The Art of Tanning

     I have gotten a lot of questions on "how can I tan my own skins". The following is a pretty simple and easy method that you can do at home, but first a little history.

      There are recorded writings from the early Egyptians, Arabians and Hebrews that date back over 5000 years  that refer to the tanning of animal skins. 
     The Romans and Greeks were the first to make major advances in tanning and in fact the basic methods are still in use today. Also lets not forget the American Indians who taught the early settlers there system of tanning which included the use of animal brains, livers, smoke, crude tools and hand manipulation to achieve a very fine soft "buckskin leather".
     There are many different ways and formulas to tan a hide.  I will go over one method that will work for you at home on a small scale basis. You should not expect to get the same quality results as a qualified taxidermist or a commercial tanner because to achieve the best results will require expensive equipment and chemicals. Some of this equipment that would be required would be a fleshing machine sometimes called a round knife, the one I have in my shop cost $1500. Another tool would be a fur drum or a tumbler, $1500. I also have a pressurized tanning machine that cost $2400 (this is the newest thing in the tanning industry). So you can see unless you are prepared for a large investment you will not get the same results. However you can get a tanned skin that you did yourself if you follow my instructions carefully. These instructions will be just for a piece of hide,  If you had the head you would need to turn the lips, split the nose and turn the ears which is another article.
     1) Remove the hide as soon as you can. Cut off all meat and fat that you can and rub non iodized salt (this is regular table salt) onto the skin and do not miss any spots. Once this  is done pour about 1 inch of salt  over the entire flesh side of the skin  and let it sit there for 24 hours.
     2) Now shake off the old salt and discard, NEVER reuse old salt, and repeat the above step. do not skimp on the salt this is your insurance and salt is pretty cheap, you can get it at any feed or grain store. You want the salt to be fine non- iodized, a 40-50lb bag is about $5-$8
     3) Once you have shaken off the old salt hang the hide in a cool dark place (out of the sun) and let it dry. Before it gets to hard fold it up, remember you will need to get this into a sink, tub or bucket of water. Once it is rock hard it is good for a long time, sort of salt cured. This method of drying will help "set" the hair so slippage should not happen.
     4) The next step would be to rehydrate the skin, for a average deer cape you will need 3 gallons of cool water with one capful of Lysol disinfectant (brown bottle) and 3 lbs. of salt. Soak skin until the hide returns to a soft, pliable state.
      5) Rinse skin in cool water  until the water is clean and all the salt residue is gone, you may need to change the water 3-4 times. Hang skin up to drain, once most water has stopped dripping towel dry until the skin is only slightly damp. I have a washing machine in my shop and I usually will just place the skin in there and put it on the spin cycle, works great and fast.
     6) Mix up a pickle (there are many formulas) which is acid, salt and water and place the skin into it to soak for about 3 days.
     7) Remove the skin form the pickle and shave the skin to remove all fat, meat, membrane etc. unless you have a Fleshing wheel this will be about all you can do at this point. When done if  you have a grease skin like a raccoon  you will want to wash it in dawn dish detergent to remove the grease. Once it is clean and thoroughly rinsed return it to the pickle for another 24 hours.
     8) Remove the skin and let drain. Mix a neutralizing solution to off set the acid. For every one gallon of water 1 oz of backing soda. Place skin in and soak for 20 minutes. Once done thoroughly rinse, let skin drain for 1 hour.
     9) Mix the tanning crystals and place your skin into the solution for 16-24 hours. Than remove skin and let drain for 20 minutes.
     10) Lay skin hair side down on a flat surface. Heat up tanning oil so it is warm ( a microwave works good for this ). But on rubber gloves and rub the oil into the skin or use a paint brush, a little oil goes a long way but make sure you use enough so it will penetrate the skin.
     11) Let the skin sit for about 3-4 hours.  Roll the skin up, skin side to skin side and place in a plastic bag that is air tight and place in the refrigerator over night.
     12) Take the skin out of refrigerator and unroll, plot off any excess oil. Let skin dry laying flat and you now have a tanned skin. It will dry a little hard and if you were to want it soft you will need to at this point to repeat step 10-11 and use a "soft  tanning oil". Than after step 11 you will need to "break the skin over a table edge etc. as it is drying to get it soft. The more you work it the softer it will get.

     I have put together a tanning kit for sale that has the tanning oil, tanning crystals, pickling acid and instructions. If you would like to try tanning your own skins CLICK HERE. I accept Visa and Master Card.