How to Tan a Hide with Fur – Mother Earth News (2023)

Learn how to tan a hide with fur using this method of tanning hides hair on and step-by-step instructions for low cost and low labor tanning.

After hunting or processing livestock for the table, it’s a shame to have to toss out a nice pelt. Here is a method of tanning hides that is low cost and low labor compared to other methods of“custom tanning.”I’ve personally used this system to tan sheepskins, deerskins, groundhog pelts, rabbit hides and goat skins. The procedure can be used for all kinds of mammal pelts when you want the fur to remain on the skin. It results in a soft, workable hide, which can be used as is or cut up for sewing projects.

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. When the skin feels cool to the touch, immediately cover the fleshy side completely with plain, uniodized salt.

Use three to five pounds for a sheep or deer skin. Don’t skimp.

(Video) How We Tan Our Sheep Hides

If skins aren’t salted within a few hours of removal of the flesh, you might as well forget it. They will have begun to decompose and will probably lose their hair during processing.

Transport the skin flat. We’ve had problems with predators gnawing the edges of skins, so put the hide somewhere out of reach. You don’t need to stretch the skin; just make sure it is perfectly flat, with no curled edges. If you’ve lost a lot of salt while moving the pelt, add more. The salt will draw moisture from the skin and liquid may pool in low spots. Just add more salt. Let the skin dry until it is crispy. This may take a few days to a couple of weeks. When completely dry, the skin is very stable and won’t change or deteriorate appreciably.

Tanning Hide Recipe

When you’re ready to tan the skins, assemble the following:

(Video) Rabbit Pelt Processing Stage 1

  • 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
  • 4 foot wooden stirring stick
  • 3-1/2 cups battery acid (from auto parts store)
  • 2 boxes baking soda
  • wood rack or stretcher
  • neat’s-foot oil
  • nails
  • wire bristle brush

This recipe makes enough tanning solution to tan four large animal skins; or ten rabbit skins; or about six medium-sized pelts such as groundhog. (Cut the recipe in half for fewer skins).

Mixing the Solution

A couple of hours before you plan to tan, soak the dried skins in clear, fresh water until flexible. Boil three gallons of water and pour over the bran flakes. Let this sit for an hour, then strain the bran flakes out, saving the brownish water solution. Next, bring the remaining four gallons of water to a boil. Put the 16 cups of salt in a plastic trash can. Pour the water over the salt and use the stirring stick to mix until the salt dissolves. Add the brown bran liquid. Stir.

When this solution is lukewarm, you are ready to add the battery acid. Read the warning label and first aid advice on the battery acid container. While wearing gloves and an old, long-sleeved shirt, very carefully pour the battery acid down the inside of the trash can into the solution—don’t let it splash. Stir the battery acid in thoroughly.

(Video) How To Make a Raccoon Fur Bag

At this point, you can peel off the hide’s dried inner skin. If you have fresh skins, use as is. Add the skins to the solution and stir, pressing the skins down carefully under the liquid with the stirring stickuntil the skins are fully saturated. Leave them to soak for 40 minutes, stirring from time to time to make sure all parts of the hides are exposed to the solution. During the soak, fill your other trash can with clear, lukewarm water. After 40 minutes, soaking is complete. Use the stirring stick to carefully move the skins one by one into the other trash can. This is the rinsing process, which removes the excess salt from the skins. Stir and slosh the skins for about five minutes, changing the water when it looks dirty.

At this point, some people add a box of baking soda to the rinse water. Adding baking soda will neutralize some of the acid in the skin – this is good because there will be less possibility of residual acid in the fur to affect sensitive people. However, this also may cause the preserving effects of the acid to be neutralized. You need to make the choice to use baking soda based on your own end use of the skin. If skin or fur will spend a lot of time in contact with human skin, I’d use the baking soda. If the pelt will be used as a rug or wall hanging, I probably wouldn’t.

