This is how we process our skins:
The quality of a fur skin depends how it is handled while in the raw state.
Obviously the first step is to harvest the animal through means of hunting, trapping, picking up road kill or farm raising it yourself.
The best pelts are acquired in late winter when the underfur is most dense and the guard hairs are nice and long.
Of course if you have a whole fresh animal; the next step would be to skin it.
*If you do not have time to skin your animal right away; it can be kept in a refrigerator for up to 3 days. If it will be longer it is best to wrap the animal in heavy plastic and freeze it until you have time.
You can see in this photo there is no 'bleeding' involved with skinning an animal. It is actually a very clean process when done properly.
See where to make your cuts for different animals HERE.
After the pelt has been removed it must be fleshed. This consists of removing all the bits of fat, meat and membrane from the skin. You can do this by draping the hide over a beam; hair side down and scraping the skin with a draw knife. Deer hides are pretty tough; but on thin skinned animals like rabbits you must be careful to not cut through the skin or tare through by using too much pressure and damaging the hair.
The down side to beam fleshing is it's hard on your back, wrists and elbows; it is also very time consuming. Because of this (and a few other reasons) we prefer to water flesh our hides. Yes - we use water. More specifically we use a 'pressure washer' to flesh our skins.
One of the many advantages with this method is time. The ugly elk hide pictured to the left would take 4 - 6 hours to scrape clean by hand - maybe longer because some spots were dried out and needed to be rehydrated before the junky bits can be properly removed.
With the pressure washing method: as you use the stream of water to scrape away the chunks and 'goo' it will force-hydrate the skin next to the spot you are working on. As you can see in this photo; the ugly has been stripped away leaving a clean, white, hydrated skin.
This nasty looking elk hide took only 40 minutes to clean up with the pressure washer.
Another advantage with using the water method is how clean the hide is when you are done. With beam fleshing the skin is still saturated with blood and oils when you are done removing the chunky bits on the surface. The water method forces blood, dirt and oils out of the skin while you are removing the meat, fat and membrane from the skin surface. This way of fleshing also eliminates the problem of scraping the hair follicles or damaging the fragile haired animals like pronghorn antelope.
No matter what fleshing method you decide to use the next step is to thoroughly wash the hide with soap and cold water to remove any remaining dirt, oil, blood and grease from the skin and/or hair. If you have an old washing machine that still works it is a great option for cleaning your skins. Putting capes and hides through a wash and spin cycle takes the 'cold hands' part out of the job. Otherwise just add liquid dish soap to a bucket of cold water and manually agitate the hide to get them clean. Make sure you rinse the soap out completely; then hang to dry long enough for excess water to drip out before you lay the skins out for salting.
When the hide is no longer dripping wet; lay your skins out on a tarp or salting table hair side down and spread salt over the entire surface. You want to 'rub' the salt into the skin side of the hide; then let it sit uncovered for 1-8 hours (depending on the ambient temperature and the size of the hide). The majority of moisture will be drawn out of the skin in that time. If the weather is nice this can be done outside. *always use a fine grind salt like a table salt - never use coarse ground or rock salt. Typically you will need 1 pound of salt for every pound of hide. This part of the process draws the hair follicles deep into what will be leather and stops any bacteria from forming on the skin.
You will find salting procedures that require salting the hides more than once. However; by washing the skins with soap and water to remove all the excess dirt, oil and blood; along with letting them drip dry - it eliminates the need to salt the skins more than once. By doing it this way we are also able to save the clean salt that comes off of the dried hides and reuse it to make our brining solution.
After enough time has passed to draw out more moisture and the salt begins to dry; shake off the loose excess salt and drape the skins or lay them out on another dry surface. Again; during the Summer when it is hot and dry this can be done outside.
Check your skins often and when they are mostly dry but still flexible enough to fold they can be moved into a storage container or boxed up to ship.
After the hide is completely dry it can be stored indefinitely for future use/processing.
At this point you can send your pelt to a professional tannery or do it yourself.
If you intend to bring the animal to us for processing; we prefer anything coyote sized or smaller be left whole and delivered frozen. If you can not get it to us right away and do not have room in your freezer for a whole animal; it is o.k. to skin out the body;
but please leave the head and paws intact and attached to the skin.
We will take the extra time necessary to skin those parts out ourself.
To see a skinning guide of where to make your cuts click HERE.
There are many methods for tanning skins. The method you choose depends on how you intend to use the skin once it is finished. We use a garment tanning process to create the soft and flexible high quality skins we use for our products.
