Stretching Your Dollars

It’s a dying art, but when the market is solid, there’s money to be made in fur.

Fur hunters must attend to a number of chores every September, and one of them is repairing and building the stretcher boards we'll use all winter to put up those furs. If you're not familiar with stretchers, these are the boards used to hold furs while they dry, which is the last major step in getting them ready for market.

A check of my own showed them all to be in good shape. However, my stock of boards is just barely enough, so last week I took the opportunity of a free afternoon to add a few new ones.

My first step in the process was to check the website of the North American Fur Auction (NAFA), where I ship my furs for sale. They publish a great resource called the Wild Fur Handling Manual, which not only provides a pile of tips on fur handling, but it also gives suggested board dimensions.

And if you're going to build stretcher boards and want maximum dollars for your furs, you might as well build them to the dimensions the fur buyers want. Sizes haven't changed, so I started making sawdust.

I build split boards that open to the dimensions shown by NAFA. Material for each consists of two pieces of standard 1- by 4- inch lumber, cut to length and tapered at the nose to NAFA specs. Here are a number of photos to guide you through the major steps.

After cutting the nose taper with a jigsaw or band saw, clamp the two halves of each board together and plane the taper smooth and even. Doing this will ensure an even, symmetrical board when the two halves are placed edge-to-edge.

Use a router or plane to round all the outside edges of a stretcher board. The inside edges don't matter; they can be left sharp and square.

A leather strap cut from an old belt and nailed in place makes a serviceable nose hinge.

It's worth spending a little time and effort at the base of each stretcher to build a 12-inch-long track along which the movable half of the unit can slide. In use, it's a simple matter to place as many spacers as needed between the boards to tension the hide. Note that the movable board has to be relieved slightly so it can slide inside that track. A coarse wood rasp is an easy, low-tech way to do that.

Finished stretchers; from left to right: one wolf, two coyote and one fox.

How many of these stretchers you need depends on how many predators you expect to take—and whether you have freezer space for unprocessed furs. I skin all mine in the field and do the fleshing and stretching within 24 hours, which means if I don't have an empty stretcher at home I won't pull the trigger. That self-enforced policy means the more boards I have, the longer I can hunt … so it definitely pays to have a good stash on-hand.

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