There are a number of ways to tan a pelt. There are plenty of home recipes online, traditional brain tanning methods and professionally tanned fur. This method follows step-by-step proven methods used by taxidermists around the world. The finished product is a soft, supple pelt that can be hung on the wall or used to make a coat, hat, comforter, etc.
A decade ago, I used home-made recipes that sometimes called for turpentine. I’ve also used other tanning products on the market to tan raccoon hides, too. The end results were always the same: I had to break the tanned fur over a rope or board or chair back to make it soft. This method takes some serious elbow grease to obtain soft fur.
Several years ago I came across a tanning kit made by TruBond Taxidermy. The solutions are safe to use and produce the best tanned fur I’ve ever accomplished. I’ve tanned a dozen different pelts using the methods and products from TruBond — including coyotes, red and gray fox, raccoon and opossum. The finished product is always a soft, supple pelt that is a true trophy.
Below is the step-by-step recipe to produce your own professionally tanned pelts.
Step 1: Skinning
I’m a big fan of cased-skinned pelts. A cased pelt has an enhanced natural look and preserves the entire pelt — with face and nose completely intact. The finished product resembles the living critter. Instead of splitting the fur down the belly section, you start at the two hind feet and cut through the skin all the way around each ankle. Then you run your knife down the inside of the hind leg, where the bottom and side furs converge. You can see the physical differences in the fur at this intersection. Run down to and around the anus and up the other side to the opposite ankle. Then you simply work the pelt off the carcass all the way to the tip of the nose. It’s like turning a sock inside out.
Bonus Tip: take your time working the pelt off. Pull down what you can and use a sharp knife to cut away the carcass from the pelt. Go slow so you don’t knick the skin and cut a hole in it. If large enough, you’ll have to stitch it together before tanning. Take extra time around the head, especially the ear, eyes and nose. If you cut too fast you won’t preserve the thin skin around the eyes and ears.
Step 2: A Race Against Time
Tanning is a method of preserving animal skin. If done properly, the skin is turned into leather with the fur firmly attached to the skin. A professionally tanned pelt will last decades if cared for properly.
As soon as the animal is dispatched, a stopwatch begins. You’re in a race with bacteria. When an animal dies, bacteria in its gut and on its body begin to rapidly multiply and breakdown the tissues. This is the natural decomposition process. Your job is to freeze time shortly after the animal is harvested. One of the first signs of a bacterial explosion, a.k.a., decomposition, is hair slippage. This can happen in an isolated location or across the entire pelt. The hair literally slips out of the skin. If I notice this at any stage prior to tanning, I pitch the pelt in the trash. You can’t reverse the effects of decomposition, so it’s important to skin and process the fur immediately. If it’s hot out, the bacteria multiples exponentially faster than when the temps are cold.
Step 3: Pickle Bath
A pickle bath is no more than a clean, 5-gallon bucket half filled with tap water, citric acid, pickling salt and a fur-safe degreaser. Your pelt will stay submerged in this solution right up until the day of tanning. A pickle is an extremely acidic environment with a pH of 1.5 to 2.0. You’ll want to use litmus paper to test the water to ensure it’s correct. Bacteria can’t grow or live in such an acidic environment, so you essentially freeze the “stopwatch,” and the pelt doesn’t degrade prior to tanning. I use a stick or plastic spoon to stir the pelt around each day. Don’t use metal. It will corrode in the pickle. Also, keep the pickle bath in a warmer environment. It doesn’t smell and, if you can keep it in a climate-controlled area in the 60-degree range or above, it will work better. Some taxidermist place a fish-tank heater in the pickle to keep the temp around 80 degrees. This allows the pickle and degreaser to break down fats and proteins faster.
Step 4: Fleshing
After the pelt soaks for a day or two, pull it out and wring out the pickle water as thoroughly as you can. Then place the pelt skin-side up on a fleshing beam and begin fleshing from the face down to the tail. I highly recommend getting a fleshing knife for this task. After you flesh a few raccoons you’ll be a pro with the specialty knife. A fleshing knife pushes off any connective tissue, meat, fat and grease from the skin-side of the pelt. You’ll do this all the way down and around the entire pelt until you’ve cleaned the skin to a nice white color. Then drop the pelt back in your pickle solution for another couple of days. If your pickle bath is really dirty because of blood or dirt on the pelt, simple dump it out and mix a new one up.
After a couple-day soak in the pickle, pull the pelt out and wring it out again. Place it back on your fleshing beam and give it a final scrape. At this point you’re using your fleshing knife like a squeegee to push all the grease and fat out of the pelt. Once completed, place the pelt back in pickle bath for another day or two.
Fleshing takes practice and time, so be sure to do a quality job over a fast job. You want to remove all meat and connective tissue from the skin. The tanning solution won’t penetrate the skin as well in this area and it could “tan out” stiff instead of soft.
