How To Tan A Hide Using Several Methods

how to tan a hide using several methods
I read a post recently by a guy that had finished tanning a deer hide for his daughter. He said it was a fairly long ordeal (and he probably wouldn’t ever do it again), but it turned out beautifully and he had a picture to prove it. The hide looked very soft and flexible and hung limp like a blanket over the bed. So thanks to “livbucks” from PA. for providing the initial motivation for me to try my hand at tanning a complete hide.

how to tan a hide example of different animal hidesI like the idea of DIY or as I would say, DIOY (doing-it-your-own-self) and I also like the idea of not wasting the hide and am glad to see that there are many other people that feel the same way. I am encouraged to see so many people on websites and forums that are keeping old skills like how to tan a hide alive. Chances are, if you are reading this, you are a do-it-yourself person too.

I mostly hunt public land with Over-the-Counter tags. I usually hunt by myself, but sometimes my wife goes with me. We butcher, wrap and freeze the meat and make our own sausage, ground meat and patties for burgers.

stretched deer skin

Raw mule deer hide from hind quarter.

I occasionally tan the hides from hind quarters of elk or deer that have been packed out because it’s always good to have deer and elk hair on hand for tying flies, but I plan on making a rug or blanket from a whole deer or elk hide.

If I ever draw a limited entry tag, I also plan on making my own European style mount of the skull and antlers.

Before I tackle a whole skin, I need to acquire a few more tools, but I will update this post when I get started.

First Experience Tanning Rabbit Hides

Many years ago while I was still in high school, I was asked by a friend of the family to show him how to dress rabbits. No… Not to put dresses on them like some people do with their small dogs, but to skin, gut and clean them.

how to tan a hide with brains, soap or eggs

Deerskins into Buckskins – How to Tan with Brains, Soap or Eggs.

He had bought a few acres, and though he had a good job in town, was trying to live as self sufficient as possible. He was growing a garden, raising a few cows, goats, free-range chickens and had also started raising rabbits.

Well, you know how it goes… A cow has a calf (one calf), goats usually have two kids, chickens lay 8-12 eggs and you will be lucky to raise 4 or 5 chicks in a season if you don’t keep them penned up, but the rabbits were breeding like rabbits! He already had baby rabbits that were having more baby rabbits and had built more cages, but even the new cages were stacked full of rabbits. Something had to give.

The original purpose for raising the rabbits was for food, but his wife and kids had become attached to the rabbits and hadn’t fully bought-in to the idea of eating what you raise. I don’t think this fellow had actually “harvested” any of his livestock yet. So I  was glad to help out and to make a long story short, we “dressed” six rabbits.

hybrid rabbit

This rabbit looks similar to the hybrid skins that were tanned

His original rabbits, (California giants) were large and white with a soft medium length coat. But about half of the younger rabbits were mostly white, but with an irregular wild-type colored blanket splashed across their backs. My friend said he just assumed the wild native Cottontails were responsible.

How did those sneaky little devils do that through the chicken wire? Not possible, plus domestic rabbits are really from European Hare stock (22 chromosomes) and wild cottontail rabbits have 21 chromosomes, so that was not the answer. He just had white rabbits that still had some genes for wild color type. Still, all the hides were beautiful, especially the wild “cottontail hybrids”.

The purpose of telling this story now, is that once I saw those hides, I couldn’t just throw them away and I had to try to preserve them. At that time (mid 1970s), small game was plentiful where I lived, but big game (white-tailed deer) was not. People used to joke that you could hunt deer an entire lifetime and leave most of a box of shells for your kids. I had skinned many-a-rabbit and squirrel, but had no experience tanning hides and didn’t know anybody that had done it. My Grandfather said he used to know people, they tanned their own hides and even made their own shoes, but they were all “long gone”.

Foxfire Book 3; Chapter 2 Hide Tanning

This was obviously many years before Al Gore invented the internet, so back then, the only source of information at that time was our World Book encyclopedia set, the Golden Book Encyclopedia of Natural Science (1962; I still have that set today) and the public library. I had to hustle too, because I didn’t know what to do with the skins, except to stretch and tack them to plywood. My father told me to remove all the excess meat and tissue from the skins and to spread a little pickling salt on them. Luckily, that was enough to hold them until I discovered the Foxfire books at the library the next day.

Foxfire was started as a class project in 1966 as students from northern Georgia interviewed elders and retold their stories about how they lived (self sufficiently) in the Southern Appalachians. They had enough stories to produced a magazine, which later was turned into the book series. There is also a Foxfire museum and non-profit  organization. The name “Foxfire” comes the local name for a bioluminescent (glows in the dark) fungus that grows in the region.

The Foxfire 3 book was the one I needed to learn how to tan the hides, but the book also covers subjects like animal care, banjos and dulcimers, wild plant foods, churning butter and finding and using ginseng.

The Foxfire 3 book describes several methods for tanning hides, including bark tanning, brain tanning, alum tanning and tanning with lard and flour. Most of the information is for tanning after the hair was removed.

The bark tanning method is a time consuming method that is very similar to method described by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Publication below. They did mention how they ringed or cut down trees to get the bark and how they used the bark from different tree species for different colored hides. Chestnut Oak would turn the hides brown and the bark of White Oak would turn hides a yellowish color. Bark could be used either dry or green, but the “tea” or “ooze” made from the bark needs to be the color of dark coffee before using it for tanning hides.

The brain tanning method is similar to other brain tanning methods described. Brains are simply cooked and then rubbed into the hide. Brains were rubbed on the hide either cool or hot, but seems the hot method also helps remove the hair.

The lard and flour method is a method I have not seen described anywhere else before. For tanning a hide with lard, the hide was rubbed with a thick coat of lard and then the lard was coated with flour. The hide was rolled up until “the blood was drawn out”. The hide would be oiled and worked to keep it soft.

None of the methods or equipment are described in great detail, and some of the methods (lard and flour method) were described from memory. There are numerous black and white photos of skins and hides in various stages of skinning and tanning.

The Foxfire 3 book has a short section about tanning hides with the hair on, and that is the section that I followed. The method describes scraping the hides to remove the flesh and fat and then salting the hides (which I did). Then I covered the hides with alum and allowed them to dry. At this point, they should be ready for use.

Another method described using half alum and half soda, but without salting the hide. Another method that would probably be frowned upon today was to use a bar of laundry soap and six ounces of arsenic or lead. This toxic mixture was made into a paste that was then rubbed into the hide.

My hides were preserved well and the fur held tight and remained beautiful for years, but I was disappointed that the hides were very stiff. That seems to be the case for alum tanned hides. I don’t remember much about the softening process (maybe that was the problem – I probably had to return the book before the hide was ready for softening), but the Foxfire 3 book only has a short section on keeping hides pliable. Methods for keeping the hides pliable include using Neatsfoot oil or beeswax and beef tallow to “work” the hides. Methods or techniques or tools used for working the hides are not described.

I remember that I tried chewing one of the hides for a while. If chewing was really how native American women softened deer hides, I stand in awe of them! Maybe someone told me to chew the hide just to play a joke on a gullible teenager. What I didn’t know at the time, was that hides become soft from working them while still wet, not after they are dry. I basically made raw hide with the hair on. The hides were preserved, but they were never soft and pliable.

Types or Methods of Tanning Hides and Leather at Home

  • Bark Tanning – Uses the Tanin or Tannic Acid from bark of oak, hemlock or other trees. This method has also been referred to as vegetable tanning – Tanning with tannic acid from tree bark can take up to 6 months to complete, and will stain the fur of an animal, so I would try this method for tanning leather, but not for preserving a hide. See recipe below – would need at least 100 lbs of bark for a cow hide, So maybe 40 or 50 lbs for a deer hide.
  • Brain Tanning – every animal has one (a brain) and it seems that every animal except bison have enough brains to tan their own hide. I am a little concerned about using brains of ungulates as a tanning agent due to the possibility of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). CWD is form of spongiform encephalopathy, similar to mad cow disease and several very similar to a very rare prion diseases that effect humans. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC); “To date, no strong evidence of CWD transmission to humans has been reported.” Well that is good to know, but the CDC advises hunters to have game tested for CWD before consuming it and to take certain precautions in the field while butchering the animal, including; “…wear gloves, bone-out the meat from the animal, and minimize handling of the brain and spinal cord tissues. I am still consider brain tanning, but I don’t think I will be using the brains of a deer or an elk. If not, then I need to find a source for pig brains. When I was young, canned pig brains were always at the grocery store (Armour – same people that make potted meat). I never had them so I don’t know what I missed. I used to wonder who actually bought them. My Grandfather said he used to eat them, but only had them fresh when they killed hogs. I don’t know if they are even available now after all the mad cow disease scare. I will check at some of the Asian food markets. It also seems that most brain tanning instructions also recommend that the hides be smoked as well.
  • Tanning with Mayonnaise and Raw Eggs – Since mayo is raw eggs and oil, then the mix is lots of raw eggs and some oil – use the same way as brain tanning – Interesting, never heard of this method before – More research needed.
  • Tanning with Alcohol & Turpentine – seems that some people have used this is a 50% alcohol and 50% Turpentine solution – others say they never heard of this and suggested that the leather would likely be very dry when alcohol evaporated. More research is needed here, but I don’t think I want my hides to smell like turpentine.
  • Salt & Alum Tanning (ammonium aluminum sulfate or potassium aluminum sulfate)
  • Chrome Tanning (Chromium Sulfate) – commercial method – typical hard, shinny texture. Your motorcycle jacket was probably tanned this way – wash water is considered hazardous waste.
  • Glutaraldehyde Tanning – an alternative to Chrome Tanning? Related to Formaldehyde. Dow chemical recommends their product Zoldine® be used in conjunction with Chrome Tanning. The Safety sheet states that it is very toxic and extremely harmful to aquatic organisms. Not for me. Probably not for home tanning at all. Sure wouldn’t want my neighbor dumping Chromium or aldehyde compounds on the ground or in the creek anywhere near me.
  • Lard and Flour Tanning – method described in Foxfire 3

Steps of the Leather and Hide Tanning Process

Depending upon the source, there are various steps to the Hide Tanning process. I have tried to summarize them here. Also, make sure to read the comments at the end of this post. Much info has been added there.

There seems to be some confusion between sources about what it means to preserve, tan or break hide. Some separate these into different steps, while others don’t include some of the steps or they combine them into a single step.

        1. Skinning
        2. Fleshing – remove all fat and tissues

Here is a good detailed exampled of actually fleshing a deer hide.


      1. Preserving/Curing – freeze or salt – salt (non-iodized), alum – stop bacterial activity to preserve hides – equal parts salt and hide
      2. Washing/De-greasing – If the hide is very fatty, it might need to be washed
      3. De-hairing – if you want leather – lime – skip this step if you want to tan a hide with fur left on
      4. Thinning (if hide is thick) – Dry Scraping
      5. Tanning – Pickling – Neutralizing – uses an acid solution to prepare the cells of the hide for tanning (Pickle only if hide is not fresh) – test for completion, cut small piece from edge, look to see if color has completely penetrated hide – or put small piece in boiling water, if curls, it is not ready. Must be completely rinsed and neutralized – careful about where you dump waste water. Types of Acid; Battery acid, oxalic acid
      6. Breaking & Oiling

This is a good look of a nearly finished tanned deer skin (hide-on) and the kid knows his stuff…

To Salt or Not to Salt Hides to Preserve for Tanning?

If you are not able to begin the tanning process a soon as the animal is skinned, then the hide must be frozen or salted. If in the field without access to refrigeration, then salt would seem to be the only option. But some sources say to add plenty of salt to cure the hide and set the fur, while others say “Do not Salt!”. One website says not to salt unless you are experienced as salting can ruin a hide. It would help if they would have mentioned how salt could ruin a hide, so we would know what to watch for. Then there is the choice of dry salting or wet salting. Dry salted hides look like they could be stacked in the corner for some time, while wet salted hides must be stored in a sealed plastic container. Dry salted hides seem to be harder to rehydrate and tan when you resume the process.

The fur can start falling out (slipping) fairly quickly in warm weather due to bacterial growth, so what to do? I plan on salting the hide as soon as possible, but more research is needed on salting hides to learn what some of the pitfalls might be. But if you do salt a hide, do not use iodized salt and do not use rock salt because size of crystals is too large and too many impurities. Use a fine grained salt like pickling salt. The hide needs to be completely covered with salt and a good guide to the amount of salt needed is to use about the same amount of salt as the animal hide weighs.

Hide Tanning Books to Consider

I think I have just about exhausted the credible online resources on tanning hides. There are lots of You-tube videos, and some have some good info, but most seem to be for leather and not for hides with the fur left on. I need a little more in-depth information to decide on the type of tanning I will attempt. I also feel like I need a little more step by step guidance, especially on the subjects like hide thinning and breaking. I ordered some books on how to tan a hide and will be using them to help decide which tanning process I want to use and what tools I need to obtain. The best one so far has been Deerskins into Buckskins.

how to tan a hide with brains, soap or eggs

Deerskins into Buckskins – How to Tan with Brains, Soap or Eggs.

“Lot of good detail and step by step directions. Also good history and easy to follow. I have already used it to buckskin and it works well. Thanks and can’t wait to do another one by a slightly different method.” -Gerald

Also check out the comments section at the bottom of this page. Lots of people have asked questions about tanning hides and lots of good answers have been provide.

Tanning Hides and Leather with Bark (Tannin/Tannic Acid)

I found an old U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (1884) publication Home Tanning of Leather and Small Fur Skins and have summarized the basic steps for tanning a cow hide with tannic acid from bark:

      1. Make bark liquor  – 30-40 lbs of finely ground (particles no larger than corn kernel) oak or hemlock bark
      2. Boil 20 gallons of pure water (rain water is best)
      3. mix in barrel (do not use iron container) and let stand for 15-20 days, stir occasionally
      4. when ready to use, strain off the bark by pouring through a sack
      5. Add 2 quarts vinegar
      6. hang sides (of cow hide) from sticks in the bark, the less folds the better, move around often to insure even coloring
      7. As soon as sides are soaking in the bark liquor mixture, make another batch of liquor mixture
      8. After 10-15 days, remove about 5 gallons of mixture from the barrel with the hides, and replace it with fresh bark mixture from second batch, and add 2 quarts of vinegar.
      9. After 5 more days remove another 5 gallons of mixture and replace with 5 gallons of the fresh mixture (no more vinegar needed)
      10. Repeat twice more every 5 days – check hide by cutting a sliver from an end piece to see how much the hide has been penetrated.
      11. Then take another 40 lbs of bark and moisten with water, add bark directly to the sides and bury them in the bark for 6 weeks.
      12. After 6 weeks, check of hide should show tanning spread nearly to the center – pour out half of the old bark liquor water and fill the barrel with fresh bark – shake the barrel from time to time, add bark and water as needed to keep hides covered – checking hide should reveal all tanned, no white or raw streak – if not complete, leave in the mixture and add more bark and water to keep covered. At this point leather to be used for harness or belt leather should be done, but leave for 2 months longer if leather is to be used for shoe soles.




Wow! A minimum of 100 lbs of oak bark and at least 77 -87 days of preparing or soaking the hide.

The U.S.D.A. publication warns the reader that “The inexperienced cannot hope to make leather equal in appearance, or possibly in quality, to that obtainable on the market”… and “It is never advisable for an inexperienced person to try to tan valuable fur skins or large hides to be made into coats, robes or rugs. The results would be disappointing, both in appearance and in quality”. Doesn’t sound like govt. has changed much.

Sound like they didn’t really want to make the publication, but since the people demanded it, they did. But they didn’t want to be blamed if the hides did not turn out right. Well that’s all I need to hear, for someone to tell me I can’t do it. Now I might not try tanning a hide with 100 lbs of oak bark, but back when the bulletin was published, it was probably fairly simple to go cut down an oak tree or two and get that much bark. Grinding it up into small pieces might not be so simple.

I have been trying to visualize how much in volume 100 lbs of bark takes up. I have bought landscaping bark in bags and spread it around the shrubs as mulch. I am thinking that 100 lbs of bark would be about 5 wheel-barrows full or about 30 cubic feet. I’ll bet if you lived anywhere in the eastern or southern U.S., you could easily find oak bark at a small timber operation.


Photo of deer hide courtesy of “JefFroh”, animal hides on old cabin courtesy of “Photomatt28”, rabbit from “sheep”R”us” on Flickr.

Comments

  1. Brian from Alliston says:

    I have recently taned a deer hide from this fall using the aluminum sulphate and salt method hoping to acheive a deer rug to hang in the basement and make muzzle loader accesories. It was going well and when the hide dryed I noticed that some of the hair was falling out in isolated areas so here is the questions.
    1. What usually causes this hair to fall out?
    2. What should I do with the hide now?
    3. Is there a way to get the hair off now?
    Right now the hide is stiff and have not oiled it, I am following a recipe that was in the Ontario Out of doors magazine from 2 years ago. I am green at this and would take any help I can get.
    Thanks
    Brian from Alliston

    • Backcountry Chronicles says:

      Brian: I am not an expert on the subject of tanning. I tanned some small animal hides many years ago, but like you, would like to have a nice elk or deer hide. I have to admit I was too lazy to save the last elk hide. It was too late in the day, I was too far from the road and it was warmer than I liked, so I just packed out the meat.

      To answer your question. Since you did not use an acid solution, the hair is probably falling out because of incomplete salting. The salt and sulfates are supposed to cause the skin to hold tight to the hair follicles. Salt also kills bacteria that would also cause the hair to slip.

      If the hair is only falling out only in certain places, check to see if the other side of each patch has been scraped too deep when you were fleshing the hide. This is probably not the case with a deer hide, unless the deer has very thin skin (Southern Deer). If that is the case, that hair may fall out, but the rest of the hide may be O.K.

      I have read in several different places that a hide that is soaked too long can slip too much hair. So, how are we supposed to know how long to soak? Experience must be the answer. Try to find someone local that has experience. If not, keep good records about all your processes and techniques, after you do it a 1,000 times, you can tell the rest of us what we are doing wrong.

      Matt Richards’ book (Deerskins into Buckskins) says that the whole tanning process is very forgiving and steps can be repeated if necessary. He is obviously talking about tanning hides with the fur removed. Nothing forgiving about hair that has already fallen out.

      You could try restarting the process again, but at this point, who knows if the hair can be saved or not.

      If you want to remove the hair, try the typical lime or ashes methods. Send us a picture and let us know how it turns out.

      Good Luck.
      BcC

    • It also depends on the molt stage of the animal. Fur that is not completely prime will indeed shed in un-prime areas (esp. with rabbits!)

    • Chad chappell says:

      The problem with deer hair on tans is deer hair is very brittle and breaks and or falls out easily. They are not suitable for rugs but can be done for wall hangers. I’vee used veg tanning to do I pig hide I made into a fleshing apron. It is very durable but it did take a few months to complete the tan. I’m thinking of doing another to make some knife sheaths. I used mostly walnut husks along with some logwood dye and leaves.

      I’ve brain tanned multiple animals from buckskin to coins and beaver. I’m still fairly new at this and still haven’t perfected the softening/ breaking. Coon and buckskin are fairly easy but beaver are thick and a pain in the but. Mostly I tan so they can be hooped so softness is not a big issue. I did make a beaver hat for my nephew a couple years ago. It was a little stiff but turned out Ok.

      Alum tanning is a very easy and basic tan, although not a true tan. These hides can not get wet. I use this tanning method for most of my wall hangers. I soak in the solution and when they are done I put them on their stretcher to dry. I do not work these as I like my wall hangers to have some shape instead of looking like a fur towel hanging from a nail.

      I got into tanning a few years ago and love the idea of making things from start to finish. All of the tans take time so if your looking for a quick easy way to tan an animal take it in somewhere and have it professionally done, but if you enjoy trying new things, not afraid of a little work, and take pride in doing things yourself give it a try. Like I said I have some experience but definitely not an expert.

  2. I am a beginner at trying to tan a hide with hair on. I have read and watched a lot of good and bad videos about dozens of techniques for doing one. I have fleshed the hide and rinsed and salted repeated twice. I am at the point to put it in a acid soak now but would like to know if there is a home recipe for the citric acid one? And would that step help the softening more then alum?
    I would like to see a video from start to finish of a good tan online if you know of one.
    Thank you for your help

    • Backcountry Chronicles says:

      Susie:
      Good for you for trying to learn to tan hides. None of my books give a recipe for citric acid. Only one book gives a recipe for other acids.
      Somewhere online, I remember reading that pickling; either with too much acid or soaking hides for too long can lead to hair loss.

      I will give recipe from James Churchill’s book for pickling skins (but these were for hides not furs):
      Citric Acid should be safe to use, but sulfuric and oxalic acid is dangerous. Acid fumes are also dangerous to breathe. Consider using vinegar.
      ***********
      For automotive sulfuric acid, use 1/2 oz of pure sulfuric acid or 2 oz of battery acid (33% acid 67% water) & 14 oz salt in 1 gallon of water.
      But I have also seen the recipe of 1 oz. battery acid and 1 lb. salt per gal. of water, which is half of the previous concentration.
      For Oxalic acid, use 1 oz per gallon of water
      White Vinegar (5% acetic acid) can be used 2 quarts for each pound of skin and pound of salt.
      **************
      Van Dykes supply sells a “safety acid” which has pH of 1.5 that is mixed at 1/2 oz per gallon of water. Small hides should be soaked in this acid bath for 16 hours and large hides (deer or elk) should be soaked for up to 72 hours. I have read that if you pickle with acid, the acid should not be rinsed off with water, but should be neutralized with some sort of base solution, which of course, they also want sell to you.

      I have not been convinced that hides need to be pickled and do not plan on using acid on my next hide. Let me know how yours turns out. You may convince me.

      As for softening your hide, that is done by working it to break the collagen fibers. There are many books and videos that show how this is done. It is hard work, but it is necessary. Otherwise the hides will be stiff like cardboard.

      There are several good videos online that are both entertaining and show how to do the various steps. Some even seem to have good results, which is the most important part. I have not found a good video that talks shows specifically how to pickle furs with acid.

