- TANNING YOUR SKINS -

If you have a dried, salted hide and you are ready to tan it; you have to decide what you will use it for when it is done. Different tanning methods will provide a different quality in the look, feel and flexibility to the skin as well as effect the look and feel of the hair on the finished product.

- There are many methods for preserving animal skins -

It is never advisable for an inexperienced person to try to tan a large hide or a valuable fur; the results are usually disappointing in both appearance and quality.

This page will provide you with instructions and formulas for the various tanning methods.

We provide this information to help you make an informed decision about wether or not you want to attempt to 'do it yourself' and if so what process will work best for you.

Starting with a clean hide is very important to successfully tanning your skins.

If you have any hope to re-use your bins for multiple animals the skins must be very clean going into the tan. If the hides are dirty - your tanning solutions will be dirty and have a negative effect on the quality of the animals you process.

The following information is presented with the assumption you understand already that skins must be properly fleshed, washed, salted and dried before you can start the tanning process.

To learn more about how to properly skin your animals click HERE.

To learn more about how to flesh, wash and salt your animals click HERE.

Rehydration Brine:

If you are ready to tan your salted hides; the next step is to re-hydrate them in a brining solution.

You could use just distilled water with colloidal silver; however that can be cost preventative. If you will be using tap water (which contains all sorts of contaminants depending on where you live) you will need to use salt. The purpose of using salt is to keep away the unwanted bacteria and preserve the skins hold on the hair as it rehydrates.

How to brine: 

  • Dissolve salt into water at a ratio of 1/2 cup per gallon of water. The type of salt at this stage does not matter. it can be iodized or non iodized - coarse, rock or fine - white or pink; just as long as it dissolves in the water. You may heat the water if necessary as long as you wait for it to cool to an ambient temperature before submerging the hide. 

  • Mix enough for a container big enough to submerge your skin completely; let it soak; check frequently. 

  • The time it takes to hydrate will vary depending on the size and thickness of the skin as well as wether or not it is folded.

  • When your skin is soft and flexible it is ready to come out. 

  • Squeeze to remove the excess water (do not twist this can damage the hair) and hang to drip dry before placing the skin in your tanning bin or tacking out to brush tan.

No formula for tanning is foolproof and success can be attained only by close observation, plenty of work combined with the exercise of care and patience. All skins are not created equal; they all have their own peculiarities; only experience can help in this area... Some skins are tough and thick; holding up well to rough handling - while others are very thin, delicate and easily ruined. Extra fatty and greasy animals like bear require extra cleaning efforts while others like rabbit are very clean to begin with and are easy to work with little effort.

If you have more than one animal to tan and are just starting out; it is best to use the lowest quality hide first to learn what you are doing.

When making organic tans - The solution should develop a somewhat pleasant fermented or vinegar like smell from the fermentation of the bark sugars; much like kombucha.

- The smell can be strong but should never be putrid -

A sulfurous smell indicates spoilage. At no time should the hide become slick, slippery or slimy. The texture will change from somewhat slippery to a firmer, textured grain. The pores and grain will become quite distinct.

Mold may grow on the surface of the tanning liquor - if this happens just skim it off.

Mineral and chemical tans will remain slippery but the smell of ammonia is a tell tale sign that there will be hair slippage. The smell of acid is normal - but be sure to check your PH levels. If the PH level is too low add water - if it is to high add more acid.

If you keep your tanning bins outside and use them during the winter months it is ok to allow the skins to freeze. If this happens it will actually help when it comes to breaking down the hide because freezing stretches the fibers when ice crystals form.  

 

Bark Tanning (also called vegetable tanning):

Hides tanned in this manner are routinely used to craft saddles, gun holsters and other thick hairless skins; You can also bark tan furs. This is particularly desirable when it is a hide that is so naturally thin and weak that added body from the tanning process strengthens it.

The type of bark used will effect the skin & hair color of the finished product. as an example; White Oak turns hides yellowish; Chestnut Oak turns hides dark brown. Because the tannin will stain white and light colored hairs it isn’t as commonly done as some other methods. However traditionalists still tan furs this way, generally by just applying the tannin to the flesh side and doing it only on relatively thin hides. 

