The Tanning Process 101 by Jim Champion

Posted by: River Runner

The Tanning Process 101 by Jim Champion - 11/08/03 01:48 PM

Since there's more then one way to skin a cat I'm going to go right to dogs and start this out.
Ok, that wasn't funny. But I AM going to start this assuming all skinning is done.
Keep in mind that there are several ways to accomplish what I'm about to describe here. The following is the method I choose, and have used in my shop for the past 10 plus years.

Once you have your critter skinned, you'll want to remove as much of the meat as possible that was left behind. Same for the fat.
I use a fleshing beam or/and my round knife. A fleshing beam is nothing more then a half round beam or a flat beam with rounded edges, and anywhere from 4 to 10 inches wide. If you flop the hide flesh side up across your beam, and let a small part of it hang over the front, you can lean against it and the beam, holding the hide in place. Smaller beams allow tubed skinned hides to be pulled onto the beam. The beam would go inside the open end of the hide.
Using a draw knife you want to let the blade lay flat against the skin with the edge pointing away from you and towards the direction on the hide you will be scraping. You can shift, flip, or roll the hide as you go, to turn up the unworked areas.
A round knife is nothing more then a fancy name for a fleshing machine. It uses a round blade type knife. Hence the term "round knife". The hide is pulled across the spinning blade and shaved free of any meat and or fat. The amount removed and the depth of each swath is determined by how you set the guards on each side of the blade.

Once the hide is completely free of any meat and/or fat you'll want to lay it out flat, flesh side up and cover the entire thing with a good layer of a good fine grade salt. Rub it into every square inch. Leave no flesh unsalted. Don't forget the ears nubs if you left the face on, and same with the paw pads. Then fold or roll the hide so that it can begin draining. If you roll the hide, I like to fold the entire thing in half once, then roll. But be sure to always roll the hide in the opposite direction you folded it. Which will always leave the outside edges of the hide facing the same direction allowing for drainage. For example; if you fold the hide in half by reaching out in front of yourself and pulling the farthest edge towards you. Then don't reach across again and grab the folded edge and roll...you will be sealing the first folded crease in the middle of your roll. DON'T DO IT. Fold one way (only once) and then roll it up in the opposite direction. This allows the fluids to be able to drain as the salt does it's work.
If you fold it without rolling, try to only fold it two or three times and keep track of your outside edges keeping them all together. Set the hide somewhere to drain.
About 24 hours later, you'll need to shake off all the salt and reapply another coat the same way you just did. Never reuse the old salt, but shake as much of it off the hide as you can before you proceed.
I like to do this three times, before I hang the hide to completely dry. At which point you can hang the hide where it is out of the weather, and away from insects or rodents.

It will be approx. two to three days once the hide is hung before it turns rock hard. Depending on the climate it's being stored in. Once the hide is rock hard, I know it's completely dehydrated and I'll prepare a rehydration solution. You can use a formula which consists of 1 lb of salt to every gallon of water needed, and add a capfull of Lysol Concentrate to each of those 5 gallons. So ...if you got a deer cape, you'll need close to six gallons since it's in this awkward postion and rock hard, and the formula would be 6 lbs of salt, 6 gallons of water, and a little more then a capfull of the Lysol Concentrate. Mix it up until all the salt dissolves, and then go ahead and place your fleshed dried hide in it to soak. The salt in the water stunts any bacteria growth while it soaks, and the Lysol is there to pick up any slack. Work it around the next few hours so eventually the entire hide gets submerged.
Completely drying the hides this way and then rehydrating them, is the first step in the skin to leather conversion your about to do. It kills anything and everything as far as potential bacteria. Which is what causes hair slippage.
Once your hide is completely rehydrated, and by that I mean in the same state it appeared the day you skinned it, you can pull it from the rehydration, rinse it well and hang it to drain for 30 minutes. Rehydration may take up to 24 hours and the process can be aided or sped up with many different chemicals available today for just that. Now you can do a little more fleshing. You'll notice new areas that need to be fleshed because the salt drying and rehydration process will loosen more of it up. Give it a good once over and try to get it all right down to the membrane if you can. Whittle around the ears, the nose and the rest of the face being carefull not to cut into any whisker folics. They'll look like a little brown pimples in the skin.