Remove the hides from rinse water; they will be very heavy. Let them hang over a board or the back of a chair or other firm surface to drain. Now, using a sponge, rag or paint brush, swab the still-damp skin side of the hide with an ounce of neat’s-foot oil. It should be absorbed quickly, leaving only a slight oily residue. Tack the hide to your “stretcher.” We use salvaged wood pallets. Gently pull the hide as you tack it so there’s some tension in the skin. No need to exert excess pressure or overstretch. Set the hide in a shady place to dry.

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Your acidic tanning solution can be neutralized for disposal by adding a couple boxes of baking soda. It will froth and bubble vigorously and release a potentially toxic gas, so give it plenty of ventilation and get away from the bucket while this is happening. We have a small farm and generally pour the used solution on dirt driveways to keep them clear of weeds. Do not pour it down your drain.

Check the hide every day. When the skin side feels dry to the touch in the center, but still flexible and somewhat soft, take it down from the rack. Lay the fur side down and go over the skin with a wire bristle brush. This softens the skin and lightens the color. Don’t brush heavily or excessively in one spot, just enough to give a suedelike appearance. After this, set the skin where it can fully dry for a day or so longer.

Once your friends know you can tan hides, be prepared for them to bring around their hunting trophies and livestock skins for treatment. If you decide to do this, take my advice: Don’t do it for free. Commercial tanners get around $25 to $45 to tan a hide, and you should price your work accordingly, even if your return is just a case of beer. Otherwise you’ll find yourself swamped with every little skin in your region and left with no time for anything else. In exchange, your friends can expect to get a professional, quality job, with an upfront understanding about what might go wrong and what compensation you will get. People get very sensitive about their skins and this precaution will prevent potential misunderstandings and help you keep your friends.

(Video) Turkey Processing with Franny & Meagan

From a 2001 issue of Backwoods Home magazine. Originally published as “Home Tanning Process Preserves Pelts” in the October/November 2001 issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS.


How do you tan hides with fur on? ›

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. When the skin feels cool to the touch, immediately cover the fleshy side completely with plain, uniodized salt.

How can I tan my hide with fur naturally? ›

Overview of how to tan a hide, naturally, by brain tanning
  1. Evaluate the hide and trim off edges.
  2. Remove the flesh.
  3. Soak in water or a bucking solution.
  4. Scrape off grain and membrane.
  5. Wring out moisture.
  6. Apply braining solution.
  7. Wring hide.
  8. Repeat braining and wringing.

How did Native Americans tan hides? ›

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 many days does it take to tan a hide? ›

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.

Should you salt a hide before fleshing? ›

Salting is one of the most important steps in tanning. Salting is what sets the hair and keeps the hide from decaying. Lay the hide out flat, flesh side up. Apply a heavy application of non-iodized salt.

How do you soften a hide before tanning? ›

You should soak it in cool water several times to get rid of flesh, fat, and sinewy bits. After washing, you can apply saddle soap or mink oil to soften the leather. You can also use Mink oil or neatsfoot oil to condition the leather. Both of these oils are made from cow bones and have a lovely shine.

How did they tan hides in the old days? ›

From ancient times and through the 18th century, tanners used a chemical compound called tannin, derived from tree bark and certain plant leaves. Hides were stretched out on frames and immersed in vats concentrated amounts of tannin.

What kind of salt do you use for tanning hides? ›

Cover the hide using a fine grain non-iodized salt. (We recommend Hay & Stock Salt which is inexpensive and abundant. The iodine in iodized salt can stain the hide.) DO NOT USE ROCK SALT.

Can you tan a hide with vinegar? ›

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 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.

What is the first step in preparing the hides for tanning? ›

To prepare the hides for the process of tanning, the hair, grease, fat and salt is removed, and then the hide is soaked in water. This time varies according to the starting hide and the desired finished product, but ranges from as little as six hours to a couple of days.

