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Tanning Hides at Home

You don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars for high-priced material made from animal pelts. You can tan hides at home and save money. If your family is going back to the basics, you don’t want to go to the store for sheepskin rugs or rabbit fur jackets. You can make these at home with hides from the animals you hunt for the table.

The process in this article can be used to tan rabbit hides, sheepskins, deerskins, and other animals that you have hunted for food. There’s no reason to throw away a perfectly good pelt when you can transform it into a beautiful hide for projects. You can make cozy rugs, beautiful purses, and warm winter jackets. Once you have tanned your first hide, you will be amazed how easy it is, and your friends will be impressed with your skills.

Fresh Skins

The first step in the process of tanning hides is to cool them immediately. After you remove it from the animal, you have to trim the flesh and fat away. Lay the hide in a cool area with the fur side facing down. If you have a flat piece of concrete or rock in a shady area, put the hide there until the skin has cooled completely. Once the skin is cool to the touch, liberally cover it in uniodized or plain salt. The salt keeps the skin from decomposing.

You need to make sure the spot you choose is out of reach of predators that might gnaw the skin. If you need to move the skin to a different spot, make sure you move it completely flat.

You need to make sure you allow the skin to dry completely in a cool place. You should add more salt to the skin to help this process along, as the salt draws the moisture out of the skin. You can’t rush the drying process. It can take a few weeks or a few days. When the skin is completely dry it will be crispy and stable. At this point, you are ready to make your tanning solution.

Tanning Solution

Once the skin has dried, gather the following items and get ready to tan the hide. This recipe will make enough solution for four large animals or ten rabbits.

  • 7 gallons water
  • 16 cups plain salt
  • 2 pounds bran flakes
  • 3½ cups battery acid (from auto parts store)
  • 2 large plastic trashcans and one lid (30-gallon size)
  • 2 boxes baking soda
  • Neat’s-foot oil
  • Sponge or paintbrush
  • Wood rack or stretcher (wooden pallets will work)
  • 4-foot stirring stick (wooden)
  • Nails or tacks
  • Bristle brush (preferably wire)

How To Get The Process Your Game In The Least Amount Of Time…

After you have your ingredients assembled, the following steps will tan the hide.

  1. Soak the dried skins in plain, fresh water for two hours prior to tanning to make them flexible.
  2. Boil three gallons of water and pour over the bran flakes. Allow to sit for one hour.
  3. Strain the bran flakes and reserve the brown water from the flakes.
  4. Boil the remaining four gallons of water.
  5. Pour the boiling water into a trashcan.
  6. Add sixteen cups of plain salt to the boiling water and stir with the wooden stick.
  7. Next, add the bran flake water and stir again.
  8. Allow this mixture to cool down to a lukewarm temperature.
  9. Next, put on rubber gloves and add the battery acid to the water mixture in the trashcan. Note: Do not let the battery acid splash. You should also make sure you have read all precautions and first-aid information on the battery acid before handling it.
  10. Peel the inner skin off of your dried hides and add them to the battery acid and water mixture.
  11. Push the skins under the mixture with the stirring stick and leave them for forty minutes.

While the hides are soaking, fill another trashcan with fresh, clear water that is lukewarm and continue with the following steps.

  1. Transfer the skins from the battery acid mixture to the clear water using the wooden stick. Stir the water with the wooden stick continually to remove the slat from the skins. After about five minutes, change the water.
  2. At this point, you have a choice to make. Some people add baking soda to the rinse water to neutralize the battery acid. This is because some people have reactions to the hide from the acid being used in the tanning process. On the other hand, the baking soda also neutralizes the preserving effects of the battery acid. A good rule of thumb for many people is to decide based on what the hide will be used for in the end. Rugs and non-clothing items can be tanned without the baking soda; if it’s going to be clothing, use baking soda to prevent an allergic reaction.
  3. Use the wooden stick to remove the hides from the rinse water.
  4. Hang the hides over the back of a chair or some other surface to allow them to drain.
  5. Use a sponge or paintbrush to apply a layer of neat’s-foot oil to the skin side of the hide. This should be done while the hides are still damp.
  6. Tack the hide to a wooden stretcher. You can use wood pallets that you salvage from many businesses.
  7. Pull the hide gently as you tack it to the wood. You want it to be taut.
  8. Place in shady area to dry.

