Welcome to the Highlander Studios blog.

I won't promise any earth shattering revelations here. What I will be trying to do is post some new products as I release them, share some thoughts on gaming and show some pics of games and other stuff that I enjoy. So come in and make yourselves at home.


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Deconstructing the Sheep


     A few months ago a friend was gifted three sheep and asked if I would help butcher them in return for half a lamb. I jumped at the opportunity to learn new skills and put some food in the freezer for my family. However, this was not without some trepidation. I grew up on a beef farm where other animals were raised for food as well, but I was never present for the butchering or processing. I've never killed an animal larger than a chipmunk or crow. The only deer I ever got while hunting was an extra one that our group shot. Never skinned an animal. It's not that I have any qualms about animals as food. My experiences with getting that food were simply second and third hand.

     My friend and his family have what they call a hobby farm. They work other jobs, but they grow and raise most of their own food on somewhere around two acres. I love my new house and the privacy here, but theirs is a place of great beauty and peace. I love visiting and discussing our respective projects and I've come to enjoy his wisdom and outlook on life. I had been around enough to know that his animals are treated ethically and humanely. So I was fairly certain that the experience wouldn't be too traumatic.

     I asked what he did with the hides and was told that he usually doesn't save them. His mother-in-law wanted one but I was welcome to the other two. I hate waste and here was an opportunity to learn basic hide tanning as well. So I took him up on the offer. If you want to learn hide tanning, I highly recommend that you start with something smaller than a sheep. That is a lot of surface area and the hide weighs between 70 and 100 pounds when wet.

Salted hide after the first rough fleshing

     The process of fleshing the hide took a couple of hours. The first fleshing removed large chunks of fat and any meat left on the skin. Then I salted it for preservation until I could get back to work on it. The salted hide can be stored for several months if needed. I don't know if this is true of other large animal hides, but a sheep has a membrane with about one millimeter of fat between it that lies tight against the skin. That layer was a royal pain to remove on the first hide (which I hadn't salted and started processing immediately). The salt on the second hide lifted the membrane and made this layer relatively easy to remove.

The hide soaking in tanning solution

     I decided to use a salt and alum tanning method. The hide is soaked in the solution and stirred several times a day for a week. The alum tightens the pores and holds the wool in place. If I wanted to remove the wool a solution of lye or wood ash could be used to loosen the pores. Theoretically anyway. I have no empirical knowledge of how it actually works out. When the hide comes out of the solution a final fleshing is done if needed.

Drying

     Drying takes what feels like forever. In my basement it was a week and that was with a fan and a dehumidifier going almost non-stop. The skin needs to be stretched. Basically the hide is pulled in all directions as hard as you can several times during the drying. I used a rounded board to do some of the final stretching. There are other methods where the skin is laced to a frame, but I decided to go as low tech as I could. There are a couple of lubrication steps involved during and after drying. these help preserve and keep the skin supple.

Fluffy hide

     Sheep really aren't careful animals when wandering around their pen. These sheep look like they had slept in the Spanish needles. That was actually the worst part of the job. Pulling out the burrs and combing out the individual needles took about 4 hours.

     The second byproduct of the deconstruction was the fat. These animals had a thick layer of winter fat on them at the time of butchering. After fleshing the first hide I had a bucket that rendered down into 4 pounds of fat.

Fat cut into chunks
Rendering
Liquid fat
Weighed and labeled for storage

     Here's a pro tip. If you're rendering fat for more than an hour, do it in a turkey fryer outside. Between the one hide and half a lamb I ended up with about 20 pounds of rendered fat. That took about 4 hours all told and my kitchen still smells like hot sheep fat. My wife hates me.

     So what does one do with all that fat?

Soap loaf
De-molded soap
Cutting the soap a bit too early

     One makes soap. I also plan to save some to mix with beeswax for candles. Any soap that is old or doesn't turn out quite right can be milled, melted and made into new soap. So, of course, I had to experiment with that. The results weren't the greatest, but I got some experience.

Milled soap which means grated with a cheese grater
Melted soap glop
Milled soap de-molded

     The best part of the deconstruction, however, was learning to butcher the animal and process it into cuts for eating. Again, the results weren't the greatest. I stopped at primals. So I have racko and lego lamb in the freezer. The loin came out pretty cleanly so there is a nice roast and some medallions. The larger scraps were cut into chunks for stew and the smaller scraps are now lamburger.

     The final step was to boil the bones into broth. The meat scraps fro this were creamed and eaten for breakfast. Lamb shit on a shingle, anyone?

