Beaver babiche


(Dennis Lanigan) #1

I was just given a bunch of hides as tends to happen. Five Beaver hides and two Yak hides.

Some of the beaver hides are moth eaten so brain tan fur may be out of the question. Then I wondered if beaver was used for snowshoes as I imagine the tight grain and greasiness would work better than moose. I could skip the thinning that moose needs. Then I found this old archival footage of a man making babiche from beaver. https://youtu.be/_B18H795xXA

Not sure what I am going to with the Yak. Hopefully I’ll make a sleeping pad, but likely more bark tan. Yak is a super tight grained leather and would likely work for babiche as well.


(Dennis Lanigan) #2


(Andrew) #3

Aside from your observations of the grain, is there any information out there on the other important properties? The shift in state between dry and wet babiche seems super important, and I wonder how much that changes from one species to another. That said, I have also read that the reason babiche snowshoes are known to sag when wet is that modern iterations all use babiche that’s 2x-10x thicker than traditional moosehide babiche. So the hide’s suitability to mainatining strenght when cut very thin would likely come into play as well.

I don’t have any answers, I’m just curious why cultures which had regular access to beavers didn’t tend to use it for this purpose. There are lots of possible reasons having nothing to do with how well it works. And also, it may just be that the information is lost, and beaver babiche was extra amazing and it just isn’t known anymore. I dunno, just trying to think it through.


(Andrew) #4

Only reference I could find so far, but corroborates the archival footage:

Moose hide is normally used here. Years ago, before the advent of varnishing snowshoes, Ojibwe often used beaver babiche, because the skin was oily, and less likely, in the short run, to stretch. Ojibwe also strung their snowshoes with a very tight weave - seldom seen today.


(Dennis Lanigan) #5

That old post, sadly with no pictures, says moose babiche was preferred for snowshoes with modern boots and some type of finish on the babiche (polyurethane?). Seems like beaver is an older method potentially? Maybe trading for steel tools allowed for easier thinning of moose too? Maybe people thought, Moose is a bigger hide so why bother with smaller beavers if we can just thin the moose? Don’t forget beaver became a huge commodity which may have eclipsed the traditional uses in some places.


(Andrew) #6

I remember reading somewhere that the poly-bullshit coating that has become popular in the last century also relates to the thickness used in the era of mass-produced snowshoes. Basically, the claim was that super thin babiche can be pre-stretched when wet, and then doesn’t stretch significantly later.

I’m stoked for the possibility of beaver babiche working as well/better. They are easier to acquire and have a legal harvest season that lasts like 6 months compared to 3 weeks for moose. So I want it to work.


(Andrew) #7

Then again, it might cut into my plans to personally bring back beaver felt top-hat fasion.


(Dennis Lanigan) #8

Do you think rawhide/sinew bowstrings would work in the wet Fall? I was just thinking beaver hide would make excellent bow string too. Much easier to make than sinew.

I hope that sinew I sent gets there. I sent A LOT. I also sent fiber flax seeds to grow bowstrings that can handle humidity.


(Andrew) #9

I have no insight into bowstring material.