Fleshing/Thinning/Shaving Wheels

This post is about the 8-12″ stationary sharp wheels that you can find manufactured by McKenzie taxidermy supply, the Dakota Pro Fleshing Machine specifically. However, the purpose and capabilities of these machines are similar and I will tell you what they’re used for. I purchased mine here: https://www.mckenziesp.com/Dakota-Pro-Flesher-C5895.aspx

What’s a fleshing wheel used for?

The term “fleshing wheel” for these products is a misnomer of sorts, as the act of removing the bulk of the fat, meat, and connective tissue should be done on a fleshing board with a curved fleshing knife like this one here: https://www.cooncreektrappers.com/product-p/post2hand.htm

A fleshing wheel (as marketed) will only effectively and safely do the removal of the membrane, which is the final layer after the fat and meat. That’s the extent of the “fleshing” done by these machines, which is a good application of these wheels. Do not try to chew through meat and fat, it’s not worth the mess. Just use a fleshing board.

Really, these should be called “Shaving Wheels” as they excel at removing a long thin layer of dermis, which is particularly useful in evening out beasts with thick skin around the neck and removing that membrane without it getting all “boogery.” It works a lot like a wood planar, except the blade is moving.

These wheels are used to reduce the thickness of the dermis to allow for greater flexibility in an end product. Quality of the cut is determined by the experience of the operator.

Why are they so expensive?

Machine shops use expensive tools. My Dakota Pro was manufactured by a skilled machinist, and probably took 14-20 hours to manufacture. Plus, all the materials involved are very sturdy thick steel, stainless, or aluminium, and the motor is a high quality one. You are paying another American metal fabricator/machinist for a top quality product.

Table mount or free standing?

I thought I was saving money by building my own table for a table mount unit, but in hindsight I should have either purchased the table with my wheel, or purchased the free standing version and then built a work surface around it.

How do you use a fleshing wheel?

Taxidermy and tanning in general is a profession where you “do what works for you”, and although that is great for someone already introduced by a friend or mentor, this doesn’t help someone getting into it by themselves. There are several YouTube videos on this subject, with taxidermists demonstrating operation. The video provided by McKenzie isn’t very good, and it’s quite old for older revisions. They don’t really cover operation, so it’s one of those things where if you ask a carpenter what a hammer is for, they’re going to laugh at you, because “everyone knows what a hammer is for.” Basically with this tool, you’re going to need some skins to practice with to get the technique down.

You’re going to get strong shoulders, as the wet-damp skins are usually heavy, and the wheel is one foot in diameter, which means you’re holding up a skin about 14-16″ away from you and moving it in front of the spinning wheel. You could try to rest the skin on the table as you pass it in front of the cutting edge, however I usually quickly get bad results this way and do not recommend it.

Although most of the Dakota Pro is made of corrosion resistant material, I would not recommend running your skins through it right out of the pickle. Some like to because the skins swell slightly and allow for greater control, but the wear on the machine in my opinion is not worth it. This is a “whatever works for you” situation, because I usually do my thinning after tanning and after my final rinse, before I start tumbling or stretching on a post. It’s up to you.

What about Mini-Fleshers?

As far as I know, very few taxidermists and tanners use mini-fleshers because there are only a couple manufacturers, one that makes an air-powered (loud) hand tool, and another that makes an electric one with a separate power unit. The issue with these devices is the supply and support.

They’re not carried by any of the major taxidermy suppliers and they’re usually out of stock, as well as being quite expensive for what you get. I would like to purchase one to try it out on the inside of faces, but that’s all I can think of to use it for. Some tanners will use it on the whole skin because it’s easier on the body, but it doesn’t seem all that well suited for that task. Much better for detail work.

Caveats to using a fleshing wheel

  • These are not a multitool, they are a single-purpose tool.
  • They are very dangerous, and will shave your flesh as easily as they do your capes. Wear mail gloves.
  • They are extremely difficult and dangerous to sharpen if you dull them. I have used a diamond file on a mount to carefully grind back in the edge due to a rookie mistake.
  • It is easy to get ahead of yourself and slice a hole in a skin. Take your time and make many thin passes instead of a few deep ones.

Should I get one?

If your process requires the quality increase resulting in effective use of this tool, then yes. It’s an expensive investment, but one that will last a lifetime.

If you are an at-home brain tanner that likes to stretch your skins on racks, then probably not.

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