Home Recipes for Tanning Deerskin

by Stephannie Hibbard ; Updated April 24, 2017

Hunting is a popular pastime with many people. Many hunters want to keep and use as many parts of their kill as possible. One part of an animal that is useful is the skin. Deerskin has a number of uses including clothing, shoes, bags and floor coverings. Successfully tanning a deerskin can be a challenge but also very rewarding.

Preparing the Deerskin

Preparing a deerskin for tanning requires only a few supplies. You will need a sharp knife, a large flat dry surface such as a sheet of plywood and a large quantity of non-iodized salt.

Skins should be prepared for the tanning process immediately to prevent decomposition. After the hide has been removed from the deer, carefully remove any remaining flesh from the underside. Trim any ragged edges carefully, cutting on the skin side rather than the fur side.

Salting the Hide

Lay the hide flat on your work surface, hair side down. Spread salt across the hide, using one pound of salt crystals per pound of hide. Be sure to get the salt well in to any creases or wrinkles and rub well into all the edges. Hang the salted hide at an angle so that moisture can drain easily.

After two or three days, the original coating of salt will be soaked. Re-salt the hide, taking care to thoroughly coat the hide again. Repeat this process for 10 to 14 days until the hide is completely dry.

Soaking Supplies

Once your hide is dry, you need to soak it. You will need a large (five- to 10-gallon) nonmetal container, a large smooth board, a scraping tool, baking soda or borax, dish-washing soap, a stirring paddle and a sharp single-edged knife.

Soaking the Hide

Soak the hide in a large quantity of clear, cold water. This will remove the salt and any remaining dirt from the skin and hair. Soak the skin until it is soft and flexible, but dry the skin as soon as possible after the soaking process to prevent hair loss. The soaking process will take two or more hours, depending on the size of the hide.

Cleaning the Hide

Once the hide has soaked, you will be able to see a shiny layer of connective tissue on the skin side. Remove this layer by gently scraping the hide with a tool such as a dulled hacksaw blade. Take care not to scrape too roughly or deeply or you will injure the hide and may leave weak spots that will develop into holes later.

Re-Soaking and Grease Removal

After the scraping is complete and the shiny layer removed, soak the skin again. Use warm water with an ounce of baking soda or borax and a tablespoon of dish-washing liquid to break up and remove any remaining oils and grease. Stir the skin gently in the water.

Tanning the Skin--Supplies

Commercial home tanning kits are available at many sporting goods and farm supply outlets and on the Internet and include complete instructions for the final tanning of your deerskin.

For an at-home kit, you will need: a large quantity of alum (available online, through taxidermy catalogs, or farm supply stores), washing soda, salt, flour, a stiff paint brush or scraper and more borax. You also will need your large, clean and dry nonmetal container.

Tanning the Skin--Procedure

Create a paste of your tanning supplies by dissolving one pound of alum in one gallon of water, then dissolving 4 ounces of washing soda and 8 ounces of salt in a half gallon of water. Combine the two slowly, stirring constantly. Mix the tanning solution with enough flour to create a thin paste.

Spread the paste thickly (1/8 inch) over the entire skin. Let this coat stand for 24 hours. Scrape the paste off daily and reapply each day for three days. Leave the last coat of paste on the skin for three to four days.

Scrape off the last coat of paste and rinse the skin in warm water with about an ounce of Borax. Spread the skin on a clean board and gently press all of the moisture out.

Finishing the Skin

After the tanned skin has air-dried slightly, finish the skin by applying a solution of 3.5 ounces of sulfated neatsfoot oil combined with 3.5 ounces of household ammonia. Apply half the solution evenly over the skin with a stiff paintbrush. Allow to sit for 30 minutes, then apply the other half evenly over the skin. Cover the skin with plastic and allow the solution to soak into the skin overnight. To dry, hang the skin hair side up over a sawhorse. Use an electric fan to speed the drying process.

Once the skin is mostly dry, soften and stretch it by nailing to a sheet of plywood, spacing the nails evenly around the board to stretch the skin in all directions.