To see the many tanning options click HERE.
If you do not want to harvest and skin your own animal; you can purchase a trapper-dried pelt from a fur expo or trapper trade show. There is a big difference in raw pelts; know what to look for...
Natural dyes have been used for centuries. When your bark tanned hide is finished it will be whatever color was imparted by the tannins, usually a yellowish cream, tan-ish brown or reddish brown. Crome tan turns the skin a pale blue. Aluminum and soap tanning leaves the skin snow white. Once the hide is oiled the color will darken somewhat. If you want to change the color of the skin, you can soak the hide in any tannin based dye before you apply your oils.
*These solutions will also dye the skin on your hands so it is always best to wear gloves.
Acorns contain chemicals known as tannins that produce a permanent black dye when mixed with an acidic, iron-salt solution. For this process, you will need 15 large acorns, water, a cup of lemon juice and two tablespoons of rust powder (obtained by scraping rust from rusty nails or any rusted metal surface). Crush the acorns into a powder. Mix the powder with just enough water to thoroughly immerse the leather material. Soak it overnight. In another container, combine the lemon juice and powdered rust to create an iron-salt solution. Remove the item from the acorn mixture and put it into the iron salt solution. Soak it again overnight. The acorn dye will chemically react with the iron salt solution, absorbing into the material.
Berries and Grapes
Crushed berries and grapes create blue, red or purple dyes to stain leather. Black grapes and elderberries in particular have been used historically as natural leather dyes. Using these dyes involves applying berry or grape juice to the leather material either by soaking or rubbing it into the surface. After hand-washing the leather material and wiping off excess water; soak the item overnight in berry juice or crushed berries mixed with water. You can also rub crushed berries into the leather or soak the item in red wine. If you have indigo pigment available; adding this color to berry or grape dye will intensify blue and purple hues. If desired polish the dyed leather with olive oil after it dries.
Coffee and Tea
This one is self evident; It will produce a rich light to dark brown color. Boil water and steep coffee grounds or tea leaves until the water is very dark and strong. Start by dipping the leather into the mix for five minutes. Remove from the water and see how the color sets. If it is not dark enough - do it again.
*This process is also great for staining bone.
Vinegar and Steel Wool
Vinegar and steel wool produce a chemical reaction similar to the acorn and iron-salt mixture. Traditionally known in the United States as "vinegaroon," this black dye is made by soaking steel wool in water and allowing it to rust for as little as a few days or as long as a few weeks. Once sufficiently rusted, place the steel wool in a glass jar and pour boiling vinegar over it. Cover and let stand for several days. Dye leather items by dipping them into the solution for at least five minutes.
* This mixture can also be used to weather wood to a grey color by brushing it onto the surface and waiting for it to dry.
An in-organic compound and a strong oxidizer. Because it is an oxidizer it will react badly to certain chemicals. Never use potassium permanganate if you are also using glycerol or antifreeze.
It is widely used for "aging" fabrics and props for film. In its raw powdered form it is a silvery grey color. Once added to water it immediately turns a vibrant purple. This water can be brushed onto the surface to create a '100 year old' or 'ancient' look for fabrics, burlap, rope, wood, leather, glass and bone. Although it goes on 'purple' it quickly changes to a rich and natural brown color that varies in its intensity depending on how concentrated or strong you mix it. This material is available for purchase from Raven Bear Design and other on line vendors.
*This mixture is a wonderful option for staining bleached out antlers back to a natural brown.
Henna is a deep orange-red dye that comes from the leaves and shoots of the Lawsonia inermis plant. Native to the Middle East and India, the henna plant is widely cultivated for its intense pigment. After its leaves are dried and ground into a paste, henna can be used as a fast-acting color for dyeing hair, eyebrows, fingernails, textiles and leather. You can buy henna dye at most beauty supply stores. Follow the instructions on the product label to dye leather.
Red, from Edna Wilder:
To prepare alder bark, the Eskimos scraped the bark in fine pieces, mixed it with a little water and let the mixture stand for a day or so. If they wanted it darker they would boil it for just a few minutes first. They applied the tanning solution generously to the skin in the evening and let is soak overnight, turning it once. The brightest alder color, came from bark collected just before snow, after the first hard freeze (ed. note: I’ve read this in other sources too). They scraped it off in very fine pieces and rubbed it directly on the skin to be dyed. The dryer the skin the quicker it took the dye. Some skins required two or three applications.