How to Tan a Hide

Walt and Donna Thorne explain how to tan hides from home raised animals as well as wild ones killed for food, providing useful leather goods to use around the homestead.

| November/December 1975

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    First I carefully tack the hide — stretched well — to the rack on the side of the framework that faces the wind (the hair must lie with, not against, whatever breeze is blowing). I then place a large commercial cookie sheet under the skin to catch the drippings, and build a small fire on the windward side of the structure about 3 feet from its legs.

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Every rural carnivore knows that home-raised rabbits, goats, sheep, and such — plus whatever wild animals may be trapped or hunted locally — can provide the family table with rich and nutritious food at far less than the cost of store-bought meat. Nevertheless, I've known many such people who passed up the opportunity offered by those same creatures' skins.

That's unfortunate, since hides and pelts are just as valuable as the meat they protect land possibly more so). Well-tanned skins can be fashioned into warm, appealing clothing for only a fraction of what you'd pay in the stores . . . and natural rugs, furniture covers, large floor pillows, and bedspreads add a special decorative touch that seems to blend with nearly any style of home furnishings.

I've often asked acquaintances why they never made use of hides, and got answers that varied from lack of knowledge or time to cost of tools and supplies. "Humbug!" I respond. "I've been tanning for just 18 months now and it's really very simple. Besides, it's quite a satisfying thing to do . . . and you can even make a little money from it if you like." Then I go on to describe my system on how to tan a hide, and usually end up persuading my cautious friends to give it a try (maybe with a little help from me the first time or so). I hope I can persuade you, too.

How To Tan A Hide

The following is the tanning method I use, laid out in 10 easy-to-follow steps with one optional procedure thrown in for good measure.

[1] First, build a rack as shown in the illustrations with this article. We made ours of green alder limbs about 3 inches in diameter: two 8-footers for legs, and seven poles about 5 feet long for the crosspieces.

Construction of the framework is simple. Just lay out the legs on the ground, mark off 3 feet from one end (which will be the bottom), and secure a crosspiece to each support at that point. Then add another horizontal pole every 7 inches (a spacing which makes the rack suitable for skins of all sizes).

Brian Walne
12/25/2012 12:54:49 AM

your tanning solution sounds more reasonable than the Mother Earth News one, I was able to print it off, and hope to try it on coyote the season.Brian

Susan Morgan
12/12/2012 10:53:06 PM

Wow. Coming from Mother Earth News, this surprises me. Battery acid? Where to dipose of this mixture when you're done with it? To remain natural and environmentally friendly, lets explore the art of braintan. As a 16yr veteran of the art, its alot less expensive than the recipe listed here. You can either harvest the brain from the animal or purchase some from the grocery store (food grade). There are different steps, but you can make garment leather, and use this method for hair on as well.

7/16/2012 12:07:04 AM

how did your alpaca hide turn out?


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