Introduction: Everything You Need to Know About Tanning Animal Pelts.

Picture of Everything You Need to Know About Tanning Animal Pelts.

This instructable will show you how to properly flesh, salt, and tann a animal pelt and driffernt ways of doing it. If you buy tanning solution follow the instructions that should come with it before you follow mine. sorry about the lack of pictures i will add my own pictures when i shoot more game. 

Step 1: Things Needed

Picture of Things Needed

Salt about 3 pounds for a squirrel or rabbit and up to 15 pounds for a deer hide from my expernce. 1pound 10oz of salt sells for 44cents at walmart.
Nails or a staple gun to pin the pelt down to a peace of wood
Wood to nail your hide down to.

Step 2: Fleshing the Pelt

Picture of Fleshing the Pelt

Pin the pelt, fur side down, to a board with satples or small nails. Scrape away as much flesh from the inside of the pelt as possible with the blade of a knife. Take care not to cut holes in the skin. This process is known as fleshing the pelt. A good video showing this process is


Step 3: Salting the Pelt

Picture of Salting the Pelt

After you got all the flesh off the pelt now you got to salt the pelt. For a small pelt like squirrel and rabbits you will need only about 2 or 3 contaners of salt but for a deer hide or bigger you will need atleast 15 contaners of salt. Now you pour the salt on the pelt and rub it in to all of the edges and folds that might be in the pelt. Any unsalted place in the pelt will start to rot. Check on your pelt every morning and every nigjt when the salt is wet to the tuch scrape it off with a dull knife and replace it. The amount of time it takes for the pelt to dry depends on alot of factors when you dont need to change the salt for afew days its mostlikely dry and you can move on to the next step.

A good video for this is

Step 4: Soaking the Pelt

Soak the skin in several changes of cool water. Use a  5 gallon plastic garbage can for all soaking and tanning processes. Never use a metal container, as the salt and tanning chemicals can react with the metal. While a skin must be soaked until soft, do not allow it to stay wet longer than necessary because the hair may start to slip. Soaking time depends upon the condition of the skin; some skins require only about two hours while others need a much longer time.

When the skin begins to soften, lay it on a smooth board and begin working over the flesh side to break up the adhering tissue and fat. All dried skins have a shiny tight layer of tissue that must be broken up and entirely removed this can be done by alternately scraping and soaking the hide. Take care not to injure the true skin or expose the hair roots, especially on thin skins like squirrel and rabbit. When the skin is almost soft, put it in lukewarm water containing an ounce of baking soda or Borax per gallon. For greasy skins, adding a tablespoon of dishwashing soap per gallon of water may help clean the skin. Use a stick or somthing made from wood to stir the skin around in the solution. Doing this cleans the skin so it will accept the tanning better. Now you rinse the pelt in warm water and squese the water out DO NOT WRING THE PELT



Step 5: Tanning Option 1 Alum and Borax Tanning

Picture of Tanning Option 1 Alum and Borax Tanning

Things needed for alum and borax tanning
1 pound of borax
1 pound of ammonia alum or potassum alum

I had trouble finding the alum but i seen it on ebay but i had some leftover from a old crystal growing kit i got years ago.

Step 6: Alum and Borax Tanning

Picture of Alum and Borax Tanning

Make a paste of 4 oz. of Borax and 4 oz. alum, with a little water added. Mix the paste well to remove any lumps.Coat the inside of the pelt with the Borax paste, using a knife to spread it to a thickness of 1/8 inch. Put on rubber gloves and work the paste with your fingers, rubbing it firmly into the skin. Leave the paste on the skin until the next day, then scrape it off and apply another coating. Repeat this procedure three more times, leaving the last coating in place for three to four days.

Scrape off the paste and rinse the pelt repeatedly under running water until there is no trace of Borax. Hang the pelt up and leave it until it is nearly dry.

Pin the slightly damp pelt to the board, fur side down. Rub a little neatsfoot oil into the the inside of the pelt. Keep doing this until the pelt is soft and supple. From time to time, remove the pelt from the board and stretch it vigorously in all directions. This helps your finished hide remain flexible and soft.

