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 properly.
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...