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Re: How to tan?



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Here is a smal part of my new tanning book being released to print this year. Hope this helps.

Use common sense when handling tanning chemicals. Apron, latex gloves and a dust mask is used at all times when handling tanning chemicals.

Tanning equipment you will need is not that much. Most of it you might already have and if not, can be bought at your local hardware store.

After skinning out the deer you must flesh the hide.

All done fleshing ? Boy that was quick ! Good lets move on.

Now we must salt the hide real good. Just plain ole salt people. Don't be fooled into thinking that there is some type of special salt on the market to use. There is not ! We have been told over and over again that one must use non-iodized salt. Bull ! Again don't believe the hype. It has been stated that regular table salt will burn the hide. Again, hogwash. We have seen no evidence of this in the many deer hides we have tanned.

We highly suggest that you buy salt in large 50lb bags at your local feed store/mill. Tractor Supply outlets also carry this. I pay $7.00 for 50 lbs of plain salt at a Blue Seal Feeds Supply House. Salt is cheap, get a lot of it because you will use a lot of it. Store your salt in a 5 gallon plastic container. Works real well. Be sure to have a lid for your salt container too , to keep it covered.

The reason we are salting a fresh, fleshed hide is to remove the water from within it. A hide contains water. If this so called water is allowed to remain within the hide and reach room temperature for a period of time the water will transform into flesh eating bacteria. This bacteria will eat away your hide and allow all of the hair to fall out (hair slippage). This stuff is nasty folks !

Rub generous amounts of salt on the fleshy side of your animal hide/cape .Make sure you rub lots of salt into the hide, like pictured above. Get all the nooks and crannies. A large table to will assist you in doing this. Do not use the kitchen table !

The hide should be fleshed to your best ability. We do not want too salt meat. Around the eyes and face will be the hardest area to flesh. Trim off as much meat as you can in this area. After the pickle, you will be able to flesh more around the face area.

After you apply the salt as explained beforehand it is time to hang it (hide). The salt now will penetrate the hide and attack the nasty bacteria born water that is hiding inside the flesh of the hide. It (salt) will draw out all the water from the hide. It has to drain folks,.....that is why we hang the hide after salting. Place a catch device, below, under the hide on the floor to collect all of that nasty stuff that will flow from within the hide. You can usually just cover an upside down, garbage can top, with plastic followed with news paper. Don't want this stuff (bacteria fluids) flowing on mama's floor, now do we !

Be sure, very sure that you hang the salted hide in area that will have ventilation, and not be too warm or cold. Also a dark area (low light) is recommended. Bacteria is like plants, it needs light to grow. Low humidity is a must also as we do not want the salt to collect the moisture in the air of the "hanging" room. We want our salt (a taxidermists best friend) to concentrate on the water within the hide. Not the moisture in our room where the hide will hang. For this reason we discourage hanging hides in the basement. We know that , most "learn how" tanning books/manuals tell you different. Well guess what ? Don't !

After a day or so, take the hide outside and shake off all of the salt that you can (a broom works too). You should by now have a good size puddle of disgusting fluid in your drain collection device you came up with. Once again , apply salt again and re-hang.

Now it all depends. It all depends how well you fleshed. It all depends on the humidity in the area of the hanging salted hide. It all depends on the air temperature that is present in the area of your hanging salted hide. All of these "depends" depend on the physical state of your salted hide after 2 or so days. Most tanners will tell you the hide should be rock hard. You can only achieve this on deer capes that hang for weeks after salting and while being exposed (while hanging) to very dry warm heat (wood stove). As far as a full deer hide getting stiff and rock hard, this can be accomplished if hung long enough.

For our deer hide, the fluid trapped within the hide has stopped flowing. We have salted twice as described earlier . The hide is not rock hard (stiff) from being dried out but if there is no fluid draining from it and,.. it has not for a day or so, and it is time to move on. If the area where you hung the hide to drain meets the perfect conditions as described before hand we feel you are ready to move to the next step. If you want to salt it again to be sure, then by all means do so, then come back to this page to move on when you are ready for the next step.

