How to Tan Cow Hides

by Gail Logan
Cowhides are a natural addition to Western, rustic or country motifs.

Cowhides are a natural addition to Western, rustic or country motifs.

If you have sent a cow to the slaughter and want to ensure that you use all parts of the animal responsibly, consider tanning the hide. The tanning process involves drying the skin so that it can be repurposed. Tanned hides are often used as wall decor or area rugs. Tanning a hide is a strenous, time-consuming process and is not for the faint of heart. If you would rather not tan the hide yourself, enlist a taxidermist to prepare the skin for you.

1. Put on gloves before working with the hide to avoid contamination.

2. Remove all traces of flesh from the cowhide. Scrape away fat and muscle with a dull knife to avoid puncturing the skin.

3. Transfer the hide to an area where it will not be exposed to a heat element, such as the sun or a heater.

4. Place the hide flesh-side-up on a table. Sprinkle the entire surface of the hide with salt. You will need approximately 1 pound of salt per pound of hide. The salt will pull the moisture from the hide and prevent bacteria growth.

5. Prop up the table by placing wooden blocks under one end to create a tilt. Place a large drainage pan under the edge of the lower end of the table. This will catch all of the liquid that drains from the hide.

6. Allow the hide to cure for at least two weeks.

7. Full a large wooden tub with cool water. Submerge the hide in the water for two hours. Remove and scrape the flesh side of the hide. Resubmerge in the water, soaking about three hours or until soft. Change the water, as necessary, until the water appears clean while the hide is in the tub.

8. Place 1 oz. of borax and 1 oz. of household detergent per 1 gallon of water into the tub with the hide. Agitate the water with a wooden paddle.

9. Remove the hide from the water and place on a clean surface. Use a dull knife to scrape away any remaining traces of flesh from the inside of the hide.

10. Rinse the hide with clean, warm water when the hide is soft and has no more traces of flesh. Squeeze the hide gently and allow it to drip dry.

11. Mix 3 gallons of water with 3.5 pounds of soda ash and 6 pounds of salt. Stir with a wooden paddle until dissolved. Separately, mix 9 gallons of water with 1.5 pounds of alum. Stir to dissolve. Mix the solutions together and cover.

12. Pour 4 gallons of the mixed solution into a large tub with 32 gallons of clean water.

13. Submerge the hide completely for three days, stirring at least six times per day with a wooden paddle.

14. Remove the hide. Add half of the remaining solution to the water. Place the hide back into the water and repeat step 14. Do this twice until you have used all of the solution.

15. Remove the hide. Fill the tub with 20 gallons of clean water. Stir in 1 pound of borax. Soak the hide overnight. Remove the hide and allow it to drip-dry.

16. Replace moisture in the tanned hide after it has dried by rubbing it with a cloth soaked in mink oil.

Items you will need

  • Gloves
  • Knife
  • Wooden blocks
  • Large wooden tubs
  • Table
  • Measuring cup
  • Salt
  • Alum
  • Soda ash
  • Household detergent
  • Borax
  • Wooden paddle
  • Mink oil
  • Cloth

Tip

  • You will likely need the assistance of a friend while transferring the hide from one place to another due to its heavy weight and large size.

About the Author

Gail Logan is a magazine editor and freelance writer based in Atlanta, AL. She received her B.A. in Journalism from Patrick Henry College. For the past four years, she has written home design, travel and food features for national magazines, including "Coastal Living," "Texas Home and Living," "Log Home Design," and "Country's Best Log Homes." When not writing, she mentors inner-city children.

Photo Credits

  • Bucking bull image by patrimonio designs from Fotolia.com