Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Tanning Hides (Part 2)

Armed with a cup of strong black coffee, I retreated to the quiet sanctuary of my basement with high hopes of finally beginning the process of tanning my recently acquired raccoon hide. Slurping back the bitter hot brew I marveled at how quickly the early winter storm was accumulating. A muffled laugh escaped me, as I pondered the identities of the poor fools who had to actually go out on a day such as this.

As I tore into the small box titled “Trapline Kit”, I was immediately disappointed to find that it did not contain all of the items necessary to begin the tanning process. Missing were several “ingredients” including: Odorless Mineral Spirits, baking soda, 1 lb of salt and 2 quarts of white vinegar. While most people might have these items kicking around the house, I did not. Donning my winter jacket and stumbling into the raging blizzard, a cloud of obscenities burst forth creating a black cloud that followed me all the way to the local country store. Fortunately, I knew that my local country store would not disappoint me and within its aisles all of my items would be found. What else would you expect from a store with a permanent sign out front professing the selling of Beer, Wedding Gowns and Shotguns . . . damn I do love Maine.

Arriving back home, I was further disgruntled to find that the process of tanning was not something to be accomplished in a single day but would instead require two weeks of on and off efforts from beginning to end. Finally surrendering myself to the mercy of the task at hand and the time requirements, I rolled up my sleeves and went to work.

The first step in the tanning process is perhaps the most messy and stinky . . . it is also the most critical. Before any of the other parts of the process can be considered you must completely degrease your hides. For some critters like fox, coyotes and bobcats I am sure this is a walk in the proverbial park, however, for grease balls like raccoons this is a herculean endeavor. Using the odorless mineral spirits, an old rag and about 20 minutes of intense upper body activity the hide was finally “degreased”. I found this process worked well, if you kept the hide on the wooden stretching board and put the bottom in a 5-gallon bucket. As you wash the hide with the solvent saturated rag the extra dribbled into the bucket and could be reused to keep the rag wet. There is a fair amount of splashing that occurs as you slop the rag around so I wore chemical safety glasses and also dishwashing gloves.

After degreasing the hide needs to be washed with 1 tablespoon of tide to 1 gallon of water. Again I used a rag and the 5-gallon bucket to thoroughly wash and then rinse the hide of the solvent and soap. After scrubbing I filled the 5-gallon bucket with water and soaked the hide and then squeezed it out a few times.

Having never tanned a hide before, I found phase two of the process most bizarre. This is when you create a “pickle” that the hide can safely percolate in for up to two weeks. Using a 5-gallon plastic bucket, I mixed 2 quarts of white vinegar, 2 quarts of water and 1 pound of salt to create the pickling formula. Then all that remained is to immerse the hide in this soup and to wait. I waited one week, as that is when I next had the time available to move the entire process to the next step. As the week moved slowly forward, I stirred the pickle as instructed and noted the hide was changing to a pure white color just as the directions had indicated. This I found encouraging as I began to think . . . hey maybe this will work after all.

The completion of the tanning process will be posted soon!


  1. That is great, to bad you couldn't put it in video or dvd form and then sell um. I know I would buy one.

  2. I have always used alum to tan my hides. This year, however, I have begun learning brain tanning. I am almost done with my first buckskin...I need to find the time to finish softening it. Finally, I need to smoke it.

  3. Rick,

    No worries drop me a line if there are any questions you have concerning the process. Everything is "fairly" straight forward only a few tricks here and there guaranteed to trip you up. All in all I had a great time with the entire process so I highly suggest you give it a try! Buy one of the kits and it is difficult to go wrong.

  4. DEM, thanks for posting! Always nice to see new commenters. Just getting into the tanning process so I am interested to hear about and learn other tanning techniques. Thanks!

  5. Thanks again, can't wait for the final installment.


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