Barks for tanning hides are best harvested at their prime during the spring when sap begins to rise in the trees. During this time it peels away far more easily. Tannin is typically most concentrated at the cambium (inner bark) layer. An older tree is believed to contain more tannin than younger trees and lower parts of the tree reportedly possess a higher concentration of tannin than the upper parts of the tree.

There is no exact rule about how much bark to use per project but experienced tanners typically use the weight of the hide in bark to achieve a quality tan. Bark should be allowed to dry thoroughly before being used or stored. If the bark is stored in a dry state it should not lose its effectiveness. Grinding bark into smaller particles (no larger than a corn kernel) to use for tanning is easier to do when the material is dry. Bark shredding from sawmills that are often sold as flowerbed mulch can also be used in tanning – as long as it has not been left out in the rain for a significant amount of time. 

How to Bark tan:

  1. Get a bucket, barrel or trough large enough to spread out the hide.

  2. Add 30-40 pounds of bark to 20 gallons of boiled distilled water and let it stand for 15-20 days; stirring occasionally.

  3. The 'tea' is ready when it resembles dark coffee; scoop out the bark with a mesh strainer or pour through a jelly bag.

  4. Add 2 quarts vinegar to the filtered mix.

  5. Hang the hide from sticks in the liquid or submerge the hide in the mixture stirring frequently (2x a day minimum) to insure even saturation and coloring - do not allow the skin to stay folded.

  6. After submerging the hide in the mix; make another batch.

  7. After 10-15 days remove 5 gallons of the mixture from the barrel with the hide and replace it with fresh bark mixture from second batch - also add 2 quarts of vinegar and continue to stir frequently.

  8. After 5 more days remove another 5 gallons of mixture and replace with 5 gallons of the fresh mixture - no vinegar this time.

  9. After another 5 days take the hide out of the mix - Thin skinned animals for hair on or buck skin should be ready; for deer or other thicker skins repeat step 8 with the vinegar.

  10. ​Hang the skin to dry. When nearly dry but still damp begin to work the skin in all directions. Stretch from corner to corner and work the skin side over a wooden steak, board or wood beam - Back of a chair will work fine. Experience is the best judge at this point. the skin must not be too wet; but also can not be too dry before you start working the skin. The success in getting a soft pliable skin lies in the amount of work you are willing to put into it before it totally dries. If the skin is not soft enough when it is dry; you must re-dampen it and work it again until it dries again - you may need to do this several times. 

The flesh side may be made softer or smoothed out to a fine suede finish by working it over a sandpaper block. You can also eliminate the thicker sections on the edges of the hide by shaving them down with a razor knife or skiver.

A common 'old school' method to use if your skin is still greasy after you are done is to give it a quick dip into gasoline. This will remove the excess oil and remove any lingering unpleasant odors - especially necessary for skunk pelts. 

The final step is to clean and brighten the pelt by tumbling it in dry, clean, warm sawdust. - preferably hardwood sawdust, bran or coarse ground cornmeal. This may need to be done repeatedly. Remove the excess debris from the fur by shaking, gently beating the skin side and finishing up with blowing it out with compressed air. Then brush it out to lay the hair evenly.

  • If you are making hair off leather for a harness, holster or belt; get another 40 pounds of bark and moisten with distilled water; add the moistened bark directly to the mix and put the skin back into the mix.

  • After 6 weeks, pour out half of the old bark liquor water and fill the barrel with fresh bark – shake the barrel from time to time adding bark and water as needed to keep hides covered – checking hide should reveal all areas are tanned - no white or raw streaking. If not complete; leave in the mixture and add more bark and water to keep it covered until the color is consistent.

  • Even if the color is even; leave for 2 months longer if leather is to be used for the soles of moccasins or shoes.

Bark - Acid tanning (Also called Cereal Tanning): 

Yes - this formula uses bran flakes to tan skins.

How to Cereal tan:

  • ​Boil 1.5 gallons of water and pour over 1 pound (8 cups) of bran flake cereal - soak for 1 hour or until water is brown and strain out the flakes.