Next remove all salt from hide. Take outside and beat it with a broom handle. Shake it out or what ever you prefer. Fill up your Pickling/Tanning vessel (33 gallon plastic garbage can) 1/2 way with room temperature water. Add 5 cups of salt and a cap full of Lysol Concentrate (brown bottle). Now place your deer hide inside the can and swish around. Remember your protection such as gloves and apron. We are giving the hide a quick wash to remove any dirt, oil etc from the hide that is mostly found in the hair of your deer hide. We do this to not to get the pickling solution too dirty and contaminated.

If your hide is rock hard and stiff, omit the cap full of Lysol and let hide soak in the salt water solution, until hide is pliable (soft) again. Keep can (tanning vessel) covered to keep out light.

Next hang hide to let all water drain off. It should not be dripping anymore before we continue. The hide should be pretty much dry (hair side). Use extreme caution when doing this. Be sure hide is not exposed to any heat and or direct sunlight . You want to be carefully if, it is in the summer time and you are doing this procedure. Reason being, is that you just reintroduced water back to the hide. Water that can become unstable if left un-checked. Yes bacteria will be born and guess what ? It will attack your hide and make all hair fall out (slippage).

Bacteria is your worst enemy. It lives in fluids and thrives in warm fluids that have access to plenty of light. It is always hungry and must eat 24/7 in order to survive. It can multiply every second that goes by as long as it has plenty of fluid to swim in and the temperature is just right. It can dig deep into a animal hide and bury itself. As long as there is water and blood within the hide it (bacteria) can survive. A flesh eating machine is what bacteria is . The first thing to go on the hide is the roots of the hair. Well actually the epidermis (tissue like skin) that the roots are attached too. The result is hair begins to fall out in clumps (slippage) We are not talking a strand here and there. We are talking about clumps of hair in big patches. Hair, when gently tugged, slips out with little to no effort on your part. When this happens you are in big trouble, my friend,....big trouble ! Kill all bacteria !

Salt is your friend as a tanner. It loves to eat up moisture and spit out bacteria. Salt is a great hunter and will seek out any bacteria living within your hides. Salt is like a big vacuum, in that it can suck out all of the water and other fluids within a animal hide. It (salt) can live in dry and wet conditions. In dry conditions it remains as a solid. In wet conditions it dissolves so it is undetected, hidden so that any unsuspecting bacteria don't see it. When salt is in it's dissolve mode, it has all of the killing powers as it does when in it's solid form (grain of salt). When salt rids of Bacteria along with Bacteria's mode of transportation (fluid) , the hair locks into place on hide . The roots and epidermis the roots are attached too lock in tight against the flesh of the deer hide (setting hair). The one defense system that bacteria has over salt is meat and fat. If left on the hide, bacteria is able to hide behind it. Salt has a very difficult time penetrating into meat and fat to get at bacteria.

As long as you have fluid present within and on a deer hide or any animal hide for that matter, you will always have bacteria lurking within the deep core of the hide. Eating, sleeping and multiplying within your deer hide. Give it (bacteria) warmth and light and it will live on. It will live on to destroy your deer hide. Bacteria will make you mad, upset, distraught and will just make you go plain crazy.

Lets move on, shall we. Ok, so we have our hide that has been salted as directed . All salting is now done and we are now ready for the next step. That is, to kill all remaining bacteria and prep the hide for the tan.

What we mean, is to prepare the hide to accept the tanning agent we will use. How do we do this you ask ? We introduce our hide to a formulated pickling solution.

First if your hide is rock stiff, then you must re-hydrate the hide/cape as mentioned previously. As long as the hide was properly salted and all bacteria was evicted from within your hide, reintroducing water to the hide should not be a problem. Fresh cool water with salt mixed within will prevent any of the bacteria from re-visiting.

