The importance of lashing/lacing/cord material in the wilderness simply CANNOT by overstated: shelter, weapons, fire-making, clothing, containers, toolcraft…the list goes on. In the woods, our whole world is quite literally ‘tied together’.
Here’s a quick tutorial on how to harvest the best-possible lacing from the skin of an animal.
While plant fibers are typically easier to harvest than animal parts (plants tend not to run away from you the way those pesky animals do), cord/lashings made from animals are extraordinarily strong(er). Useful animal parts include the skin/hide, tendon/sinew, hair/fur, and the intestines (hence, ‘catgut’).
If you harvest an animal (whether in the wilderness or on the roadside), the skin makes some of the quickest, strongest cord available (with the one main drawback that it softens/stretches when wet).
Interestingly, there is generally an inversely-proportionate relationship between the size of the animal and the tensile strength of the strips of hide: a squirrel hide is about the strongest available, hence its popularity as bow-string material on traditional Native American bows.
Begin by skinning the animal.
- Make a cut up the belly to the throat (being careful not to puncture the abdominal organs)
- Cut around the neck and around the genitals
- Slice down each leg and around the wrists/ankles
- Peel the hide off (once the hide has been ‘unzipped’ it peels away from the body surprisingly easily, connected by only fascia at that point
- Stretch the hide to dry – lace it on a frame or peg to the ground if it’s large, or staple it to a board if it’s small (that’s a squirrel hide in the photo, stapled with the hair against the board)
Clean up the hide, if necessary.
- Scrape any flesh, fat, and fascia off the inside of the hide
- Depending on the species, you may/may not care to remove the hair – There’s no need to remove it on a squirrel or rabbit, but deer hair is generally scraped away
- Once the hide is dry, inscribe the largest circle you can on the piece you’re using (in the photo is a scrap of pronghorn rawhide, with circle drawn)
- Cut out the circle, using a pair of good, sharp shears or snips
- The hide from a fox squirrel (local town variety) will generally yield about a 6″ diameter circle
Cut the Lacing
- Beginning from the outside edge of the circle, spiral-cut a continuous strip of uniform width until you reach the center
- Pro Tips:
- Cut the opposite direction of what you would naturally choose. (If you’re right-handed, cut clockwise instead of counter-clockwise.) This makes it easier to view/maintain uniform width, as it ‘lifts’ the strip into view rather than pushing it down, due to the design of scissors/shears.
- Avoid nicks in the edge of the strip, which will be weak points. Strive for a continuously-smooth, uninterrupted edge.
- Decide on the width of your strip ahead of time. For many applications, I favor about a 3/16″ to 1/4″ wide strip on squirrel hides. 1/2″ or more on deer/elk hides is reasonable for larger applications, like babiche webbing on traditional snowshoes.
- Don’t have scissors in the woods? Carefully drive your knife into a sturdy log or stump. Slide the hide up and down along the blade to slice it. Requires practice to yield good results.
As you approach the center, you’ll notice that maintaining a smooth curve becomes more difficult, as the spiral becomes tighter.
Voila! Spiral-cut rawhide lacing – the longest, strongest strip (of that width) possible, from a given hide.
- Rawhide must be wet to use. Soak in lukewarm to warm water for 5 to 45 minutes (depending on thickness of the hide and desired wet-noodleness)
- Remove from the water and pre-stretch the hide, prior to use. Adequately stretched areas will be drawn thinner and appear whitish. Do not overstretch. You may wish to resoak after an initial stretching.
- Tie, twist, wrap, hitch, cord, etc. as desired.
- Know that rawhide will shrink as it dries. Plan to weight/clamp/tie as necessary, to avoid shrinkage-related problems.
Trivia: A standard squirrel hide can yield around 18 feet of 3/16″ hide lashing!