  • Boil 2 additional gallons of water in a separate container to dissolve 8 cups of salt.

  • Add the bran water to the salt water and stir.

  • After the solution cools completely add 1 3/4 cup of battery acid.

  • Put the clean softened skins in the solution - ensure the hide is completely covered or submerged - stir frequently.

  • Depending on the thickness of the skin it can take 1 - 40 days to fully saturate. The progress of the tanning process can be checked by trimming off a sliver of the hide from the edge and seeing that the color is consistent totally through (like checking a piece of spaghetti to see if it is totally cooked).

  • When the hide is completely saturated remove it from the tanning solution and submerge it in a neutralizing solution - 1 ounce of Baking soda per 1 gallon of water - agitate to completely rinse and soak for no more than 1 hour.

  • Remove the hide from the neutralizer and rinse with cold, clean water. Squeeze out the majority of water and hang to drip dry - approximately 1 hour.

  • Tack the skin flesh side up and apply a thin coat of neat's foot oil. Leave the skin stretched to dry - check it every day.

Check the hide twice a day. The skin must not be too wet; but also can not be too dry before you start working the skin. When it is nearly dry but still damp; un-tack the hide and begin to work the skin in all directions.  Stretch from corner to corner and work the skin side over a wooden steak, board or wood beam. The success in getting a soft pliable skin lies in the amount of work you are willing to put into it before it totally dries. If the skin is not soft enough when it is dry; you must re-dampen it and work it again until it dries again - you may need to do this several times. ​

The flesh side can be made softer or smoothed out to a fine suede finish by working it over a sandpaper block. You can also eliminate the thicker sections on the edges of the hide by shaving them down with a razor knife or skiver.

 

The final step is to clean and brighten the pelt by tumbling it in dry, clean, warm sawdust. - preferably hardwood sawdust, bran or coarse ground cornmeal. When it is ready you can remove the excess debris from the fur by shaking, gently beating the skin side and finishing up with blowing it out with compressed air. Then brush it out to lay the hair evenly.

 

Combination Tanning:

This is a combination of vegetable and mineral tanning. It has an advantage over the salt-acid or salt-alum processes by providing a soft flexible skin as well as longer lasting tannage. 

How to Combo tan:

  • Dissolve 1 pound of aluminum sulfate and 1 pound of salt together in 1 gallon of distilled water. 

  • Dissolve 3 ounces of gambier or Terra Japonica (substitute with 4oz of powdered sumac leaves) in a small amount of boiling distilled water. Add enough additional water to total 1 gallon.

  • Combine the two solutions and add enough baking flour to make a thin paste. -

  • Add 1/4 cup of olive oil or glycerin to the paste. 

  • Spread out a clean/hydrated pelt; hair side down and apply one coat of paste 1/8 inch thick and cover with fabric or paper for one day.

  • For small, animals with thin skin - scrape off the old layer; re-apply and hang to dry.

  • For thicker skinned animals; scrape off the old layer, re-apply and re-cover for 1 day. Repeat this step for up to 3 days. When the last coating has been applied do not cover -  just hang to dry. 

  • When mostly dry; wash off the flour paste by agitating the skin in a container of borax water for several minutes.

  • Borax Water: 1oz of borax powder to 1 gallon of water. 

  • Rinse once again in clean fresh water and squeeze out as much as possible without damaging the hair. Hang the skin to drip dry 1- 3 hours.

  • Tack the pelt, skin side up and apply a thin layer of raw unsalted butter (preferred). You can also use neat's foot oil, castor oil or olive oil - these oils will also work but with slightly different results.

When nearly dry but still damp; un-tack the hide and begin to work the skin in all directions. Stretch from corner to corner and work the skin side over a wooden steak, board or wood beam. The success in getting a soft pliable skin lies in the amount of work you are willing to put into it before it totally dries. If the skin is not soft enough when it is dry; you must re-dampen it and work it again until it dries again - you may need to do this several times. 

The flesh side may be made softer or smoothed out to a fine suede finish by working it over a sandpaper block. You can also eliminate the thicker sections on the edges of the hide by shaving them down with a razor knife or skiver.