      I know how hard it is to try this without any help. Do some searching to see if anyone in your area can help teach you. Reading books and watching videos are good, but having an expert look over your shoulder would be better.

      Good luck with your project, and let us know how it turns out.

      BcC

  3. Where to start? Oh yes, [email protected]$!!! Never one to be daunted by a challenge, I decided to bark tan a cow hide after we butchered our beef. I salted/cured, washed and began soaking (5 weeks ago) in a oak/hemlock solution. The hair doesn’t seem to be slipping, which is good, but the hide is beginning to smell rancid. I have added to and completely changed out the solution 3 times and as of the last I added some bleach. The first two soaks netted an oily white layer that rose to the top. The last solution with bleach hasn’t produced that and simply began to smell rancid from the beginning of that soak. I drained that solution and will rinse the hide and put it back in more bark solution now but do not know if I should add vinegar or even when I can clean the hide, oil it and put it on the floor as a rug. How do I know it’s done and can it be saved since it smells rancid? There is a lot of conflicting and incomplete info out there! Can you help so that I can save Goldie’s hide??? Thanks so much!
    Betsy

    • Backcountry Chronicles says:

      I have to admire your courage and yes, you jumped right in with both feet. Can I assume you have a book or recipe to use as a guideline?

      How well was the cowhide scraped? Was there still a lot of fat left on it? If there is, scrape it off. Kerosene or urine are old school degreasers.

      From what I have read about bark tanning, it takes a lot of bark (many bushels), which should be finely ground to make a strong bark tea in 50-100 gallons of water. A cow hide may take 3 or 4 months to tan in bark. I am curious to read more details about your bark mixture/solution.

      I also assume by rancid, that the fats are going bad, but not the hide itself, especially if the hair is still not slipping.

      Bacteria will cause the hair to slip, so the bleach should have killed any bacteria.

      You might want to try drying the hide now and finish tanning with a paste.
      When the hide is still damp, apply the paste and cover with plastic or newspaper so it doesn’t dry too fast.
      Let the paste sit for about two days, then remove (scrape) the old paste and apply a fresh paste.
      Wait two more days and repeat, but this last time, let the paste dry.

      Paste Recipe – 1.5 gallons water, 1 lb alum, 4 oz washing soda, 8 oz salt and enough flour to thicken. You may need more than one batch for a whole cow hide.

      You can test to see if tanning is complete by cutting off a sliver of hide and looking to see if the color has penetrated to the center of the skin.

      James Churchill’s book; (The Complete Book of Tanning Skins and Furs) also gives directions for an acid immersion process.

      Good Luck. I hope old Goldie makes a fine rug for you.
      BcC

      • I have tanned everything from rabbit to elk. I use salt, borax and a lot of elbow grease. When I skin the animal if I can’t tan right then I roll the hide hair in and freeze. I have only done hair on tans. The hide has to be fleshed well, or all the fat and meat removed, before you start the process. I use a saw horse and a sharp knife to scrap, I have used a draw knife and that has worked well too. When I’m ready to work the hide I spread newspapers out on my garage floor, roll the hide fur down onto the papers, and cover it with non iodized salt. Pickling salt works well and can be purchased in bulk. I let that sit over night. The next day add more salt. You are adding salt until you have a dry crust over the entire hide. Usually takes about 2 days. After the salting rinse the hide well. Make sure that all the salt is washed off. Build a frame that is about 6″ bigger than the hide you are working to stretch the hide. I use nails or staples to hold the skin to the frame. Let the hide dry to touch before starting with the soap. Use Borax washing powder and rub the soap into every inch of the hide with your hands. You can work the hide on the ground, standing up, or on saw horses. You will use about 4lbs for an average Texas deer. I have used 3-4 boxes for elk hides. You are rubbing until the hide is dry and the membrane is starting to role up. It will get all twisted and rolled and fibrous. It takes a lot of time, days sometimes to get this part complete, be sure to store away from critters and the sun. You want to do tan in a cool shaded place with good air flow. Once the entire hide is tanned, or rubbed to dry, you need to let it sit for another 24-48 hrs. It should be stiff like a board. Now the fun begins. Breaking a hide is a tough task. I have used the saw horse, telephone pole tension lines, and logs to break hides. It is a process of moving the hide back and forth, hair side up, on a surface until the hide is broken and soft. An easier way to do it get a palm sander, with 100 grit sandpaper or greater, and sand away. You still have to “break” the hide but it is much easier after you sand it. Be sure not to sand to much or the hair will slip. Most hair slippage is caused by not enough salt, too much fleshing, or over sanding. After the hide is soft I oil it with a paste oil or Neatsfoot oil. I like the paste oils because you can work them into the hide, heat them up with your hands, and really get good penetration into the hide. If you are going to be storing your hides be sure to get some lindaine powder, lice powder, and sprinkle in the hair to keep mites, fleas, and bugs out of your work. Hope this helps. If anyone has questions or comments you can reach me at [email protected]

        • Hi, I hunt and raise rabbits as well as kill the coons & opossums that get into barn to eat my feed and rabbits. So I have 7 opossums still to skin. I would like to tan them and make a vest. I also have frozen sheep hides until I learn to tan. Do you think the salt and borax process would work on them? Thx Kim!

        • Hi, I’m tanning sheep hides with the wool on them. I have cleaned and salted them. Are you rubbing the borax in dry or as a wet paste? Also since the wool is thick is it going to be able to be rubbed hard without ruining the skin? The wool makes it very squishy! One hide is very tight and the other is questionable since didn’t get it fleshed right away. Some of the wool has already slipped so repeated the salting step as a brine with borax due to having to wash off fly eggs. The brine did kill them! The hide is dry salted now and I am making a frame. I’m just not sure on how to rub the borax in? We farm in MI and flies are a problem. Thx Kim

          • Hi Kim: Sounds like you are on your way. If using Borax, rub the dry powder over the entire hide with your hands. This is hard work so find a comfortable position and keep the hides in the shade. You will probably need about 4 lbs of Borax per sheep hide. You will need to rub the Borax into the hides until the are dry and the membrane starts to role up, then let the hides dry for another 24 – 48 hrs. The hides will be very stiff and you will have to break them to make them soft.

          • Hi,thanks for getting back to me!
            I worked half the night last night to finish fleshing the questionable hide. I have heavily salted the hide and wool because I have a lot going with my livestock and two other places. I have killed 9 coons in last 2 1/2 weeks that are killing my rabbit litters!!
            I cleaned both sides of my Angor doe and kept fur on her 1/2 grown grey baby skin! But the sheep hide I’m hurrying to flesh because the thicker parts of the hide smell strong, but the completed parts are very flexable and the wool is white. Still using lots of salt because of all the flies!
            So do I wash salt off next and let dry a little, then rub in borax while damp?? I’ve read a lot of ideas on it, but not sure and don’t want to ruin the hides. Do I oil it before breaking? Thx Kim

          • Hi Kim: Sounds like you are busy. Tanning hides takes lots of time in addition to everything else you have going on. I hate to ask, but are you also considering tanning the raccoon hides?
            Keep putting the salt on your “questionable” hide to keep the decomposition under control.
            One additional thought… You mentioned the thick part of the hides are still smelly. These thick parts are the hardest to tan, because it is hard to get the salt and borax or brains or whatever you are using to penetrate the thick skin. It may help to scrape these parts until they are thinner. You can also make shallow knife cuts into these thick areas to help the salt get into the skin. Add more salt every time you have to leave the hide for any period of time. Just make sure not to scrape the hides so thin that the hair can slip.

            To answer your question about what to do next, I would brush the salt away and start rubbing the Borax into the hide.
            Break the hide by working it back and forth (hair side up) over a board, log or tight cable until the hide is broken and soft. An earlier comment (from John) suggested using a palm sander and 100 – 200 grit sandpaper will make the breaking part easier. Be careful not to sand too much or the hair may slip.
            Another thought. You seem to have access to the whole animal. You should consider using the brains to tan. Also, since you seem to be tanning lots of hides, you should probably buy one of the books I recommended in the post. Matt Richards’ book “Deerskins into Buckskins” may be the best overall for tanning, but The Complete Book of Tanning Skins and Furs (James Churchill) may be more useful for you since you are tanning hides with the fur on.
            Good luck and send a picture or two when some of your hides are finished.

        • LYNNETTE Flynn says:

          wow! exactly the advice I was looking for – thank YOU Jeff!

  4. Holly Wilke says:

    Howdy there! Amateur tanner here wishing I had a friend next door who knew it all 🙂 my first project was a deer skin that I tanned with the hair on last fall. Turned out, a little stiff but by the time I was done with the project I had put way more work into it than planned,planned/realized was necessary. It on the wall anyways so stiffness is kind of nice. I have stepped it up now and have a cowhide in the basement. I have fleshed it (insanely hard) and salted, frozen for a month or so, and it is now thawed and under a paste tan made with aluminum sulfate, salt, flour and water (James Churchill recipe).
    Questions:
    1.when it says to cut a sliver and check if the color has penetrated all the way through…what color am I looking for? White? Off white, yellow? I’m guessing white but would just like confirmation especially when the skin looks white anyways. And how long generally will this take? The aluminum sulfate proved to be a pain getting a hold of but I can get more. How do I know if I need to do another batch?
    2. fleshing this hide darn near killed me and I don’t know why the flesh stuck so much. I soaked the hide in salt water for at least 24 hours fresh off the animal. Not long enough? I was afraid the hair would slip. *sigh sigh* this was very frustrating as I had just gotten brand new scraping tools as a gift and was looking forward to a much easier fleshing than the deer hide proved to be.
    3. I know I have to wash the hide in a borax solution after tanning, will this remove the manure stains? There is not many stains on the white hair (dairy cow) but I want em out. If this washing doesn’t do it does anyone know what might be the best? Maybe should have tackled this problem before I started tanning.
    I am hoping this project turns out, its been a painful/frustrating/tiring process and I wouldn’t want it to go to waste! Thanks in advance for any advice!

    • Backcountry Chronicles says:

      Hi Holly:
      Yes, no substitute for having a mentor nearby. Very impressive that you are working a cow hide after discovering how much work was involved with the deer hide.
      I am not a tanning expert, but I will try to answer your questions.

      1. The key to checking the process by cutting a sliver off the edge is not about a specific color, but to check that the color has penetrated all the way through hide. The center of the hide should be the same color as the edges. If not, the process will need to be repeated. Neither book I have gives time estimates, but it seems to me that a paste would take longer to seep into the center of a hide than a wet solution, especially a thick cow hide.
      2. Fleshing is not easy and you are to be commended if you were able to flesh the hide without cutting through it. Soaking longer may have helped, but good tools, including a well placed fleshing beam so you can get in a good position to apply pressure. Think of all the pushups you did while fleshing the hide.
      3. I think it probably best to remove stains before tanning and I assume you are talking about stains and not caked on poop. The poop will change the pH, allow bacteria to grow and is an infection risk if you were to nick yourself.
      I hope the borax works, but You could try small amounts of a mild soap only on the stained areas. Work it in and rinse it out with your fingers or a soft brush. If this doesn’t work, there are products made to clean white fur on dog or cats. A fur cleaner (not dry cleaner) may be able to tell you how to remove stains after the hide is tanned.
      Good luck with your project. I would like to hear how it turned out. Better yet, send us a picture.

    • David Robertson says:

      For fleshing you might try a power washer. I just recently fleshed 6 deer hides in about an hour and a half. This was with an aggressive nozzle with a single stream that spins. I was very pleased with the results.

  5. Oxalic acid is the way to go, this is how we tan cape for the taxidermy I work for.
    Salting capes pulls out moisture and kills bacteria that make the hair fall out(basically it spoils if you don’t). Submerge the cape in water (10gal or so) with a cap full of bleach (also kills bacteria) until the cape gets back to original feel. Let all the water drain from the cape. Make your acid bath (oxalic) with salt and water. After 12+ hours in bath thin down the cape and add acid back to bath and drop the cape in for another 12+ hours.Thin cape again. To neutralize the acid wash cape in water and baking soda, let sit for 15 minutes (longer may cause problems). The problem with the cape being soft is having to work it and break down the fibers of the skin. Takes forever. You’ll only do it once and you’ll realize it’s worth a little money to pay and have it done right. Good luck

    • Backcountry Chronicles says:

      Thanks Jon. Good to get information from a professional that does it every day.
      I assume you send your hides/capes to someone for breaking.
      I have a few questions:
      Are the hides broken/softened by tumbling them in giant tumblers with sawdust?
      How long does a hide need to be tumbled?
      How much does it cost (in addition to shipping) to have a deer or elk hide softened?
      Thanks BcC

  6. Hello there, Thanks for featuring my videos, always great to get the word out. I think in the future I shall get a video out on the pros and cons of preserving with and without salt, or freezing, or drying.

    To touch base a little, the best current advice for long-term storage for me has always been wet salting. I do it for my hair off buck skins, and even when I do hair-on buffalo robes. how long do they last? well I am still tanning some of my reserve that is over 10+ years wet salted, no hair slip (except what naturally happens with the process 🙂 ) and they all actually soften easier and the results are noticeable, in general, its natural, period correct, still the best, and in the event of power failure, you don’t have to worry about scrambling to get the hides out of the freezer and salting, or buying one…

    • Backcountry Chronicles says:

      Thanks Joshua. Yes, excellent videos. Good advice on long-term storage too. I wouldn’t intentionally plan on storing a hide that long, but who knows what could happen. Good to know that 10 year old wet salted hides don’t slip hair.

  7. Hi! I have been raising rabbits for the last 3 yrs and have been tanning my own hides from them every year. I have had a lot of luck with the alum salt method. I have learned to make the hides soft you have to work them, while they are damp, over an edge of some sort, like a table edge or 2×4. You have to break the fibers in the hide that make it stiff and hard. Its a lot of work and hard on the hands and elbows but if you do it enough the hides are butter soft. Don’t work the hair side because you will cause the hair to break and look bad. I will be making my first hat and gloves from my rabbit hides this winter!

    • Backcountry Chronicles says:

      Thanks Michele. We need to hear from people like you that have successfully tanned (and softened) hides. Cool that you raise your own rabbits too. I would love to see a picture of hides or hat and gloves when finished. Yes, the hides I tanned many years ago with alum and salt were perfectly tanned and preserved and held onto the hair very well, but were stiff because I didn’t know then that the hides had to be worked while wet.

      • I’d love a better way to flesh rabbit hides….! What a pain. Other than that, I’ve used salt-alum and someone who tanned for me used salt-acid. His were softened by tumbling in a no-heat dryer with a bunch of tennis balls and some sawdust to help clean. Came out gorgeous, will try that next time for the salt-alum as I can’t do hand breaking any more.

        Look on Craigslist for a dead dryer… One that won’t heat is perfect for tumbling hides from what I hear. Cornstarch is awesome, suggest blowing it out of the fur using either a grooming blower or a leaf blower, if you can anchor the hide sufficiently. (Grooming blower is best.)

  8. Greetings!
    For your dilemma of “to salt, or not to salt” – because it is a good question that confuses a lot of people. If you will not be freezing your animal… AFTER you have removed all of the bits of meat, membrane and fat from the actual skin part of the hide, you can burry the thing in salt. At that point it can be stored in a dry location for years with no loss of quality (literally 100’s of years). The problem with salting after skinning in the field, is that the meat and fat left behind is what the salt will be sitting on and drying. The salt does not get through to the skin fast enough and the bacteria will build up between the meat/fat areas and the still wet skin, which causes those areas of hair to release from the follicles. The best thing to do is keep the skins cold and wet until they can be properly fleshed for salting, or put in the freezer. Getting the salt on both sides (work the salt into the hair side as well) does help tighten the hair follicles and will make a non-chemical tan work better. For a chemical tan, there is usually salt added to the mix anyways, and you won’t need to salt it first unless you just need dry storage.

    • Backcountry Chronicles says:

      Thanks Arora: More Good information on dry salting hides. You recommend keeping the hides cold and wet until they can be properly fleshed, do you recommend adding any salt (wet salting) at that point? Would adding salt buy more time against bacerial damage?

  9. Loo Courtland says:

    ..Very interesting, so much research, so much information…I have questions:
    1. did you see Mike Rowe’s episode of Dirty Jobs at a hide preserving shop, they make parchment, for scrolls, and drumtops…might be some info there you could use..
    2. you mentioned urine briefly….I read somewhere that urine of pregnant women was used.
    3. how about smoking over a low burning fire? something about draping the hide over the smoke, draped over sticks…maybe that was for coloring as well as preserving…
    4. have you checked the Sammi/Laplander people of northern Europe, they do reindeer hides with fur on…
    and 5. this would be a fun episode for Duck Dynasty, hahaha
    …thank you for keeping this tradition of our ancestors live..

    • Backcountry Chronicles says:

      Yes, I did see the Dirty Jobs show on tanning hides. Definitely a dirty job. Since you bring up TV shows, Tom Oar (History Channels “Mountain Man”) showed how to brain tan and smoke hides. I also salute those that continue to keep all such skills alive.

  10. SurvivAllExpert says:

    I tanned the hide of a bobcat that I found freshly killed by a car using a hydrochloric acid and salt bath recipe I found online. It worked great and the hair held perfectly. It soaked about 2 weeks with episodes of removing all meat and fat between the changing of the wash. I wish I’d worked it a little more while it was wet to soften it a bit. It works great as a liner to my hat but I’d like it to be butter soft like Michele mentioned above.
    P.S. The tail looks very cool on the back of my hat and I just field tested it in Alaska while wiring up my Nephews new home. 🙂

  11. Hello,

    Im just learning how to get into tanning deer,elk,and moose hides. Most of the tanning methods I found require the use of battery acid. I was hoping if there was a way around using battery acid or some tips on safe use.

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

    • Hi Brandon:
      Always glad to see someone trying to tan their own hides, but let me ask you a question. Did the old-timers use battery acid? No. So yes, you can tan hides without battery acid. If most methods you have seen suggest battery acid, I suggest you keep looking.To me, part of the attraction of tanning your own hides is to keep the old traditions alive and that means using materials that were available at least 150 – 200 years ago.

      This post lists many methods of tanning and suggests several books to read. Each book includes methods that do not include battery acid. Many of these and similar books should also be available at your local library.

      I suggest you start learning to tan hides with something smaller like a squirrel or rabbit (like I did) instead of deer, elk or moose.

      Let me know how it works out.

  12. I have fleshed and taken the hair off my first deer hide with ash and lime. What do I do next to preserve and tan the hide?

    • Nothing like jumping in with both feet. Good for you. I suggest wet salting until you decide exactly which method you want to use. My article lists many methods. Good luck and let us know how it turns out.

  13. Hi, tanning is something that really interest me, but I recently tried the alum and salt method on some rabbit furs. I followed the instructions, but the hides went really really stiff and are a funny blue black colour. Where have I gone wrong? Any help would be really appreciated as I’d like to get better at this.
    Thanks
    Bianca

    • Yes, hides will be stiff if not worked while wet. The tanning/preservation part is easy, it is the working part to make the hides supple that is hard. I do not know why your hides are a funny blue black color, but I should ask what you mean by funny? Funny ha ha funny or funny funny?

    • While rabbit hides tanned with salt/alum are still damp, they need to be worked to get a white color. It’s that color change that tells me that they’re ready to work, matter of fact–I test by stretching a small section and if it goes white, it’s ready to work. Very easy to wind up with a dirty hide, so make sure your work surface and hands are ABSOLUTELY clean!!

  14. My father and his father taught me and my older brother to be careful with salting. It works well on small game for long term (rabbits, and the like) but with large game such as deer and bear you can temporarily store the hide by salting but you have to be careful on the type of salt and the amount as it can burn the hide causing slippage (we use sea salt, in sufficient quantities and with a spare tub you can treat and store in *marked 5 gallon buckets* dozens of skins – just be sure to keep rabbits to rabbits and squirrels to squirrels). Large game have thicker skin (Pile, like carpet) and hair grows at slightly different depths (think black bear, or grizzly). A good sized doe skin will fit in a 5 gallon bucket after a salt dip, a small black or brown bear will too if you are making the coat cut half way up the neck. Don’t try to store skins of bears larger than 350-400 pounds – give them priority and try not to salt them, I was always told these are prized pelts and if you are lucky enough to get one you process it ASAP.

    My father uses bark tanning with oak in a drum – one hide each (NC, I’m up in NJ for work and can’t do that here). Takes about 3 months but could take a year or more. Anyone who is interested in this method should look around for local tanneries, I recently did for my son’s classroom and they were honestly shocked anyone would be interested. It was a great class trip just over the state line to PA.

    Hope that helps.

    • Excellent information Tom, thanks for taking the time. There is value in keeping old skills like tanning alive. But how does an NC boy survive in NJ?

    • Hi, just wondering as we homeschool and are in Pa. Is there a tannery in PA that still tans with bark? If so, I would love to get information for a field trip. Our boys coop is currently tanning hides, and they would love it. Thanks!

      • Debby: I will let Tom reply for himself, but I think it is awesome the kids are learning some traditional skills.

        I do not believe there are any commercial tanners that still use bark.

        I did find a very interesting (but probably too detailed for beginners) and detailed post about bark tanning that I had not seen (read bark tanning post which may be of use to other DIY hide tanners).

        I did a quick online search and found several Pa. based tanneries. They will be tanning with modern methods and equipment, but it will still be educational for the kids.

        You might also try contacting a local taxidermist or perhaps we have other Pa. folks here that tan hides that can respond.
        Good Luck

  15. Ma Tanner says:

    Man, I wish I’d been here for all y’all a lot earlier… The truth is, you don’t have to use any chemicals at all… Nope, not even salt… And with the Dryscrape Method, your hide won’t rot, you can finish it to SUPER SOFT of leave it stiff depending on what it’s gonna be used for, and it’s not confusing, in fact, the most confusing part of it is deciding what you’re gonna use to dress it with. Brains, soap and oil, or just oil and water… And this method will save you a lot of frustration, especially for the new tanner, who is confused and slightly intimidated by the whole process anyway. I’m telling you, it’s not that hard. I’m a girl, and I can do it with ease, you can too. 🙂 And remember… If at ANY point in this process, you have to stop, you can just stop… Except fleshing… Gotta get that done in one step, or freeze it, but it doesn’t take very long. Under 30 minutes usually, unless you have a large animal.

