Beavers have long been prized for their dense and water-resistant pelts. Through much of the 19nth century, beavers were trapped almost to extinction, as beaver-felt hats were extremely popular. In many areas, however, beavers are making a comeback, and as a result it can be legal to hunt or trap them at certain times of the year. While skinning and tanning beaver pelts takes patience and practice, many find this ancient process to be extremely rewarding.
Cordage or rope
Four sturdy sticks
Research all of your state and local laws regarding the possession, trapping or hunting of fur-bearing animals. Beavers are protected in some areas and there are specific trapping seasons in others. It can be illegal to be in possession of a dead beaver outside of these times, even if you did not kill it yourself.
Skin your beaver as soon after it dies as possible. Put on latex gloves, and use a very sharp knife to cut through the skin, taking care not to cut through the muscles or glands underneath. Start your cut at the base of the beaver's tail and continue it through the anus to the point of the beaver's lower jaw. You will need to slide your knife between the skin and muscle tissue to free the pelt, taking care not to pierce it.
Remove the front and back legs where the hairline begins. Cut slits from the base of these cuts up to your main cut. Cut around the animal's neck. Skin the animal by separating the skin from the muscle with your knife. At this point it is better to leave more flesh on the skin than to cut too closely and damage the pelt.
Create a stretching rack by lashing four sturdy sticks together in a square. Punch holes every inch around your pelt about a half-inch in from the edge. You can do this with an awl or a nail and hammer.
Use your rope and cordage to attach each hole to the stretching rack. Use one long piece of rope and go in and out of every hole, wrapping around the rack each time. Make sure that the pelt is taut and stretched evenly. Allow the hide to dry, protected from animals and insects.
Use your scraping tool, at a 45-degree angle to the hide, to remove all of the flesh and fat that remains on it.
Create a tanning solution by boiling oak or another similar bark in water until the water is dark brown or black. This releases tannins into the water, which will cure your hide.
Rub the tanning solution into the hairless side of your pelt until it is dry. Repeat.
Remove your hide from the stretcher. Soften the hide by grasping both ends and rubbing the hairless side against a tree, branch or fencepost repeatedly, or until it has reached the desired texture.
Items you will need
- Skinning, Tanning & Working Hides: A DIY Guide to an Ancient Skill; Rowan Gangulfr; 2009
Alexander Portnoy is a writer, editor, designer and builder who has worked on books, journals and websites since graduating from Hampshire College with a B.A. in 2002. Portnoy specializes in articles on art, architecture, woodworking, construction, sustainability and science.