A common 'old school' method to use if your skin is still greasy after you are done is to give it a quick dip into gasoline. This will remove the excess oil and remove any lingering unpleasant odors - especially necessary for skunk pelts. 

The final step is to clean and brighten the pelt by tumbling it in dry, clean, warm sawdust. - preferably hardwood sawdust, bran or coarse ground cornmeal. Remove the excess debris from the fur by shaking, gently beating the skin side and finishing up with blowing it out with compressed air. 

Brain Tanning: 

It is said that an animal has enough of the right kinds of oils and acids in their brains to tan their entire hide. For small animals like coyote, mink and squirrel that is very true. It is also true for average size deer, small bears and wild pigs. It is not true for exceptionally large animals. It is simply a matter of square feet/inches and brain-to-body mass ratio. A larger than average sized deer, bear or pig does not grow a proportionately larger brain. Animals larger than 150 pounds will typically need more than its own brain if you intend to use this method. If you have a large hide to tan and need extra brain; pig and cow brains can be purchased from a butcher.

How to Brain tan:

  • Mix or blend the brain with enough water to form a soup (A raccoon for example will take about 2 cups of water). Heat (do not boil) for approximately 10 minutes. Many people will use a bender on 'fondue' setting to accomplish the same results.

  • Tack the skin out hair side down and apply the mixture to the skin - rubbing it in.

  • Cover he hide with a damp warm towel or a plastic bag and - Leave for 4hours.

  • After 4 hours scrape the surface and re-coat. Cover with a plastic bag or a damp warm towel - leave for 24hrs.

  • After 24 hours small animals like rabbits and raccoons should be ready. Larger thicker skinned animals like deer and elk can take up to 6 coats/days of repeating the process - this is why you may need more than one brain.

  • The penetration of the tanning can be checked by trimming off a sliver of the hide from the edge and seeing that the color is consistent totally through (like checking a piece of spaghetti to see if it is totally cooked).

  • When the oils have soaked completely into the hide it's ready for softening. Un-tack and rinse with cold clean water. Squeeze the skin to remove most of the water and hang to drip dry - approximately 5 -20 minutes. 

  • Experience is the best judge at this point. Brain tanned skins should still be very wet when you start working the skin. The success in getting a soft pliable skin lies in the amount of work you are willing to put into it before it totally dries.

  • Begin to work the skin in all directions. Stretch from corner to corner and work the skin side over a wooden steak, board or wood beam. If you are making buck skin the hide can be pulled, scraped and twisted on both sides and at all angles.

  • If the skin is not soft enough when it is dry; you must re-dampen it and do it again until it dries again - you may need to do this several times. ​

Smoking the hide:

If you are using the brain tanning method to make buckskin; it is a common practice to 'smoke' the hide. 

 

Leaving the hide light colored and soft is desirable if you are going to use it for ceremonial occasions; but for everyday functional use smoking is advised. Smoking forces tannic acid around the fibers. If the smoked skin gets wet from rain it will dry out slightly stiff but can be rubbed between your hands and re-softened. 

  • When the skin is soft, pliable and dry it is ready to be smoked.

  • Stitch up any holes in the hide and sew it up the sides to make a bag.

  • Close one end so it is tight enough to hold the smoke.

  • Invert the skin bag over a hole about a foot across and 6 inches deep.

  • Use sticks to make a rough frame to hold the skin bag open and tie the closed end to a tree or use another long stick to keep it held up.

  • Build a small, smoky fire inside the bag to smoke the skin.

  • Once the little fire has a coal bed built up, start adding smoke chips to it and peg the skin around the hole. A little channel tunneled out to one side will allow enough air in to keep the fire burning.

  • After smoking the first side for approximately 1/2 hour turn the bag inside out and smoke the other side.

 

Eskimo Tanning (also called urine tan): 

Another example of bark tanned hides when oiling does not have to be a part of the process. A method used in frigid climates where other ingredients are simply not available.

How to Eskimo tan:

  • Fill a container with urine - approximately 1 gallon. 

  • Find and cut alder bark into fine strips/pieces and add to the urine - heat and keep warm for 1 hour.