Neck and spine
Best brunch ever!

     This sheep deconstruction was definitely an interesting series of experiences. It raised a few moral and ethical questions for me to answer. This was one of the best learning and introspection experiences I've had in a long time. At times it challenged my resolve, but I now know that if I need to skin and process an animal for food and other resources I can. Maybe not well, yet, but passably.


Thursday, September 29, 2016

And We'll Trip Along Merrily...


     Still one of my favorite Looney Tunes cartoons.

http://i.imgur.com/LmLm0GU.jpg?1

     After several months at the mold maker and caster, the 40mm Robin Hood set is ready for sale.


     This set includes Robin, Tuck, Scarlet, Marian, Alan and Little John with axe or staff option
.

ROB-01           Robin Hood set 1           $40


      My website is not working correctly right now. Orders can be placed by email at Highlander Studios.

      Thanks.


Re-branding


     Again, it has been far too long between posts. Things started moving quickly at the old house. Several things needed to be done for the occupancy permit. Then the cleaning happened and it went on the market. Susan and I were prepared to settle in for the long haul while it was being listed. The agent listed it late on a Saturday night and we were stunned when she contacted us the following Monday morning to tell us three people were in a bidding war. It was on the market less than 36 hours before we chose a buyer. Then came all of the inspections and negotiation and hurry up and wait stuff. We closed last Friday for several thousand dollars more than asking price.

     Saturday I got up fairly early and started thinking about what I needed to get done at the old house over the weekend. Then it hit me... not a damned thing! Twenty five percent of my existence over the last 18 months has been defined by that house. So now what?

     I've decided to re-brand myself as a Viking. OK. So maybe not a full fledged Viking since I'd still like to spend some time gaming, learning new skills and sculpting. I had started reading Make Mead Like a Viking just before the closing. So that's the part I'll focus on.

 

Make Mead Like a Viking

     I started with the ginger bug (starter) and some homemade coffee liquor. The not-Kahlua turned out pretty tasty.


     I moved on to some homemade ginger ale and got the first batch of small mead going.


     Small, or short, mead is one that doesn't age long and is consumed fresh. This gallon test batch should be ready in a few weeks.

     We have 5 crab apple trees and a quince on the property, so some hard crab apple cider is in the works this week. In about three weeks I'll brew a batch of show mead. Unfortunately that mead won't be ready until Christmas of 2017 at the earliest. I'll definitely need to perfect the small mead in the mean time.

     So there you have it. Highlander Studios, Inc. re-branded as a sculpting, gaming, prepping Viking.

    If you have any questions about methods or recipes, please don't hesitate to email me at the Highlander Studios address. I'd be happy to talk brewing with you.


Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Week in Review


     Twenty five hours at the sculpting desk this week has seen seven figures finished. Here's the week in review: the big, the small, the real and the fantastic.


     15mm Anubis hero for Splintered Light


     28mm "Bugbear" from Nogglestones


40mm Alan-a-Dale for Highlander Studios


     28mm WWII Americans for Acheson Creations


     I think I'll call this week a win.


Saturday, April 2, 2016

Big Grey One


     House things are starting to get under control which has allowed for some concentrated sculpting time this week.It felt great to sit and work for several hours four out of five days this week. But getting to that point again hasn't been easy because, well... artists are generally screwed in the head. There's a fine tightrope act that I walk between creativity and productivity. Between enjoying what I do and being my own worst critic. Between supreme confidence and abject fear of failure.

     Part of the fear stems from the fact that sculpting still seems an awful lot like magic to me. On the brain level I understand that it's a craft and, theoretically, a person gets better every time they practice their craft. On the heart level I don't always feel that way. When I get in the putty zone things sometimes just happen. Sure it's directed on some level, but it's not always a conscious direction. It's the Muse at work.

     After a long hiatus I'm filled with trepidation at the thought of sculpting again. What if the Muse has left? After all, I haven't been treating her very well lately. What if those previous works were just a fluke? What if it's a time-limited skill set? All of these thoughts besiege my soul.

     When I finally get over the resistance and get back to work, things are difficult for a short while. Then they start seeping. That seepage becomes drips that soften the blockage. Drips become a flow that erodes it. The flow becomes a torrent barely contained and I'm left in  wonder that I ever doubted. I swear that I'll never leave the Muse alone that long again.

     Until next time.

     Here's the first figure of the year. I have 4 more on the table from this week that need about 20 to 30 minutes of work each to wrap up. But this was the first: a 28mm American WWII G.I. It's part of a 4-figure set for Acheson Creations.



     More to follow next week.