Learning to tan small hides can be a very rewarding hobby, but keep in mind that tanning can also be a very time consuming and tedious hobby. And once your neighbors find out that you can tan, they will leave you with endless requests for tanned pelts and hides.
A pelt is a hide with the fur left on. When tanning pelts, you must be careful to not let the pelt stay wet for too long or the fur will fall off. In fact, the easiest way I have found to remove the fur is to soak it in salted water for a few days, then scrape the fur off. If you are planning to leave the fur on the hide, there will always be some amount of fur loss no matter how careful you are.
It is important to have a fresh hide. If you can’t work a hide right away, freezing works well for a couple of months. I don’t recommend this method for large hides, though a sheep or deer can be done quite nicely. The best size pelt to start out on is a rabbit or coon.
First, you will need to wash the hide to remove any blood, fat, or meat left on it. This can be done in an automatic washer or by hand in a dishpan using a mild soap. Rinse it well, and gently squeeze out the excess water. Do not wring out your pelt or hide, always squeeze it gently. Next, you will need one cup of salt added to a gallon of cool water, put your hide in this to soak while you head for the ash pile to get two cups of ash. Dig deep, especially if your ash pile has set for a while. And add one cup of salt to the ashes and mix well.
Now you need to get your pelt out of the saltwater and without rinsing, gently squeeze out the excess water. This next step will help in the fleshing of the hide. Spread the pelt out with the fur side down and rub the salt/ash mixture into the hide. If the hide is kind of dry, you can use a spray bottle of water to moisten the hide. Rub until the salt/ash mixture starts to crumble, then fold up the hide. To properly fold a hide you first fold into the center the long sides so they just touch. Then roll up the pelt, the fur should be on the outside and not touching the salt/ash mixture. Place your rolled up hide in a plastic bag to be stored in the fridge for two weeks.
Remove the pelt and unroll it, shake off the excess salt/ash mixture. Then spread it out on a solid surface so you can scrape off the mixture that is left behind. Use a dull knife or a piece of glass. As you scrape you will find that thin skin-like membrane will be coming off, this is called fleshing, which when removed will make it easier to tan. When you are all done fleshing the hide you will need to wash it again the same way as before but without the salt soak. Squeeze out the excess water and you are ready to tan.
The tanning mixture is really easy to mix up. First get a large plastic bucket or trash can with a lid. You will need safety goggles and a pair of rubber gloves, an apron comes in handy, too. You will also need a weight to hold the hide in the solution and a stick to stir the hide.
Place two gallons of water in the bucket and add two pounds of salt to the water and stir with your stick until dissolved. Next tip the bucket to the side and slowly add eight ounces of battery acid. Be sure that you wear your goggles and gloves. Stir well, then add the hide and stir some more to saturate it well. Place the weight on top of the hide to keep it under the solution, place the lid on the bucket and store in a seventy degree room.
Stir the hide every day, making sure to wear your goggles and gloves. In one week take the hideout of the solution and check to see if it is done. This is done by making a small cut in the thickest part of the hide with a knife. Look to see if the cut area is all the same color and fully saturated with the solution. If it is then you are ready to wash the hide and begin the softening process.
If the hide is not ready, return it to the solution and check it every three days. You can leave a hide in the solution for up to three months, but if you are processing a pelt, the fur will fall off.
After washing and squeezing out the excess water stretch the hide by nailing it to a flat surface with the hideout, until almost dry. Keep out of direct sunlight. It should be stiff but not hard, this can take a couple of hours or many days depending on the weather. If by chance you let it dry too much, you can always rewet the hide. Softening is done by pulling and stretching the hide until it is fully dried. You can put your pelt over the clothesline, with the hide to the line, and pull back and forth, like polishing a shoe. Or you can pull the pelt over a boat oar or the spanking paddle off the wall.
Sometimes during really hot weather your hide will dry out before you are done softening. If this happens just keep a spray bottle of water handy to rewet the hide as often as needed. When you feel that the hide is soft enough, toss the hide in the dryer with a pair of clean tennis shoes and run on no heat for a half an hour or so to soften it more and fluff the fur. If there are skin flaps and gouges on the inside of the hide you can remove them with a wire brush, which makes the leather very soft.
If your hide is not flat, you can dampen the leather side and nail it to a board to dry with the fur out, then toss in the dryer again.
Now that you are finished with the tanning process you are ready to fashion anything you like out of your finished hide.Now that you