Thursday, January 28, 2010

Tanning Hides (Part 3)

Several months ago a small box arrived on my door step containing the key elements and directions that would enable me to tan an animal hide. I had started this little adventure with high hopes but now had began to seriously question my abilities and develop reservations that this little experiment would even work. Staring down into the "pickle", reeking of vinegar and putrid coon, I began poking the hide with a yard stick curious if the hair and flesh would vaporize on contact. Seeing that the remains appeared to stay intact, I proceeded to remove the coon hide from the pickle bucket.

Taking the raccoon hide firmly in both hands, I proceeded to squeeze all of the remaining vinegar and salt from the hide. After dumping the pickle down the tub drain, I read further into the directions where it stated, "be sure to reserve pickle for next step". More curse words ensued and yet another unscheduled trip to the store was made. Had I followed the directions, I would not have had to mix another pickle, however, I am running for village idiot this election cycle and really needed to raise my public ratings.

After mixing up a fresh pickle, I proceeded to dump in the kit included tanning solution and raccoon pelt. Everything then received a hearty stir. Lastly, I dropped in a large rock to keep things from floating above the surface and secured the lid.

This mix of 1 gallon of pickle and 9 (22 tablespoons) oz of Rittels Kwik-Tan was allotted to sit a minimum of 24 to 36 hours to give the tanning solution a chance to penetrate and work its magic. I didn't have time available to work with it again until 48 hours had passed and it seemed to have made little difference.

Two days later, I (AGAIN) dumped the pickle and proceeded to squeeze out the coon. I put 1 gallon of water and 2 tablespoons of baking soda in the bucket and thoroughly washed the hide inside and out (perhaps 10 minutes of rinsing). This could have been where I messed up in the process, as the hide still has a slight vinegar scent. So, if anyone is reading and thinking of trying you may want to spend more time on the baking soda wash. (I am going to hang the hide outside for a few days and see if this helps to dissipate the smell. If that doesn't work, I am going to seal the hide in a bag for a few days filled with dry baking soda. IF THAT DOESN'T WORK, I am drowning the whole works in Febreze and hoping for the best!)

So by this stage, you should have a soggy raccoon hide that smells something like a cross between a well aged italian sandwich and New York City taxi cab. The directions instruct you to dry the hide at this point but not over dry. This seemingly contradictory statement is made possible by "damp drying". This is accomplished by turning the skin fur side out to allow the fur to dry but keep the flesh relatively moist. I then tightly wrapped the entire hide in a bathroom towel to absorb additional moisture. After 5-10 minutes of drying, I turned the flesh side back out and proceeded to prepare the oiling mixture.

Mixing 2oz of water and 1oz proplus tanning oil provided more than enough oiling solution to cover the entire hide. A single application was all that seemed necessary and using a small brush it was easily painted on. After a through application, I turned the hide again so that the newly oiled flesh was to the inside. This is done to allow the oil a chance to slowly penetrate over 4-6 hours.

Now once again turn the hide back to flesh side out to allow it to dry. The various sections of the hide will dry at differing rates of speed, so care should be taken to keep a close eye on things. I checked the drying once in the morning and once in the late afternoon. At these points, fold the hide and see if white crease marks are produced. If they are you should pull and stretch these areas working to keep them pliable. This is also a great time to strip the hide of any extra flesh that may have lingered throughout the process. A heavy to medium grade sandpaper works great in removing stubborn areas and also gives the hide that buffed "professional" finished look.

That is the end of the process. I hope I didn't make any of the steps sound to complicated as it is fairly easy. I would highly recommend trying, as the final product makes an impressive wall hanging. Please drop me an e-mail if anyone has questions and I would be happy to assist. Good Luck!


  1. My experience with a raccoon hide did not go well. I was waiting for my fleshing knife to arrive and it went rancid. I hear that any hide can be saved, if you are willing to stomach the stench. My hide was given back to nature, after I removed the fat. I rendered the fat on a whim. Luckily, my wife doesn't mind having it in the cabinet. At some point we'll make soap.

  2. Yes, any fat left on a hide will quickly spoil. I remembering having some issue with this when I was a kid. If it is only a little spoilage I remember salting it.
    I need to invest in a fleshing knife and fleshing beam next season as it would make raccoon much easier and maybe even encourage me to try a beaver.

    Rendered fat, interesting. I had heard that bear fat makes excellent boot/leather conditioner but hadn't heard about the uses of other animal fat.


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