  • When a dark color is achieved rub the skin side of the hide with the solution - hang in a warm room to dry.

  • After the skin is dried scrape the skin - if spots are tough re moisten with urine and scrape again.

  • For larger/thicker skins this process will need to be done several times - more scraping equals softer leather.

  • Using alder bark to dye the skins result in more dampness resistance than skins that are kept a light color.

 

The biggest drawback to this process is it must stay in a cold environment; otherwise the furs and leather will have an odor of urine. It is also not tolerant to getting 'wet'. If the skins get wet (rained on) they have to be re-scraped to break down the stiff fibers.

 

Soap Tanning: 

Unlike many other methods that change the color of the skin; tanning with soap retains the natural white color of the skin. It preserves the hide with good stretch and softness like a brain tan. 

The biggest draw back to this method is it requires waisting small amounts of the pelt to test its 'doneness'. If you are using small animals for the fur it is best to keep the leg and foot skin attached - only remove the toes when skinning. That way the part you discard will be parts you don't need anyways.

How to Soap tan:

  • Saturate the hide with vegetable oil; rubbing the oil into the hide until the hide begins to be translucent.

  • Prepare a strong soap-and-water solution in a container large enough to hold and cover the hide - place the hide into the bowl and stir with a wooden spoon until the skin is white again in color.

  • Prepare a pot of boiling water. Cut off a small strip of hide (2 inch by 1/2 inch) to test if the hide is done.

  • Place the strip in the boiling water for approximately 30 seconds. If the strip becomes stiff and curls; more time is needed. If the strip remains pliable after being removed from the boiling water; it is done tanning.

  • Rinse the hide under running water until all of the soap solution is off the hide.

  • Squeeze out the hide by hand to remove excess water being careful to not damage the hair.

  • Drape the hide over a board, chair back or table edge and pull the hide back and forth to stretch it as the skin dries. Work the skin in all directions.  Stretch from corner to corner. The success in getting a soft pliable skin lies in the amount of work you are willing to put into it before it totally dries. 

The flesh side can be made softer or smoothed out to a fine suede finish by working it over a sandpaper block. You can also eliminate the thicker sections on the edges of the hide by shaving them down with a razor knife or skiver. 

The final step is to clean and brighten the pelt by tumbling it in dry, clean, warm sawdust.  It is preferable to use hardwood sawdust, bran or coarse ground cornmeal.  Remove the excess debris from the fur by shaking, gently beating the skin side and finishing up with blowing it out with compressed air. Then brush it out to lay the hair evenly.

 

Egg Tanning: 

One of the more unusual and less common methods for tanning. It is not a reliable method if you intend to sew your skins for garments or pillows. It is also not recommended for anything larger or thicker than a rabbit hide. 

 

How to Egg tan:

  • Get a dozen eggs and separate the yolks from the whites. Put the whites aside and use them for cooking. Add 1-2 tablespoon of water to the yolks (depending on the size of the eggs) and blend completely.

  • Tack out the skin hair side down and brush a coat of the egg solution onto the entire surface - take care to not get egg on the fur. Cover with a damp warm cloth and let set for 24 hours. 

  • Un-tack the hide and rinse with clean water. Squeeze out most of the water then lay out flat to dry. 

  • When it is nearly dry but still damp begin to work the skin in all directions. 

  • Stretch from corner to corner and work the skin side over a wooden steak, board or wood beam.  The success in getting a soft pliable skin lies in the amount of work you are willing to put into it before it totally dries.

  • If the skin is not soft enough when it is dry; you must start the process over with the egg mixture and work it again until it dries again. ​

The flesh side can be made softer or smoothed out to a fine suede finish by working it over a sandpaper block. You can also eliminate the thicker sections on the edges of the hide by shaving them down with a razor knife or skiver. 

The final step is to clean and brighten the tanned skin by tumbling it in dry, clean, warm sawdust. Preferably hardwood sawdust, bran or coarse ground cornmeal. Remove the excess debris from the fur by shaking, gently beating the skin side and finishing up with blowing it out with compressed air. Then brush it out to lay the hair evenly.

