The Tanner’s Beam: that unsung beast of burden that the hand-tanner labours over endlessly, scraping this, scraping that, scraping this and that again, and then again. That convex, smooth and slanting half log which is the heart of any hand-tannery. One can get a lot of thinking done over the beam, that is, once you learn, or accept, or better, are defeated by the inescapable conclusion that this tedious, unspectacular, seemingly preparatory stage of tanning is really the whole thing. The old saying goes - “leather is made in the beam-house,” that is, on the tanning beam.
You see, one might think that a skin is a skin is a skin, but truly, the tanner’s beam will teach you otherwise. There are layers to skin, or better yet, there are whole strata of complexity and mystery that we conveniently refer to as “skin”. There is the layer from which hair grows, the layer above where the hair grows, then the two layers under where the hair grows, for example. There are even layers to some of the layers. And these millimetres-thick and meters-wide landscapes are your world.
The tanner’s beam is where you learn to remove, clean, break, stretch, compact, scud, frizz, flush or flesh one or more or part of these layers, as what gets tanned is never the skin as it comes off the animals back. The simple, ingenious and ancient technology of the beam; holding the skin fast between pelvis and wood while using that extension of the human hand known as a tool to push away from you, making all of this possible. When well matched to your body, the mechanics and kinetics of it are magic. You are holding that skin in exactly the way someone did thousands of years ago - you are leaning over all of their learning.
Daniel Stermac Stein: Hide Tanner, Skin Clothing Tailor, Farmer