The art of brain tanning began in the Stone Age. Humans discovered that soaking hides in brains made them softer and easier to process. The resulting leather was supple and durable. The practice of brain tanning made its way around the globe with civilizations recording their own methods and recipes, including one in northern Asia that added liver and sour milk to the brains when tanning. The brain tanning of Native Americans caught the eye of George Washington, who ordered that buckskins, or brain-tanned deer skins, be commissioned for his troops. Brain tanning is still practiced today, using many traditional methods. One important tool in the process is the fleshing beam, which is instrumental in scraping fur from the brain-tanned hides. The types of fleshing beams you use can be dictated by the size of the hide and your own preference.
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Five-Foot Fleshing Beam
This fleshing beam works well when scraping the hides of coons, deer, coyotes and beavers. At the top of the beam is a point that's tapered and rounded. Mounting this beam at an angle that ends about at the height of your waist means that you can lean against it as you scrape the hide for added leverage. The support for the beam is fairly simple. A board forms the base, which is 2 by 6, and a leg supports it. Make this large fleshing beam from hard woods like maple, ash or oak.
Small Fleshing Beam
This fleshing beam is one that you can set up on your work bench and can be 3 or more feet in length. This smaller fleshing beam works well for brain tanning the hides of smaller animals such as minks, martens and fishers.
Board Fleshing Beam
This fleshing beam more closely resembles the wooden ironing boards that swing down from the wall. The beam consists of a 2-by-6 board with a rounded end. It has a leg that supports it at an angle with a sturdy base beneath it.The leg must be back far enough from the rounded end so you can slip the skins over it.