View Full Version : Tanning

January 24, 2009, 10:17 AM
So what kind of processes do you all you use when tanning your hides or making furs. The process I was taught is extremely tedious and hard and the hands (not to mention it takes forever), and I was wondering if you guys had any fast and effective methods.

January 24, 2009, 10:33 AM
Yes it has been hashed around here before many times and looks like it's best with cost along with end results simply to send to a tannery.

January 24, 2009, 10:59 AM
Do elaborate.

I want to be able to do it on my own more efficiently because I think it's one of those skills that I think everyone should have. Not to mention I'm really protective of my kills, I won't even trust the butcher with my tag outs. I'm one of those people who feel you should try to utilize everything you can from the animal. Once I get tanning down well enough, I want to get into bone crafting and sinew work (kind of want to make my own longbow... I know it's a distant ambition that I'm probably never going to realize, but I can dream right?).

January 24, 2009, 02:05 PM
i have never been able to get a super pliable pelt, but i have used a method i read about as a kid. stretched and salted hides. after the hide has dried completely, i make a tea from brains. i soak the hide in the brain tea until it has completely saturated. wring out the hide and keep it moving until it is completely dried. if wife is gone you can use her clothes drier. used the no heat setting and tumble. this is a real work saver.

Bill DeShivs
January 24, 2009, 02:15 PM
Maybe you could take the hides to a tanning booth? :D

January 25, 2009, 11:04 AM
Having done taxidermy work for roughly 16 years, I can tell you honestly there is no way to beat a commercially tanned skin. The problem is finding a good commercial tannery that will give you a consistant tan that's pliable with good stretch and is properly shaved without having any unneccesary repairs. You may have to get a Taxidermy permit from your state to be able to use their services as they usually don't deal with the public. As I have used the following ones, I can tell you that you will be pleased with their service:

Carolina Fur - Great wet tan for capes, great soft tan for big game skins but they don't care for doing furbearers.
Wildlife Fur Gallery - Very nice tan with good stretch. Good all around tannery.
Seminole Fur Dressing - Great Lutan-F tan on all products.

I can understand the concern with not getting your skins back but it's really a non-issue with reputable tanneries. They will issue you a specific customer number that gets punched into the skin. That's yours and only your number. A tannery won't stay in business long if they are losing skins from Alaska to Africa. They have a system down and it works so don't concern yourself with that.

The problem with doing it at home is it costs a small fortune to do it properly and you still won't get the end results that you can from the commercial guys time after time. There is also no "quick and easy" way to tan a skin and expect it to hold up long term. If you look at various deer mounts, you can see the cracking around the nose, eyes or ears. This is either from the skin being dry preserved or from a poorly executed home tan.

If your still determined to do it yourself, I recommend using any tanning products made by Rittels. Bruce knows his stuff when it comes to tanning and his products are top notch. You can get these from WASCO Taxidermy Supply. If you have any problems with the tan, rest assured it is something that you did and not an issue with the products used. Here's a link for suppliers and other taxidermy services. These companies will also offer videos on tanning which may be of help:

This is a specific link to the "Tanning" section on the Taxidermy.net forums. Good info here and many of your questions can be answered searching it:

If you do decide to do it at home, you're going to need a tumbler to "break" the skin. This is how you make it pliable. Get an old dryer and unhook the heating element. Use fiberglass to fill the holes in the back of the drum and you will also need to construct a frame so you can install a wooden door to the drum. If you don't do this, you will have sawdust everywhere. Use hardwood sawdust to fill the bottom of the drum with as this will help clean the fur. Different skins require different tumbling times. Not enough and it won't be pliable enough, too much and you risk damaging/losing hair. Some of the companies mentioned may have the plans you can buy to do this conversion and it would be well worth the expense.

Hope this helps and good luck on your endeavor.

January 25, 2009, 01:09 PM
That helped a lot. I knew of the stretch and salt method as well, but like you've said lots of issues with pliability. The dryer is definitely something I'm going to have to look into. I was taught the drape over a tree and work it by hand method. It's terrible on the hands. Leaves them feeling like they're never going to have use again.