Step 5: Neutralize Pelt
The night before or the morning that you plan to tan your pelt you’ll need to pull it from the pickle bath and neutralize the pelt. You simply mix a couple gallons of water with baking soda and pickling salt. After pulling your pelt from the pickle, you wash it off in fresh water and then submerge it in the neutralizing bucket. The pelt will sit in here for an hour. You’ll want to stir the pelt around every 10 minutes or so to ensure the neutralizing water penetrates all of the skin. Once the pelt sits for an hour, wring it out good and hang it to dry. You can run a fan on it at this point, too. Once the skin is tacky to the touch (not dripping wet) then it’s time to apply the tanning agent.
Step 6: Tanning
With all the “hard” work behind you, it’s time to tan the skin. Once the pelt is no longer dripping wet, but tacky and pliable, you can apply the tanning product. If the pelt has dried stiff in places, be sure to wipe the areas with water to moisten it back up. The tanning solution won’t soak into a dry skin. For furbearers I use TruBond’s 1000B tanning agent. I simply shake the bottle well before opening, pour some in a plastic Solo cup and liberally rub the oil over the entire skin-side of the pelt. Be sure to get it on the skin-side of the ears, face, entire length of tail and all areas with skin. Try to avoid getting it on the hair side. Once you’ve covered the pelt, hang it up to dry. I hang mine in the basement or garage, just avoid placing it in an area where freezing could occur. Let the pelt hang overnight or for 24 hours depending how fast it begins to dry.
Step 7: Breaking The Skin
I said earlier that you don’t have to kill yourself breaking the skin of these pelts, and you don’t. Still, there’s a little work left before the project is complete. Over the next couple of days, you’ll want to pull and stretch the skin in different directions. This helps break up the leather fibers and will result in a softer skin. The next day you’ll notice the pelt’s skin has turned a light brown/beige color, replacing the bright white skin you tanned the day prior. At this point start pulling sections of the pelt to the sides, up and down and every which a way. As you do you’ll notice the skin instantly turns back to a white/off white color when stretched. This means the tanning agent penetrated into the skin and you’ve successfully tanned your pelt. The more you stretch the skin over the next couple of days, the softer it will become.
Bonus Tip: Raccoons and coyotes are notorious for having thick neck skins. Once the pelt is tanned, you’ll notice how much thicker the neck area of the skin is and, ultimately, it’s the stiffest section of the pelt. If your pelt is going directly on the wall as is, then you’re done. Once the pelt is completely dry, find a great spot on the wall to showcase it. However, if you’d like a softer pelt or perhaps you want to have your pelt turned into a hat or other garment, then it’s best to shave the neck area down to soften it up. To accomplish this, I use a wire-wheel attachment on my cordless drill and run it up-and-down and side-to-side over the leather area of the neck. This can take several minutes to get the skin down to the desired thickness. Just don’t stay in one place too long. This can cause heat to build in the pelt, possibly causing damage. Also, don’t go too thin by cutting into the hair roots.
Novice To Pro
That’s the entire step-by-step directions to create your own professionally tanned fur pelts. The method described above is specific to the TruBond tanning products and procedures. If you want to try the above process for yourself, I recommend the “starter” kit, which contains everything you need to tan two coyotes or three or four fox and raccoons.
Video: Watch as Mark Olis professionally tans a raccoon pelt.
How do you tan a pelt? ›
For furbearers I use TruBond's 1000B tanning agent. I simply shake the bottle well before opening, pour some in a plastic Solo cup and liberally rub the oil over the entire skin-side of the pelt. Be sure to get it on the skin-side of the ears, face, entire length of tail and all areas with skin.How long does it take to tan a pelt? ›
Immerse the skin in the tanning solution for 2 to 5 days, depending upon its thickness. Two days should be sufficient for a rabbit skin, while a deer hide may require up to 5 days.What to do with pelt after skinning? ›
Prior to stretching, any remaining flesh and fat is removed from the hide to aid in the drying process. Once dried, the hunter/trapper must decide if they are going to sell the hide to a fur-buyer, ship the hide to a fur auction company for sale, or keep the hide and tan the skin for permanent personal use.How do you dry tan a hide? ›
Apply a layer of salt to all areas of the flesh side of the hide. Applying salt on the hair side is not necessary. After salting, roll the hide up and place on an incline to allow fluids to drain away from the hide. Wait approximately 12 hours.How did Native Americans tan pelts? ›
A tanning mixture made of brains, liver, soapweed, and grease was rubbed into the hide. Tanning made it soft. "Then women had had a great deal to do when buffalo were killed. As soon as they had skinned the animal, they spread the skin on the ground and pegged it down to stretch and dry.How long will a tanned pelt last? ›
Finally, tanned fur can be stored indefinitely.How many coats of tan should you do? ›
"With all tans, apply two coats to the body and one to the face. Starting at the ankles and working your way up means that tan will be dry enough to apply a second coat after a couple of minutes; just start again at the ankles for the second layer," Jules told us. GHI review.Can you tan a fresh hide? ›
How to Tan a Hide with Salt. Fresh hides right off the animal should be cooled immediately. Trim off any flesh and scrape visible fat from the hide. Place the skin in the shade, laying it completely flat with the fur side down, preferably on a cold concrete or rock surface.Can you use borax to tan hides? ›
Borax is used for soaking hides and skins, for stripping vegetable tans and for neutralizing chrome tans. Boric acid is used mainly for neutralizing limed pelts.Are coyote pelts worth anything? ›
Wood's Trapping Today website includes a 2022-2023 fur price market forecast where he predicts best-quality heavy western coyotes to bring in approximately $30-$40 per pelt, while lower-quality eastern coyotes may only bring in $10-$25 per pelt. Good-quality raccoon pelts may bring in $10-$15.