    As soon as the hide comes off the animal, flesh it really well with a square bar of metal with at the most, a 90° edge… 45° works great. I use a long, non-serrated kitchen knife, with the pointy end wrapped in duct tape for a second handle. I have run the blade on concrete to dull it. It should be dull enough that you can run your finger down the blade without fear of getting cut. It gets under the membrane that’s under the fat and goop. A fleshing beam can be a 4-6″ diameter PVC pipe or a smooth log.

    Then wash the hide in clear water, poke holes all the way around it, about 3/4″ from the edge.

    String the hide up in a 2×4 frame that fits the size of the animal with a foot of clearance on each side of the hide… One or more strings per side/top/bottom the hide is the standard, so you can more easily adjust the strings… Don’t lace in too tight, but just a little tighter than what would lift the hide off the ground while lacing… Tip: use bungee cords on each corner to center the hide in the frame, then lace one side at a time, going to the opposite side next. For lacing, I use orange, plastic baling twine.

    Let the hide dry. NOT IN THE SUN!!! In a shady, breezy area if possible. Or inside. Rain will not hurt it unless it rains non stop for more than a day or two. You can always find a tree, or side of the house to attach a tarp to, so you can hang a tarp over it, but don’t let the tarp touch the hide.

    Now, while the hide is drying, you need to make or find a Dryscraper (Example of hide scraping tools). It is shaped like a hammer, sort of… with the blade being in the same orientation as the hammer claw, meaning it is perpendicular to the handle, so you can drag the blade straight down, and scrape hair, grain, and membrane off the hide. This also works well for thinning a hide with thick spots like the back of the neck, spine and rump. Google “Hide Tanning Dryscraper” Ya, it can be a little expensive, but WELL WORTH IT!!!!!!!!! Or you can make one if you’re the DIY type… Plus, when you get good with it, it will save you A LOT of confusion, and work… and will save you money in the long run, because you won’t have to buy chemicals, there is no rancid or rotting smell, and you can sweep away any mess. Plus the hair can be left on or taken off… What ever you want… The scraper has to be SUPER SHARP, which you can learn how to do. It’s not hard to sharpen. A honing stone is usually enough. The bevel is on the top, and completely flat on the bottom. The edge is sharpest where the bevel meets the bottom.

    So now that you have your scraper:
    If you want to leave the hair on, scrape on the FLESH side, and thin where it needs it, being careful to not scrape so deep that you see hair follicles… Lay it down on the ground, hair side down and apply one type of dressing until it’s SATURATED. It should get pretty floppy again… Really rub it in and then slop more on… until it won’t take no more… Then stand it back up, and with a stick, really push and pull down and do this all over the hide and take a 20 minute break. Do this every 20 minutes or so, until it starts getting stiff in areas… Concentrate on those areas and keep manipulating until they are soft. Sometimes you may need to re-wet stiff areas and really work ’em over… Do this until the entire hide is dry and really soft.

    If you want the hair off: Do the same thing, except scrape both sides with your dry scraper… There are layers of skin. The hair is in the top layer, which is called the grain. You gotta get that off. You may ask, well how will I know if I’ve gotten it off or not? Depending on what kind of skin you’ve got, whether it be deer, goat, rabbit, cow, buffalo… it is a little different. But what stays the same, in all these skins, is that the grain is more of a yellowish color, and the actual skin is white. Unless it’s an animal like skunk which the skin is the same color as the hair… But still, the grain is basically the same, and it curls off with the hair when scraping.

    Then slop your dressing on it just like what’s described above, except on both sides, till it’s saturated, and soften with your softening stick.

    My softening stick is a small limb of a Cedar tree, with the bark removed, and cut to a 45° angle on the end. It works GREAT!

    Then to smoke or not to smoke, is up to you, but smoking it will help set the hair (only smoke on the flesh side of hair on pelts). Smoke both sides of hair off hides. Smoking is what provides the irreversible change of the skin into leather.

    Now it’s washable, and doesn’t require near as much work to get it soft the next time. I smoke mine for about 3 hours on each side, and when I wash it, I can usually just hang it up to dry, and when it’s dry, I can snap it like a towel off the clothesline, and it’s very luxuriously soft again. Like so soft, I would rather use IT instead of my bath towel. 😉

    It will take a few hides worth of practice, but this method has a lot of Pros, and not many Cons.
    1. A frame softened hide will retain a nice flat shape, even when made into garments, where as a hand softened one will be kind of rough… which isn’t bad, but depends on what you’re making.
    2. Very few ingredients and no harsh chemicals to keep it from spoiling, are necessary, because it’s dry most of the time, throughout the process. Just don’t let it stay out in the rain for more than a day or two.
    3. Most of the work is done at your Leisure… The hour by hour deadlines, because of spoilage, or hair loss is not an issue at all. Just be sure to either flesh it and frame it right off the animal, or put it in the freezer and thaw, to do when you’re ready.
    4. The messiest part is scraping the hair and grain off. Try to do this on a non windy day, and put a tarp down under the frame, then simply gather the corners up and haul to the woods. The hair is wonderful organic matter for soil nourishment.

    Con’s: Well, I don’t know of any…

    Happy Tanning,

    Ma Tanner

    • Thanks Ma Tanner, for taking the time to share your knowledge. I am a little surprised you don’t even use salt. Can I assume you live in a fairly dry and/or cool climate? I could probably also get away without using salt here in the Intermountain West, but I can’t imagine trying to tan without salt when I lived in the tropics, especially if I wanted to keep the hair from slipping.
      Thanks again and Happy Tanning to you too.

    • This is my first time trying to tan a hide, so like most I have a lot to learn about tanning. How long in between applying the dressing? Also, the hide is showing a blood vein. Fleshing the hide was a little hard because I left it to long. There are some area on the hide have dried. The comments you have made where very helpful. Thanks Tim

      • Good luck on that first hide Tim. Also sounds like you could benefit from one of the books I recommended. The main suggestion I would make after reading your comment is to keep fleshing until all meat and the other tissue is removed from the skin. That includes blood vessels. You can wet the hide again as many times as necessary. If unfinished areas are small and the hide is dry, you can sand small amounts of tissue off. The hide (skin) can not absorb the dressing if it is covered by other tissue.
        Continue to add the dressing and to work the hide to allow the hide to absorb the dressing which allows the fibers to relax their bonds with each other. This makes the hide supple instead of stiff.

    • Hi,

      Your post has been the first encouraging thing that I’ve come across in my pursuit of tanning a hide! I want to try and tan hair on cowhides… I have rancher friends with some beautiful animals and access to the hides if I want them. I have read again and again that cow and buffalo are too much work to do yourself… But if a deer or elk can be done why not a cow? Anyhow, do you have an email address I could write you at? I wish Missouri were closer!

      Sincerely,
      Ashley

      • Ashley: Too much work is in the eye of the beholder… People have been hand scraping and tanning hides since the stone age. Yes, a full cow hide will be lots of work and you will never get rich doing them by hand. But that is obviously not why you want to do it.

        Don’t let others talk you out of an idea before you give it a try.

        I hope Ma Tanner responds to you. She has a wealth of knowledge about tanning hides.
        If she does not respond quickly, remind me and I will send her an email.

      • From Ma Tanner to Ashely: I hope this message finds you…
        I no longer have a computer, so I am sending this from my phone to Backcountrychronicles.

        Yes, it is well worth tanning cow and buffalo. Buffalo can be brain tanned, but to brain tan cow is most unsuccessful. Cow should be bark tanned. I refer to posts by Pa Skinner in the forums at paleoplanet69529.yuku.com. Look in the tutorial subsection of the leather section to see how to bark tan a cow. There are also tutorials on brain tanning Buffalo.

        Send a message to me (Ma Tanner) there and I will give you the links to read. You may need to become a member to comment or message, but the wealth of knowledge you can obtain from talking to the old tanners is truly astonishing.

        Thank you for the compliments, but I owe all my knowledge to a lady named Quillsnkiko and the other older fellers on PP. ? have a great day… And don’t let that hide whoop you…

    • You mentioned a dressing but didn’t give a recipe. What do you use? I have used salt/alum solution for rabbit hides but I will be doing a sheepskin soon. And I would rather not have my hands in that much alum.

      • Hi Janolyn: There are many recipes listed in this post and in the comments section, so I am not sure which recipe you are looking for. I see that you replied to one of Ma Tanner’s comments. She does mention dressing in one comment, but does not give the recipe. Ma Tanner used the brain tanning technique and does give a braining recipe in one of her other comments.

        I have found salt alone to be sufficient for preserving hides, but I live in a dry climate. Ma Tanner doesn’t even use salt, but always starts with fresh hides.

        When you say you “will be doing a sheepskin soon”, I assume you intend to leave the hair on and would like a soft, supple hide.

        Preserving the hide so it doesn’t rot and the hair doesn’t fall out is the easy part, making it soft and supple is where the work comes in. Use the sheep brains if you have them, otherwise, you can use a variety of oils or fats to work into the skin. Oils and fats are necessary to break the “glue bonds” in the skin. It is the glue bonds that make the skin stiff.

  16. Actually, Backcountry, no. I live in Missouri, where it is very hot and very humid in the summer. This summer was a mild summer though, I was shocked, but normally, hot and sticky… 🙂

    The hide will still dry on a frame in a couple of days, unless it’s getting rained on. If you’re keeping it under roof or tarp and it isn’t dry in a week, or starts to smell any at all, then use salt… The only way I can think of, that would cause this, is if it’s 100% humidity every day, all day long, with no break. If you can dry clothes on a clothesline, I think you could dry a hide. But if you do use salt, just make sure to wash it out REALLY, REALLY well, before you dress the hide. If there is salt in the hide, in a humid climate, it will cause the salt in the hide to draw in the humidity and rot it, so make sure you get ALL the salt out. Then dress the hide with water, soap and oil, or water and brains, or water and egg yolks (or something non chemical or that doesn’t use chrome salts, such as the tanning solutions in a bottle).
    Then re-frame the hide, and with a sharpened (not real sharp, but has a dull edge) wooden stick, using some force push into the hide and push down, or out to the sides, and rotate the frame to get even coverage, to soften and dry. If you’ve left the grain and/or fur on, only use the stick on the opposite side, which is called the flesh side.

    The object to keeping fur on, is to either keep it dry in the first place, or get it dry asap, as in… only apply dressing to the flesh side until hide is very flexible. Either on or off the frame, immerse the hide into the dressing, massaging it in, until it’s sopping wet and soaked thru, then re-frame and use the softening stick. If there are hard spots, the brain didn’t penetrate enough in that area (unless it’s a scar, because scars are really hard to soften) You can re-brain, and re-soften as many times as you want, to get it softer. After 4-5 re-brainings, it is probably as soft as it will ever get.

    Also, there is a pre-smoke method. Brain the hide once, soften till completely dry and smoke it. This will ensure that you won’t loose any progress. Then you can re-brain and it should get softer. If you want, you can re-smoke and it will stay soft like that for a long time… If you are wearing this item, you can wash it every once in a while, with mild detergent, or water only, and re-smoke as needed to keep the softness. Example… Say, you wore your dressed and smoked garment (fur on), over clothes, like a coat, you may only need to wash it every 5 years. If you wear it on your skin, you may need to wash more often depending on how sweaty or dirty it got, but it may need to be smoked every 6th to 10th time it’s washed.

    To smoke, I staple the hide together in a sack with a hole in the bottom for the smoke skirt to be attached to. The smoke skirt hangs over the bucket or hole that contains my coals (prep coals by starting a fire with punky wood). When there is some white on the wood (like charcoal), extinguish the flames with a squirt bottle, leaving the coals still warm) Under no circumstances should flame be allowed.

    I smoke my buckskins for 2 ½ – 3 hrs on each side, then let it sit in a closed bag for a week. Then I wash it and hang it up to dry. When it’s bone dry, I can flip it like a towel and pull in each direction once and it’s all soft again.

    • Thanks again Ma:
      I still find it interesting that you rarely need to use salt, but you have convinced me to give it a try, especially in my high dry climate. Your warning about the importance of controlling the flame when smoking the hide was demonstrated by Tom Oar on the Mountain Man TV show (History Channel), where Tom’s hide caught fire.

  17. Yes… Yes it was. I had a goat hide over a little pot bellied stove and asked my husband to watch it like a hawk. I asked him to be out there with it, and make sure it didn’t get too warm either, while I went to the store real quick. As in… you need to be able to comfortably hold your hand 12″ over your smoking container. You just want smoke, not heat. If it’s too hot for your hand, it’s too hot for the hide. Same with the warmth of the dressing solution.
    Well, he didn’t watch it as close as he was supposed to, and it got too hot, and puckered in some places. It didn’t actually catch fire, but it could have. I was still able to use this hide, and cut out the puckered places and work around them. But a hide can easily be ruined, and all that hard work goes down the drain.
    BTW, I did forgive him, because his expression looked like a puppy that just peed on the floor. It really was an accident. LOL

    Ma

  18. Alexander Park says:

    Hello there wondering if you can help me with something. I tanned a bear hide a few years ago and just had it in my man cave on the floor. Was kinda stinky on account of the tanning oil I had used was repulsive.
    Anyways the wife wanted me to wash it so she could hang it on the wall so i did in the tub with cool water and some really gentle bubble bath. The moment I started washing it the hide just started ripping everywhere so i was thinking damn its rotten. But the hair is still as strong as it was when I first tanned it.

    I don’t know whats wrong with it. Every hide I’ve done that had rotted a bit the hair started slipping. There is absolutely no hair slippage bit the hides as weak as wet paper. Any thoughts its really been bugging me and I’ve read all over the net for the reason. Thanks

    • Thanks for the comment Alexander and sorry to hear about your bear hide.

      That is a mystery. I can understand how the hide can deteriorate, but don’t understand how/why the hide can tear so easily (especially a relatively thick hide like bear) while the hair still does not slip.

      You said the hide was “kinda stinky” because of the tanning oil. Did you notice that the first day you used the oil or did the stink grow over time?

      I found a resource for understanding hide tanning from a more scientific basis. The article is directed towards leather and not hides, but contains very good information for all interested in tanning. The article was written by a student (Katherine Kelly) at the University of Texas titled Imputrescible Corium: The Production and Structure of pre-1900 Bookbinding Leather (Meaning leather not capable of putrefaction).

      Referring to the “Recent Development” section, Kelly lists five factors responsible for leather deterioration: relative humidity and temperature, chemical deterioration, biological attack, mechanical damage and inappropriate conservation treatment.

      Evidently, most leather deterioration is caused by humidity & mold, high temperature and oil rancidity, temperature and humidity fluctuations can lead to migration of tannins to the surface of the hide and chemical deterioration from oxidation or acid hydrolysis.

      I guess this should be a wake up call for all of us to check on hides and retreat/re-tan if necessary. In Ma Tanner’s comment above, she talks about re-smoking leather after washing to keep it soft and presumable to help preservation.

      The last two paragraphs of the article were particularly interesting and mentions scientific testing leather for shrinkage and acidity, which were the best predictors for leather stability. Evidently, leather does not shrink at temperatures below 167°F (75°C), which is why smoking needs to be at low temperatures.

      And anyone using acid during the tanning process should use a base to counteract the acid as much as possible before calling the job done.

  19. Alexander,
    Can you remember enough of the details from tanning the bear hide? Maybe I can troubleshoot with you.

    Did you use acid/base kind of tanning agents? A tanning kit? Brains, eggs or soap/oil mixture? What kind of oil did you use? Did you dry the hide and then apply oil to soften it? Did you smoke it?

    Ma Tanner

  20. I have recently tanned dozens of rabbit hides using a battery acid/salt. I’m really happy with how they have turned out. I have a deer hide saved in my freezer shortly after skinning. I didn’t flesh the hide and now, I’m wondering how I should proceed. I want to make buckskin. Here’s my plan (but I don’t know if its a good one!). Thaw the hide and flesh it as soon it can be worked. Throw it in a lime bath for a few days and wet scrape (remove hair and membrane). Then soak in an acid/salt bath for a few weeks. Remove squeeze out and hang to dry. Work and break the hide as it dries until it is soft and pliable. Finish by smoking the hide. I’m also considering trying brain tanning, if the above method is problematic. Thanks
    Myles

  21. I have a deer hide (with hair on) that has been salted for several days now. I originally cleaned a lot of the skin/fat off, and last night I started on it again and got off as much as I could. I am soaking it in salt water now. Can I re-fletch (reflesh?) it again once I get it out of the water?
    I don’t want to remove the hair. I was going to remove more fat and tissue and then dry it. I bought some tanning oil I plan to use. Would that be the correct process? Or do I have to wait until it dries again and/or does it need to be re-salted. I am confused.

    • Dianne: Sounds like so far so good. It sounds like you could benefit from one of the books I recommended in the article, but I will list the main steps again.
      1- Flesh as soon as possible – sounds like you have done this at least most of it.
      2- Stretch the hide – punch holes all the way around and string it up on a frame.
      3 -Let the hide dry slowly in the shade.
      4- Dry scrape the flesh side.
      5- Dress the hide with brains or in your case, the tanning oil (Can I assume tanning oil has instructions?)
      6- Work the wet, dressed hide. This makes it supple.
      7- Some methods (see Ma Tanner’s comments) suggest smoking the hide.

      It is important to remember the hide can wait as long as necessary when dry without spoiling or slipping the fur. It may hold in salt water, but I wouldn’t bet on it. I had a deer hide slip the hair while in salt water. Hide was still O.K.

      Anyway, good luck and let me know how it turns out.

  22. Okay. I have let the hide pickle and now its draining. Do I put the oil (dressing) on while its still wet?

  23. I am a beginner and I think I have messed up? I fleshed my deer hides and bucked them using KOH (Potassium Hydroxide), grained them, rinsed using vinegar. This is where things went sideways. After rinsing, the hide was still swollen. Not sure if not rinsed enough or soaked too long in vinegar. Anyway, not knowing any better instead of scraping the membrane I scraped the tawny mucus off then laid them out flat to dry. Are my hides any good now or did I just learn a hard lesson? I also find it hard to distinguish between the grain an flesh sides after graining.

    • CRB: The tanning process is very forgiving. A swollen hide just means it is full of water or vinegar. Make sure the vinegar is rinsed off and wring the hide out very well.

      It’s best to stretch the hide on a frame for drying instead of laying it out flat. You can always re-hydrate the hide and start over. Your hide is not ruined, but I am sure you are learning hard lessons. The only people that never fail or make mistakes are those that never try anything.

      How do you plan to dress the hide? What is your goal for the final product? I recommend Matt Richard’s book for what you are doing.

      • I plan to Brain Tan and make Buckskin clothes right now. I was not sure if I messed something up by taking off the extra layer on the grain side or not? From the reading I have done it seems like I will have the same thing as if I had Dry-Scraped the hide?
        I have the book and video that Matt Richards has….. very informative, but it doesn’t mention anything about what happens when you do something wrong.
        Thanks for your help! I am learning first hand and do not have anyone with experience to help! I will send pics when I get done.

        • CRB: Look at other leather that you have and notice if it has grain or not. Full grain or “top grain” leather obviously shows the grain pattern from the original skin. Suede leather does not show the grain pattern because it was made from a split hide. Some suede leather is made by brushing or sanding the grain off. So you are making suede buckskin clothes, which will be softer, but maybe not as durable. Remember the Seinfeld episode where Jerry ruined a suede jacket in the snow?
          Yes, I will be very interested in seeing pictures of your leather making process and the final product.

  24. Okay, I’ve been putting the tanning oil on the hide, but it seems to becoming a little stiff on the skin side. Would this be acceptable for a wall hanging? It seems to be pickled, hair intact and no smell. It’s just not, let’s say, like a very soft blanket you would roll up.

    • Dianne: Oiling the hide without working it will result in an oiled but stiff hide. If you plan to hang it on the wall, that may be all you need. But if you expect it to be pliable, it will have to be worked. A dried hide is basically glued together. All the fibers are stuck to each other. Oiling breaks those bonds, but working the hide is necessary to break many bonds between many fibers. A wet hide is not glued together, but the process starts as the hide dries. Dressing (with brains, eggs or your tanning oil) and working has to be done before the hide dries.

      Look at the picture on the front of the book Deer Skins into Buckskins. The Author is working the hide on a frame to soften it.

  25. Hi Backcountry, I have watched quite a few videos on this subject and the one on this page is by far the best and most informative and to the point. Thank you for it.
    I tried to tan my first deer hide this year. This is what I did;
    1. Rolled it up and put it in a freezer for a week until I could get to it.
    2. Removed from freezer and fleshed it. (I really worried I didn’t get enough of until I saw this video).
    3. I stretched it and salted it with non Iodized salt (3 pounds) to dry it out, then let it set for three days.
    4. Then I scraped the salt off and tried to scrape off more of the “fibrous clingers” but could not get them. The hide never did dry out either.
    5. I put the hide in a solution of 1 pound Alum, 3 1/2 pounds kosher salt and 4 1/2 gallons of cold water
    6. I let it soak for 4 days and then stretched it and tried to let it dry out but it had been so humid out that it never did dry out.
    7. I looked at another site and saw someone smoking their hide so I used a low fire with moist wood and dried it out that way. It took about 8 hours.
    8. When it got mostly dry I rubbed in a solution of 1 part warm water, 1 part Neatsfoot oil and 1/3 part ammonia. Then I took it off the rack and vigorously rubbed the hide (hair down) with the pommel of a wooden hammer handle to try and soften it. Then I put it back in the smoke.
    9. Smoked It for another few hours then vigorously rubbed it again and applied strait Neatsfoot oil.
    Its been about two weeks and I have a supple hide (not bad for first time I guess). But the problem is That I think I used too much oil. If I pick up the hide I get oily fingers, even on the hair side. plus the hairless side just looks dirty. Sorry so long winded but I wanted to be as detailed as possible so you can tell me where I messed up. I would really appreciate any help to make it not so oily or any advice to improve my procedure. Thank you very much.