 

Salt - Acid Tanning: 

One of the oldest processes; correctly called tawing.

 

How to Acid tan:

  • Use a plastic or wooden container large enough to hold and spread out the hide you will be tanning.

  • For each gallon of water use 1 pound of common salt and 1/2 ounce of sulfuric acid.

  • Dissolve the salt in warm water.

  • Slowly stir the acid into the water - use gloves and a cartridge respirator for this step.

  • Put the clean softened skins in the solution - ensure the hide is completely covered or submerged - stir frequently.

  • Depending on the thickness of the skin it can take 1 - 7 days to fully saturate. The progress of the tanning process can be checked by trimming off a sliver of the hide from the edge and seeing that the color is consistent totally through (like checking a piece of spaghetti to see if it it totally cooked).

  • When the hide is completely saturated remove it from the acid solution and rinse with cold clean water. Squeeze the skin to remove most of the water and hang to drip dry - 5 - 20 minutes depending on its size.

  • Submerge the hide in borax water - agitate and work it for approximately 10 minutes. Rinse again with clean cold water, squeeze to remove the majority of water and hang to drip dry for approximately 1 hour.

  • Tack the skin flesh side up and apply a thin coat of grease or oil. Leave the skin stretched to dry - check it frequently.

 

The skin must not be too wet; but also can not be too dry before you start working the skin.  When it is nearly dry but still damp; un-tack the hide and begin to work the skin in all directions.  Stretch from corner to corner and work the skin side over a wooden steak, board or wood beam. The success in getting a soft pliable skin lies in the amount of work you are willing to put into it before it totally dries. If the skin is not soft enough when it is dry; you must re-dampen it with distilled water and work it again until it dries again - you may need to do this several times. ​

The flesh side can be made softer or smoothed out to a fine suede finish by working it over a sandpaper block. You can also eliminate the thicker sections on the edges of the hide by shaving them down with a razor knife or skiver.

The final step is to clean and brighten the pelt by tumbling it in dry, clean, warm sawdust. - preferably hardwood sawdust, bran or coarse ground cornmeal. This may need to be done repeatedly. Remove the excess debris from the fur by shaking, gently beating the skin side and finishing up with blowing it out with compressed air. Then brush it out to lay the hair evenly.

 

Salt - Alum Tanning: 

It is considered to be slightly better than the salt-acid tan because it is a little more permanent and when properly done skins have a little more stretch and flexibility.

 

How to Alum tan:

  • Use a plastic or wooden container large enough to hold and spread out the hide you will be tanning.

  • For each gallon of water dissolve 1 pound of ammonia alum or pot ash.

  • Dissolve 4 ounce of washing soda (crystalized sodium carbonate) and 8 ounces of salt in 1/2 gallon of water.

  • Vigorously stir the alum water as you slowly add the soda mix. 

  • Put the clean softened skins in the solution - ensure the hide is completely covered or submerged - stir frequently.

  • Depending on the thickness of the skin it can take 2 - 7 days to fully saturate. The progress of the tanning process can be checked by trimming off a sliver of the hide from the edge and seeing that the color is consistent totally through (like checking a piece of spaghetti to see if it is totally cooked).

  • When the hide is completely saturated remove it from the tanning solution and rinse with cold clean water. Squeeze the skin to remove most of the water and hang to drip dry - 5 - 20 minutes depending on the size.

  • Submerge the hide in borax water (1 ounce of powdered borax to 1 gallon of distilled water) agitate and work it for approximately 10 minutes. Rinse again with clean cold water. Squeeze to remove the majority of water and hang to drip dry for approximately 1 hour.

  • Tack the skin flesh side up and apply a thin coat of grease or oil. Leave the skin stretched to dry - check frequently.

 

The skin must not be too wet; but also can not be too dry before you start working the skin. When it is nearly dry but still damp; un-tack the hide and begin to work the skin in all directions. Stretch from corner to corner and work the skin side over a wooden steak, board or wood beam. The success in getting a soft pliable skin lies in the amount of work you are willing to put into it before it totally dries. If the skin is not soft enough when it is dry; you must re-dampen it with distilled water and work it again until it dries again - you may need to do this several times. 

