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the skins

Mordechai Pinchas Sofer

This page uses a number of photos from other websites or books as there are no parchment makers currently at work in the UK and thus unfortunately I have not been able to provide original/clear imagery.

The skins should be of the highest quality, from an infection free animal and free from blemishes.  The skins are shaved from the animal and dried (ideally in the sun). The processes that follow differ depending on whether the preparation is done entirely manually or whether there is machine assistance. 

Cow skin flesher

Firstly the cow skins are fleshed removing excess tissue.  The picture above shows a mechanical flesher.  The skins are then delivered in bundles to the parchment preparer (below left).

Bundle of untreated parchment

This raw skin then needs to be softened in order to remove unwanted tissue, soaking in water for around 24 hours. Halachically the preparation or processing has not yet begun.  It is the next step that marks this.  The processor needs to verbalise their intention that they are putting the skins into a strong limestone solution bath (below left) for the specific purpose of the mitsvah.

Mechanised lye bath Open lye bath
Removing the k'laf Hanging out to dry

This limestone solution is called sid and it is done to remove the hairs of the animal.  Halachically it should remain in the solution for four days, but it can be left as long as ten. 

Removal before the minimum 4 day period classes the skin as diftera and as such it is not valid for holy work.

After removal from the lye-bath they are left to dry.

Stretching rack

Then they are soaked again!   The wet skins are then then stretched out on wooden stretchers (above right) to thin and straighten them.  They are then scraped (below left) with acurved blade to ensure that they are totally free from hair and any excess tissue.  Often the edges of a sheet of k’laf will be thicker than the middle area because of the scraping.  However the scraping realigns the fibres which makes writing easier and helps absorb the ink into the k’laf.

Scraping

After this the parchment is finally left to dry on the racks and when fully dry the skins are cut from the racks into a rectangular shapes (right) for ruling and use by the sofer.

Mordechai Pinchas

Cut sheets

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