    Patrick

    • Hi Patrick: I can’t imagine the humidity problem you must have if the hide never dries. I have the opposite problem.
      I have seen that recipe for dressing (water, oil & ammonia), but have not used it. I have not smoked hides either, but after conversations with Ma Tanner (see her comments in comment section) plan to do so for comparison.

      If the hair is holding on the hide and if the hide is soft and supple, you obviously did something right.
      As for the excess oil…
      I would lay the hide on newspaper or saw dust to soak as much oil off as possible. Smoked deer skins are washable, but may need to be re-smoked to remain soft (see Ma Tanners comments), but you also want to take care of the hair. I guess you could try a shampoo or a mild detergent, but I would try corn starch first.

      My wife read about using corn starch to clean hair instead of washing it. She tried it and it works. She simply rubs corn starch in her hair and brushes it out and it takes all the oil with it. So, I would try corn starch on the oily fur.

      I have read suggestions for tumbling hides in saw dust, but I don’t have a tumbler except for a dryer. I doubt the dryer would ever be the same again.
      I have also seen baking soda suggested as a cleaner.

      So whether using, corn starch, sawdust or baking soda, I would rub it in, then shake it outside and then use a shop vac to remove the “dust”.

      Let me know how the hide turns out.

      • Thank you for replying. I’ve done a couple of projects with the hide and the hair is holding very strong, but the skin still seems quite oily. I laid the hide flat, skin down on a few layers of newspaper and rubbed a bunch of sawdust in the hair (didn’t have corn starch), then covered it with another layer of newspapers. I left it for three days and I could see how the paper pulled out a lot of the oil. It was no longer oily to the touch. Thanks for that tip.
        I’m currently making a pouch and thru the course of sewing the seems is when the skin really tends to produce the oil. I figure that would be a good thing but I don’t know.
        This is only the second deer I shot and first try at tanning but I really couldn’t be much happier even though not everything turned out just right. Deer hair really seems to have some remarkable qualities and I can’t wait to try this again next year. Less oil though and more patience.
        I don’t know how to add a picture or I would post a few. Thanks again.

  26. I am currently tanning a deer hide. I have fleshed and salted the hide. Now, I am drying the hide with a heat lamp because the weather has been rainy. The hide is drying awesomely. I am set up for the oiling process, but are there any tips I can use?

    • I am amazed how many people are interested in tanning hides. Glad to see the interest in keeping old skills alive. Jacob you are like many that get past the fleshing stage then look for help. The big messy chore is behind you, but the hard work begins now if you want the hide to be soft. Since you mention the oiling process, I assume you do want a soft hide.
      You mentioned you are drying the hide. Is it on a frame?
      Look at the picture on the front of the book Deer Skins into Buckskins. The Author is working the hide on a frame to soften it.
      I would proceed like this:
      1- Stretch the hide – punch holes all the way around and string it up on a frame.
      2 -Let the hide dry slowly in the shade. But not too dry. Basically the hide should be rung out and not dripping, but not starting to get stiff (be careful with your heat lamp).
      3- Dress the hide (there are many recipes using brains, eggs, mayonnaise or tanning oils).
      4- Work the wet, dressed hide. This makes the hide soft as the bonds in the skin are broken and coated with oil.
      5- See Ma Tanner’s comments about smoking the hide.
      Good luck and send a picture or two.

  27. Hi, I am very new at tanning hides, but I was wondering. How old can a hide be before you begin tanning it. I know that’s probably a stupid question, but really? My uncle butchered a cow a couple months ago, he left the hide outside and it was frozen for a couple weeks. Now it has thawed and has once again been left out for a couple weeks. It is VERY stiff and their is still some dried fat and meat on it, but I was still wondering if anyone thought it would still be salvageable. Thank you!

    • Hi Caylie:
      It all depends if bacteria have started working on the hide or not. If not, being dried stiff is not a problem. It may be that you can salvage the leather, but not the hair. You can try to soak it in salt water and check to see if the hair stays on or if it slips off. If you want to tan the leather, the hair has to be removed anyway. I say give it a try.
      Start by soaking the hide in salt water until hide is loose and scrape of all the fat and flesh. If it is real stinky, rinse clean and soak again. Then stretch it on a frame and let it dry until you decide what to do next.

  28. Hello. I have a zebra skin purse. Inside of the purse is black grease like substance that gets all over my hands, and anything that I put in the purse. Any idea what this is, and what I can do to get rid of it?

    • Hi Maria:

      Do you know where the purse was made? If the purse is real zebra skin, perhaps it was tanned in Africa. I lived in Africa for about three years and know that hides were sometimes tanned with motor oil or grease.

      I would suggest using paper towels to start, then use sawdust and/or oatmeal to try to remove as much excess oil or grease as possible. Then use flour or cornstarch to remove even more.

      You may need to use something like a butter knife to scrape out the oily flour or cornstarch, but there should be less oil after each application. Repeat the process until you could touch the hide without feeling the grease.

      I would like to see a photo of your purse.
      Good Luck

  29. Hello again.
    I see that we are getting many more people through the process of tanning. That’s awesome! However, I’m seeing that some get stuck at a stage when they don’t understand something, and so they rush into oiling the hide with no emulsifier and water, which leads to the hide becoming too greasy/oily to be used for what it was intended for, or they don’t realize that the hide has to be worked dry.

    I know that it is extremely frustrating and heartbreaking to put in so much work, and then it not be everything you imagined when it was finished, and that makes people feel like quitting or maybe even that they’ve been lied to. Trust me when I say, IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE LIKE THAT. Any hide, in any stage can be frozen till you find the answer to your question. If it’s dry, leave it dry till you find your answer.

    Let me run through the steps again.
    For soft, velvety buckskin: (this will not work for cattle skins), You can wetscrape or dryscrape.

    WETSCRAPE METHOD: (or see Dryscrape Method below)
    #1.) Obtain hide.
    Not ready yet? That’s OK. Fold it flesh side to flesh side, then again, like a towel, put it in a garbage bag and freeze it. Get all your tools and solutions together. When you’re ready…

    Thaw in a big container and pry layers apart as it thaws. It will be close to fresh as if coming straight of the animal. Thawing needs to go as quickly as possible in cool fresh water, so don’t forget about it for more than a day or it will start to smell.

    #2.) Flesh it.
    Put it over a smooth log, (a 4-5′ piece of 4-6″ PVC pipe works well). Build and attach it to legs made from lumber and butt it up against something immovable like a tree or the non-public side of the porch. ? The working end needs to be hip high so you can pinch the hide between belly and pipe to hold it still while you scrape. The back end of pipe needs to be sloping downward to where it’s butted up to.

    Your scraping blade needs to be just dull enough so that it will not cut your finger if you ran your finger down the blade. I used a really long straight edged knife and wrapped the poky end with duct tape to make a second handle. Some folks are lucky enough to obtain a draw knife for this purpose.

    You would be surprised to feel how much pressure you can use to scrape all the meat, fat and membrane off. When you got it all, you should be able to stretch the hide a little and see the fiber network of the hide. The fibers are very fine. Depending on the size and breed of animal, this may take 20 minutes to 4 hours.

    #3.) Soaking (this is done to help soften the grain/epidermis/hair layer)
    You do not have to use a chemical here. Plain fresh water, changed 2x daily can work. Sometimes your climate can affect this stage. Cold weather may make it take forever, hot climates, it may get stinky quicker, thus the frequent water changes. It could take a few days. It can be made easier by using hardwood ash and water with enough ashes to make an egg float, or by using Potassium hydroxide (KOH) and water. I use hardwood ashes and water, or just water. With ashes and KOH it takes less time than with just water, but water is less caustic. Test hair slip a couple of times per day. Make sure it is completely submerged by weighing it down with rocks or wood.

    #4.) Degraining
    For buckskin, you want the grain off. The grain is the layer that contains the hair follicles and is a slightly different color than the hide. Using your fleshing tool, scrape off hair and this layer. You may find that you need to either sharpen your scraper, or get another one that is (slightly) sharper. Careful though, you don’t want it so sharp that it makes holes. If you still have trouble getting the hair and grain off in some areas, toss it back into the bucking bin. Make sure it is completely submerged, weighing it down with rocks or wood. Try some more tomorrow. When you’ve got all the grain off…

    #5.) Wring as much of the water out as possible. Hang the rump end of the hide over a smallish branch so it hangs over about a hand length. Smooth it out flat as if you were hanging a towel out to dry. Bring the neck end up from the opposite side and hang over the rump end. Roll both sides in towards the middle and tuck in pieces that hang out along the way. You should have something that looks similar to a floppy uncooked doughnut. Now put a strong stick in the middle and start twisting. You can put a lot of pressure on it. Get all the water out that you can, then turn around and twist the other way. Then undo the loop and rotate it a quarter rotation. The top and bottom should move from top and bottom to front and back. Then wring it both directions again. Now turn the doughnut inside out and repeat. Now the hide should be sufficiently dry. If you use only water then you can proceed to the next step. If you used wood ash or KOH in your water then you must neutralize.

    #6.) Neutralize
    KOH and wood ashes are strong bases, so you have to neutralize the hide or it will disintegrate later. Fill a five gallon bucket with water and add two cups of vinegar. Stir this around with the hide in it and let it sit for a day. This would be a good time to decide what you’re using as a softening solution. The next day wring the hide out again.

    #7.) Braining
    A solution of brains and water, egg yolks and water, soap and oil or soy lecithin and water and oil, will now be used to soften and dry the hide. Brain solution is considered the best conditioning agent for the hide because it has oils and emulsifiers in the brain already. Here is the recipe.

    One pound of brain, with a couple of cups of water. Blend well so that it is a thick milkshake consistency. Then add warm (not hot) water to make up a gallon total of solution.

    Egg yolks also have an emulsifier in them. The recipe is as follows. 12 egg yolks, and a gallon of warm (not hot) water. Mix well.

    Here is the soap and oil recipe:
    1/4 bar ivory or lye soap, grated
    1/4 cup olive oil, grapeseed oil or neetsfoot oil
    1/4 gallon water

    In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat this solution, but don’t boil. Stir gently Then mix in 3/4 gallon of water.
    I don’t know the recipe exactly for soy lecithin, oil and water, but I would imagine but not much soy lecithin is needed to mix the oil and water. Just enough soy lecithin is needed to make the oil dissolve into the water.

    All of these recipes should use spring water or distilled water not city water. The chlorine and fluoride in city water interact with the solution and does not do as well for the hide.

    Dip the hide in, making sure to cover all areas. Massage hide in the solution, making sure that you touch all areas of the hide, for 20 minutes. Then ring out the hide again, making sure to catch the solution back in its original container and repeat a few times. This is to ensure that all areas of the hide are penetrated by the solution. You may leave the hide in the solution overnight.

    If you are using brain or egg yolk you should leave the bucket with the hide in a cool location so that it doesn’t spoil. Remember that brains and egg yolks are the best solutions for tanning hides. Soap and oil and soy lecithin and oil solutions do not spoil so quickly, however since the hide is in the solution it will spoil after a day or two, so it is good practice to soften your hide the next morning or as soon as possible.

    If you don’t have enough time to soften it tomorrow, you can go ahead and soften it after dunking and ringing the first few times today, and is not totally necessary to leave in solution overnight. And when I say warm, I mean warm, but cool enough that you can comfortably leave your hand in for 30 seconds.

    #8.) Softening
    To soften the hide you will wring out all excess moisture and stretch the skin in every different way possible until it is completely dry. A great way to tell if the hide is completely dry is to touch it to your lips or cheek. If your lips or cheek remains cool after taking it away then the hide is not dry yet.

    If your hands, arms, back or shoulders get tired you may take a break for a few minutes, but get back on it as soon as possible because if it dries too fast without being stretched the hide will get stiff in some areas. Then you will have to re-brain it. This the most labor-intensive step. When you think about quitting, please remember that this will be rewarding. Don’t stop now, you’re almost done. When the hide is completely dry, pat yourself on the back. This was hard work and is something you should feel proud of. Even if the hide is not completely soft, it’s okay. There is one more step.

    #9.) SMOKING
    This could be the most important step of all. This step provides your hard work with the irreversible change that it needs to be considered tanned buckskin. Smoking your hide will prevent the hide from getting hard or stiff when it gets wet. If the edges of your hide aren’t completely soft, sparingly cut them off. Now sew or staple the edges around the hide, flesh side in and Lengthwise (like a tube sock), leaving a small opening around the neck (about a foot round). Make stitches or spaces between staples very small, so very little smoke can escape. Attach a kitchen towel or pant leg around the opening that you left open for a smoking skirt.

    I use a metal bucket for my coals, but you can dig a hole down in the ground or devise another way to smoke your hide. The general idea is to get a lot of smoke up into the hide without burning it. The smoking skirt should come down around the bucket or secured to the ground with rocks so that the smoke doesn’t escape. The bottom of the hide should be at least a foot (if not more) above the coals. After you have everything positioned, move the bucket away or move the hide away from the hole and make a small fire using “punky” (partially rotted wood) or sawdust, and let it burn down to coals. You may have to add more wood or sawdust, but make sure the fire does not flare up or you may burn the hide. Put out any flame by squirting them with some water. When you squirt out the flames, ash and steam rise up. This is perfectly fine. The heat should be cool enough that you can stick your hand in at the level of the bottom part of the hide for 30 seconds.

    I usually smoke the inside first for at least 2 hours, then I turn the hide inside out and smoke the other side for at least one hour. If there are any holes in your hide where the smoke escapes, plug those holes with toilet paper. Keep extremely close watch and do not let your hide burn. I have been told that you don’t have to smoke it that long but I have never had a problem with them being under-smoked doing it this way.

    The reason for smoking a hide is so that it never goes back to being hard after getting wet. I can wash my buckskins in the washing machine and hang them up to dry completely. All I have to do is shake them out and they are soft again. That is the irreversible change I spoke of earlier.

    If the skin it is not soft enough after you smoke it once, then you can re-brain it, and re-soften, but it will dry faster and you won’t have to work nearly as hard to get it more soft. Usually, it will not have to be smoked again. Every once in a while, you may run into a particularly stubborn hide and have to smoke it twice, but that is not a usual case. After many washes, you may need to smoke it again.

    Recap.
    If you bucked the hide with an acid or a base, you MUST NEUTRALIZE.

    DON’T use straight oil on a hide unless you want it to be like an oilskin. I think that’s just for bark tanned leathers.

    DRYSCRAPE METHOD is in my opinion much easier and faster because you can skip some steps and you don’t soften the hide with your hands. Much easier on the body, especially if you have joint issues.

    From fresh of the hoof or thawed, flesh it and then poke holes about 3/4- 1″ away from the edge of the hide, all the way around. String it up tight but not too tight, in a frame. To test for tightness, if you flick it the sound should deaden and not sound like a drum. It should have a little sway when you quickly push on it and release right away. Let it dry in the shade. When it’s completely dry it will sound like a drum when you thump it.

    Get your dryscraper and scrape both sides clean. You have scraped the hair side enough when no tiny black dots are visible. The tiny black dots are hair follicles. Most of those need to come off. There are a few that won’t, but get as many as you can.

    Take the hide down and brain it till it’s sloppy wet and string it back up. Proceed with softening. Get a hardwood stick and cut both sides of one end so that it’s a “v” and then file it so it’s not sharp. Push in and down and go over the whole hide till it’s completely dry. Take it down and cut the edges off and sew or staple it into a sock, like above and smoke it.

    Soaking/ Bucking: you can also use lime. Lime has to be rinsed from the hide VERY well and has to be neutralized with vinegar.

    If you use an acidic bucking solution, use a base for neutralizing. If you use a base for bucking, use an acidic neutralizer. KOH, hardwood ashes and lime are all basic. Use vinegar to neutralize.

    Happy Tanning!

    Ma Tanner

    • Thanks again Ma…

    • Why doesn’t this work on a cow hide? That’s basically what I was planning to do, with hair on. Where are you in MO?

      • Erick Ericksen says:

        Thick / heavy hides usually require shaving the flesh side to allow tanning agents better absorbtion to skin pores/ fibers, that is thinning the overall thickness of the skin. Commercial tanneries & Taxidermists commonly use Fleshing wheels/ shaving wheel to do this. Doing this manually can be done, but labor intensive using Currier’s Knife

  30. Ma, so do you wash it after fleshing and before stretching it up on frame? Then let dry and dry scrape?

  31. I went to an outdoor show and got a book from a guy who uses a method similar to Ma Tanner. However, I was just curious about the oak bark method. It sounds like the tannin is what tans it. I’ve heard that there is a lot of tannin in acorns and was wondering if anyone has used those. Hope to hear from you and thanks for gathering so much useful information!

    • I have also heard acorns contain lots of tannins. But have never found a source that tells how much tannins in comparison to bark.

      I also haven’t seen any positive results from tanning with acorns. If you search for “acorn tanning”, a few articles will pop up, but they are all speculation. The site “EHow” (l00% junk in my opinion) claims to tell you how to tan hides using acorns, but I will bet a $ against a doughnut hole, the author has never tanned a hide. The article does say acorns contain less tanning than bark for what that is worth.

      Ma Tanner does not tan using bark.

  32. Hi there,

    I was given some rabbit pelts that were brain-tanned last season. They were not worked to be made soft, nor were they smoked. As a result, they are stiff, some of the fur is falling out, and moths have laid their eggs in the hairs. At this point, is there any way for me to soften them? Or should I accept the stiffness and just smoke them?

    Thank you!

    • First, I would say you need to deal with the moths and/or eggs. Putting them in the freezer (sub zero) is probably the best way to kill moths and eggs without using poison.
      Second, the whole point of smoking hides is to maintain the softness. If they are not soft, why would you smoke them?

      At this point, they may already be damaged, but you could try to re-wet one of them and work it to try and make it soft.

  33. Thanks for all the great info here, and for the great step by step from Ma. My main question is about the soaking step. Ma, you say the soaking is to soften the grain and hair layers, so if you are keeping the hair on would you skip this and the other steps and just jump to braining after fleshing it? Also, how do you know if you have fleshed it enough? I cant see any remaining blood vessels or anything like that, but when I scrape there are still fibers coming up after at least 5-6 hours total scraping with a trowel and an empty can. Thanks!

  34. Elizabeth says:

    Ok… I have just spent the last 3 hrs reading all this and looking at different instructions… And I am just plain confused.

    I personally talked to a taxidermist. And he said all I had to do is flesh my two deer hides, salt and salt again. Wash out with soap and water and let it start to dry. Once it starts getting a little dry, put Neatsfoot oil it and start breaking it before it dries completely.

    That’s all he told me to do. So far everything is going good. I am to the point of starting to work/break the hide. It is turning white as I break it. Hair is holding good…

    Is all good or have I missed anything??? Tia..

    • Hi Elizabeth:
      Are you missing anything? That depends on what you plan to do with your deer hide.

      I agree that tanning hides (fur on and fur off) seems to be a complicated subject with very different methods for achieving the same purpose.
      My original article was a basic research into different tanning methods. The comment section includes many more methods and hints.

      Lets start with the basics.

      Step 1 – Salt the Hide.
      Why salt the hide?
      To stop bacteria from decomposing the hide. This is usually because we don’t have time to tan the hide immediately. This is for both fur on and fur off hides.
      Ma Tanner (one of our most active commenters does not even use salt, but she starts the tanning process as soon as the animal is skinned.
      If you salt the hide, it can wait until you are ready to tan the hide. I have part of an elk hide that has been fleshed, salted and rolled up in the basement for over a year.

      Step 2 Flesh the hide.
      Why flesh the hide?
      To remove meat, fat and tissue that is not part of the skin. This also helps keep the hide from decomposing. If all you want is a preserved hair on hide to hang on the wall, this is all you really have to do. The hide will be stiff as a board after it dries, but the hair will not fall off for many years (depending on your climate).

      If you want a soft hide, you will have to break it. When the hide dries out, it is stiff because the fibers glue themselves together. To prevent this, the bonds have to be broken. The bonds are broken by working a damp hide in the presence of fat or oil (preferably animal fat).

      All kinds of fats are used. Brains work because they have a lot of fat. Think about that the next time someone says you should be on a fat free diet. Your Neatsfoot oil will also work because the oil is extracted from animal hooves.

      If you want to make clothes from your buckskins, they will eventually need to be washed. After they are washed, they will have a tendency to get stiff again. This can be prevented by smoking the hide.

      Depending upon what you want to do with your hide, you may also need to grain or split the hide. Some hides are so thick, it is hard to get the thickest part of the hide preserved or softened.

      So no, you are not necessarily missing anything.

      You probably read about methods that use acids to pickle the hides. This is another method to preserve the hides, but if you use acid, it has to be counteracted with a base or the hide will deteriorate from the acid left behind.

      I suggest you go back and read Ma Tanners methods in the comment section. I like her simple and natural methods. She occasionally stops by to read comments, so maybe we can get her to make another comment.

      Anyway, good for you trying to learn to tan those deer hides. Good luck. Send us a picture when you finish them.

  35. Elizabeth says:

    I’m only going to use them (buck and doe) as throw rugs or wall hanging. Lol or if I get tired of them like that maybe I’ll make something out of them…hahaha

    The question I guess I’m really asking now is why is there no “tanning” formula needed?

    I have my doe hide all worked, broke and oiled. I was going to sand it next to make it more smooth on the leather side. Will this suffice for what I am wanting to use them for?

    Btw-(by the way) tia=(thanks in advance) 😉

    • If your hide is soft and supple and the hair isn’t falling out, it sounds like you have it…

      I think you were looking for some complicated, magic formula for hide tanning. Remember who tanned the first hides. Our stone-age, caveman ancestors. What materials did they have and what tools did they use? They had water, dirt, stones, plants and parts of animals they could catch. They probably didn’t even have salt unless it was from salt water. Over time, people learned to use different methods and incorporated different chemicals and technologies. But the simple, basic ways still work.

      Some of the modern formulas included toxic chemicals like Chromium, which can be very dangerous when handled and pollutes the environment when dumped into the water, especially in places like China, India and Bangladesh.

      Congrats on your first hide. Your ancestors would be very proud.

