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How do I prepare a sharkskin?
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Author:  Dave's email inbox [ Fri Sep 04, 2009 10:32 am ]
Post subject:  How do I prepare a sharkskin?

I just got the sharkskin via special delivery mail. It looks gorgeous, indeed! There is nothing, however, which advices how to proceed with it. This is my first sharkskin to take care for, after all. Could you give me some advice? Thanks.

Author:  David Bull [ Fri Sep 04, 2009 10:36 am ]
Post subject:  Re: How do I prepare a sharkskin?

It's not such a difficult process - here is an outline of the steps involved.

- toss the rolled-up skin into a tub of water and let it soak for a few hours, or perhaps overnight.

- once it has softened up, take it out, lay it out on a board, and using knives and/or chisels, trim away any meat or cartilage from the inner surface. Be careful not to cut through the skin...  Try and leave the surface fairly smooth, so that once the skin is mounted on a plank, it won't be too bumpy.

- the next step is difficult to do by yourself - ask a friend to help. Use a white wood glue on both the inside of the skin, and on the surface of the wood, and lay the soft skin down on a sturdy plank.  Start nailing it in place around the edge, but keep it stretched as tightly as you can while you nail it down.  Use some kind of nail with a good wide head, so that it holds the skin firmly in place ...

- that's pretty much it - wipe away any excess glue, and set it aside to dry. NEVER put it where the sunshine will fall directly onto the skin, or it will split and become useless.

Author:  Dave's email inbox [ Thu Oct 08, 2009 6:48 am ]
Post subject:  Re: How do I prepare a sharkskin?

I read your explanation about the sharkskin, and what steps you took to treat it. I got a small piece of one from a fish market, but I wasn't sure how it should be preserved. I looked into Hiroshi Yoshida's printmaking book, but he said no more than that it should be dried.

Mine had some meat left on it, and it took me a good half day with a surgeon's scalpel to trim it away from the skin without damaging it. That meat next to the skin is tough stuff. I then washed it and nailed it to a board to dry out. The skin I have is very fine, not coarse at all. I almost think it may be too fine to have any effect on the brush hairs, but that experiment is a long way off yet.

I just came across that sharkskin board yesterday where I had stored it, and noticed that the skin had dried even further to the point of nearly pulling out the tacks I used to fasten it with. These were heavy duty upholstery tacks, and nearly all of them are bent and pulled out some toward the skin. Otherwise it appears ready for use. All of this made me curious of the process you used to treat yours.

Author:  David Bull [ Thu Oct 08, 2009 6:50 am ]
Post subject:  Re: How do I prepare a sharkskin?

Lucky guy! Skins here in Japan usually cost an arm and a leg, even though they too are just market cast-offs!

As far as I understand it, there really isn't any 'preserving' necessary. It's not like tanning an animal skin, or anything like that. When I got my first one it was raw from the fish market, with tatters of meat left hanging inside the skin, just like you describe. I did the same as you, took knives and scraped off every bit of skin I could find - a tough tough job. (I had soaked it in the bathtub for a couple of days first - and as my skin is a 'whole' skin from a small shark, the kids got a great charge out of that!)

When all the meat was gone, I turned it upside down on a table (still soaking wet), spread plenty of white glue all over the surface, and then glued it down to the surface of a thick plywood board. Starting at one side, I tacked it down every couple of centimetres, and everybody else in the house helped by grabbing pliers and pulling and stretching as much as they could while I nailed the rest of it down. (Maybe a canvas stretcher would work?)

It was then set aside to dry, and pulled itself very very tight and smooth as it did so.

NOTE: as the brushes must be moistened well before working them on the skin, the skin naturally gets a bit wet and turns a bit soft when used a lot. It will dry out again with no problem, but DON'T ever leave it where the direct sunlight can strike it. This will cause the skin to shrivel up to the point where it starts to split and pull away from the nails, and it'll just become an ugly mess.

I've never had any problem with smells or rotting, even though there has been no 'curing' process other than natural drying.

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