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

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.

11/5/2017 11:13:36 AM

For those asking "how much water to use?" the article states 2 gallons @ room temp...

11/5/2017 11:13:33 AM

For those asking 'how much water" the article states 2 gallons @ room temp....

10/30/2017 7:04:07 PM

I'm starting my first tanning process today, after carefully reading these instructions and taking notes. Was thinking of starting with only maybe 5 hides. I received these pelts from a friend and don't know if they were well washed at butchering bit hoping I can thaw and clean them before brine. Anyone ever do this?

10/30/2017 7:04:05 PM

I'm starting my first tanning process today, after carefully reading these instructions and taking notes. Was thinking of starting with only maybe 5 hides. I received these pelts from a friend and don't know if they were well washed at butchering bit hoping I can thaw and clean them before brine. Anyone ever do this?

10/12/2017 8:25:17 PM

I did 13 hides in 1 bucket, with the exact mixture described above. Results may vary with the size of your hides, I used a 5 gallon bucket.

10/12/2017 8:25:16 PM

I did 13 pelts with the exact recipe described above.

10/9/2017 5:55:42 PM

How much water for the mixture ? I have 13 rabbit hides

10/9/2017 5:34:13 PM

So im wondering how much water to put in the pale? I have 13 rabbit hides....any ideas?

10/9/2017 5:34:11 PM

I havent started yet and im reading everyones comments... Im not sure how much water for the first solution ? I have 13 rabbit skins and im slowly buying what i need.. Anyone have any ideas or expierence ?

7/19/2017 9:07:52 AM

When it comes time to break the skin, hubby and I recycled an old clothes dryer that had no heat. We then cut a few pieces of left over 2x4's into 4 inch chunks and threw them in the dryer with the finished pelts for softening. It works great and saves on our soar aching hands and muscles!

7/17/2017 11:58:15 PM

I found a guide like this 30 years ago that showed the membrane could be pulled off in one go rather than scraping and using a knife. I did that the first few times with very poor results. good to see someone giving out good information rather than repeating what is written on the internet everywhere else

10/19/2015 4:23:06 PM

I am in the midst of applying the salt/alum process to my hides. It has been nearly two weeks since the fleshing was done,but the hides are still not passing the boiling test. Any thoughts on what I need to do?

8/28/2015 2:39:16 PM

I have used this method for goat skins and it is working really well, I just wanted to know how many times do I have to do the breaking the skin process. Ive done it once and is nice and soft but as it dried some more will it go hard again and I have to do it over, so is it a case I do it every day until its completely dry?

1/15/2015 7:46:17 PM

I really want to give this a try I was just wondering if I can do it in the house? and how bad does it smell?

10/16/2014 1:35:50 PM

I have used this method to tan rabbit hides and it works good, for the most part. But the problem I have its that I have arthritis in my hands so scraping and breaking the skin is very hard on my hands... As a result, I could never get them completely soft.... I really wish there was a better way to scrape and break the skins without so much work... I t sound easy but it really takes some work to get them done...

4/22/2014 5:59:28 PM

When can you split the fur down the stomach?

maria baumann
4/9/2013 3:03:02 AM

Hi there. I am definitely going to be trying this tanning method, but I was a little unclear about mixing the second brine solution. When you make your second brine solution do you add the same amount of salt, alum and water to your reserved brine solution, or do you omit the water and just add the salt and alum?

joann kleis
5/28/2012 2:46:48 PM

Thank you very much Kathy Kellogg for a very comprehensive explanation on how to tan rabbits hides . I'm going to try since my husband and I also raise them for food and just throw away the pelts but thanks to your easy instructions I'm going to give it a try

mark kirimi
7/4/2011 9:39:28 AM

A very comprehensive explain procedure on skinning and tanning the rabbit hides.I am going to give this procedure a try.

leah pine
6/15/2009 1:19:40 PM

This was so incredibly helpful and thorough! I appreciate that you explained the reasoning behind the steps instead of just telling me what to do. That will help me a lot as I figure out what I'm doing.

3/18/2009 7:40:17 AM

i really wanna thank Kathy Kellogg abut what she wrote HOW TO TAN RABBIT HIDES and i'll thank her or him more if i try it and fuond it good way to do this

12/15/2007 1:35:16 AM

very succes information.better if attach immages.better work ahead.

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