Bushcraft is Hard Work

Braintanning takes a significant amount of physical labor for the scraping process, let alone pulling or staking the hide as it goes from damp to dry. I’m reminded of this aspect of tanning each year during tanning workshops when I hear talk of sore muscles and blisters. At the end of the day yesterday all of the deer hides and the coyote pelt that one of the participants brought were scraped, but there were plenty of sore muscles and more than a few blisters amongst the group. This morning we’ll dress the hides. I’ve left all day open to break them, or pull them as they go from damp to dry. Experience has taught me (and the authors of various books on tanning seem to agree) that for people’s first hide you should leave an entire day open. Since the temperatures here today will only get into the 50’s and evaporation will be slower than at higher temperatures, it’s even more important to have a big block of time.

An aspect of bushcraft and traditional outdoor skills that doesn’t get much attention is that it is often hard work. It’s physically taxing to paddle and pole a canoe all day, every day, for a week. It’s also tiring building shelters, starting friction fires, carving a bow or canoe paddle with hand tools, pounding ash for pack baskets, and gathering sufficient firewood to keep you warm for a night in the mountains. The more experience you have, the easier many of these things get, but no matter how experienced you are they’re always going to be harder than staying inside on the couch. I’m glad these things require large amounts of effort and energy, because when you’ve completed one of them you get a feeling of accomplishment, of having worked hard and done it yourself. And the pleasure of accomplishment, for me, has always been worth the pain of getting there.


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