  36. My very first tanning attempt was a buffalo. A little bit harder than I thought it was going to be, especially thinning the skin around the hump area, but all went well. Once I was nearing the end, a bunch of hair started to slip from the back half. I was beyond disappointed. I ended up cutting the back half off and using it for drums, so no huge loss there, but I’m still not sure why the hair slipped.

    I contacted the only person I knew who tans buffalo, Larry Belitz, and he said it was most likely not frozen properly before they shipped it to me. The slaughter house told me they skinned it, then rolled it up and froze it, then shipped it. It was not frozen by the time I got it, which was overnight shipped in February from SD.

    My question is, was there something I would have been able to see, or tell, if the hide was not frozen completely, or properly? Like, is there any way to tell if hair is going to slip later in the process, early on when you first start? Or is it more of a wait and see and hope you did everything right?

    • Laurae, you sure picked a tough one for your first try. I like that. I feel for you that it didn’t turn out so well.

      You wouldn’t think February would be a bad time to ship something from S.D., but the mail facilities and smaller trucks are heated.

      Do you remember if the hide had had any signs of decay? Any odor? Most people only try to salvage the leather if decay has started, but if you can stop the decay fast enough, you can save the hide. Problem is, a thick hide like bison is hard to penetrate with salt. As you know now, it is best to prevent problems than try to fix them.

      If I understand correctly, the hair has slipping from the back half (thinner) part of the hide. That would be the easiest part for the salt to penetrate, but it would also be the fastest part to thaw during transport.

      In answer to your question, if decay has started, you can probably stop the decay and salvage the leather and you may be able to save the hide (hair), but it all depends on how much damage has been done. If in doubt, you should test to see how easy the hair pulls out before your expend a lot of effort.

      If you proceed, it may still be a wait and see kind of thing. In your case, it was probably already beyond your control even if you did everything right. Next time you have a questionable hide (thawed, smells or has not been salted), salt and freeze immediately (freezing may not be necessary, but like in food items, temperatures below 40°F stops most bacterial growth.

      As you say, at least you have some drums out of the deal. Let’s hope you have better luck with the next one.

  37. Well my 10 year old daughter has just downed her first deer. I would like to do a soft tan on this hide. It is tacked up in the shed and the air is very cold outside. I will flesh it tomorrow. My question is, do I need to salt it or can I go straight to the tanning? Also I seen a video of a man who used the mayo egg oil recipe. He didn’t salt his but smoked it after. His steps were: flesh it , mayo it, wash it off with soap and warm water, work it and smoke it. After a few days the hair didn’t slip. Should I still salt it? I would really like this to be a soft finish. Thanks!

    • First thing, Congrats to your daughter.
      2nd thing, Stop worrying…
      There are several ways to Tan a Hide (hence the title of the post). There is no single way to tan and there is nothing magic about tanning. I prefer traditional methods because they are low tech, keep old skills alive and do not permanently pollute the environment.

      I suggest you re-read the post with your specific questions in mind. Then go read the instructions left by Ma Tanner in the Comments Section (she has left several). Also, the methods in the video will work, but I am not sure why you would wash off the oil until after the hide has been worked and is soft.

      Softening occurs because the fibers in the hide are coated with oil as they are worked to prevent them from re-bonding to each other. (Glue is made from hides and hooves because of the bonds that are formed between the fibers). Smoking is not necessary but allows you to wash the hide in the future without having to re-soften every time.

      I always salt or freeze first thing because we have to stop all bacterial growth. Ma Tanner does not salt, be she always starts scraping the hide as soon as it comes off the animal. Your hide is probably O.K. in the shed if the temperature is near or below freezing. Salt is cheap and it kills bacteria and removes water which shrinks the hide to help hold the hair, so I don’t see any negative from using salt. Except be careful where you pour the salt water (good weed killer, but can kill plants you like as well).

      I suggest several books in the post. Get a book or look at enough videos to see what tools and “set ups” people use for scraping and for working. Scraping the hide is light work compared to softening. Good tools and a good set up will make this part easier.

      I applaud your gumption. The hide will come out nice and soft if you (and your daughter) put in the work. Killing her first deer, then tanning her own hide… That is where self esteem comes from. I look forward to seeing the end result. Thanks for the comment.

  38. Hi Backcountrychronicles!
    I am trying to tan a hide and this is my first try. I was given a deer by a friend because he could not do anything with it (no room in the freezer). I got it a week after he killed it. I skinned it the night I got it, soaked it for two days because I did not have time to get to it, and now have salted it twice over a period of four days.

    Several sites I have seen on the internet said I need to salt the hide until it is dry, then soak it to clean it. Should I soak it or should I simply clean it? And the hide is 2×4 stiff. What, in your experience, is the best way to get the hides supple and soft? Thanks

    • Hi Nathaniel. I directed your question to this post.

      Salting is good. Getting it a week late may cause the hair to slip if the hide was not kept cold. If you want the hide with the hair on, you may want to test to see if the hair is slipping before you put a lot of effort into the hide. If the hair slips, you may still be able to save the hide.

      But first, scrape that hide clean. The salt will help keep the bacteria down, but you have to get all the extra fat, meat and tissue off to have any chance at all to preserve the hide. By then, you will know if the hair is going to slip or not. Then salt again to keep bacteria growth down and to dry the hide. If not already too far gone, the hide will then wait on you to get to the softening. You can also freeze the hide if the wait is going to be long. I have a partial elk hide in my basement that was scraped, salted and rolled up last year.

      The answers to your question about softening the hide are in this post and in the comment section (especially comments from Ma Tanner) and my answers to specific questions from others.

      Anyway, good luck and let us know how it turns out.

      In the post, I suggest several books about tanning hides and furs. Some videos are also useful to see the tools people use and also to see how they set up and how they do the work.

  39. Simon Hartley says:

    I notice that an ox heart has a thin but very tough membrane around it. Has anyone on here tanned one?

    • Simon I have not heard of anyone tanning any of the organ membranes. This recalls some long buried information from my teaching days…

      If you are interested or if it helps your search, the tissue around the heart is called the pericardium. All mammal organs are lined with coelomic tissues. There are 3 such lined cavities; peritoneal (abdominal), pleural (lungs), and pericardial cavities (heart). You are correct that the pericardium is a very tough membrane.

      What would you do with a tanned pericardium?

      I have no doubt the pericardium could be tanned, but do not know if it could be worked to the point it could be softened. Perhaps it would make a drum head.

  40. Jonathon Wisnoski says:

    For the boiling test, I have heard you did not want it [the hide] to really change at all (especially: not supposed to go rubbery).
    I have about doubled the estimated time in the alum pickle and still boiling yellows the hide, makes it rubbery and very fragile and easily destroyed. It does not curl a whole lot. Any suggestions? Should I add more pickle? Is it done, as it is not curling a whole lot?

    • I’ve never boiled a hide. It is my understanding that boiling is a test to see if industrially tanned hides (chrome-tanned) are fully tanned.

      Are you chrome-tanning hides at home? Chrome-tanned leather is toxic and will corrode metals (bad for knife sheaths). There are much cleaner, safer and simpler ways to tan hides.

      For those interested, the boil test is done by taking a small piece of wet leather (blue color caused by the chromium, hence called wet blue) and boiling in water for 2 – 3 minutes. If the wet blue curls or shrinks, it is not fully tanned or is still too acidic.

      The boil test can also be used to determine if a hide has been vegetable tanned or chrome-tanned. Since the chrome-tanned leather is not supposed to curl, a strip of vegetable tanned leather will curl up.

      There is also a burn test. Vegetable-tanned leather will not burn and the ashes are grey. Chrome-tanned leather will burn and the ashes turn green.

      If your test shows the hide still curls a little, perhaps it is tanned, but still too acidic. You probably don’t need more pickling, but more neutralizing.

      • There is also a burn test. Vegetable-tanned leather will not burn and the ashes are grey. Chrome-tanned leather will burn and the ashes turn green.

        I have a question about this quote. If the vegetable tanned leather will not burn how do you get ashes? I do not understand what your saying here. Can you please go more in detail as to what you mean by does not burn.

        • Good question. I should have said you should see a flame when testing Chrome-tanned leather. Vegetable-tanned leather will char as you apply a flame to it, but you should not see a flame.
          Another test is a water test. Chrome-tanned leather usually beads a drop of water and Vegetable-tanned leather usually absorbs it. This test will not work if the leather has been recently oiled.
          The reason someone might be interested in knowing which method was used to tan the leather is because Chrome-tanned leather can stain or corrode metal, so it shouldn’t be used for knife sheaths or gun holsters.

  41. morningdew says:

    I have a buffalo hide that I have scraped, stretched and pulled. I salted it down until I could get back to it, now that I am ready (lol), it is as stiff as a board.

    My question: Do I have to rinse off the salt completely? I have brushed it off real well as we had it hanging. Can I lay it flat on the ground and start tanning? Can I use the egg yokes and water recipe?

    I will be rubbing it in by hand. I want it to be soft and flexible to use as a robe. Some recommend using mayonnaise and eggs. But I am not sure if they mix them together and rub in to make soft. HELP! Thank you. Dew

    • Hi Dew:
      A buffalo hide. I am impressed.

      My guess is the hide is so thick there is only a little salt remaining on the outside of the hide. I think your problem will be thinning the hide down so the oils can penetrate the thick hide.

      Mayonnaise is (or should be) nothing but vegetable oil and eggs (yolks or whole eggs – with a little salt and vinegar). Egg yolks are basically just animal fat, the whites are protein. You could use mayonnaise alone or mix more eggs or egg yolks in with it. With such a large hide, you will need quite a few jars of mayo and/or eggs.

      As a rule, when brains are used to tan the hide, the animal’s brains are usually enough to tan the hide. All animals except for buffalo. You will need enough oil to equal about twice the amount brains the buffalo would have had. I would say start with 3 or 4 quarts, but have more on hand.

      Because a buffalo hide is so big, many people split it down the middle to work it, then stitch the halves back together.

      To make a soft hide, you need to coat the skin cells in the hide with oil. Otherwise, the cells glue themselves together. Also, if you ever want to wash the robe, it may get stiff again if it is not smoked.

      How thick is the thickest part of that buffalo hide? Now imagine what you will get if you only get oil to penetrate about half of the hide. It will still be stiff. You will need to scrape (or sand) about half the thickness of the hide off. But not so deep as to hit the hair follicles. The shoulders, rump and center line down the backbone are the thickest parts.

      After the hide is oiled, you will have to really work it to get the oil in the skin. If you have read any books on tanning, you will notice the cables and stakes used to help stretch the hide.

      Anyway, good luck and I would love to see a picture of your project.

  42. I have a rabbit hide tanned by a friend. I have no clue what method she used, but it smells like chicken fat and is somewhat oily to the touch. What can I do?

    • Sorry for the slow reply Shannon, we have been away from phones, computers and snow.
      You can use sawdust or cornstarch to absorb the excess oils on the rabbit hide.
      Apply to both sides of the hide, the sawdust or cornstarch will also absorb oils from the hair. Keep rubbing it in and brushing it out until the hide is no longer oily to the touch.

  43. Morning all,

    I tanned my first hide… well think I did. I fleshed it as good as I could then salted it down. It sat that way for about 3 months.
    This weekend I used the egg yolk recipe because I couldn’t find a brain.
    On Friday I soaked the hide to re hydrate it, then allowed it to dry out a little before applying the egg yolk. I let it set for 3 days in the yolk and went out today and broke up the fibers on a steel wire I strung up.
    The hide is not soft but it is bendable and not stiff. Did I do it right or do I need to work the fibers more before I smoke it?

    • Hi Eric:
      Sounds like you’re on the right track. But my guess is the hide probably needs more dressing and more working to make the hide really soft and pliable.
      Working the hide on the cable is a good method, but you can really work the stiffest areas of the hide by stretching the hide in a frame and working it with a beveled stick (as shown on the cover of Matt Richard’s book).
      Good luck and let us know how it turns out.

      • Well I worked it a little more (it was a hair on hide) and then smoked it for about a hour. But apparently I didn’t work all the moisture out cause it stiffened up a lot after the smoke. Its not horrible but not great.
        My wife wanted to use it to throw over the back of a chair but its a little to stiff for that so I’ll probably just hang it on my wall.
        I’m a little bummed but it was my first attempt to tan an hide and it was good experience. I learned a lot so next season I can give it another go.

        • Yes, if you worked the hide and smoked it in the same day, you probably rushed the drying process.
          The fibers in the hide glue to each other. The oil from the eggs (in your case) was supposed to coat the fibers to prevent them from sticking together. The smoke is basically supposed to heat treat the hide which helps keep it soft for longer, especially for buckskins that are worn and need to be washed.
          If you are not happy with the hide in its present state, you can repeat the oiling and working process and then re-smoke it as well.

          • So even though I smoked it I can re-oil it and rework? I didn’t know you could work it again once it was smoked. I thought that it was done at that point. Thank you so much. Now I have something to do this weekend.

          • Eric: If the hide were completely worked and smoked, it would be soft and pliable.
            Since your hide was still stiff, part (half?) of the skin cells in the hide still need to be worked more. The smoking has dried and colored the hide, but not all the way through.
            Some people do a pre-smoke (see one of Ma Tanner’s comments). The hide is worked, smoked and completely dry. Then it can be re-oiled and worked again until dry.
            Re-smoking is not necessary for a hide that is not going to be washed.
            Before you put a lot more work into this, I suggest taking a small piece of the hide, re-oil it and work that piece like crazy until it dries. Then you will know how much effort is required to make the entire hide soft and pliable.
            Good Luck.

  44. Eric, Wait! Before you hang it on your wall, understand this! It’s NOT too late! There is more than one way. The Dinsmore method is a method where you work the hide part way, smoke it, and work it again. Then you may smoke it again if you think it’s necessary, but it’s not always needed. I, myself, have a hide that I didn’t get to stay home and work it completely soft, but I will smoke it and wait till the next day and rebrain it and work it dry. I will see if it needs to be smoked again. When I get that done… waiting for a less windy day… I will post here and let y’all know how it worked.

  45. mike racer says:

    I want to tan a case-skinned hair-on mink, that had been skinned, washed, fleshed (most of big chuck) and stretcher dried for a week, but has not been salted. Can I just soak “relax” the fur with fresh water and then start the tanning process which will be: Finish fleshing, wring partial dry, stretch, then saturate with “soap and oil recipe”, wring hide and soften (work-it) until dry?
    Some say salt is needed to open pores for better penetration for the braining process. Will the soaking process take longer than a hour? Also, after applying the braining solution should it be rinsed off before working the hide? My first attempt at tanning turn out good using the “soap-oil” on a black squirrel.

    • Mike: I think the soaking process will take more than an hour if the hide is real dry. Since you did not use salt, make sure to use salt water instead of fresh water to soak the hide. If you start working it as soon as it re-hydrates, there is little risk that too much bacteria starts growing, but if you leave it overnight, make sure it’s salted.
      Salt pulls out water, so I believe it actually shrinks the pores. Salt is primarily necessary to prevent the hide from spoiling. It is not necessary if the hide is worked quickly. (See Ma Tanner’s comments about never using salt).
      As you probably know, there are many different process and/or recipes that can successfully tan hides. Are you using both brains and the “soap and oil recipe” or just the soap and oil instead of brains?
      Leave the brains and/or oil recipe on the hide, do not rinse it off. The entire point is to coat the skin fibers with as much oil as possible by coating them with oil and working them to break the “glue bonds”. The more fibers that are broken and coated with oil, the softer the hide will be. Excess oil can be absorbed (and removed from fur) with saw dust or cornstarch.

      • mike racer says:

        No brains, just Ivory soap, Neatsfoot oil and distilled water. I (finally) found Ma Tanner’s comment (pg 36) “if you use salt, just make sure to wash it out REALLY REALLY WELL, before you dress the hide.” [so, the rinse part is before dressing-braining not after] since I plan on “braining-dressing” it as soon as it re-hydrates maybe I’ll skip the salt use altogether. Thank you. I think this type of web site could be useful for many other topics. Thanks again. Mike

  46. Hi I was wondering do you have to put a deer hide in a acid solution for the hair to stay on? I’m dry salting a deer hide and was wondering if that’s enough to keep the hair on without it slipping?

    • Victor, Victor, Victor: Since your email domain is “edu”, I assume you are in the process of educating yourself. Therefore the best service I can provide for you is to chastise you for not reading the post and comments before asking your question. Most of what you need to know is on the page.
      I will say the most common reason hair falls out is because of bacteria. Salt kills bacteria and a heavy salting should be all you need to hold the hide until you are ready to tan it.
      Some say the acid pickling is necessary to kill 100% of the bacteria, but everyone does not agree. Also, I have read that main cause of deterioration of old leather is because of acid that remains in the leather.
      I should also ask what do you think would happen if you used a strong acid solution? So if you decide to use acid, you need to know the strength (pH) of the acid and an idea of the amount of time you want the hide in the acid. Then you have to counteract the acid with a base.

      Ma Tanner has generously provided her methods for hide tanning (the simplest and safest methods), so find and read her comments below the post. (Hint: Use Control-F to search for “Ma Tanner”).
      After you get started, feel free to ask for help if you are unsure about any steps in the processes or the results.
      Good luck.

  47. Three Questions at the end-
    I have a friend that gave me some Antelope skins. We are trying to tan them.
    By We I mean my young son (age 12) and me (his mother) age too old. We have already nicked the hide so it has holes. This is our first try and it’s not going to be an award winning buck skin. But it would be nice to have something at the end of all of this and figure out what we are doing wrong and do it better on the second one. Please help.

    This is what we have done to date:
    – Froze it when we first got it. No salting or anything. Just tried to put the meat sides together to freeze it.
    – Defrosted it and then took the fat/meat etc off. (I know there is a word for doing this can’t think of it right now!)
    – soaked it in plain water changing the water daily until the hair came off.
    – got the hair completely off (is this the graining process?)
    – washed it off
    – pickled it by putting it in a bucket with 4 gallons of water, 2 lbs of salt and 3 lids of clorax.
    – washed it off with dawn soap.

    ………. And this is where our troubles started…..

    We are using the Orange bottle of Hunters and Trapper’s Tanning Solution. We have followed the directions on that.
    At this point the directions said – paint, massage the HTT into the hide, fold the hide in half and lay out to dry.
    We did that BUT…. The hide dried hard. Not soft and supple. And it was white (?) instead of the nice brown color I would anticipate.

    So my son has stuck it back in the water and it softened back up. Which leads me to ask… NOW WHAT?

    FIRST- This whole process was stinky. Horribly stinky. I hear Antelope hides are more stinky than others?! Is there anything to do about this?! It would sure be nice to be able to work on it without gagging.

    SECOND- Our hide turned slimy. I’ve read somewhere that this happens but I’m not sure what to do about it? Is this normal? Suggestions?

    THIRD- Now what? I can find a never ending list of directions that are similar but different than ours. We took ours off the back of the orange bottle. I can go buy another bottle and repaint it and work on stretching it. Is that what I should do? Or should I do something different at this point?

    I know this is a bit long but I could sure use some help.

    • Ginger: There is nothing like jumping into a big project with both feet.
      First, there is a ton of information in the comments section of this post. Search for and read “Ma Tanner’s” comments. She has convinced me that the whole tanning process need not include chemicals. She doesn’t even use salt, but works the hides as soon as the animal is skinned. I usually salt my hides until I have time to work them to stop bacteria growth, but I usually want to tan them with the hair on. I have an elk quarter in my basement that was only salted and rolled up in a box. It has been there since Oct., 2014.
      Second, you seem to have the process correct so far, but don’t have the correct terminology.
      The graining/de-graining process is about removing the top layer of the skin so what ever tanning solution you use can penetrate. Scraping the hide can remove the hair and grain or you might want to remove the grain from the side away from the hair.
      Also, the tan buckskin color comes from smoking the hide, not from the tanning process.
      And yes, if you dry a hide without working it, it will be stiff.
      There are many different methods (read comments section) and they all work with varying degrees of success. For your first try, you started with directions on the product bottle. Why not continue to the end?
      I am not familiar with the brand of tanning solution you are using, but just read that many people had to repeat the tanning process before it worked to their satisfaction.
      And yes, antelope stink. I had a friend that was so allergic to an antelope hide, we just threw it away. It was his antelope, but I had to finish skinning it because he could not stop sneezing.
      As for a slimy hide, I don’t know if you fleshed the hide well enough or if bacteria are growing on it. Wet hides do feel a little slimy anyway.
      Does the hide still stink? Not the normal antelope stink, but a rotten smell.
      Look at a fresh cut edge of the hide to see if you can tell if the tanning solution penetrated all the way through the hide. If it did, start the stretching and working process. If not, get another bottle of the solution and tan it again.
      I might suggest a book or two. Look at the picture on the front of this book “Deer Skins into Buckskins“. The picture shows how to work a hide on a frame to get it soft.
      You will probably want to patch some of the holes in the hide before putting too much pressure on it. Matt Richards’ book will show you how to do that.
      Anyway, good luck with your project. I think it is awesome that you and your son are trying to tan these hides. Let me know how it works out.

  48. Brian Johnson says:

    I have really enjoyed reading the comments and I have learned a lot. I have yet to attempt to tan my first hide, but I am very excited to give it a try.
    I am wondering if I find a road kill animal, and do not know how long it has been dead, how long or what would I want to look for to know if it is too far gone to make a good attempt at tanning the hide? I have seen several raccoons on the side of the road that I though would be good to start with.
    I even passed up a bloated cow elk. I wanted to stop and cut some of the hide off and start with that, but did not know how long is too long (plus, the smell of the animal was so bad I couldn’t get close to it). Just wondering if you can give some insight on what would be the best to start with. Thanks

    • Hi Brian: Road kill can be a good source for hides, but better check your state’s rules to see if it is legal. In many states, it is illegal to salvage anything without a permit.
      If you can’s stand the smell of an animal, it is probably too far gone. But salvaging a hide simply to tan the leather and saving the fur are two different things. The fur may slip, but the hide may still be good.
      I say look for hides (if legal) that don’t stink. Cold winter mornings are a good time.
      I used to pick up road kill to feed to raptors. I had a special state salvage permit and the game wardens would even pick animals up for me. One game warden even winked at me we he said this deer is fresh enough to eat… The raptors didn’t get to eat those back straps.