Think of hide prep in these terms. Think of a bunch of little guys (Mr. Pickles) with heavy equipment going to work. They get to work, by you. That's right by you. You place the Mr. Pickles and all of their equipment inside your pickling vessel when you add them to the water. They are only effective when they dissolve in the water. Water is their fuel and they need fuel to work and to get their equipment running. Also they need Mr. Salt on the job too. Mr. Salt is their maintenance leader. Mr. salt also makes sure that all of Mr. Pickles equipment is well lubricated . Together they are a team !

On the job, the Mr. Pickles are drilling, blasting, bull dozing, digging, and inspecting your deer hide. They are also looking for any stowaway Mr. Bacteria's that where left behind that Mr. Salt may have missed. Also the Mr. Pickles are checking out all of the hair roots of your deer hide. They are seeing if they can secure the roots of the deer hair a little better then they are. Millions and millions of holes are being dug. Caves are being blasted off from those holes to create large tunnels.

What all this work is accomplishing is, it is getting your deer hide ready to let the tanning agent into the deer hide. If you do not pre prep a deer hide, (pickle) or any animal hide for that matter, how can you expect the tanning agent to penetrate into the hide ? Think about it. Think what the Mr. Pickles are doing. Does this make sense to you ? Hope it does.

If you are familiar with the word "ph" and what it relates to, that is good. Low ph, things don't live to well. Higher ph and things do better. In our pickle we have a very low ph. Low ph means bacteria cant live. The ph in the pickling solution will be around 1.5 (red on a ph strip). High ph and we loose hair ! Keep your ph low and you will go far.

We will need water to get our pickling prep going. We suggest that you use hot water. That's right, hot water. The hot water is used to dissolve the pickling prep agent along with the salt. You will allow this water to cool down before you place the hide into it though.

Use a plastic 33 gallon garbage can, for pickling. Never use metal in any of your tanning ! Always use plastic. Tanning chemicals do not react too well to metal objects. Salt and metal don't mix well folks.

Next add your pickling solution and be sure to follow the manufactures direction. Mix this stuff real well. Do not allow any of the pickling (solution inside your can) to touch any of your skin. If this happens , wash skin ASAP. It kind of irritates the heck out of your skin so be carefully. Use your protection ! Place hide into your solution. Swish around. Get it soaked (hide) real good. Now cover your pickling solution container so any light will not shine in.

At least twice a day you should swish around the deer hide that is being soaked in the pickling solution. The hide wants to float on top all the time, so it is imperative that you do this.

After about 5 days or so you can remove the hide from the solution. Allow it to drain off. We want the hide to be damp, but close to being dry too. It may require you to hang the hide for about 12 hours to achieve this. Now we are going to re-flesh the hide once more. We are going to remove the membrane that was left on the hide. Any meat and or membrane that was left on the hide should peel off easy. With your fleshing knife we will scrape the hide more then the slice-cut method described in the fleshing section. Run the fleshing knife down your hide and see how easy the membrane is removed. If it is difficult to do this, then more soaking time is needed. Be sure your entire deer hide is getting immersed in the pickling solution. If you fail to swish the hide around several times a day, then your deer hide will not prepare evenly. If you find that there is little to no membrane coming off from hide, it is very possible you did one very good job in your initial fleshing.

Allow your deer hide to soak a minimum of 7 days. Longer is good and ok , but not shorter. The deer hide should feel nice and plump and have a whitish color to it. If you did not clean your deer hide prior to hide prep, then your pickling solution will become very dirty and you will weaken the solution. If you weaken the solution, then you will raise the ph, which is a not good. When soaking in a pickling solution , you may see hair that has come off of the hide and is floating in the solution. Don't worry, it is just shed hair and is common. All animals have shed hair which is loose. Ever pet your cat or dog ? Then you know what I mean. Some animal hides have more shed hair then others.

If your room is cold that you are soaking in, then more then 7 days will be needed to prepare the deer hide. We don't suggest this. Keep the solution container, in an area where the air temp is about 70 degree's, but no cooler then 45 degree's. Keep the pickling container out of direct sun light also. We don't want to boil our deer hide.

Now that our deer hide is prepared, (pickled) it is time to drain it. A shop sink (laundry tub) makes it easy to do this. If you do not have one , then just simply hang the deer hide above your solution can and let it drain back into it.

