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How to Soften a Tanned Deer Hide

by Joshua Smyth
The skin of a deer can be softened into an excellent clothing material.

The skin of a deer can be softened into an excellent clothing material.

Tanning deer hides involves chemical treatments to preserve them after they are removed from the body of the animal. This is an ancient art that was used by native peoples in North America long before the arrival of Europeans. Although tanning will preserve the hide from decay, it will not make it pliable. To create the soft and supple material known as buckskin, the tanned hide must be softened. This is a simple process, but will take much time and work. It is easier to do if you prepare the hide for softening at the end of the tanning process.

Rub the hide with neat's foot oil just after tanning it. The hide should be removed from the cleaning solution and allowed to dry partially before the oil is applied. Rub warmed neat's foot oil into both sides of the hide with a cloth, then use another cloth to remove the excess.

Allow the hide to dry completely out of direct sunlight.

Dampen the hide slightly by wiping it down with a damp cloth.

Grab each end of the tanned hide and rub it gently over a smooth surface with a back-and-forth motion; a sawhorse or a metal pipe works well, as long as neither produce any splinters. Continue this until the hide is soft. Apply small amounts of neat's foot oil as needed to keep the hide from drying out.

Rub the hide with sandpaper or pumice stone -- or both -- to give it even more softness.

Items you will need

  • Neat's foot oil
  • Sawhorse
  • Metal pole
  • Absorbent cloth
  • Sandpaper
  • Pumice stone

About the Author

Joshua Smyth started writing in 2003 and is based in St. John's, Newfoundland. He has written for the award-winning "Cord Weekly" and for "Blueprint Magazine" in Waterloo, Ontario, where he spent a year as editor-in-chief. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science and economics from Wilfrid Laurier University.

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