Your hide is now ready to sit in the shade until it is dry. You can now dispose of your tanning solution; however, you have to do this safely. Make sure you are in a well-ventilated area before pouring baking soda into the acid-water mixture. The baking soda will neutralize the acid and cause a toxic gas to be released while it is neutralizing. Do not pour this mixture down the drain. You can pour this mixture on weeds if you want to kill them.

Check the Hide

During the drying period, you need to check your hide every day. You can take the hide off the wooden rack when it feels dry in the center. It will be flexible and soft. Use the wire brush on the skin side of the hide to soften it and lighten the color. Make sure you are using gentle, uniform strokes. The wire brush gives the hide the appearance of suede. Finally, set the hide aside to dry a few more days.

You have now tanned your first hide. You can cut and sew it into a beautiful, warm jacket or make a rug for your floors. Your friends and family will be impressed and probably start asking for your help with their own hides. Give them the recipe and tell them to give it a try just like you did. You can live without spending hundreds on sheepskin rugs and other hides; all you have to do is take the time to do it yourself.

©2012 Off the Grid News

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9 comments

  1. WHAT I WOULD SUGGEST IS THAT PLASTIC DRUMS OF 15-55 GALLONS BE USED FOR THE PROCESS.
    GALVANIZED METAL CANS WILL HAVE THE PLATING STRIPPED FROM THE SURFACE BY THE ACID. REPEATED USE WILL CAUSE RAPID CORROSION OF THE STEEL AND ADD THE RUST TO THE HIDE.

    I LIVED ABOUT A 1/4 MILE FROM A 19TH CENTURY TANNERY AS A CHILD OF ABOUT 10.
    I DID NOT AT THE TIME COMPREHEND WHAT THEY DID THERE.
    I DO REMEMBER HUGE ROTATING DRUMS ABOUT 8 FEET IN DIAMETER THAT WERE MADE OF WOOD AND WERE FILLED WITH HIDES, AND I ASSUMED WATER AT THE TIME.

    THEY HAD FROM A CHILDE’S EYE, TWO HUGE (5 FOOT HIGH) HIT OR MISS ENGINES WITH SPARK PLUGS THE SIZE OF A SODA CAN RUNNING THE SHOW. THE DRIVE BELTS WERE ABOUT A FOOT WIDE. FLYWHEELS WERE ABOUT SIX FEET IN DIAMETER.

    I WAS MORE INTERESTED IN THE ENGINES THAN THE PROCESS.

    I WAS CLOSED ABOUT 1955, TORN DOWN AND A HUGE ELECTRIC POWER SUBSTATION BUILT IN ITS PLACE.

    ABOUT A MILE FROM THERE WAS A SLAUGHTER HOUSE THAT SUPPLIED THE HIDES THEY PROCESSED.

  2. Mitch – I grew up around the meatpackers and tannerys also. They pretty much use the same process today, but with better equipment. If I wanted to cure hides, it wouldn’t be close to the house. We live in the sticks now where the air is pretty clean, sweet at times, but I can close my eyes to think back and still smell those nasty places. My dad would always laugh about it and say it smelled like money ….

  3. I am assuming that this process is for “hair on” hides? I have a wonderful VCR tape on how to tan “buckskin” (hair off) hides the Indian way – brain tanning. It makes the most wonderful soft sewable hides you can imagine – and most importantly, everything comes from nature – no chemicals to buy. In a societal collapse, battery acid probably won’t be available, but animal brains will. According to the author, each animal has enough brains to tan its own hide. However, to assure he has plenty of solution to work with, he buys extra pig brains to supplement his tanning solution.

    The tape is by Covered Bridge Productions, Bob Slack called: The Dry Scrape Method of Brain Tanning Deer Hides
    Rt 1Box 1087
    Sautee, GA 30571
    706-878-2668

  4. IF I REMEMBER CORRECTLY, OAK BARK WAS USED IN THE TANNING PROCESS SOMEWHERE BACK IN TIME.

  5. go online and search “tanning hides naturally”.There several sites which instruct you on this method for those who wish to stay away from using chemicals.Good luck. Mountain man

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