 

A common 'old school' method to use if your skin is still greasy after you are done is to give it a quick dip into gasoline. This will remove the excess oil and remove any lingering unpleasant odors - especially handy for skunk pelts - down side is it will now smell like gasoline.

 

The flesh side can be made softer or smoothed out to a fine suede finish by working it over a sandpaper block. You can also eliminate the thicker sections on the edges of the hide by shaving them down with a razor knife or skiver.

The final step is to clean and brighten the pelt by tumbling it in dry, clean, warm sawdust. - preferably hardwood sawdust, bran or coarse ground cornmeal. This may need to be done repeatedly. Remove the excess debris from the fur by shaking, gently beating the skin side and finishing up with blowing it out with compressed air. Then brush it out to lay the hair evenly.

  • Because the alum may have an adverse effect on some furs; you may want to use the mix as a paste and apply it to the flesh side only.

  • Mix the tanning solution as above and add flour to make a thin paste - avoid lumps.

  • Tack the skin out hair side down and apply 1/8 inch of paste on the skin - Leave for 24hrs.

  • Day 2 scrape off the paste and re-coat - leave for 24hrs.

  • Day 3 scrape off the paste and re-coat - leave for 4 more days.

  • The penetration of the tanning can be checked by trimming off a sliver of the hide from the edge and seeing that the color is consistent totally through (like checking a piece of spaghetti to see if it is totally cooked).

  • When the hide is completely saturated un tack and rinse with cold clean water. Squeeze the skin to remove most of the water and hang to drip dry - 5 - 20 minutes depending on the size.

  • Submerge the hide in borax water (1 ounce of powdered borax to 1 gallon of distilled water) agitate and work it for approximately 10 minutes. Rinse again with clean cold water, squeeze to remove the majority of water and hang to drip dry for approximately 1 hour.

  • Re-tack the skin flesh side up and apply a thin coat of grease or oil. Leave the skin stretched to dry - check it every day.

  • When the skin is nearly dry but still damp un-tack and follow the above procedure to finish the pelt.

 

Oil Tanning: 

Oil-tanning is a process of tanning leather using natural oils after the initial vegetable tan - Typically fish oil - cod oil to be precise. Tanning with aldehydes and oils produce very soft leathers. This system can be used to produce dry-cleanable and washable fashion leathers as well as chamois leather. The most recognizable application for oil tanned leather is in building boots and shoes. It is pliable when stretching and molding it into the form of a shoe like nothing else. The longest part of the process in shoe making comes from waiting for the stretched leather to dry into its three dimensional form.  Oil-tanned leather makes this process easier.

 

How to Oil tan:

  • ​Oil tan is really just an oil finish so select a vegetable or bark tanning process that works for you.

  • When the tanning process is done and your skin is ready to 'oil' coat both sides with pure cod oil.

  • Place the hide on a firm surface and pound it all over with a rubber or plastic mallet.

  • Once both sides have been 'pounded' completely in all areas the hide needs to be hung in a hot oven like environment where the oil can oxidize and 'adhere' to the skin fibers. 

 

Raven Bear Tanning:

You knew you would get here eventually - this is our formula and process for tanning hides. 

After decades of working with different skins for different purposes - we have done everything from cow hide rugs to fox fur coats to coon skin hats to life-size moose mounts.

 

Our process is a blended version of a few methods and provides a reliable, long lasting wet tan for taxidermy that dries rock hard and holds up to damp coastal climates. Using the same formula but adding a few extra steps; we create a soft, flexible, sewable skin with longer lasting tannage and an un-smoked buckskin with a rugged, weathered, natural look. 

How we tan:

  • Dissolve 1 pound of aluminum sulfate and 1 pound of salt together for every 1 gallon of warm water.

  • After the water has reached ambient temperature - carefully and slowly stir in 1/2 ounce of formic acid for every 1 gallon of mixed solution - wearing gloves and a respirator is recommended for this step.

  • Fill a container with enough of the above solution to completely submerge your skin. Be sure that the hide can be moved around to expose all surfaces to the solution. - Deer hides will float so make sure the skin side is always down.

