© 2011 Albert A Rasch and
The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles™
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This is a fun and safe project for you to try. Pelts make great additions to a trophy room, can be used as a trade good at rendezvous, and are handy for tying flies.There are tons of references on tanning small hides, so I have consolidated the simplest and safest process.
Things You'll Need to Tan a Small Hide:
A flat piece of wood about an inch or two bigger than the pelt you're working with.
A sharp knife with curve to the blade, a dull knife with a curve to the blade.
A Rubbermaid type pan
Rubber or latex surgical gloves
1 pound of kosher type salt for each pelt the size of a rabbit or smaller
A five gallon pail
1 lb. Borax for each pelt
Wooden stick for stirring and pushing the pelts
1 lb. Ammonium Alum or Potassium Alum powder
Neatsfoot oil, bear grease, or mink oil
A baseball bat
Tanning a hide is a pretty straight forward job. Regardless of size, the steps are about the same. I've made the proportions sized to a small pelt like a rabbit or a couple of squirrels. Larger pelts will of course require larger proportions and bigger equipment.
Step One: Scraping the Raw Pelt
In furrier parlance this is called fleshing.Find yourself a comfortable spot to work in. Pin down the pelt, fur side to the board, with the thumbtacks. Using the sharp knife, scrape away as much tissue as possible. You want to remove any fat or muscle tissue that remains. Be careful that you don't cut through the pelt, though undoubtedly you will the first couple of times until you get the hang of it.
Step Two: Salting the Pelt
Remove the pins from the pelt and put it in the rubbermaid pan flesh side up. Put on your gloves, take the Kosher salt, and put a good coat of it on the skin. Rub it in well, and when you are sure you have covered evry bit of it, lay the pelt back, fur side down in the pan, and sprinkle a thin layer of salt onto the pelt. Set it aside for 60 to 72 hours.
After it has sat, liquid may have collected in the pan, and much of the salt may have liquified. Place your pelt on some newspaper, rinse and dry the pan, and set the pelt back down. once again, salt the pelt and work the salt into it. Lay it back down fur side down, and spread a thin layer of salt on the fleash side of the pelt. Set it aside for another 60 to 72 hours.
Step 3: Drying the Salted Pelt
Take the wet salted pelt, and carefully hang it up to dry in a breezy shady place. Never hang a pelt where the sun can hit it. The pelt must absorb the salt, and the moisture in the flesh must be removed slowly and completely.
Step 4: Soaking the Salted Pelt
Now it is time to rehydrate the pelt. Fill the 5 gallon pail with clean water. place the pelt in the water, assuring that it is completely submerged. Place a clean stone on it if need be. Change the dirty water about every thirty minutes or so until the pelt is as soft as it was when you first started, then wait 30 more minutes!
Step 5: Scraping the Hide Once Again
Carefully squeeze as much water out of the now softened pelt as you can. use your board and pushpins and tack the pelt, furside down, to the board. Carefully scrape the inside of the skin again with your sharp knife. Be on the lookout for any remaining tissue that is still attached. It may appear as a shiny film of membrane that is still attached to the skin. When you are done, fold the pelt skin to skin, and set it to one side for a moment.
Step Six: Preserving the Pelt
Rinse out your pail and refill it with tepid water. Put five (5) ounces of borax (20 Mule Team works great!) and stir until it disolves.Put on your gloves, and put the pelt into the borax laced mixture. Gently knead the pelt in the solution and leave it to soak for 24 hours.
Step Seven: Scrape the Pelt Again!
Take the pelt out of the solution and carefully sgueeze the excess solution from the hide. Once again pin it to the board, and now, scrape it carefully with a dull knife. This helps to break down the fibers and is the first start in softening the pelt. When you're done, remove the pelt from the board and rinse the pelt thoroughly.
Step Eight: Preservatives
Measure out about four (4) ounces of borax and four (4) ounces of alum powder. Add just enough water to make a paste. You want a thick paste so add the water a little at a time while you mix it with gloved fingers, breaking up and combining any lumps.
Pin the pelt down one more time, and rub the paste thoroughly into the flesh side of the pelt. Rub hard, you can't get too much on the pelt or over tan it. Set the pelt aside for 24 hours. Use your dull knife and scrape the paste off the hide. Once again rub fresh mixture into the hide. Set it aside and do the same thing three more times, but leave the paste on for three days the last time.
Step Nine: Rinse Well!
When it has sat for three or four days, scrape off the remaining paste, and rinse the hide well. Rinse as many times as you think neccesary to remove all of the borax and alum. again hang it up out of the reach of animals and allow it to dry.
Step 10: Stretch and Soften the Hide
Rub some Neatsfoot oil, bear grease, or mink oil on the slightly damp hide. Using a smooth rounded piece of wood, stretch the hide in all directions to break up the fibers and soften the hide. A baseball bat is good for this. Small sections will have to be manipulated by hand. Occasionally rub more oil into the skin and continue to work the hide until it is soft and supple.
And there you have it, a relatively simple method for tanning hides. It is somewhat labor intensive, but it is safe and can be done by anyone with a little patience.
Albert A Rasch
Member: Shindand Tent Club
Member: Hunting Sportsmen of the United States HSUS (Let 'em sue me.)
The Hunt Continues...
Though he spends most of his time writing and keeping the world safe for democracy, Albert was actually a student of biology. Really. But after a stint as a lab tech performing repetitious and mind-numbing processes that a trained capuchin monkey could do better, he never returned to the field. Rather he became a bartender. As he once said, "Hell, I was feeding mice all sorts of concoctions. At the club I did the same thing; except I got paid a lot better, and the rats where bigger." He has followed the science of QDM for many years, and fancies himself an aficionado. If you have any questions, or just want to get more information, reach him via TheRaschOutdoorChronicles(at)MSN(dot)com.
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