  49. Brian Johnson says:

    Thank you for your response to my questions. I actually did find a fairly fresh raccoon that had been hit. I will certainly check the state regulations from now on.
    I skinned it and wasn’t sure how to do the tail so with it being my first hide, cut the tail off. I probably shouldn’t have but I know what not to do next time. I salted the hide 4 different times for a week until I had time to get to it. I rinsed it in freshwater so that I think I got all of the salt off.
    Then I put it on a wood frame and stretched it and I tried using just one egg and a little bit of mayonnaise and some water and I put it on the flesh side and then tied it to the frame.
    I let it sit on that frame for about three days then I took it off of the frame and started working the hide over a wood fence post.
    I have not been able to smoke it yet but I have worked it several times in all different directions. It is pretty soft and pliable. I actually think that for my first time, it turned out OK.
    I learned a lot but I will differently do things differently next time.
    I forgot to mention that after I washed the salt off I rinsed it in clear clean water with some Dawn dish washing soap and some baking soda, and now there is still a slight odor to the hide. What do you recommend doing to eliminate the odor left in the hide?
    Also, after working the hide, I see a lot of hairs coming through the flesh side of the hide, but not really slipping on the fur side of the hide. What do you think I did wrong? Can do better next time?

    • Brian, baking soda might help take out the fragrance of the dish soap, but you might have to live with it until if fades away. I’m not sure why dish soap needs fragrance, but it sure takes more water to rinse off.
      As for your 2nd question, some hides or parts of hides are very thin. If you scrape it very hard, you will remove some of the tissue and will see the hairs start to show through on the inside.
      Some hides are so thick (like bison), you will have to scrape a lot of skin away (or split the hide) to get it thin enough to tan and to work.

  50. Beginner Tanner says:

    Hi, this thread has been very informative. I started fleshing a sheep hide that had been salted for a few weeks and nearly gave up, but then I got my hands on a fresh hide and found it went much, much better.
    I’ve got it mostly fleshed and washed and it looks great – I plan to brain tan it tomorrow. But I saw something strange happening with the wool and after some research I have realized the sheep had molted, and there is an older layer of wool that is felted onto the top of the wool that’s actually attached to the hide. The bottom layer is very beautiful wool, a Shetland sheep with nice natural coloration, and I’m wondering if I can just snip off the felted clumps with a scissors. Will this make the finished product look like it got a bad haircut?
    I think it’s going great so far, for my first project, and I’d love to salvage it if I can. Advice welcome, thanks!

    • I have not seen this problem before, but would suggest you try to brush out the molted hair instead of cutting it. But this could also be done after you finish tanning it. You might like the way it looks when you are done even if you leave the old hair.
      Let us know how it turns out.

  51. Morning Everyone,
    Last year’s hide came out great after reworking it.
    This year I’m trying to make buck skin. I just pulled it out of the lye solution and while removing the hair I noticed a lot of black spots especially around the holes in the hide from fleshing it. Is this normal?

    • Happy New year to everyone as well.

      • Hi Eric,
        That could just be where it had ticks on it or from the wound damage. Those should all disappear when it is broken. I did a hide that had spots like that and there is no trace of them now. It was a hair on hide but should do the same I would think.

  52. Wow, what a wealth of information. Thank you all for the help.

    My wife bought me a cow skin rug online last year. This year I thought, “Hey, I could probably find something locally.”
    I did, but the cows were still mooing.

    What I’ve done:
    -Picked skins up at the butcher’s
    -Purchased 300lbs of salt (Tractor Supply Co. $6 per 50lb bag)
    -Salted with 50lbs each for 3 days on basement floor.
    -Removed some salt, rolled up and soaked in individual garbage cans with water for 24 hours (Hide A) & 48 hours (Hide B)
    -Fleshed Hide A on Saturday. This took me 6 hours. [The fleshing tool (long metal bar with wood handles) did not work at all. Are my cows super strong? I was very upset when the tissue didn’t slip off as shown in the video. I watched the videos posted above and had a good set up for fleshing at an angle and everything. The hide was thick and tough. I switched to a skinning knife, then grabbed my kitchen knife, as it is a larger blade.]
    -Fleshed Hide B on Sunday. [I gained some skill, and only took 4 hours this time. (Also, these hides have the tails and ears attached, complete with eye holes. Hide B is actually cow #11 as the ear tag is still attached.)]
    -Salted each hide after fleshing. 50lbs per hide.

    Now, I sit, Friday night, planning my next step this weekend. Here, I need your help.

    My goal is to have two soft rugs of which my houseguests will be wildly jealous. I want them to marvel in my tanning skills and I’d like to attain glory among my small social circles after telling them my tale.
    I’ve gone through the steps above thanks to everyone here, and would like guidance as I continue.

    Questions:
    1) Should I allow the hides to dry completely stiff, or remain flexible before moving on? (It’s been 5-6 days with 50lbs of salt on each hide. They’re still pliable now, the salt is crispy.)
    2) I understand MaTanner appreciates the more natural methods, but I’ve read the battery acid formula/recipe is best for long term, low maintenance, preservation. Is this true? (Also, what’s up with the bran flakes and are they necessary?)
    3) What is the easiest method to preserve the hides? (I’ve spent a lot of time fleshing and want to do this quickly and properly to ensure my hard work hasn’t gone to waste.)

    Thank you for maintaining this thread for YEARS. I truly appreciate this site and the hard work that’s gone in to maintaining it.

    • Bruce: I don’t know if your house guests will be jealous of your cow hide rugs or marvel at your skills, but I will…
      You sure bit off a big piece… Tanning two cow hides will be a lot of work.
      You obviously have read about various methods of tanning hides. Using acids are not the best way for long term preservation. Evidently the acid never really gets neutralized and the hides will degrade over time (A problem with old leather bound books).
      Fleshing is easiest when hides are freshest and with the right tool. Your hides were starting to dry out, especially after using so much salt and that made them tough.
      I have come to appreciate the simplicity of “Ma Tanner’s” methods. I have done a few portions of deer and elk hides that way and have a new calf elk hide that I need to get started on. It will need salting since I didn’t flesh it while it was fresh.

      To preserve the hide, all you need is for the hide to dry without growing too much bacteria. Salt helps with that, but it is not absolutely necessary if you start working the hide soon. This also helps the hide hold onto the hair.

      To make the hide pliable, the skin tissue has to be worked with oil. Working means to stretch and bend it in every possible way so the oil can touch as many tissue fibers as possible. This breaks the “glue” that holds the fibers together and makes the hide stiff.

      Many people smoke the hides so the leather will remain pliable longer, but that is mostly for clothing that has to be washed. Evidently much of the benefit from smoking is the from the heat that is applied.

      I also want to make a rug from my elk calf, but I don’t want it to smell like smoke and don’t want to have to wash it to remove the smoke. I plan on using a very non old-school method of heating the oiled skin (after it is worked) with a hair dryer to see if I can get the benefit of smoking without the smoke.

      My next problem will be keeping the cats from pulling the fur out, but good luck on your hides and send a picture when they are finished.

      • Thank you for the quick response Backcountry Chronicles.

        I have acquired a copy of Albert B. Farnham’s 1916 book, “Home Taxidermy for Pleasure and Profit;” however, his main suggestion for tanning is to use arsenic…
        After rereading Ma Tanner’s suggestions (with the control F search), I have decided to use the soap & oil recipe to tan my two cow hides.
        They are currently under salt in the basement after fleshing. I plan to dry scrape to be sure I’ve removed as much tissue as possible, before I begin “working” the hides.

        My questions:
        1) When applying the soap & oil, do I need to soak the hides in water before, after, or both?
        2) After the soap & oil application, should I use Neatsfoot oil, during stretching?

        Again, with much gratitude. Thank you.

        • I think it wise to stay away from tanning methods that use toxins or strong acids when natural methods work.
          As for your questions… Ma Tanner suggests using “Brains, soap and oil, or just oil and water…”

          All kinds of other fats or oils can be used. You already mentioned Neatsfoot oil and you’ve probably seen recipes that use eggs or mayonnaise.

          Think about it this way… Brains, eggs or mayonnaise work because they are basically fats (oils). We all know oil and water don’t mix, that’s why soap is useful.

          The first soap and oil application (basically any type of natural fat or oil) should be sufficient without adding more Neatsfoot oil, though Matt Richards (“Deer Skins into Buckskins: How to Tan with Brains, Soap or Eggs“) recommends repeating the “dressing” process (with the same dressing) to make sure the hide is completely saturated.

          Matt Richards mentions two objectives in the softening process:
          1- “You must continually move, stretch and realign the [skin] fibers of the hide as it goes from damp to dry
          2- “It is important to buff both the grain and the flesh sides of your hide, periodically as it dries

          I’ve mentioned before, the softening process happens when oil coats the fibers and prevents them from “gluing” themselves back together as Richard’s first point above.
          The working process/technique (stretching, pulling, moving, cabling or frame softening) starts when the hide is “wrung out” (to remove as much dressing as possible) and continues until the hide is dry.

          Buffing the hide is done with pumice stone or sand paper and Richards mentions both sides of the hide because he was softening buckskin, but the softening principles also apply to hides with the skin on except all the work is done to one side. You may not find buffing necessary for making a rug.
          Again, good luck on your project.

  53. Brian Johnson says:

    I have posted a comment on this form earlier but I have some other questions that I hope that someone can help me with. So some background and question. I have a friend that I work with that had one of his Belted Galloway calves die before Christmas and he gave me the calf to try and skin and tan. This is my second hide that I have started. My first was a road kill raccoon that worked out OK, but I hope that I can do the next one better than the first. So I received the calf a couple of weeks before Christmas when the temperatures were in the negative numbers. I spent about 2 hours skinning and fleshing the hide until my hands were so frozen that I could not do any more. I put salt on the hide and folded it flesh side in and rolled it up and put in in a garbage bag until I could get to it later. It has been outside where it has been frozen until this past week when the temperatures have risen quite rapidly and the ice and snow is melting at a pretty good rate.

    Next part of my question, The same friend that gave me the calf has taken 5 Belted Galloway steers to the butcher and he was able to keep the hides. It was also extremely cold when he got the steer hides back and he has not done any hide tanning yet but he plans on doing some later. He laid the hides out flat on his barn floor and did not have the time to flesh the hides at that point but he covered them well with salt. He has offered to give me another hide which I would like to take, so my question is now that the temperatures have risen significantly, What do I need to do with these 2 hides (possibly 4 hides) to make sure that they stay good until I can get to them now that the temperatures are above freezing (and I don’t have any room in my freezer for a hide.)
    I really don’t want to loose the hide that I have already fleshed, but more than that, the hides that weren’t fleshed before they were salted. How do I need to proceed to not loose these hides so I can tell my friend what he needs to do not to loose his hides either?
    The Full hides will need to be fleshed still. I have a lot of work ahead of me, so can anyone please tell me what I need to do next? Thanks so much.

    • Sorry for the slow response Brian. I spent a week in a warm place so I didn’t have to shovel snow. If your hides are frozen, they are safe. They will be safe until they thaw, then they will need to be salted before bacteria have a chance to grow. I part of an elk hide in my basement that was salted but never frozen. I checked it yesterday and after two years, it is fine. Salting the hides will make them harder to flesh than fresh hides, but if you soak them well they should re-hydrate and shouldn’t be too tough. But if you can’t finish fleshing them, they will need to be re-frozen or re-salted.
      I would love to see a pic of a belted galloway hide if you get them finished.

  54. John Burch says:

    Just tanned my first deer hide, fur on. When de-fleshing, I spent about 3 hrs with a draw knife and had only about about 1/10th of the hide finished…along with several unwanted gouges. I then discovered a YouTube video where a fellow demonstrated a power washer to do the deed. Wow! Finished it up in less than 10 min with the cleanest, whitest skin you’d ever see. You’ll want the washer on the highest setting (don’t worry, it won’t gouge it) at a very high angle of attack with the spray nearly parallel with the hide. Use a fan type spray head and get a rolled-back edge of fat, flesh and fascia going and keep following it. The connective fascia membrane layer will just roll back all the way to the far edge and be shot off. Works best on a flat surface rather than over a hide log. It can be hard to keep the hide itself from shooting off the table. I used some cast iron hide tongs to grip it better (from Cabela’s) and found that if I sprayed it from the cape side toward the rump the direction of the fur helped keep it on the picnic table.
    After that I laid it fur down on the table, covered it in 10 lbs non-iodized salt (the iodine will discolor the hide I’ve been told) and tilted the table 20 degrees with blocks under the legs on one side for drainage. I did this because the salt layer will draw a LOT of ooze out of the hide, which then drained to the shop floor. Also ran a fan over the hide continuously and added extra salt wherever it started looking pink from the ooze. During this time I collected and squashed about 100 ticks that found their way to the edge of the hide.

    I then scraped all of the salt off and pickled the hide to set the fur. I used equal vinegar and water (2 gal of each) along w/ 2 lbs salt/gal and soaked for 3 days. Rinsed thoroughly and neutralized the acid with 4 gal water and 2 cups baking soda for one hour, agitating it periodically.
    I then tacked it out on a ply board and dried it under the fan till nearly dry – took about 2 weeks. Then applied a “tanning liquor”- an emulsified mix of 7 oz. pure Neatsfoot oil ( not Neatsfoot compound) plus 7 oz warm water and 2 oz. household ammonia. Mix /shake well, apply liberally and covered w/ plastic wrap overnight. Removed wrap and left stretched to dry for one week, then pulled it over a wood frame 2 X 4 I made with slightly rounded edges. I’ve got it pretty limber but it does have a pattern of cracks through the whole surface despite rubbing in Neatsfoot periodically. Don’t know if that’s normal or not, I’ll be looking at the fur side! There’s been absolutely no fur slippage at all.

    I wondered if anyone knows what to do with holes…I’ve got an arrow hole going in and one going out that I just left, but didn’t know if you can sew these up with dental floss before the hide shrinks?

  55. I believe most sew up the holes while the dressing is still in the hide before it dries and before you wring it out. One guy said he would pull the hole from the sides to see which way it closed up the best and would sew it that way. He has a youtube you could probably look up under how to sew holes in a deer hide. HTH

  56. Tommie Hockett says:

    Hello all!
    I have tanned many small hides such as rabbits, ‘coons and squirrels but I am undertaking making a buckskin now.
    I normally use egg tanning but I think I will pickle this one and then work with Neatsfoot oil. I am going to pickle it with vinegar and salt.
    If yall have any pointers I am all ears. I should mention that I am still trying to get it fleshed. There is a lot of fat on this deer.

    • I’ve used a fleshing tool but have found a knife works best. A few comments up, someone mentioned using a pressure washer; I’d like to try that approach, maybe you can give it a shot.

      • Brian Johnson says:

        Hello all, I also saw the comment that was posted about using a power washer to flesh a hide. I am in the process of tanning a very large cow hide that I recently obtained. Honestly, it is a lot more than I am probably ready for at this point being a beginner tanner.

        I obtained the hide and it had not been fleshed. I worked on two different nights for nearly 3 hours both nights trying to get the hide fleshed by hand using the method shown in tribe of Benjamin’s video. I thought I was doing a pretty good job. I had about 1/4 of the hide left to flesh when I read the comment about using the power washer.

        I took the hide into a car wash and used the power washer from the car wash and I spent about $15 and I learned that the car wash power sprayers are not powerful enough to remove anything except maybe a little dirt and crud from the outside of the hide, and make them weigh about twice as much than they weighed before starting. However, yesterday I was able to borrow a power washer from a friend that I used to finish the last 1/4 of the belted Galloway cow that I had started earlier. It still took me a long time to get all the flesh off but the power sprayer definitely made my job a lot easier and I think it did a pretty good job. I did not have time to continue on through the process last night so I salted the hide again and will start the next steps next week.

        I hope that I did not do wrong by re-salting it after I got it fleshed last night. Can anyone advise? and as far as the power washer, I am a fan especially for really big hides. Small hides I will probably just do the small ones by hand.

        Thanks, Brian

        • Brian:
          Salting the hide again will not hurt anything. I may not be necessary to re-salt if the hide were dry, but if it is still wet, the salt will help keep bacteria down.

          I have not commented on the power washing post. The power washer is obviously a good tool for fleshing tougher hides (may rip through more delicate hides), but I’m not sure how most DIY tanners feel about using that tool. I have mixed emotions. I will not be buying a power washer, but if I already had one, I would use try it.

          Smart to try using the power washer at the car wash, but probably a good thing you didn’t get caught. There are rules/laws (Federal, EPA, State & local) governing waste water effluent from car washes, which is treated as industrial waste. The car wash owner could be fined if caught (for illegal handling/dumping), so at best, they would have asked you to leave.

  57. Tommie Hockett says:

    I have used a power washer before. I take mine up to the car wash. I have never had much luck getting any fat or meat off but it is great for de-hairing. You just have to spray in all different directions.

  58. I have salted sheep hides and want to keep the hair in them. I am in the process of building a tumbler and would like a straight forward process to getting them soft and ready to use given the tumbler method.

    • I made two cow hide rugs a few months ago and am stuck with very tough, wavy skin (also hair on). They are very difficult to “work” and break-in to a more soft, malleable, leather-like rug.
      I’ve been trying to come up with solutions to this, and a tumbler would be great, but these hides are quite large: 5′ x 6′. I had thought about going to the laundromat and putting them in the dryer, without heat, but they won’t fit.

      I too am interested in how to soften my hides, but without the tumbler method.
      Or perhaps, if you can share tips on building a tumbler, Ed, I too can do something similar on a larger scale.

      • Tommie says:

        Hey, how are yall doing today? I.m headed out to west Texas on hitch for the oilfield. I have several rabbit hides in my cooler to keep me busy in my down time. Anyway as far as softening with a tumbler, I’ve never used one. But I cut a landscaping timber about 37 inches tall and put a board on the bottom so I could hold it with my feet while sitting in a chair. Then I work 100% Neatsfoot oil into the hide and work it across the timber. It takes a along time on large hides but it is possible to do. Also be sure that you have every scrap of meat and fat and membrane off the hide before you start. Don’ worry about getting too much oil on it you can get the excess off with liberal amounts of corn starch. Then once it is dry and very pliable I smoke my hides until I am satisfied with the color.

  59. I know nothing about tumbling hides, sorry. For those wanting softer hides you might scroll back to Ma Tanners posts. She says that smoking one then reworking it helps soften them more. I know the big ones are a pain but if you want it softer and more flexible working them is about the only way and if smoking it helps them be softer then I say do that.

  60. I’ve loved reading all these comments and am eagerly awaiting a call from my local abattoir to pick up my first hide. It’s going to be a long haired cow hide. Ambitious I now realise but I really want one and can’t find one already tanned so it’s just a waiting game until they get one in.

    I’m not sure how old these posts are but hopefully this page is still active. I was wondering since Ma Tanner says that cow is not very well suited to brain tanning if any of the other natural techniques are? Like soap and oil?

    And what kind of soap (the kind you use in the shower to wash with or pure soap or dish washing liquid? And what kind of oil? I know Neatsfoot oil is an option but could you use say coconut? Olive? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    As for the tumbling idea has anyone tried using a compost tumbler (you know the ones on the stand with a handle for turning? I’m sure some clever people could rig up a BBQ rotisserie motor to turn it or something and use a fan or blower of some description??? Or one made of wire mesh, perhaps with flyscreen around it to stop the tumbling medium from falling out but still allow good air flow? Just some ideas that may be useless but hey, I have nothing else to offer at this point in my tanning journey. Lol, I’m picturing a big wire cage like bingo balls get spun around in covered in flynetting and zip ties. I’m also seeing a belt connected to a running wheel with a mouse turning it…

    • Yes, these comments are active… Most animals have enough brains to use for tanning their hides. Cows and Bison are exceptions. You can still use the brains, but you will need to supplement. And yes, you have taken on a big project. I suggest reading Matt Richard’s book or one of the other books recommended in the post. The post also touches on several methods and recipes to tan hides.

      Remember, it is easy to salt and dry the hide and preserve it so you can hang it on a wall. But if you want it to be soft and supple, you will have to work it. When the hide dries, it naturally glues itself together. Glues are made from animal hides and hooves. To prevent that, you need to coat as many skin cells with oil as possible. The oil prevents the cells from binding together. Then, smoke and heat help keep it that way.

      Good luck and let us know how it turns out.

  61. Patty B says:

    Thank you so much for all the helpful info’ on tanning hides. I raise Angora rabbits and have been thinking about tanning the hides of my culls.
    Thanks again,
    PB

  62. abrie jonker says:

    Hi. is there a way of breaking hides in bulk say 10 at a time in some sort of machine

  63. Hi can anyone tell me the mix for tanning fox skins with chrome sulphate?

    • Hi Sue:
      I assume you mean Chromium Sulfate?
      I’ll put this out here to see if anyone wants to answer, since I have no interest in using such toxic chemicals.
      Allow me to ask why you want to use toxic chemicals? When other natural tanning methods work well.

  64. I am thankful I found this page! Enjoying reading all the comments!
    I’m helping my brother tan some deer hides (we are first timers). We did it with a pre-made tanning solution (hair off).
    We’ve been breaking them by hand after they dried, mostly using the blade of an ax. They are softening but it seems hard on them and me. And it seems like we are still getting the membrane off. Is there any way to make them smooth again? If we had wet scrapped them would that have made this part easier?
    My next hide I want to try it Ma Tanners way without the chemicals.
    Thanks for any advice
    Tabitha

    • First, it’s sound like you did not completely scrape the inside or grain the outside of the buck skins. Unless the ax blade is very dull, it will probably cut too deep on the grain side.
      Not sure there is (or that we want) an easy DIY way to tan work hides.

      I usually recommend that people buy a book if they can’t look over someone’s shoulder and pick their brain.
      I think you will benefit from Matt Richard’s book “Deerskins into Buckskins”

      I like that you jumped in and gave it a try. Don’t give up. The finished buckskin is supposed to be more like suede leather, not like a smooth industrial tanned leather jacket.