Do you have to pickle a hide before tanning? ›

“If the animal is still limber and it's a cold night, it's still good.” 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 until tan is noticeable? ›

Your skin can start tanning immediately after exposure to UV light however if you're after a deeper and darker tan – that's likely going to take 2-3 days to get noticeable. You can, however, speed up this process using a tan accelerator like Base Tan.

How many times do you have to tan for it to show? ›

Usually, the skin will not tan after the first session, and the results only become visible after 3-5 sunbed tanning sessions. These sessions allow the skin to oxidize its melanin, darken the cells, and produce a tan. Lighter skin types may need a few extra sessions for the tan to deepen.

Do you wash a hide after salting? ›

The skin will be soft and pliable, and the process will also remove bacteria. To cure cowhide, lay it flat on a clean surface. Rub it with rock salt on all sides. Let it sit for a couple of weeks, then rinse and dry it.

Can you freeze fur 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.

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.

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.

What is the last step in preparing the hides for tanning? ›

After fleshing, you'll remove excess hair by using chemicals like sodium hydroxide and calcium hydrosulfide. During the last few steps of tanning preparation, you'll treat and degrease the hides.

How do you soften a fur hide? ›

If the hide is hard and dry, soak the hide in warm water to soften it. Be careful to take the hide out as soon as the hide is wet throughout and pliable. It should be readily squeezable and flexible. If it is stiff, it is still too dry in the inner layers.

What is the oldest method of tanning? ›

One of the oldest tanning methods is 'Tawing'. This converts the animal hide using a mixture of alum (aluminium sulphate) and saline. Tawing produces white leather.

Does tanning hides stink? ›

Smells arising from tanneries usually result from mistakes in the process, but issues with the hides can also cause unpleasant smells. Hides and skins that haven't been stored properly and have allowed to start decompose (rot) can be a source of foul odours.

Did they used to tan hides with urine? ›

Ammonia in water acts as a caustic but weak base. Its high pH breaks down organic material, making urine the perfect substance for ancients to use in softening and tanning animal hides. Soaking animal skins in urine also made it easier for leather workers to remove hair and bits of flesh from the skin.

Is Borax used for tanning 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. Hides and skins are usually cured by drying or salting to preserve them during storage or transportation before they are tanned.

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.

Why does salt water make you tan better? ›

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.

Does apple cider vinegar help with tan? ›

Apple Cider Vinegar

Add it to your list of solutions for how to remove tan from hands and legs. You don't even have to mix it with anything - Apple Cider Vinegar is an achiever on its own. Apply some vinegar on the affected aka tanned areas before you head for shower. Leave it on for 20 minutes and rinse it off.

Can you use vegetable oil to tan a hide? ›

The alternative of egg tanning involves simply coating the hide with about a dozen eggs instead of a brain. The vegetable oil and ivory soap method entails mixing a grated bar of ivory soap with a cup of vegetable oil and enough hot water to immerse the hide.

Can you tan a hide with eggs? ›

Egg solution

You can make a hide tanning solution at home using a few ingredients. An egg yolk, a few teaspoons of water, and some deer or pig brain. You can find a recipe for the brain solution by following this link. You can also use a mixture of egg yolk and Fels Naptha soap.

Why are Alaskans tan? ›

In fact, before milk was fortified with D, people living outside of Northern Canada and Alaska loaded their diets with fishy products, such as cod liver oil, to get their daily supplement. So despite their chilly climate and lack of sun exposure, it's the Inuit diet that has kept them in their natural glow.

Can you freeze brain for tanning? ›

Freezer bags – I use the sandwich size ziplock bags and I freeze one brain per bag. Usually, one brain is enough to tan one hide.

How do you prepare your brain for tanning? ›

Braining the hide introduces fine, emulsified brain oils into the hide so that it can be soft tanned. For tanning one deer hide, mix one deer brain into a gallon of hot water and mash the brain until it looks like a soup. Soak the hide in the brain soup for 2 to 8 hours. The longer you soak it, the better.

