Quick Hide Tanning Tutorial (one of many ways!)

April 3, 2008

So you have a legally obtained animal pelt and you need to get it
tanned, or you don’t have the money to send it to a tannery to get it
done professionally, or you are in the Scouts and you want to try
tanning as a project, or a zillion other reasons why you might want to
try making your own leather or furs…

Here is one way out of
about 12,000+ ways. This is for tanning the pelt with the fur on, but
can also be used after bucking, scraping, and deliming to tan with the
fur off. This is the most basic/cheapest way (using alum). Every method
is a little different and the main predictor of success is how good the
quality of the hide was, before you even begin.

1) skin it
2)
scrape all the meat, fascia, and fat off the hide. On foxes, mink, and
some other species, there is a layer of muscle and under the layer of
muscle there is a solid layer of fat. It’s called a saddle and all the
meat AND fat must be removed.
3) if it is a skunk, put it in the deodorizer solution at this point. Remove after 20 minutes and rinse; proceed as below.
4)
put one pound of salt in to 32 ounces hot water. Take a paintbrush or
rag, dip it in to the dissolved salt water solution, and rub this all
over the flesh side once it has cooled.
5) let the hide dry out for
a minimum of 8 hours. It should become white and stiff, unless it is
huge like a buffalo, in which case leave the salt solution on it (and
allow the fluids to drain away from it) for a minimum of 2 days.
6)
once the hide has been salted a minimum of 8 hours. take it and wash it
in a solution of 1/2 cup Dawn or other liquid dishwashing detergent
soap, and at least 2 gallons of water. Wash all the parasites, funk,
bad smells, and grease out of the fur, and make sure the hide sits in
this degreaser for at least 20-25 minutes or until fully soft,
rehydrated, and supple again.
7) mix up the following solution: 1
ounce citric acid, 1 gallon water, 1 pound non-iodized table salt.
Allow it all to dissolve. The pH must stay below 2.5 at all times.
Eight) rinse all the detergent out of the hide. Rinse until water runs clear and pelt smells good.
9) drip dry the hide for about 5 minutes, then put it in the citric acid/salt solution.
10)
stir this pelt at least 4 times a day for 3 days. Maintain the pelt in
at least 70 degrees F the whole time, and make sure the pH is always
below 2.5.
11) take the pelt out of the acidic solution. drip dry 10-15 minutes.
12) mix up a solution of: 2 ounces baking soda, 2 gallons water, 1 pound salt.
13)
put the pelt in to this baking soda/salt mix. It should fizz a bit.
Keep stirring and submerging it until all the fizzing and bubbling
stops and it finally stays under the surface. Usually takes about 20
minutes.
14) remove the pelt once the reaction is complete, usually 20-25 minutes. drip dry half an hour. Do not rinse.
15)
mix up the following solution: 5 gallons water, 2 pounds potassium alum
sulfate, 4 pounds salt, and enough sodium carbonate (washing soda) to
make the pH of the solution about 4. Generally that will be about 4
ounces of sodium carbonate, but depending on your water hardness and
how neutral the pelt is, it may be less.
16) once everything is dissolved, put the drip-dried pelt in to the alum/salt mix.
17) stir this pelt at least 4 times for 20-24 hours (no longer). Maintain the pelt in at least 70 degrees F the whole time.
18) remove from the alum mix, give it a very quick rinse in cold plain water, then drip dry half an hour.
19) allow the hide to dry down to about 20% moisture, or when you pull the leather you can faintly see white streaks forming.
20)
mix up a solution of sulfonated neatsfoot oil and glycerine. About 75%
neatsfoot oil and 25% glycerine. Get it good and warm.
21) apply
this oil solution to the flesh side all over, with a gloved hand,
brush, or rag. Then bag the pelt to prevent too much evaporation. Do
this at least 2 times over the course of the next 16 hours. The more
oil you can get to soak through the leather fibers, the softer your
pelt will be.
22) allow the pelt to air dry until you can pull on the leather and see the faint white streaks forming again.
23)
break the hide over a table edge, or put it in your tumbler. You must
continuously pull and stretch the hide until it is completely dry. The
leather will be a faint off-yellow color, almost white. It will have a
soft feeling. To get a soft, stretchy, pliable hide, you must break it
very thoroughly.
24) sew up all the fleshing holes, and clean the fur (it should be very oily) with hardwood sawdust or other comparable medium.
25) pelt is ready to use or display.

That
will work at least 75% of the time to get a good, soft pelt with no
hair loss. The other 25% of the time, you started with a bad hide, or
your pH values went bad, or you didn’t flesh and thin the hide down
correctly: either you thinned it too much or too little. Hard spots
form where the hide has not been degreased correctly, or where it was
not broken correctly.

Personally I used syntans before I started
sending to the tannery; alum is not the best stuff to put on pelts. It
lasts a long time but it can cause dry rot over time, where the hide
begins to tear like paper, and if wetted down with water, falls apart.

There
are many modifications to this method. There are also many different
methods to tan pelts. Soap/eggs, cooked brain, cooked brain/liver, raw
brain, raw brain/liver, all the sorts of vegetable tans like sumac and
quaebracho, chrome, zircon, silicates, chrome/alum, chrome/syntan,
chrome/veg, all-in-one products like Quik-N-Eze or Rinehart’s Tanning
Cream, use of a pressurized or vacuum drum, etc. The main factors
affecting how stretchy and pliable the pelt is when finished, are the
type of fleshing, the type of tan, and how well you break aka
hand-soften the hide.

Happy Tanning!

… if I can borrow
a camera I’ll put up some pictures of various foxes which I either
tanned or retanned. So you can have pretty visuals. Smiley

Gwen, 2008

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