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.
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.
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)
After you have your ingredients assembled, the following steps will tan the hide.
- Soak the dried skins in plain, fresh water for two hours prior to tanning to make them flexible.
- Boil three gallons of water and pour over the bran flakes. Allow to sit for one hour.
- Strain the bran flakes and reserve the brown water from the flakes.
- Boil the remaining four gallons of water.
- Pour the boiling water into a trashcan.
- Add sixteen cups of plain salt to the boiling water and stir with the wooden stick.
- Next, add the bran flake water and stir again.
- Allow this mixture to cool down to a lukewarm temperature.
- 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.
- Peel the inner skin off of your dried hides and add them to the battery acid and water mixture.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Use the wooden stick to remove the hides from the rinse water.
- Hang the hides over the back of a chair or some other surface to allow them to drain.
- 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.
- Tack the hide to a wooden stretcher. You can use wood pallets that you salvage from many businesses.
- Pull the hide gently as you tack it to the wood. You want it to be taut.
- 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