What is traditional tanning method? ›

Traditional tanning is a way to process raw skin completely by hand, using chemicals sourced from the local wilderness. A traditional tanner attempts to see and discover the best possible tanning method for each raw skin and, through this, the best usage for that skin.

What does lime do to leather? ›

Liming is a process used for parchment or leather processing, in which hides are soaked in an alkali solution. It is performed using a drum and paddle or a pit. Its objectives are: Removal of interfibrillary proteins.

Can you tan a hide with fat on it? ›

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 acid is best for pickling hides? ›

Citric Acid is a great all natural, biodegradable acid for use in pickling skins. Citric Acid in a pickle also serves as a great degreaser and aids as a natural bactericide.

What is the purpose of pickling a hide? ›

What a pickle will do to a hide is break down a hide and plump it up to make it easier to shave. Also, a pickle is a safe place to store a hide as long as the pH is below 2.0, if you cannot get it right way. Pickling Crystals (Citric Acid) are good to use.

Do you tan instantly or does it develop? ›

You may burn or tan in as little as 10 minutes if you're not wearing sunscreen with SPF (sun protection factor). Most people will tan within a few hours. Sometimes, you will not see a tan right away. In response to sun exposure, the skin produces melanin , which can take time.

Is 30 minutes in the sun enough to tan? ›

Is 30 minutes in the sun long enough to tan? Yes, if you have fair to light skin. If you have light skin or very light skin, 10 to 30 minutes in the sun is a perfect amount of time for a tan. Much longer than that, and you could start to develop a sunburn.

What is 10 minutes in a tanning bed equivalent to? ›

In a recent survey of adolescent tanning bed users, it was found that about 58 percent had burns due to frequent exposure to indoor tanning beds/lamps. 10 minutes in a tanning bed is equal to four hours on the beach!

What is the best tanning bed schedule? ›

Most indoor tanning professionals recommend 3 tanning sessions a week until a tan is developed, and then 2 each week after that to maintain the tan. US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations prohibit more than 1 tanning sessions in a single day. Avoid overexposure.

Should you shower before or after tanning? ›

Ideally, you stick to showers after tanning. Always limit your exposure to water during your skin's pregnable state. With showers, you want to wash away the oils, chemicals, and sweat. And that's it.

How do you tan a cowhide with hair? ›

Tanning a cowhide with hair on involves stretching the hide and allowing air to circulate. The process can take a few days or a week, depending on the climate and the type of hiding used. It is best to do this procedure with one hide. Then, take care to remove any excess hairs and then tan the hide.

What is the best tanning solution for cow hides? ›

NuTan is used by professional tanneries, taxidermists as well as the first-time tanner. NuTan is the perfect solution for anyone looking to tan their hide or fur skin. It is simple to use and can be used for small or big game. It can also be used for hair-off or buckskin tanning.

What is best way to tan a cow hide? ›

Using half alum and half soda

A large wooden tub is ideal for tanning a cowhide, and a generous amount of non-iodized table salt is a good addition. Place the cowhide on the table flesh side up and sprinkle with salt. The salt will draw moisture from the hide, preventing bacteria from forming.

Do you put Fox tan on before or after sunscreen? ›

We best recommend applying your Fox Tan accelerator first and letting it settle into your skin. You can now apply your desired SPF. Keep in mind sunscreen may make the tanning process a little slower however will prevent you from burning.

Does Fox tan work without sun? ›

Our NEW Tropical Self-Tanners will have you achieve an instant dark glow without any sun in sight. Using 100% plant based DHA and reduced scent technology to combat those icky fake tan smells, it's the tan your skin will love you for.

Do you rub Fox Tan in? ›

HOW TO USE. First start by giving your Rapid Mist bottle a good shake. Then spray liberally onto skin and rub in when gaining UV exposure, let this settle into your skin.

Do you use animal brains to tan a hide? ›

Commercial brain tanning is done using man made versions of the chemicals found in animal brains.


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