Next you'll need to decide what your going to use for a pickling solution. Pickling, as far as tanning is concerned, acidifys the skin and readys it for an even tan, and also kills and prevents any bacteria growth what so ever from this point on. Most pickling formulas are a very low PH level which enables it to prevent bacteria the way it does. And also put's the hide in such a state in can be left in the solution safley for many weeks.
Not only that, if you go through the entire DEhydration and REhydration steps, pickling makes removing the inner membrane of your skins much much easier. Which absolutely has to be removed by the way.
Hides should be left in the pickle for a minimum of three days at the proper PH level. No less. Longer is fine but no less. Get yourself some PH papers and check the PH level twice a day for the first two days. You can add acid to lower it, or add sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) to raise it. Use these in very small amounts because it wont take much to adjust it. The pickling method you choose and purchase will have mixing directions and a required PH level to maintain. Do yourself a favor and follow those closely.
Once the hide has been in your pickling solution at the required PH level, for a minimum of 3 days, you can pull it out, hang it to drain for an hour or so, and then take it back to your fleshing beam and work on that membrane. The acid will have swelled the skin making the membrane much easier to flesh off, and like I said it has to come off in order for the chemicals to penetrate the skin, both the pickling chemicals and your tanning chemicals.
Some critters just flat out give you trouble when removing the membrane. When you come across this, try breaking the membrane up a little. Instead of making a shaving motion down the skin with your fleshing knife like you would when fleshing the first time, push your knife down the hide straight. Meaning no sideways motion as the knife moves ahead. Remember the membrane is the only thing between the skin and your knife. If you go to deep, your into the skin.
Letting your blade lay flat against the skin, press it firmly to the skin as you push the knife away straight. You'll see the membrane breaking away in a few spots but it may not come off like some of the meat and fat did, especially until you develop a nack for doing it. Keep rotating the hide to expose an unworked area until you have most of the membrane broke up. If you put the hide back into the pickling solution for 24 hours and try again it will be easier to remove. Your breaking up the membrane and resoaking it in the acid will have pickled the newly exposed flesh and loosened more membrane for you. Keep working it and soaking it in the pickle until your able to remove it all.
Once your convinced that the hide is completely fleshed, membrane and all, always put it back into the pickling solution for 24 hours again to be sure all newly exposed flesh gets pickled.

After the pickling process comes the actual tanning...thought we'de never get here didn't you? And just think, were actually about half done here.
Before you can tan the hide, regardless of which tanning method you choose, the hide will need to be neutralized. The pickling acids run a very low PH level. Lower then the tanning chemicals, which in turn would prevent the tanning chemicals from adhering to the skin and tanning evenly if the hide wasn't neutralized.
To neutralize the hide you can mix 1oz. of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) to every gallon of water needed to submerge the hide. Stir it up making sure it's all dissolved.
Soak the hide in your new bath here for 30 minutes. Try not to go longer, but DO agitate the soaking skin often.
When you've accomplished this you can pull the hide out, rinse it well several times in clear water, and hang it to drain for an hour or so again.

Now your ready for the tanning process... which I am not going to get into due to the fact that every tanning chemical on the market today comes with it's own instructions. They are fairly simple to follow. Some nothing more then mixing another soak solution.
I don't sell, distribute, or promote any tan and it would be unfair to go into full detail targeting one brand. I use Rittel's and I'll leave it at that.

After you've tanned your skin comes the breaking process. Some tans require that an oil be applied as soon as it comes out of the tan. Some require that you let the hide hang until only damp.
Most oils are compatable with other tans and which oil you choose (unless your tan requires something specific) is merely your choice. Look through a supply catolog and read about the oils finding one best suited for your use. Such as; are you mounting the speciman? Are you making leather? A finished fur?etc.

The oil you choose will also have detailed instructions. What I need to tell you is that no matter what tan you choose, or what oil you choose, it is very important to break the hide AS IT DRIES. If you wait to long you get a stiff hide. If you start too soon, your doing absolutely nothing. Breaking is softening, and got it's name because in doing so, your breaking the skin fibers.
As the hide approaches it's damp stage, work it, stretch it, pull it, shake it. Every square inch.
You can lay it out on a table flesh side up, and use a flat edged slicker or a piece of a board and firmly push it across the skin working towards the edges. Hold your slicker or your board like you would when your scraping the ice off your windshield. Push hard and stretch the skin fibers as you go. Work over the entire hide.
Some people use a thick smooth edge piece of metal. Clamp it in a vise and work the flesh side of the hide back and forth over it like you were shining shoes. You could use the edge of a table the same way. Hold the hide on each end of the area your working. One hand up top the table, the other straight down over the edge, working the hide back and forth.
You could also put the hide in a cloths dryer WITH THE HEAT TURNED OFF. Providing your wife never finds out. Tumbling does the same effect as the methods just described. I've made a full post with detailed instructions and pictures on how to build a tumbler here. How to Build a Tumbler
You can tumble the hides to break them (soften). And if you have access to a tumbler you can put hardwood sawdust in with the hide after the breaking stages to clean and shine the fur.
The saw dust can be later combed and/or shaken out. If you have a cage tumbler, which has cage walls instead of an enclosed drum, this would be the time to use that. Cage tumbling removes the saw dust.

That's all there is to it.
Treat your tanned skins like you would your wifes fur coat because that's basically what they are. You wouldn't leave the fur coat laying on your basement floor. Nor would you run it through the washing machine. Don't do it with your tanned skins either and you'll have a soft, healthy looking trophy hide that'll outlast even the youngest member in your family.

This article was written by Champion Tannery for Predator Masters Forums only. It shall not be copied, rewritten, published, or distributed in any fashion.
Posted by: River Runner

Re: The Tanning Process 101 by Jim Champion - 11/08/03 01:52 PM

I didn't include any pictures to keep loading time down, and to keep the post from exceeding any limits and getting cut off due to.
I'm also locking this thread so it can be used soley as a reference.

If you want pictures of anything, or have questions, or any feedback, comments what so ever, feel free to make a new post. I'll be happy to help