Tanning hides and furs is a valuable skill to learn, not just for the hunter or trapper, but for anyone looking for a way to responsibly put to use the hides normally discarded. Even for those who may not agree with the practices of hunting and trapping, learning to tan the hides of an already harvested animal (such as a deer hide from a processor) can serve as a respectful way to put the hide to use when it would most likely be a waste product. It encourages those who do partake in hunting or trapping, or even dispatch of a predator perhaps threatening livestock or poultry, to be responsible and put the hide to use. While we have experience in this subject, we encourage you to research and find a method and tool set that is comfortable to you.
But before getting started in tanning, it is important to have the proper tools to get the job done. These tools will get you started as you learn, and allow you to process the hides easier. You will find links to tools and equipment that are mentioned in the article, to help you navigate products and order with ease. (Disclosure: Included in this article are paid links; as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Thank for considering a purchase through these links that could help benefit the homestead!)
A gambrel is an important piece of equipment used to hang the harvested animal up and raise it up and down during the skinning process. Often associated with deer hunting specifically, these are also very important in saving your back when skinning. Some are a metal bar, that require the person preparing to skin to make a cut that separates the leg tendon from the bone, and the ends of the gambrel are inserted through this opening. An easier gambrel style for beginners will use either chains, or cable, that slides and tightens around the leg without having to make any cuts.
The skinning knife is a very sharp knife that is used to start your cuts that will allow you to peel away the hide from the carcass. Some people fashion systems to pull the hide away easily, while others prefer to continue using the knife to cleanly separate the hide. Please be safe and use knives with care, and youngsters, please have an adult help do this step for you!
A fleshing knife is a critical tool to the process, whether it be the single handled version, or the common double handled version (plastic or wooden handles available, and they come in different sizes based on the size of hide you will work with). You use this tool to help scrape away membrane, fat, excess meat, and such from the hide so it will not ruin and can properly tan. Handle this with care, as careless scraping with the fleshing knife can put holes in your hide.
Gloves, Apron, and Boots
Spare your clothes and shoes from dirty work, and invest in a nice pair of rubber boots, a rubber or vinyl apron, elbow length gloves, and even a pack of disposable gloves. They will be much easier to clean and spray off than your regular tennis shoes, and your t-shirt shouldn’t go into the wash stained or even ruined! Having a thick pair of elbow length gloves is handy for working with hides, and disposable gloves are also good to have on hand.
Having durable plastic containers (like a Rubbermaid style storage tub, or a sturdy plastic trash can) will help not only in storing tanning materials, but for tans that require the hide to soak in a solution, plastic will not rust or corrode in the way a metal container would.
Other Possible Tools
Considerations you may also add could include things like a good book on how to get started and the methods to tanning and skinning. A good mask, as the odor is not for everyone, so if you want to save your nose, find yourself a good mask- this is also important when working with tanning chemicals. Another idea for safety would include safety goggles. Having a good hammer could come into use when needing to tack and stretch a hide as it is salt drying. If you are looking to preserve the tail, make sure to use a “tail zipper” and a “tail stripper” for ease of deboning the tail. Have yourself a good sharpener for the knives you use. Most importantly, plan out what you will be using to tan the hide, whether it be something like the bottle tanning formulas, or salt and alum like we commonly use. If you are planning to de-hair the hide, have what you will use to slip the hair and pickle the hide afterwards for the shaving process.
Let us know how your first tanning projects turn out, or if you have experience with it, share how you put your hides and furs to use! Thank you for reading, and consider learning to tan to give new purpose to these otherwise discarded hides. Make sure to have your tools and supplies ready this season!
Fala Burnette is a homesteader with her husband at Wolf Branch Homestead in Alabama. They are currently building their own log cabin and milling their own lumber, along with raising heirloom crops in the Spring and tanning furs during the Winter. They have a small flock of rescued chickens and Khaki Campbell ducks.
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