history. Leather has been used to make many types of clothing, shelter, tools, furniture and toys for thousands of years. The process of converting an animal hide into leather was a crucial skill for survival prior to the modern era. Native groups around the world each developed their own ways of producing this vital material. On the North American plains one of the tools used for leather production was the hide scraper, sometimes called a fleshing tool. These tools were made from bone or antler, sometimes with stone or metal blades attached. After the animal was killed and skinned the hide processing would begin by removing any remaining flesh and fat from the inside of the hide in a process called “fleshing.” After the fleshing was complete, the hair would be removed from the outside of the hide in a process called “graining.” Scrapers like the one in the Sam Noble Museum‘s Ethnology collection would have been used for either or both processes. If the hide was not fleshed and grained immediately after skinning the hide would need to be soaked prior to scraping. After the hide was fleshed and grained it would be stretched and treated with natural emulsified oils, usually from the animal’s pancreas, liver, spleen, gall bladder, or brain. Of these treatments, the use of the brain was the most common, producing a “brain tanned” hide. Most European style leather was tanned using tannin and other ingredients found in vegetable matter, such as tree bark. Today much of our leather is made using synthetic tannin, chromium sulfate, or aluminum salts. After the oils had time to dry, the hide was typically stretched and scraped again to soften it and then smoked for color and to provide a measure of water resistance.
The following is a video illustrating the process of brain tanning a deer hide.
[Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]