 

 

Using a PH tester or testing tape; check the acidic level of the mix.

It should be between 3 and 4.

Any higher than 4.5 the skin will not tan properly.

Any less than 3 will burn the hair - it will look like a bad perm. 

If this happens you can not fix it - no one wants a curly haired elk.

  • Agitate the hide in the solution frequently - at least twice a day - stir the formula from the bottom to be sure any un-dissolved aluminum gets mixed in completely and properly covers the hide. 

  • After 3 days small, thin skins like rabbit, raccoon and coyote should be ready to come out. The skin will have an 'all white' appearance - there will be no pink or bluish spots. If any area still looks 'pinkish' leave it in for another day. 

 

Deer, pig and bear will take 5-7 days.

Larger, thick skinned animals like elk, moose and buffalo can take up to 3 weeks.

 

When the hide is ready to come out - the acid needs to be neutralized. If this step is not taken the acid will continue to work on the skin after it dries creating a condition where the hair falls out and the skin cracks and separates; much like 'dry rot'.

Neutralizing water:

  • 1oz of baking soda for every 1 gallon of water. 

  • Fill a container with enough of the above solution to completely submerge your skin. Be sure that the hide can be moved around to expose all surfaces to the solution.

  • Only leave the skin in this solution for 10 minutes (small stuff coyote size or smaller) and no longer that 1 hour for bigger skins - seriously - no longer. If left too long the acid will not just be neutralized - it will reverse the whole tanning process. If you forget you left something in the neutralizer and it has returned to a 'pinkish' color when you take it out; you will need to rinse it out completely with clean water and put it back in the acidic tan.

  • If the skin is still bright white squeeze out the water and hang to drip dry for 20 minutes to 1 hour depending on the size. 

 

At this point the skin is ready to be thinned and mounted. If you are not ready for that you can roll up the hide, put it in a plastic bag and freeze it until you are ready. If your intention is to get a garment quality soft, dry tan; go on to the next step...

  • Lay out the pelt skin side up and apply a thin layer of neat's foot, castor or olive oil. If you are making buck skin you will need to oil both sides. Your choice of oil has totally to do with what you want to get on your hands if you are working without gloves. And the smell; some oils will have a more or less pleasant odor when you use them to make leather. They will each provide a slightly different quality to the finished product. Whichever you choose - allow the skin to dry somewhat.

  • The skin must not be too wet; but also can not be too dry before you start working the skin. While the skin is still damp; begin to work the hide in all directions.

  • Stretch from corner to corner and work the skin side over a metal angle bar, wooden board or wood beam.

  • The success in getting a soft pliable skin lies in the amount of work you are willing to put into it before it totally dries.

  • With this tanning method re-wetting is not an option; so you need to be diligent and do it properly the first time.

The flesh side may be made softer or smoothed out to a fine suede finish by working it over a sandpaper block. You can also eliminate the thicker sections on the edges of the hide by shaving them down with a razor knife or skiver.

The final step is to clean and brighten the hair on the tanned skin by tumbling it in dry, clean, warm sawdust. - preferably hardwood sawdust; but bran or coarse ground cornmeal will also get the job done.  Remove the excess debris from the fur by shaking, gently beating the skin side and finishing up with blowing it out with compressed air. Then brush or comb it out to lay the hair evenly.

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Chrome Tanning: 

Chrome tanning is the most popular kind of tanning in the global leather industry. Most the time, the chromium tanning process starts right there when the animal is slaughtered. Unlike vegetable tanning, chrome tanners don’t get raw hides. The hide is removed after the animal is slaughtered - usually by machine. It is then taken to a tannery that is part of the slaughterhouse, where the hair and flesh are removed. It is then put through an initial tanning process where the hides come out with a distinct bluish color. The result of this process is a more supple leather with better water resistance than vegetable tanned leather. It is also more resistant to stains and heat compared to vegetable-tanned leather. On the down side; there are issue with chrome-tanned products. Aside from needing special toxic waste disposal for used formula; this leather does not wear well and gradually looses its appearance with time and exposure to the elements. Also; it cannot be tooled after tanning so it is not suitable for patterning and stamping.