How do you preserve pelt before fleshing? ›
Place furbearers or pelts in plastic bags and remove as much air as possible. Tie tightly and place in a freezer. Pelts that are to be frozen should be rolled nose to tail, leather in. Thaw slowly to prevent hair slip before pelting or fleshing.How long does it take for pelts to dry? ›
Some of the remaining grease may be removed by scraping after the stretching has been completed. Beaver pelts should remain stretched until fully dry, usually taking about one week.What chemicals do you need to tan a hide? ›
Use 1/2 lb of table salt per gallon of water and extremely hot water to dissolve the salt. Mix thoroughly until salt is dissolved and let the water cool. Immerse the hide in the solution and leave for six to eight hours.How much does it cost to tan a hide? ›
Commercial tanners charge anywhere from $25 to $45 per hiding. However, if you're planning to tan your own, keep in mind that the job is quite time-consuming and will take a few days.What kind of salt do you use for tanning hides? ›
In order to get the best results while tanning hides, most tanning experts recommend using pickling salt or non-iodized salt. If you want to avoid salting, cleaning, and hanging the hides right soon after slaughtering, you may freeze them for months or even years until you're ready to tan them.How do Eskimos tan hides? ›
They tan all the caribou hides in the traditional way using only scrapers and water. Skins tanned in this way need to be kept cool or they will begin to fall apart.How did Eskimos tan hides? ›
Eskimo: “They scraped it off (the alder bark) 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.How did the Cherokee tan hides? ›
Often the hide would be soaked in water and ash before this process to help loosen the hair. To tan the hide, the Algonquians removed the brains from the deer and made them into a watery paste, smearing the concoction onto the hide. This transformed the skin into workable leather.Can you freeze pelts before tanning? ›
Once the skin is cold from washing roll it up and put it in a suitable bag and put it in your freezer. It does not matter how you fold it up. Once frozen it is able to be transported safely to us where we can thaw it out and start the tanning process. Take the skin out of your freezer, double bag it.Can you tan a hide with just salt? ›
Completely cover the fleshy surface with salt (not rock salt). “You cannot use too much,” Wagner says. Leave overnight. The next day soak the salted skin in clean water for up to two hours, or until the skin is soft.
Is it better to tan wet or dry? ›
Dry is better than wet. Take it slowly and gently. It may sound like a drag, but burning doubles your risk of skin cancer - and intermittent, intense sun exposure raises your risk by 70 per cent.How long is a good tan session? ›
If this is your skin type, you can begin anywhere between four and ten minutes. Increasing your sessions by one to two-minute intervals is optional if you want to achieve the deepest color. Type 5 skin can withstand up to 20 minutes maximum in a bed or booth without burning. Anything more will result in UV damage.Should I tan one or two days before? ›
It's all about timing when tanning
Two days out from an event gives you the perfect golden glow. It's like clean hair: day two is always the best!”
Make sure that the hide is actually stretched, not just hung, on the drying rack. The more the hide is stretched, the larger it will be once the tanning process is complete.Can you tan a hide without pickling? ›
Every hide must be “pickled” before tanning, using 1 gallon of water per hide. Items needed for pickling include salt, citric acid and pH test strips. Citric acid can be found in the canning and jelly section of any grocery.Does borax damage leather? ›
Mild dish soap, on the other hand, possesses a basic pH level between 7-8, and other general cleaners, such as Borax, usually find their way to around a basic 10. The contrast between leather pH levels and the cleaners' during contact damages leather fibers and can weaken its integrity over time.What acid is used in tanning hides? ›
Sodium Formate and Formic Acid are both used in the tanning industry. Formic Acid is used in the leather industry for tanning, dyeing and sterilization of skins and hides.How long can I leave a hide salted? ›
Salted hides can be kept up to one year and are resistant to temperature fluctuations. However, they must be stored in a certain manner after drying.How much is a bobcat pelt worth? ›
These bobcats, from Canada and parts of the Lower 48 outside of the top Western sections, may continue to bring averages of $60-90. However, any weakness in the market could send these prices down to the $30-50 range. Nobody seems interested in Red Fox or Greys. They'll probably fetch around $10 on average.What is the most valuable animal fur? ›
The top three most expensive and coveted furs around the globe are sable, lynx and chinchilla. Each of these furs possess characteristics that make them unique, extremely luxurious and highly sought-after.