      Without really knowing what you have or have not done to the hide (or what the ax blade did or did not do), it is hard to say what to expect. Keep going with these hides. I bet you will still like them. If nothing else, they will be good training for the next hides. Good Luck.

    • One side of the hide will be smooth if you do not take off the grain. The inside of the hide will be suede. If you waited til the hide was dry to try to work it …… you waited too long. Hide is to be worked when somewhat wet (wrung out) until it is dry. To do that you need to get 2 pvc pipe or other round thing broom handle etc. Drape the hide over one pipe/handle that is affixed to something sturdy on both ends, sort of wrap the ends around each other so it makes a donut hanging on the pipe. Then put the other pipe in the donut hole and twist it to wring it out. unwind and reposition it and do it again. From that point on you can start working it to break the fibers… almost impossible if it is dry. It will turn white as they break and it will dry as you go. If it starts to dry before you get to that area you can dampen it with spray bottle of water. Hope that helps.

  65. Here is a youtube on how to wring one out. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JD6Xhh6d3LM
    And here is one how to work it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdG5mScUjQ4
    These should be better than a typed out how to as you can see it.

    Hope that helps

  66. Tabitha, I’m sorry to say you have done it the hard way. Good news though, you can save it. What ALL have you done thus far?

  67. Thanks everyone for all the replies! You all are helpful.

    I just realized I got responses. So I’m sorry and will try to catch up with everyone.

    Planning to start another one now that the holidays are over.

    We set it out to thaw for the night. Plan to flesh in the morning. Our plan is to try the 12 egg yoke and gal of warm water to tan with fur on. Didn’t keep the brain because at the time we didn’t realize how important they were.
    Ma Tanner, we want to be able to wash the fur since we have found lots of deer ticks. But i understand it is important to get it dry fast in order to keep the fur. Maybe smoking it will help with that?
    *Would you use dawn dish soap at any time in the process to wash it?
    *after you flesh it you wash it right?
    *Also do you dry it before you add or saturate it in the brain solution?
    We plan to dry scrape and then smoke it. I live in Minnesota and the highs have been -12 lately so we might have to wait till its warmer so the hide doesn’t just freeze and to get a good smoke.

    We are still slowly working on softening our hairless hide. By sanding it and just working it by hand. We did let it dry before working it by accident. Thought it had to be almost dry and then it dried so fast and we missed it! Not sure if it can be used for anything. We have not smoked it. Just used a chemical.

    Thanks again for your help
    Tabitha

  68. Ma Tanner says:

    Tabitha,
    For the fur on hide, you can thaw, flesh, wash (Dawn is fine), brain only on flesh side, work on drying fur at same time as working dry, work till dry, repeat braining from leftover if it doesn’t have stink forming, if so make a new batch. Finally when your new beautiful fur is completely, and I mean BONE dry, smoke it. You can tell if its not completely dry by putting it on your dry, non-blistex-ed lips. If its cool its still wet. Warm and fluffy like a fleece blanket is what you’re going for. Test both sides. Also, to test for wetness, you can lay it flesh side up on a hard surface and poke your finger down on it. If your fingerprint stays down and impressed when you take your finger off it is still wet. It should pop back up like a fleece blanket if its dry. You may be able to see the spot where you poked, but its still fluffy.
    12 egg yolks and a gallon of water is a great solution, and enough to do 4 deer hides, hair off. You can make half that and it would do fine. Oh, and when using egg yolks and brains you can’t let it sit in a room temp place or it’ll be stinky in a few hours. It needs to be stored at fridge temps.
    The hair off, it would be beneficial to rebrain it till its sloppy wet again and wring it out like described above and brain again and wring again. That will make softening soooo much easier. And will turn out much softer. Don’t forget! 😄 You can brain at ANY step and it won’t EVER do anything to harm your hide. It will only get softer the more you brain. I have completed a hide from skinning to smoked, and rebrained again to make it even softer.

    Let me know how they turn out.

    • I am getting requests for personal emails…

      Example: Ma Tanner, do you have an email that I can email you some questions?
      Brian Johnson

      I would not advise posting any emails publicly.

      I also don’t want to get in the middle of passing emails between folks except in special cases.

      If you have questions, ask them. I or others will do our best to answer them.

  69. Thanks again Ma Tanner for all your help!
    We are sure excited about how this hyde is turning out! I feel more experienced just trying it this way.(i know i have a long way to go) We still cant believe we didnt need any salt! We did work it while it was wet ( wet scrapping? ) and that made such a difference. It was so much easier! But dont get me wrong, still alot of work!
    Still working out small detail’s. .. Just be sure of the order of things
    Flesh, wash, and then egg? Or
    Flesh, wash, dry and then egg??

    The hyde seemes alot more fradgel. in some places it turned out like paper so we re-egged those places, worked dry again and it seemed better but still fradgel on the leg areas. There are some fatty parts on the legs also that dont seem to be drying out. Might have to cut those off i guess?
    We havent smoked it yet. Cant wait to see what it will be like after that!. The hair seems to be holding and that is exciting too!
    We have two more hydes in the feezer and cant wait try this again on them! You were sure right about 12 eggs making it through a few hydes! We only used about half with re-aplying.
    Just so you know I was not the one asking for your personal info Ma Tanner! Thank you so much for SHARING with everyone your experience and knowledge! We are excited to be learning the art of hyde tanning!

    Tabitha

    • Ma Tanner says:

      I know it wasn’t you. Thanks.
      In the fragile areas, you said they were like paper. Was it wet or dry? Was the rest of the hide wet or dry? Thin areas like armpits or flank and belly will be thinner automatically, and will be much softer when finished, unless it got too dry too fast, while you were working it dry. That being said, we all know how hard it is to get rid of belly fat. Haha. But the flanks and upper legs are the hardest spots IMHO, to scrape completely clean of membrane. It is a sloppy whitish mass of mess. Just take an extra dose of determination and scrape gently but firmly till its off. Unless hair starts to fall out. In that case, let it go till its dry and as soft as you can get it and cut it off. Sometimes you can pull it off with pliers.
      Happy Tanning

  70. Yes, you’re right Ma Tanner, I think the fragile parts dried too fast. Is it best to re-egg, work and then smoke or should we smoke as soon as we can?

    Also a new problem with the second hide. It had been shot in the past from what we can tell and the exit wound was near the shoulder bone and spine…lots of scar tissue. We thinned it as much as possible. I think, but it doesn’t seem like the egg is penetrating that area and is starting to smell. Not sure what to do.

    This is with the hair on and not sure that it is drying through either.
    Are there a ways to get the smell of rot out?
    Do we need to cut the scar out?

    • I’ll let Ma Tanner answer for herself, but to save you some time; Yes, cut out any part that is rotting.

    • Ma Tanner says:

      Before you cut… A little smell can be reversed mostly. A soak in your favorite pinesol, or vinegar or bleach. Not pinesol and bleach together, cuz bleach and ammonia together produce toxic fumes. Dilute to laundry strength, and soak overnite.

      The scar tissue will be tougher and not as easily penetrated. If you can get the hide somewhere warm and dry with a fan, to work it dry, you can save it.

      If it is really stinky, either cut it out or discard and try again when you get another hide.

      Smoking the hide really well will help some smell too. Remember, you can go back and rebrain after smoking for extra softness and resmoke to make it stay soft.

  71. Can I just say WOW!!!!! Thank you Ma Tanner and everyone else for ALL the comments and answers. I now know what method I will use, I plan on using the egg method. I have about 10 jack rabbit hides in the freezer. I’d use the brain tanning method, but I want to preserve the skulls, not sure how I’d get the brain out without smashing it…
    But I do have ONE question. I want to dye a pelt to make a pretty colored hat. I was planning on using RIT Dye (blue)… not expecting a brilliant color, something pastel would be great!!! But when do I do the coloring???
    I’m thinking I flesh it first, then put in dye bath, then rinse, then egg and work it and smoke it. I want it washable.
    Any advise would be tremendously appreciated!!!! Thank you in advance!!

  72. Ma Tanner says:

    Maria, thank you for reading and studying before asking. That makes everything better. 😊
    So, when to dye… Rit dye I believe is comprised of salts, so yes. I believe it should be dyed right after fleshing. But DO NOT USE HOT WATER. Anything hotter than what you can soak your hand it will damage the hide. Do be aware that smoking the hide will change the color a bit. Don’t smoke the fur side, just the flesh side.
    Happy Tanning!

  73. Ma Tanner,
    Thank you so much for your response. And yes, no smoking the fur, I plan on leaving the hide in “tube” form thru the whole process. I will turn it fur side out to dye, fur side in to egg, and fur side out to smoke with a tube of some contraption funneling in the smoke to the hide.
    AS for smoking I recall someone saying they thought it was the low heat that “cured” the hide to make it washable. Well, I’m no expert, I’m just person that has OCD for research. And from my research it’s not the heat from smoking, but the actual smoke. There are A LOT of chemicals in smoke, including tannin. That is what make it washable, so using a blow dryer will not give you the results you are looking for. If you prefer not to have that smoky aroma, perhaps burning incense may work??? OR Fabreze it when your done smoking…. Just a thought and my 2 cents. 🙂
    and Ma Tanner, thank you again!!!!! I will dye it in warmer water not HOT and I’ll let it sit for a few hours, that should do it. I just want the fur died more than anything else… And I’m NOT going to purchase hair dye and do that, besides I have read that did not work out so well. Simple is always best.
    Thank you thank you to ALL who have commented on here, the comments here are a treasure trove of information!!!!

  74. Hi, it’s me Bruce again. I am happy to see all of these recent comments, it is great to see more people are getting into tanning. If you take the 3 minutes to invest in reading this long, but well structured, post, you will see: my past experiences, advice from them, and questions for future tanning.
    I was the guy who read ALL of the comments above (thank you to our moderator, Ma Tanner, and others for their shared knowledge) during a single weekend, before I unknowingly took on the massive task of tanning TWO 6’ x 6’, 150lbs each (skin only), cow hides in N.Y. in February 2017 in my tiny basement. Yikes. Last month I finished a fox hide and currently have a bear skin salted in my basement. Below I will offer updates on my journey, give advice to new tanners, and ask a few questions from the aforementioned experts and the community here on this thread.

    1) COW HIDES:
    As advised by our moderator here at Back Country Chronicles, this was a serious undertaking. I wasn’t aware just how true the warnings were, but I (almost) made it through the process. I used the soap/oil treatment and after preserving them hit a wall. I didn’t fully understand the importance of stretching the hides and did not do so properly as they dried. As a result, they are VERY stiff.
    I have been bending the skins and roughing them up a bit when I find the time here and there, but the cow hides are very thick and are still quite rigid; they resemble cardboard and don’t lie flat on the ground. They look like a recreated topographic map. Currently they are “rolled/folded” in the rafters of my shed. I believe I will need to rewet them and work them to soften. I will wait for the spring or summer to do so.

    2) FOX HIDE:
    When reading the comments on this thread last year, I never thought I would pick up “roadkill,” as a few others have described doing. However, two months ago, I saw an absolutely beautiful gray fox fur on Route 8 and pulled over… I now prefer the term “road-rescue.”
    This was my first time skinning an animal (with a slight challenge because of the hole in its underbelly), and my second tanning experience. This small fox was MUCH easier to work with compared to the two beef cattle, as forewarned by our favorite moderator here on Back Country Chronicles. Thank you.
    Again, I used the soap/oil method to preserve; this time I only needed to make 5 gallons, not 50. It was simple and fast. I was sure to “break” the hide by stretching it over a baseball and pulling in all different directions. This was done as the hide began to dry. It was great to see the “blue” color of the skin turn whiter, signaling I was doing it right (after watching a YouTube tutorial). I then returned the pelt to stretch on a piece of plywood and used a staple gun around the perimeter to keep it in place as it dries. This was important to prevent shrinkage. I’ve used a wire wheel (cone attachment) on a power drill, at low speeds, to remove any of the remaining skin membrane material on the inside of the skin. I did poke through in a few places. Be sure to work with a medium speed and not apply too much pressure. Let the wire whisk across the top of the skin and pull the membrane away, don’t push much, the weight of the drill will be enough. The result is a smooth suede pelt with little slippage of the beautiful gray fox hair on the reverse side.
    Now, the hide is a decorative throw on top of a chest in my rumpus room. After my seni-foiled double cow hide attempt, I am hopeful my houseguests will marvel at my “road rescue” tanning abilities. It is still a bit stiff around the ears and face, but I am happy with the outcome of my second attempt after such a rough go at it with my first massive undertaking.

    3) BEAR HIDE:
    After regaling a few colleagues of my cow and fox hide adventures, I am now known as “the guy” at work who will take various animal skins. Last month, I was offered a deer skin, which I declined because of my crazy holiday schedule. A few days later I was offered the hide of a black bear. Of course, I immediately accepted. My goal is to create a nice centerpiece rug in my living room.
    The hide is much smaller than I had thought, about 3’ by 4’. This is good because it will be more manageable. I was also surprised to learn the paws and skull were still inside the skin and I had to remove them… Well, YouTube is a fantastic teacher, and I watched a video of a man remove a bear paw in 3 minutes flat. Of course, it took me 30 minutes to accomplish the same task at my first attempt, but at the 4th and final try, I was down to 10 minutes. *Pats self on back.* The skeletal structure of a bear paw is INCREDIBLY similar to that of a human, they look nearly identical. This was a wonderful lesson in biology; my wife only halfheartedly agrees. The skull was… easier? …but equally as creepy. I sent it back to the hunter who must report the kill to the NYS DEC before he will create a European mount.
    After fleshing the hide, I salted it, and it has been on the basement floor for a few weeks. I will be able to begin the tanning process during Presidents’ Day weekend (February 16th-19th). Now, I return to you, the great community here on Back Country Chronicles (especially Ma Tanner), for advice. My questions are written in bullet form below, with letters to allow for easy responses. I am looking for multiple perspectives and advice. If you can answer any or all letters, please offer the letter and proceed with your responses. Thank you.

    QUESTIONS:
    A) Do the bear’s ears need to be cut and fleshed?
    I left them untouched, but have seen conflicting reports about cutting them open and removing some of the cartilage. I thought the salt used would be enough to dry them out. Is it?

    B) Should I attempt a three day vinegar soak?
    I saw a video where a guy soaked a black bear skin in 5 gallons of vinegar and 5 gallons of water for three whole days to soften, and lighten the skin. I like the idea of the underside looking lighter and whiter, instead of dark and veiny. The guy also reported it helped reduce smell. Is this a good idea?

    C) Should I attempt a 30 minute bleach soak?
    In the same video, the guy used 10 gallons of water and 1 cup of bleach to soak for half an hour, stating it will kill any remaining bacteria after salting and help reduce smell without damaging the hide or encouraging slippage. I am really hoping to eliminate the smell, but am worried about this deteriorating the pelt. Recently, in a comment above, Ma Tanner said some bleach IS okay. Thoughts on this step?

    D) Should I use the brain tanning method with an “old” re-thawed/re-frozen brain?
    I used a drill with a wire hanger to remove the brain from the hole of the spinal column entrance at the base of the skull. I kept the brain frozen outside in an old ice cream container, but with these N.Y. temperatures (today is 9 degrees, a few days ago was 52 degrees), it has thawed and frozen multiple times in the last few weeks. I have been reading brain tanning is the best to preserve a hide, and in the past have used the soap and oil method which has worked well for me. Does brain tanning make the hide more soft and supple? Will it make it smell more? Should I use this continually re-frozen and re-thawed brain to tan?

    E) Should I smoke the hide?
    I have not smoked a hide before; it seems like an unnecessary step that will add to the smell. What are the benefits of smoking?

    F) Anything else I am missing?
    As stated above, I am a beginning tanner and have never worked with a bear. This is only my 3rd time tanning. If there is any advice specific to the black bear, to the soap and oil treatment, to brain tanning, to stretching, or anything within the process, please let me know. What do you recommend?

    THANK YOU.
    I appreciate everyone’s help with this process and am thankful to have support and advice. This is a nice community of people. It has been exciting reading everyone’s questions this past year to learn more for myself. I look forward to your advice and will update everyone as I continue my journey.

  75. This is for Maria 🙂 You might see something here that will help on dying just the fur on the rabbit. Hope it helps.

    Val
    https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=how+to+dye+rabbit+fur

  76. Bruce, two cows would be a lot to try to do. It is said that the fibers of cattle’s hide has an extremely tight fiber concentration per square inch. Very tightly packed. Some say brain tanning doesn’t work, some say it does, because they’ve done it. That being said, I think any hide can be tanned if it is scraped thin enough or the right equipment is used to beat or squish the “brains” through the fibers. You certainly started with a beast! OK let’s see if I can answer some questions.

    A) Ears: I try to get the cartilage out by cutting the flesh side just deep enough to separate skin from the cartilage. Then extremely slowly and carefully pull the cartilage out, turning the ear inside out. I do this so that it doesn’t try to rot before it can dry. BUT, it is up to you and whether you think you can get it without ripping the tip of the ear skin off. At least try to get the knobby part of it out to reduce drying time and salt to discourage rot. Until you actually get started tanning.

    B) Vinegar soak: Before doing a vinegar soak, make sure you’ve fleshed it really well. If there are still veins on it, you’re not done. There are vein tracks sometimes, and that’s OK. But you want to make sure you’ve gotten all the fat and membrane off. Or at least all that you can. If you see hair follicles, ease up a bit. Using vinegar (an acid) or bleach (a base) requires that you neutralize with the other. For controlling smell, I recommend the 1 cup bleach with 10 gallons of water for a while and 1 cup vinegar per 4 gallons of water for a while. 30 min. should be fine if you are massaging everywhere and making sure all parts are saturated. Then brain, and continue.

    C) Bleach: see B. Oh, also, you don’t have to salt it. Salt is really hard to get completely out. You can freeze it. Its up to you, but the salt must be rinsed out really, really well.

    D) Brain is best. Unless it’s stinky. Then use egg yolks and water or soap, oil and water. Brain tanning also keeps the hide stronger for longer, but the others are so close, its not worth quibbling over. I’ve done all three. The brains and the egg yolks are really quick to get stinky so its brain, wring, brain, wring, and start softening. The brain sessions can be as little as 20 minutes just as long as you massage it in all parts really well. On the other side, grated ivory and olive oil solution smells amazing. Even after smoking.

    E) Smoking: I am not done with a hide till it has been smoked for at least 2 hours on the flesh side. Since you have a hairy bear, you wouldn’t smoke the hair side. The smoking step is what actually provides the “irreversible change” that makes the hide washable. It will never turn into a wet slippery smelly mess again. It will be more cloth like, and softening after washing will be a breeze compared to the first time you softened.

    F) Anything else: If you are wanting this bear to be soft and fun to handle and show, I recommend stringing it up on a frame after braining to soften with a stick with the business end cut into a wedge. It needs to be semi sharp. But dull enough that it can’t cut you. Don’t wanna put holes in it. With quite a bit of pressure and diligence the stick will function as a squeegee pushing water out of the hide, as well as scraping up some luxurious suede.

    Any more questions?

    • Thanks for taking the time “Ma”… There are a lot of folks that benefit from your knowledge and experience.

    • Ladies and gentlemen, this woman is doing us a huge service. Thank you for sharing your copious knowledge Ma Tanner!

      Yes, the cows were difficult. As I have not smoked them, I may re-hydrate and stretch again.

      A) I did get the knob out and applied a large amount of salt. I will try to remove a bit more, but don’t want to damage the ear with my insufficient skills.

      B&C) I will be sure to flesh more in areas if needed (especially between the legs). Thank you for a more accurate ratio of vinegar to water and bleach to water.

      D) As we have now had several days of temperatures in the 40s (Fahrenheit), I will be discarding the brain and using egg. Can I use both egg/water as well as soap/oil/water for a “double dose” or will this not help?

      E) I will most likely wait until the spring time to smoke. Is it okay to treat it now and give it a few months “rest” on the floor, then smoke, or must this be done soon after treating?

      F)I will be sure to use a stick. I’ll try to recreate the cover image from Matt Richard’s book (shown above in the original post by our moderator). I will just need to build myself a frame. It will be easier for the bear as it is much smaller than the cows.

      Again, thank you, thank you, for all of your knowledge Ma Tanner.

      Mr. Moderator, I will send you a few more photos when I get started on this.

      Bruce.

  77. Maria,
    You’re right. It is not the heat, but the smoke that does the trick. If you want the smoke smell out, you can wash it on the gentle cycle with just a little bit of laundry detergent. Then hang it up and tug in each direction every once in a while to make sure you’ve smoked it well enough. It should be able to be hung dried, and use a small bit of stretching to get it soft and fluffy again. If it has harder spots, that means there may be some membrane still so the brains didn’t penetrate well in that spot on or there’s a scar. I smoke my hides for a minimum of 2 hours, and it may be a little sticky. Just put it in a bag and let it rest for a few days and then wash it. Oh! A pair of size 32 jeans goes right over a metal barrel.
    Have a great day!

  78. Ma Tanner says:

    Bruce, Thank you for the compliments and I know this knowledge will serve you well in all your endeavors. I can’t take the credit though. The fine folks on PaleoPlanet were kind and very informative, in effort to keep this tradition alive.
    A) Only you know your limits, and you can push them on a lesser hide.

    B&C)The neck, spine and hips are usually the thickest, requiring some thinning. That will easiest be done on a frame.
    Oh! Do yourself a favor and go to PaleoPlanet, under the tutorial section. Type “dryscrape” in the search box, and see if you can find the post that shows the frames and dryscraping tools. Idk how to get a pic in here or I’d show you.

    D) While I think it would be a good idea to do 2 different types, I’ve not tried it. Didn’t even think of it. I would try to stick with one type with the bear, and experiment on lesser hides. Ones that it won’t hurt so bad to throw out if something goes awry.

    E) I don’t think I’d use it till it is fully tanned. Ya see, the smoke is what makes the irreversible change that keeps the hide from turning into a slippery, sloppy mess, and having to resoften from step one, should something happen to it or you wash it. The smoke coats the fibers of the hide and keeps them from gluing themselves back together and hardening. Also, if there’s any salt still in the hide, it will draw moisture from the air and degrade the hide over time.

