Sunday, July 31, 2011

How I Tan a Rabbit Hide

Ask a dozen hunters how to tan a hide and you will get a dozen answers. Go ahead, do a search online. You will find hundreds of different ways. Most people think their way is the best (or only) way to do it properly. In reality, there are quite a few ways to do it. Each has its own merits and drawbacks.

One thing that is often confused is the difference between tanning and preserving. Preserving is done by simply removing any meat and fat from the skin. Then the hide is left to dry. You often hear of people "tanning" a hide by scraping off the fat and drying it with salt. While this works fine for taxidermy or hanging a pelt on the wall, it is not tanning. A preserved hide will slowly continue to decompose, eventually the hair will begin to slip and the hide will disintegrate. If it is often handled this will happen in a few years or less, if it is hanging on the wall it could last for decades.

Tanning permanently changes the proteen structure of the skin. After a hide is tanned it can be used as clothing or in some other handleable (is that a word?) use. It's hide will not decompose and its fur will not slip.

I am going to show you how I tan a hide. It is not the only way, it may not be the best way. It is my way. My way is cheap, easy, and quick. Here we go:

1. Obtain something dead with fur.
If you read my blog you will know that I have recently come into the possession of a dead rabbit. My intention was to skin it and practice my tanning skills on it.

This picture is in 10% of my posts

2. Skin the dead thing.
 I'm not going to show you how to do this. I totally botched the skinning, the hide was paper thin and ripped in several places. There was enough left over to practice on though.

Right before I botch the job

3. Wash the hide.
I use a 5 gallon bucket. Just get the dirt and blood off. It shouldn't take much scrubbing.

4. Stretch the hide and nail it to a board, fur down.
I like to use finish nails. Staples to a lot of damage and are hard to remove. Large nails put large holes.

The large hole is the exit wound
5. Coat with salt. (Optional)
Put a 1/4 to 1/2 inch layer of salt on the exposed hide. This is an optional step that I always do. The next step takes time. If you do not have the time to do it right away, salting will preserve your skin until you are ready. It can also make the next step easier.

Salty. Not in a yummy way.

6. Flesh the hide.
Remove all of the salt, brush off as much as possible. Take a dull knife, spoon, file, or anything handy and start scraping all of the meat and fat off the skin. You kind of push it off. Depending on your skinning skills, this can take a long time, or no time. All of the fat and meat must be removed. If you do not have time to finish,  just re-salt and you can start back up later.

7. Tan the hide.
I use egg yolks to tan my hides. This is a version of brain tanning. I prefer it because I don't have to dig around for the critters brain. If you have an extra brain laying around you can substitute it for the egg yolk. I used one egg for the rabbit skin, it was barely enough. beat the yolk until it is smooth. Gently rub it into the skin. You should cover every bit of the skin, but it should not get on the hair side of the skin.

The yellow makes it look like something out of a horror movie

8. Cover the skin with a clean, wet rag.
This helps keep the egg from drying out.

The rag keeps it from becoming crusty

9. Coat the wet rag with borax. (Optional)
This keeps the flies off, but doesn't really do much for the hide.

Borax is great for preserving

10. Let it sit over night.
Just don't let it dry out.

11. Remove from board.
Don't worry about the nail holes. You will take care of those later.

12. Wash again.
Same 5 gallon bucket. Get any salt, egg, or borax off the hide. I usually have to change the water at least once.

13. Let dry, but not all the way.
It needs to be slightly damp for the next step.

14. Work the hide.
While it is still damp, work the hide over a board, rope, or just about anything fairly smooth. You are softening the skin. If you do not do this it will dry hard as a board. It takes a long time. Do it until the skin is totally dry. I like to do this in the evening as I watch TV.

About half way there
15. Sew any holes closed.
I just use a plain needle and thread.

16. Trim the hide.
Take a pair of scissors and trim the raged edges of the hide. Don't trim too much. This step can make a nice hide great!

 17. Smoke (optional)
Smoking the hide gives it a measure of waterproofing. If you don't do this and the hide gets wet, you will have to rework it. Smoke over very low heat with a hard wood for about 30 minutes. Don't cook it! I have a smoker, which is great for small hides, but for larger hides you may have to use a fire pit.

That's it! At least that's how I do it. It is simpler than it sounds and lots of fun. You can go from start to finish in 24 hours if you wanted, although I usually break it up into a few days.

Hey! If you haven't already, head over to the knife giveaway and enter a win a Buck pocket knife! It doesn't cost a thing and there are not many entries, so the odds are pretty good!

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