How much is a squirrel pelt worth? ›
Otter pelts fetch about $80 apiece. Squirrel pelts sell for much less. One fur-buying website says it will pay up to $6 for a complete squirrel skin in its winter coat for taxidermy purposes, as long as it has "no large holes, no head shots, may have up to two .Do you salt hide before or after fleshing? ›
Salting before fleshing is definitely the way to go. Just be sure to remove any large or thick chunks of meat that are on the hide before applying the salt. As far as the hooves go, you will have to remove the knuckle all the way up inside the hoof.How do you get perfect pelt? ›
Get as close as you can to the animal and when the reticle turns red, throw your lasso at the animal. Arthur will immediately get off his horse when he catches an animal. This kind of precise kill will always give you a perfect pelt if you hunted an animal in pristine condition.How much is a tanned coyote hide worth? ›
Heavy western coyote pelts are worth between $70 and $100. Eastern coyote pelts usually go for between $30 and $40. Southern coyote pelts and low-quality pelts are likely to be worth $10-15. Coyote pelts can be sold on e-commerce sites, to a local buyer, or at an auction.How long can you wait to skin a coyote? ›
How long can you wait to skin a coyote? Coyotes are smaller animals, and they can spoil pretty quickly if you don't skin them right away. As a general rule of thumb, you'll never want to wait longer than three days to skin a coyote — especially if you aren't storing it somewhere frozen.What is the best oil for tanning hides? ›
Protal is an excellent tanning oil that may be applied to dry-tanned hides or tanned wet hides that have been drained. Protal is a sulfonated tanning oil that mixes readily with water.Are there any tanneries in the United States? ›
There are approximately 111 leather tanning facilities in the United States. However, not every facility may perform the entire tanning or finishing process.Can you use Epsom salt to tan hides? ›
1 – Tan Animal Hides
One way to replace your worn-out clothes is to create news ones out of processed animal skins, and Epsom salt can help with the tanning process.
Sea salt is great as it attracts the sunlight onto your skin. If you've been in the sea do start tanning before you dry off. Note: Salt and water put together in a bottle will not be as effective as actual sea water; this is because sea water contains other important minerals which contribute to enhancing your tan.What can I use to tan fur? ›
Tanning Hide Recipe
7 gallons water. 2 pounds (16 cups) bran flakes. 16 cups plain or pickling salt (not iodized) 2 large plastic trash cans (30 gallon) and one lid.
How do you prepare a pelt? ›
Push the fleshing knife away from your body, working from the head of the beaver downward. Scrape as much fat and other flesh as possible away from the hide. Cornmeal or sawdust rubbed into the flesh side of the pelt and brushed off helps remove oil and fat. This helps prevent grease burn and aids in uniform drying.Do you have to dry a hide before tanning? ›
The process to tan hides begins with the drying, salting, or smoking stage, which is arguably the most significant. Before scraping-out fat, extra flesh, and/or hair, the hide must be completely dry.What kind of alum is used for tanning hides? ›
Tanning with Aluminum Sulfate
Immerse the skins and stir frequently. Light skinned animals such as Squirrel, Bobcat, Fox, or Coyote will tan in 48 hours. Thicker skinned animals such as Raccoon, Beaver, will tan in about 3-4 days, and heavy skinned animals such as Moose, and Elk will tan in 5-6 days.
Every hide must be “pickled” before tanning, using 1 gallon of water per hide. Items needed for pickling include salt, citric acid and pH test strips. Citric acid can be found in the canning and jelly section of any grocery.How long will a salted hide last? ›
Will store at least one year. This is the most practical method for people who tan alot of hides. Storing salted hides in tarps or other permeable containers causes them to dry slowly over time. The more they dry the harder they will be to scrape later.How much should I charge to tan a deer hide? ›
Make a pickle bath in a plastic tub using equal parts distilled white vinegar and water plus two pounds of salt per gallon of solution (a typical deer hide requires about four gallons). Immerse the skin and leave for up to three days, stirring several times per day.How do you soften a hide after tanning? ›
If you just need to soften one tanned hide, simply find a good solid edge that does not contain any splinters, burrs or objects that can rip the hide, like on the sanded edges of a saw horse. Grab two sides of the hide and rub or buff it across the edge as you pull it taut until it softens. Repeat for the entire hide.