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How to Tan a Rabbit Hide

From a homesteader who raises rabbits for both meat and leather, here are the basics of how to tan a rabbit hide.

| January/February 1983

  • how to tan a rabbit hide - sleeve pulled hides
    Here are some cased or sleeve-pulled green rabbit hides, the first step in how to tan a rabbit hide.
    Photo by Kathy Kellogg
  • how to tan a rabbit hide - fleshing the hide
    After the skins have soaked for two days in the first tanning solution, they are fleshed: that is, the fatty tissue and meat are removed.
    Kathy Kellogg
  • how to tan a rabbit hide - drying hides
    The furs go back into a second tanning, after which they are washed and hung up to dry.
    Kathy Kellogg
  • how to tan a rabbit hide - breaking the ski
    "Breaking the skin" involves taking a barely damp pelt (left) and stretching it to obtain a soft, flexible skin (right).
    Kathy Kellogg

  • how to tan a rabbit hide - sleeve pulled hides
  • how to tan a rabbit hide - fleshing the hide
  • how to tan a rabbit hide - drying hides
  • how to tan a rabbit hide - breaking the ski

Like many modern homesteaders, I keep rabbits for meat. However, unlike most small-scale breeders (who consign their animals' pelts to compost piles), I also save the hides, tan them, and use the fur to make beautiful hand-sewn items. I've discovered that small pelt tanning isn’t time-consuming, difficult, or expensive. In fact, it's a source of both pride and great satisfaction, since it enables me to create beautiful, useful fur articles from skins that would otherwise have been discarded.

You probably know that tanning (which is also called tawing or pickling) is the process of converting a raw hide into leather, thus making the skin more pliable, more durable, and more resistant to water, wear, and decay. You may be surprised to learn, though, that home tanning costs very little and requires a minimum of equipment. In fact, you'll find that your biggest investments in the craft will be your time and energy.

The availability, convenient small size, and variable colors, patterns, and textures of rabbit skins make them perfect material for the novice tanner. Before I describe in detail how to tan a rabbit hide, bear in mind this important point: No tanning formula is foolproof. There are no shortcuts to learning this skill. You'll need to practice, practice, practice! However, I'm not a professional furrier. I'm only a homesteader raising some rabbits to help keep my family supplied with meat and extra cash. So take heart: If I can tan pelts, so can you.

Butchering a Rabbit

As most breeders are already aware, once a rabbit has been killed and the head removed, it is suspended by one or both back legs to allow the blood to drain. Thus hung, the animal is then flayed, which is a term referring to the act of removing the hide from the carcass. To perform this task, simply cut the skin around each hind foot and carefully slit (or tear) the hide inside each leg from hock to anus (be careful not to slice into the meat). Strip the skin from the carcass by gently pulling downward toward the rabbit's head (the motion is somewhat like that used when peeling a banana but a bit more force will be required). Use your fingers or a sharp skinning knife to loosen any difficult spots.



The freshly flayed hide (which is known as a "green" skin) is now cased, or sleeve-pulled, to put the fur on the inside and the flesh on the outside. Let the cased pelt soak in cold water while you finish dressing out the carcass and storing the meat in your refrigerator or freezer.

Washing and Cooling the Skin

Once the butchering duties are finished, thoroughly rinse the hide in more cold water to finish cooling it as quickly as possible. Don't worry about any remaining fat and tissue at this point. Rather, apply your effort to washing away all the blood left in the skin, since any that's not removed will leave permanent brown stains in the leather after tanning. (Soap or detergent is really unnecessary, but if you do use such a cleanser, be sure that all traces of that are rinsed out before you proceed, too.) With the rinsing done, carefully squeeze (never wring!) the excess water from the pelt.

krystilchoy
5/19/2020 11:02:31 AM

So I just washed and hung 7 hides last night. They sat in the solution for 10 days because when I tested by boiling a small piece it didn't seem to be ready. Finally I just decided "screw it" and washed and hung them last night. Looking back over at the instructions for the 20th time I think I know what I have done wrong now. When I put the hides back in to the pickle solution. I added my extra salt and aluminum but also water :( I realize now that I wasn't supposed to add more water. Do you think this will make it so they will not turn out? Is there anything I can do now at this stage to fix my error?


ruthpreston
11/22/2019 12:05:20 AM

Great help! I used this tanning solution once already and it worked perfectly. I’m now on my second round and this time I had two of my 8 hides smell horrible and rotten when I took them out to flesh them. Help?! Why did this happen? I removed them and rinsed the rest but I wasn’t sure if I should restart the solution too? What should I do for the rest?


Brian
6/18/2019 8:46:32 AM

I have used the salt/Alum mixture and the one that I did turned out very nice. I am in the process of raising a a few more Rex rabbits and will be harvesting them for tanning in the next couple of weeks. My question is, how do I find furriers that may be interested in my pelts? I would love some guidance on this, and what specifically they might be looking for in the pelts? Thank you for your help.






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