It's more about learning how to do a skill as quickly and efficiently as possible. Fur could be a game breaker in a survival situation. Couple that with falling on hard times cash wise, and you get me with a hesitance to go to a tanner. I'm broke, all there is to it. lol

January 25, 2009, 02:34 PM
If you're looking for a "survival" type method, you need to research primitive tanning methods. Here's a quick Google link for such to start you off with:

Some of the methods can be rather nasty to deal with but in a situation like you're describing, it's not like your going to be able to order anything from VanDyke's LOL!

For salting, go to a feed store and pick up your salt. Just tell them that you're looking for salt that's fine like table salt. It goes by various names so just explain it to them. Much cheaper to buy it like this and it's usually in 50 lb. bags. You do not want rock salt for this as it won't be able to be rubbed into the skin properly.

Give your skins two saltings and don't be sparing with the salt. It's cheap and it's a critical process so don't skimp. Rub the salt into the flesh until you see the skin start to "sweat" then rub some more in. After this, I basically cover the skin in salt and let it set for 24 hours. After 24 hours, I shake all the salt off the skin and repeat the salting process once again with new salt. Do not put the skin back in salt that you shook off. The main purpose of salting the skin is to remove moisture from the skin which inhibits bacterial growth and helps set the hair follicles. The salt you remove is wet so you're just defeating everything you're trying to achieve. Make sure you get every nook and cranny of the skin in both salting steps. I usually leave it like this for 48 hours and then shake all the salt off and hang it to dry. A skin like this, providing it doesn't get wet, will last indefinitely. You can reuse salt if it has dried out but I wouldn't recommend it. Once again it's cheap and critical so don't take any shortcuts.

One thing to keep in mind in dealing with furbearers is their skin can spoil rather quickly. The enzymes in their stomach to break down food can wreak havoc on their pelt. Also, always were gloves when skinning as they are prone to rabies. Hope this helps.

January 25, 2009, 02:46 PM
I have the same problem as you, plus I just like to say I did it myself. I tanned a hide useing the brain tan method but like you I'm having a problem getting it soft. There must be some way to do this shot of pulling it back and forth across a tree limb or poll, my hands and arms are up to that anymore. Good luck and I will keep an eye on this to see if someone out their comes up with a solution for us.

January 25, 2009, 04:45 PM
Get a copy of FoxFire, volume 3. It covers most of what you need to know on tanning.

I've done deer, sheep and coyote. A LOT of work to get good results.


January 26, 2009, 08:15 PM
A neighbor gave me this recipe for tanning. The kids and I are trying it now on a fox hide: Tack the hide to a flat board, Salt the hide to keep the fur in, rub with wood ash to cure it, once its cured, rub with oil and work with your hands until its soft. To do it without the fur, soak the hide in lye water (wood ash and water) the pull the hair out. Then tack it on the board.

January 26, 2009, 08:51 PM
I've brain tanned some before. There are instructions all over the internet if you're interested. It's much easier to just send it off, but I also think it's one of those things that every hunter should try at least once. Messy, time consuming, and labor intensive, but you'll learn a lot in the process. Do NOT however, use a really nice hide to do the first one with, as you are more likely than not to mess it up. ;) Use a smaller pelt if possible. One from a raccoon, rabbit, or coyote would be a good size to start with.


January 27, 2009, 11:04 AM
To get a really soft and well preserved hide you must make sure you shave it good.By this I mean the flesh side. This will help the preservative enter and make it thinner and easier to pull. Pull is done by ,well, pulling the cured hide across a smooth rounded end of a board. It also helps to soften and makes a nice appearance to sand the hide. Stretch it and use a orbital sander with 36 or 80 grit and go to town. I used to do this alot when I was a teen and didn't have to support a family. It is a helluva lot of work, but rewarding. Some other tips- choose a hide that is not got a lot of fat ie- coon is fatty. That takes alot of work to get out. Someone mentioned using a dryier- works great. Get a used one, no heat, cover all the holes with something and tumble the hides with walnut shells, corncob pieces or even kittyliter. I also had better luck with Borax instead of salt since bugs do not like it. Old Taxidermy preservative. Good luck, you will need it;)