After your deer hide is done dripping, it is time to neutralize it. The Mr. Pickles that went to work on your deer hide, did some job on it. If you where to place your deer hide into the tanning solution now, it would literally flood your hide and only attack the surface of your deer hide. We want the tan to penetrate the deer hide and we want it to penetrate the deer hide slowly. So we now must close the doors on all of those holes and tunnels that the Mr. Pickles put on your deer hide. We don't want to shut them tight, just part way. We want the tanning solution to slowly absorb into the deer hide and to penetrate deep within.

How we do this, is with simple house hold baking soda. That's it, no fancy chemical name, just plain old baking soda.

You will need to soak the deer hide in 5 gallons of luke warm water with 5 tablespoons of baking soda.

You will need your container to do this and this means you will need to dump out your pickling solution. If you just want to dump it down the drain then you must dump a small box of baking soda into it. This will neutralize the pickling solution and raise the ph back up. Make sure to rinse your container out good before you neutralize the deer hide.

Allow the deer hide to neutralize for about 15 to 20 minutes. Constantly swish around deer hide every other minute. Give it a washing action if you will. We must be sure that deer hide is neutralized before moving on. Do not over neutralize ! Baking soda raises the ph and too long of an exposure to this will cause major problems.

After the time period of neutralizing, remove deer hide and let hang. Let your deer hide drain and we mean completely drain. We want a somewhat dry deer hide. There is no sense in putting a water logged deer hide into a container of tanning solution. The hide has already soaked up all the water it can hold. Why would it take in any more ? Get the point ? So be sure to have a very dry deer hide before continuing. We don't mean dry like it was when we salted. It should be still very pliable and very damp. Be sure deer hide is not exposed to heat and sun light ever, when it is draining.

Now follow the instructions that came with your tanning agent. Mix it up well. You should be mixing a powder with water and salt. If you bought one of those rub on tans (which we despise) go ahead and follow the instructions.

It is much easier to tan in a storage bin container, like the kind you can buy at a department store. A 18 X 36 size or bigger is what you want. The flatter the hide can lay out the better the tan you will get. As mentioned we want the deer hide to lay as flat as possible. Of course you will need to fold it when using a container like the one above, but it will lay flat in one like this. After your tanning solution has cooled to room temperature place the deer hide inside your tanning vessel. On smaller hides you can use the same vessel as you prepped the hide in. On larger ones we suggest you get a container like the one pictured above.

What the tanning solution is going to do is, go into the hide and bring it to life. Think of the tanning agent as a finishing crew. They will go into the site to clean up the place, add fresh paint, fix broken windows etc. And on their way out they will close up and lock all doors and windows.

Stir the deer hide frequently and allow the hide to remain in the solution for no more then the instructions state. Remove deer hide from the solution and allow it to drain for a few hours. Now we want to get all of the salt out of the deer hide. The salt you used to mix with the tanning agent.. Do this by rinsing the hide with cold water. Rinse it good ! Get the salt out as best you can. Now let drain again. After a few hours when the hide is not dripping, it is time to drape it.

The hide is draped for final drying. We want to dry out the hide now. You want it to dry slow, very slow. The slower the better. Do not allow hide to dry out rapidly unless you want hard leather. If you made it this far , you are doing great.

Now that our hide is in it's final drying stage we must start the leatherization process. Remember to let the hide dry slow in a cool dry place. The slower the better. Why ? Because the slower it dries, the softer your leather will be. By the way, your deer hide leather will dry white with most tans . Tanning oil is what turns it a color most of the time. The big tanneries , use dye to get the color they are looking for.

After 1 day of drying you can add oil to the deer hide. It is recommended but not mandatory. Tanning oil makes even softer leather and gives it that leather smell.

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Re: How to tan?


do you do the same thing for coyotes to?

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Yes, tanning is tanning no matter what you tan. Some animals though are harder such as Hog and bear. Elk are a big pain in the you know what.

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  • 15 years later...

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