    I would love to see it when it’s done. Do you have other pics in here?

  79. Truly Ma Tanner, thank you for guiding us through our first hides in such a simple way! Still feels like I need more experiences to learn all the little tricks that I can. But you have given me the tools to at least feel like I can actually do this…

    We let the hides be for a few weeks to let it warm up before we smoked them, it was about 2 degrees (f). Smoked one deer hide last night that we had egged and never used any salt. (First time ever!!!) and not as hard as I though it would be to smoke. Made a little camp fire out side the shed so we would stay warm…. Made a fire in a five gallon metal bucket in an open shed and hung the hide over a rafter with a thin rope tied to a zip tie on the hide. Even thought the shed was open with a little breeze going through we still got smoked out.

    I don’t think we got all holes plugged very well but we did our best. Smoked for a little over two hours with lots of flair ups that we put out with snow; never caught it on fire though!

    But the hide was a bit too close to the metal bucket and melted some fur just along the edge that we would have cut off any way at the end. We rolled it up and put it in a bag for two weeks. (I can’t remember why we do this part?)

    It now looks beautifully tanned inside and we are feeling just a bit proud. This one needs more softening since we didn’t do the best at wet scraping and took it off the frame too soon.
    It feels good to have smoked one and to have done almost every part of the tanning process.

    Hide number 2 (with the big scar) that we had thought was rotting because the scar was sooo thick. We thinned as much as we felt we could and thankfully it does not stink at all any more! We have egged that area a few times but its still quite hard. It will be the next one we smoke. But we have decided it needs to be warmer for our sake.

    Something we learned was that our chicken eggs from our own chickens worked the best. Store bought didn’t cover the hide as nicely, they were more watery. Not for sure what it was but you could tell the difference. Also if you use frozen eggs make sure you mix them well or all the chunks end up at the bottom of your mix. My brother did not think frozen eggs worked as nicely but they may not have been mixed very well.

    Thanks to BCC for being here and all those who ask and answer all the questions! You are like having neighbors close by to help us along.

    Tabitha

    • Tabitha: I will post photos if you want to share.

    • Stephanie Steward says:

      Tabitha,

      I’m so exited for you! It does feel good doesn’t it!? Knowing you’re learning the skills that give us this extraordinary material, and doing the hard work it takes… Its so rewarding!

      We smoke the hides, but let them sit in a bag, for a couple of weeks because it helps to … marinate… it. LOL. Its the best way I can think of to say it. You know, if you leave a stain on something for too long, it will set in, so that it can’t be removed… Well, that’s kind of what were going for here. The chemicals in the smoke coats the fibers and … Well… It changes the fibers and makes it so the fibers will never again stick to each other and get stiff. And it lasts for a long time of washing. I had a hide that I smoked really REALLY well and put it in a bag to let it rest for like a week. I washed it with just a little purex washin’ soap. I let it go thru the whole cycle, hung it up and left it for a month. Did not even touch it for a month. I really wanted to test the smoke theory. Then I grabbed it off the hangar and snapped it ONCE like when your snapping dryer lint off a towel. Then I pulled it ONCE in two directions, in diagonal pulls, corner to opposite corner and I swear to you it was just as soft and supple as it was the day I smoked it. Actually, I think I washed it 2x because the smoke smell was still pretty strong. That was some GOOOOOOD leather.
      And the scar on hide 2 may need to be cut out. I recommend the baseball stitch to sew holes because it sits so much more flat.
      You’re doing great!

      Ma

      • Thank you Ma! Wasn’t sure what it did to it to leave it in a bag but it makes sense now! We have one more week and cant wait to see how everything goes. Baseball Stitch is a great idea. I suppose I have to get it wet to stitch it? So far the scared hide is the softest one we have done except for the scare. So we must be improving a little bit .

        Tabitha

        • Stephanie Steward says:

          Tabitha,
          Don’t wet it. You may need a glover’s needle or at least sharpen an upholstery needle. Actually, braintan buckskin is so expensive because it is absolutely the best medium for Native American style beadwork.
          I’m so glad your getting the feel of it! The result is the best reward.

  80. Onafixedincome says:

    I have a freezer full of rabbit hides–they’re in fair shape, but they’ve been in there a “looong” time. Is it possible to tan a hide that’s been freezer-burned?

    My usual tan is salt-alum but I’m willing to try something new to me.

    I doubt on most that I can get membrane off of them very well–should I re-hydrate (they haven’t been salted and I want them for fur) and then try to peel it off?

    In the past I’ve had some success with stretching a fresh hide then lightly scoring the membrane to be peeled off after it dries…. HELP!!!

    I would surely hate to waste all these gorgeous furs! Thanks in advance….

    • Fixed: I don’t have experience salvaging freeze dried hides, but perhaps someone else will comment.

      But what do you have to lose? You either make usable hides from them or you don’t. Letting them sit in the freezer for another year will probably not help nor hurt them, but you still won’t be able to enjoy the hides…

      I should talk… I have 2 partial elk hides, a complete calf elk hide and a deer hide in the basement. They have been scraped and salted and two hides are stretched on frames. They all still need to be oiled and worked and probably smoked.

      I am guessing that if you thaw and re-hydrate them they can be fleshed. I don’t know if the dehydration will cause the hair follicles to release the hair or not. If nobody else offers advice, there is only one way to find out.

      Good luck.

      • Onafixedincome says:

        Thanks, and good points. I had had a whole rabbit I had intended to pelt out in there for a year or more, but it was so dehydrated that there was no way to skin it after all this time. Here’s hoping Ma Tanner might have some insight, but I suspect we’ll be finding out if a power washer will help on these, among other potential ‘what the heck’ methods–So, anyone got something they want me to try? 🙂 Going to be a while, but why not?

        Can’t say how much this page is deeply, completely and incredibly APPRECIATED. Been getting notifications since I found it and not a single post has been anything but interesting! THANK YOU GUYS!!

        • Stephanie Steward says:

          Onafixedincome,

          I also have some freezer burnt hides in my freezer. I am a little apprehensive about what will happen to them, but the next step is to put a foot forward, so just try one and see. Then come back here and let me know how it was. Check for hair loss and weakness in those freezerburnt spots.

          For the dehydrated rabbit…
          Does it stink? Was it frozen? Is it worth keeping? You could soak the whole thing for just long enough to get the skin to where it can be peeled off, but the hide will have to be fully hydrated anyway for good brain penetration.
          Please come back and let us know what you learned! I am interested, because I have had to keep my hides in the freezer because of not having the time to do anything with them.

  81. Oscar Pee says:

    I have a book that was given to me that shows how to tan hides and any/everything you need to know to be totally independent. I will find it and post the name an all the info on it.
    You have a great site.

    • Thanks Oscar: Oscar Pee contacted me and provided the names of the two books he mentioned in his comment. He will summarize the recipe(s) in case we can’t find the books.
      The two books are:
      Reader’s Digest Back to Basics (1981) and Reader’s Digest Complete Do-it-Yourself Manual (1981).
      Do both books give directions for tanning hides?

      I’ve provided links to versions of both books available on Amazon, but do not know how much detail about tanning hides is in either one.

      I list several books in the post that I think are good for those wanting to learn how to tanning hides. The first book I bought on hide tanning (back in the 1970’s) was the Fox Fire 3 Book. The Fox Fire series documented how many things were traditionally done (especially rural Southern and Appalachian Mountain Culture) and are a great resource for traditional tanning, food preservation and herbal medicine.

  82. Oscar Pee says:

    The date on the books is 1981 (not very old) hehe.

    Info about tanning from the Reader’s Digest books:

    This recipe will not over tan and it has no dangerous acids or toxic vapors. But use some rubber gloves, you don’t want to tan yourself. Use a large plastic container, I used a 30 gal. plastic barrel cut in half, if you have one, if not a heavy plastic trash can.
    Dissolve 5 lbs. of regular salt into 10 gal. of warm water, rain water if you have it.

    Next, mix 2 lbs. of alum in enough hot water to dissolve it, then combine both solutions, stirring with a wooden paddle until mixed well.
    This solution does not need to be keep warm, that’s just to get everything dissolved well.

    Place your clean or fleshed hide in the solution stirring a couple of times a day with a wooden paddle.

    The bigger the hide the longer it takes to tan, rabbit can take as little as 2 days, a raccoon 3 days, a deer can take 6 to 8 days. Now you can tan more than one hide at a time. but if this is your first time I recommend you do only one.

    To check you hide cut a small piece off so you can see how well it is tanned, you don’t want to rush it. The sample should be the same color all the way through. When the hide has finished remove from the tanning solution and rinse it off with clean water. The rest of the process is the same as all other methods.

  83. Stephanie Steward says:

    Just a note on alum tanning. Please, please PLEASE, rinse the hide out THOROUGHLY. Especially if you’re going to wear the hides as clothing or bags that you will be hanging on you. Alum is the mineral salts of aluminum and aluminum can have harmful affects on the body. The skin absorbs every chemical you put in your clothes. Do some research and be sure that it is the right option for you. If there is a film on your hands after it’s dried and softened, at all, it needs to be rinsed again. Vigorously. Like a few trips thru the washer… Or between gloved hands, swishing and squeezing fresh water through the fibers. But it is better than chemical tanning.
    Happy tanning!
    Ma

    • Good advice. Your many comments have shown how to tan hides without using harsh chemicals.

      Many folks seem to believe we have to use chemicals to prevent hides from decomposing.
      But simply consider traditional ways we preserve food (or other things).

      Drying – jerky; the Ötzi Iceman (freeze drying)
      Salting – or sugar cured meat and fish, salt will also kill plants instead of using herbicides (but be careful it is not selective)…
      Pickling – salt (or sugar) and acid (vinegar); but be sure to rinse the acid out or neutralize with a base.
      Smoking – meat and fish

      Hides can be preserved by simply using any or all of the above; Drying, salting, pickling and/or smoking.
      Each of these preservation methods also help shrink cell walls which helps hold onto hair follicles.

      “Ma Tanner” uses the simplest methods (now I do too when I have time to scrape immediately); basically drying and smoking (not even salt – search for Ma’s first comment on this post).

      It is more important to scrape soon and completely than to do anything else.
      If you can’t scrape the hide immediately, then you must salt (or freeze). I have a hide from an elk hind quarter that was salted and rolled up (in 2014) that is just siting on a shelf in my basement (waiting on me to do the hard work).

      After the hides are preserved, they need to be made pliable. That is done with almost any kind of fat or oil (brains are mostly fat – should also make you question the wisdom of a fat-free diet) and by working (bending/breaking connections between cells).

      Will a traditionally tanned hide last forever? No. Will a chemically tanned hide last forever? No.

      In fact acids left in hides cause them to deteriorate more quickly (download pdf article).

      I also wonder about the purpose of keeping old traditions alive if we don’t use sustainable methods (forgive me for using the “sustainable” word – personally, I am sick of hearing the terms sustainable or green. Not because these are not good ideals, but because they are mainly used incorrectly or by unsustainable industries to sell products).

      Chemicals like Alum are probably fairly safe, but are totally unnecessary for tanning hides.

    • Oscar Pee says:

      Most definitely need to rinse you hide well, and the mention of a washing machine is great, you can find an old washer and dryer or go to a “skid and dent” store. You can wash 3 or 4 deer hides at a time then when it’s time to start softening your hide throw then in the dryer (NO HEAT) with a old tennis shoe and let them tumble works great.

      • Stephanie Steward says:

        Oscar,
        I gotta say, the dryer idea intrigues me. Any specific details I should know?

        • Oscar Pee says:

          No ma’am just put it on tumble or disconnect heating element, you can probably find one in your local For Sale paper or Web site. sometimes after someone buys a new one and their looking for someone to haul the old one off.

  84. Stephanie Steward says:

    Oh my! An elk skin! My curiosity alone would drive me to tan that one. I would want to know how soft I’d get it… I’d probably dry-scrape on a frame, smoke the resulting rawhide (called the Pre-smoke method), brain and rinse at least 3 times, soften while drying, and smoke it again. Then I’d wash it after a month sitting smoked, folded in a bag. Then I’d wash it 2x and hang to dry. Hides done that way are said to be very luxurious.

    Buckskin will last longer, chemical tans have a more neutral smell. Don’t get me wrong, buckskin smells wonderful after it’s been washed since smoking it, but there are pros and cons with each, and to each his own.

    Back Country, do you let the hide dry into rawhide and then break it?

    Ma

    • I have 2 elk hind quarters and a whole elk calf hide. My priority at the time was getting the meat back to the truck, then home for quick processing of the meat. The hides were an after thought. (I also use deer and elk hair to tie flies for fly fishing).

      I did not pack out the heads or brains. (Hunters are being advised not to handle brains or spinal tissue because of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD); similar to “Mad Cow” disease that can be found in deer, elk and moose – Read more about CWD here)

      The elk hind quarters were salted while in good shape. I scraped them fairly soon and stretched one on a frame where it still sits. The other is still rolled up.

      The calf hide set out in the garage for a few days before I could get to it. It got much much warmer than I thought and it actually started to decompose. I rinsed, scraped, salted and stretched it. I had to trim lots around the edge and it also has a few holes, but the remaining hair is holding.

      I also have a deer hind quarter that I removed the hair, scraped, salted and dried (Photo of stretched deer raw-hide hind quarter).

      So yes, the hides were dried into rawhide, but I have yet to do the hard work to break them. My excuse is that I don’t have a good place to work on them during the Winter when I first get the hides and I just haven’t taken the time to work them when it warms up outside.

  85. Stephanie Steward says:

    Backcountry,
    That CWD is scary. I really like doing everything natural like that but yeah, that’s not something to be taken lightly.
    I have a few deer hides in my freezer, because I live in town and well, some people just don’t understand. But that’s OK, I will figure out how to make it so it can be taken apart easier. Anyway, there’s also some squirrel hides, some coon, some possum, a coyote to do for a friend, and a beaver, in trade for tanning the coyote. Oh, and a snake. Geez! I better get on the ball. I got stuff to do. LOL.
    Ok, they’re rawhide now… but you don’t try to break them while they’re rawhide do you? I have found it is WAAAAYY too hard of work to do when its dry. I like to get them all sloppy wet and totally soaked all the way thru with brain solution, frame them and work it over with my wedged stick, and soften it as its drying. Is that what you do, or do you dry, oil and break that way?

    • Yes, you have lots of work… Years ago on my first attempt at tanning rabbit hides (details in the post), I did try to break them from rawhide. At the time I didn’t know what I didn’t know and I was never able to make them very pliable.

      I think the information I was missing then and what many people don’t know now is that the hides can be (and should be) re-hydrated after they dry.

      If I ever make the time, I will re-hydrate, oil (perhaps smoke as you have suggested) and then break them.

  86. Stephanie Steward says:

    👍
    Ma Tanner sent this photo (click here to see photo) of her son helping to hoist a deer. Obviously in prep for the next tanning project.

  87. Question from a novice. My son and I are attempting to tan two deer hides. They were salted and frozen for about a month, then well fleshed, and then we put them in lime about 2 weeks ago. The weather turned colder, they froze, we brought them in to about 45 degrees. Life got busy and we are just now getting to the hides… 2 weeks later. Hair is slipping easily, there is no odor.

    How would we know if they are too far gone? There is some variation of color (sort of a slight pink here and there), more noticeable from the non-hair side, but other than that they look pretty much as you would expect. Is there a way to know for sure that we let them in the lime too long? Thanks!

    • Hi Debby: The fact there is “no odor” is a good sign. I joke that when I lived in Africa as a young man, we never had to ask anyone if something had spoiled too much to eat it or not. If something was too far gone, you didn’t need to ask. If it were just a little gone, we might smoke it or cook it again, but still ate it.

      Sounds like you are ready for the next step, but the hair is slipping, the hides probably need to come out of the lime and need to be rinsed.

      I don’t know how many of the comments you have read, but search for “Ma Tanner”. She probably has the most experience of folks that have made comments here.

      She does things simply and naturally (usually doesn’t even salt the hides).

      Good luck with your project and let us know how they turn out and what you make with them.

  88. Stephanie Steward says:

    Hi Debby.
    It sounds like your hides are just fine. Lime is so alkaline, that if you have enough in the solution, it retards the growth of bacteria for some time. Same with lye, except it is acidic. That being said, to completely rinse the lime out, because it is alkaline, you must do the opposite now and neutralize. I do this with 4 cups of vinegar in 10 gallons of water. Or so. I estimate instead of measure, but measure the first few times, to get an idea. Anyway, squish and squeeze the vinegar solution thru the hide for about 20 minutes, making sure you have squished the solution thru every inch. Then you can commence to scraping. Now is the time to decide which method you’re going to use. If you’re just gonna do a hide or 2 you may just use the wetscrape method, but if you are going to do this more often, may I suggest the dryscrape method? It is much easier on the back and shoulders. I believe I have explained both methods in here, or you can look it up on paleoplanet’s tutorial section.

    Happy tanning!
    Ma Tanner

  89. My husband and I are partway through tanning a cow hide for the first time with the alum/salt method. I’ve done a few possums and rabbits with this method with great success. the hide has been salted/fleshed and is now in the alum/salt solution, but I’m not sure how long to leave it for. It’s been in for 3 days. Do I check the colour of the skin, that it’s the same right through??

    • Yes, check to see if color of hide is same all the way through. It may take more time for thick parts to penetrate. Some thicker places may need to be “shaved” down so they are not so thick.
      Look around at the other comments here, many folks have experience tanning cow hides.

  90. Oscar Pee says:

    I found that the back of the neck is the thickest part of the hide. That’s where I would check it, cut you a small piece off an check the color all the way through it.

  91. Hi there
    The cow hide was in alum/salt solution for three days, took it out, then into a fresh solution for about a week. We took it out, hung it over a fence skin down, rinsed off the fur and left it overnight with the intention of stretching it up between trees next day to dry out with an oil mix on it…..LIFE HAPPENED,we got busy….and it was left over the fence for a good week, rain and shine, but in semi-shade and cool fall temperatures. The skin side has a pink tinge to it, fur is slipping slightly around the back end, and there’s a mouldy patch in the centre. No bad smells though. Will it be saveable? Even if we end up with just a piece we will be happy as the cow was our daughter’s and she wants the hide or part of it at least for her bed. I’m thinking of putting on an alum/salt paste now, before we continue with the drying/oiling/breaking process. What do you think?

  92. Thanks. Do you think we should paste it before drying/oiling/breaking it? I want to do my next projects naturally, but I think I’ll stick to smaller beasties in future!

  93. We had it in a salt/alum pickle first

  94. Hey all. After reading for over an hour there is a lot of good insight on this page. Has me questioning where I was going with my tanning and what methods to use. I tanned a couple beaver hides using the alum and salt tanning method which I only have ever used on rabbits. (It worked great for rabbits.) now that my furs are tanned and dried I realized there was some fat left behind on the back legs and it’s soaking up into the surrounding area can I rehydrate the hides and do a better job at fleshing and then tan again?

    • Hi Chad,
      I too spent hours and hours reading over all of these comments. It is a fantastic resource, but what is better than relying on past comments is being able to ask questions and get a response.

      I haven’t used the alum/salt method myself, but have been working with the soap/oil approach. I believe you will be able to cut more fat off then go through the tanning process again to be sure you’ve penetrated the thinned areas you’ve now exposed.
      I think there would be an issue if you smoked the hides as this seals the membranes. If you smoked the pelt, you will not be able to re-tan.

  95. Erick Ericksen says:

    This is a great article ! I have have experimented with many methods of tanning with good results. If you don’t want to mess with bark for vegetable tanning, Black Tea works excellent. I bought a 3 pound box of loose Red Label India Black Tea for less than $4.00. Make up batches of strong Tea & change refresh tea at least 2 -3 times. This works on hides up to Elk, I just cut the Elk in smaller pieces to make them more manageable. I make Moccasins.

    • Another option for tanning… I am surprised that a 3 lb box of tea could tan an entire elk hide or did I misread that?
      Thanks EricK. Have any pictures of tea-tanned leather or the moccasins?

      • Erick Ericksen says:

        The Elk was sent to me by a friend in Washington, about 2 sq. ft pieces. Dehaired, neutralized & pickled 1st w/ citric acid.

        The box of tea will do 2 average Deer. I use a wire Cup brush chucked in a drill (not Cordless) on the flesh side (rough up like suede) at the final stage before oiling with Fels Naptha Soap & Tanning oil. See what I can do w/ pics.

        • Thanks Erick. Send pics to outdoors at backcountrychronicles.com. I will put your name on pics when I post them, so you get credit. Just let me know how you want your name’ Full name or just first name.

          houw you

  96. I’ve got a deer hide I’m working on to just hang on wall. I’ve fleshed it. Not sure if I did it correctly though. I salted and changed salt 3 times and now salt is staying dry. It’s not stiff as a board like I thought it’d be, it’s just semi rigid. Do you think I didn’t flesh it well enough? Do I need to wash salt out of it now and let dry and hang or just brush salt off and hang or do more fleshing after rehydrated and resalt? Thank you

    • Even if you didn’t flesh it 100%, any meat left on the hide is probably jerky by now (esp. if you live in a dry climate). The problem would be any fat that is left. Over time, it will start oozing out.

      I have an elk calf hide and several other elk quarters that have been salted, but never tanned or worked. One is about 4 years old now and they are just hanging in my basement until I take the time to finish them.

      If all you want is a hide on the wall, you may be OK for several years (if you also live in a dry climate).

      Brush the salt off and examine the hide. If it has obvious big chunks of meat and tissue or especially fat, you need to scrape it off.

      You can re-wet the hide and scrape it again. Then wring it out, stretch it and salt it again.

      Salting and drying basically makes jerky out of the hide (it should be fairly stiff). It will last for years, but not forever.

      Just remember to check the hide periodically for oozing fats and for bugs. And you could finish working and tanning the hide at a later date.

      I would like to see your deer hide. Send a photo (see contact info on website). I will post it here.

      Thanks and Good Luck.

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