In generations past, tanning hides at home was as common as making soap or dipping candles. Numerous recipes and techniques exist, and most work well. There are commercial tanning products on the market, but tanning the pioneer way is inexpensive and rewarding. You need a large work space and a hide stretcher, or a place in your yard to stretch the hide by staking it to the ground. At least one helper is a good idea for large hides.
Preparing the Hide
Before tanning, you must "flesh" the hide. Scrape the hide with the edge of a sharp knife to remove all connective flesh tissue and fat. If the hide is dry, soak it in cool water first to soften it. Remove the fur, or leave it on for a pelt. Remove fur by soaking the hide in a solution of eight ounces of food-grade pickling lime per gallon of water for about a week, or until the fur comes off easily. Rinse thoroughly to remove all the lime. Soak the hide in cool water for two days, changing water often, to ensure all residual blood, which will cause dark spots, is removed from the skin. Squeeze, never wring, the hide to remove excess water. Stretch on a hide stretcher or ask a friend to help you stretch and stake it to the ground.
Brain Tanning Method
It sounds unusual, but tanning with the animal's brain material is a tried-and-true method. If you only have the hide, purchase pig brains from a butcher. Boil brains in enough water to cover, then let the water cool. Add brains and water to a blender to make a creamy emulsion, suggests the Manataka American Indian Council. Rub the emulsion deeply into all areas of the hide without fur. Let the hide remain stretched until the emulsion dries. Remove the hide from the stretcher and soak in cool water for 48 hours, changing the water often.
Alcohol and Turpentine Method
Mix equal parts of enough wood alcohol and turpentine to soak the hide in a non-metal container. The mixture will separate, so use a container with a lid so you can shake the solution every day, or one that can be stirred without making a mess. Wearing rubber gloves and eye protection, drop the hide into the mixture. Squeeze it to make sure it is saturated. Soak the hide for a week to 10 days, explains New Mexico State University. Remove the hide and squeeze out excess alcohol and turpentine. Wash the hide in a mild detergent like liquid dish soap to remove fats and tanning solution.
After tanning is rinsed out, re-stretch the hide for drying. When the hide is almost dry, but still soft, remove it from the stretcher and work it to make it pliable. Knead like bread dough or ask a friend to help you stretch and work it in different directions. Brush the flesh, or sueded, side with a wire brush to add softness, suggests Mother Earth News. After the hide is fully dry, apply neatsfoot oil or a commercial finishing oil, or leave the hide as-is.
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