After this your done Tanning your hide



Step 7: Tanning Option 2 Alcohol Turpentine Things Needed

Picture of Tanning Option 2 Alcohol Turpentine Things Needed

I have never atempted tanning a pelt this way so there will be no pictures untill i do but i have been told how to do this though afew people and lots of internet searches. This method is best for small skins like rabbit and squirrel. The things you will need are...

large mouthed gallon jar
Wood alcohol (methanol paint remover) available at local hardware stores
Turpentine available at local hardware stores
Dishwashing soap

Step 8: Tanning Option 2 Alcohol Turpentine

Picture of Tanning Option 2 Alcohol Turpentine

Mix the tanning solution in the jar add equall parts alcohol and turpentine one half pint each should be enough for squrriel or rabbit skins. Then put the skins in the solution and shake it atleast once a day because the alcohol and turpentine will seperate after awhile. After 7 to 10 days take the pelt out of the solution and wash it in dishwashing soap to get all of the alcohol and turpentine out of the pelt. Rinse the pelt afew times and squeeze do not wring. After thats done rub neatsfeet oil into the skin and your done.

Step 9: Conclusion

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I did not explane all of the ways to tann hides i might in future instructables or just add them on to this instructable. In afew days i am gonna put up an instructable on how to tann a deerhide with store bought tanning solution. I have not tried these methods of tanning a hide i got tanning solution off of ebay. I got all of this info from internet research and plan on improving this instructable as i try the methods. If anyone has any tips or any other methods of tanning hides i would love to hear them along with any imput that will make this instructable better. Thanks


MaxC26 (author)2015-11-18

i find that i can do this a lot easier but it may not have the best outcome. i skin and flesh it. then i wash it in warm water and tack it to a board and salt it. then i take it of and shake it out and comb it. next i wok it by braking the fibers. this works for me but as i say, it may not have the best outcome

jvandeyacht (author)MaxC262017-12-03

putting your hard skins in a big tumbler with hard balls and turning it for a few hours will work quite nicely too. If you can get a 55 gallon metal drum, then you can make a good tumbler for cow/cattle skins.

Ive make a metal drum into a bulk fish scaler by pounding hole into the drum and tumbling in water. making a base with some cheepo wheels from harbor freight and a big riding lawnmower belt with a 1/4 hp motor is not only cheep but works wonders.

forget the shoulder busting branch breaking method, process the skin and tumble it. it is how the commercial industry does it and for good reason.

Dadsturtlegurl (author)2016-06-09

I'm trying to use this method on a raccoon to later mount as taxidermy. I was going to use the borax and alum solution. How many oz of each product do you think I'll need? I was trying to order the alum off amazon and I wondered how much I should purchase to try.

Taxidermy furs dont need to be clothing quality. If your just going to process it and then put it over a mount, you can treat it and then let it dry. it will be stiff as cardboard, but with taxadermy, it doesnt matter.

You cant figure out down to the ounce as to how much you need. no two animals will have the same square inches. Doing the alum way, I buy the items by the pound. Borax is by the box but a box will be way more than enough for raccoons, possums, fox's ect.

Work it by experimentation, make a bowls worth and test it, if it is way to much, then cut back a little the next batch you make.

When you get it processed, I usually put mine on a frame and stretch them to dry hard. You want to use the alum-borax to process the skin to keep it from rotting or getting eaten by bugs.

When you get your form, I will use some alcohol to wet the skin so I can work it, though not wet- soaking. just enough to soften the skin a little.

Once you folded and pinned your fur on the form to verify proper size form, then tie the fur over it to let it dry again. It will be stiff, but then you can work it off the form and continue your glue down and taxidermy process.

It is worth it to take taxidermy classes, even if only online. part of a good taxidermist is to find you own processes for skin-fur-feather-scale processing. Taxidermy is far more than just slopping a skin on a form.

I never tryed that method but but more then you think you will ever need. Better to have too much then not enough!

BarbB41 (author)2017-01-14

I have a deer hide that i folded skin to skin after removing from the meat. I have the hide in a garbage bag in the garage. I am in Michigan where it is usually below freezing, however last week the temperatures rose above 40 for a few days. I have done nothing to the hide but fold it. How do I know if it is still good to attempt to tann for my first time or is the hide ruined?

jvandeyacht (author)BarbB412017-12-03

I know this is old, but good for future....

If you want just the leather, your hide is fine. If you want a fur, then it is toast. The best thing to do is to always salt the heck out of it, then roll it up and stick in freezer until you can process it. I usually roll mine into burlap so the freezer can help dry it by way of evaporation. if it is in a bag, it cant get dry very well while frozen.

I find commercial products to be easiest as they have everything there and instructions with better pictures to follow than this .. rehashed . not much for experience . ible. Personally, unless you did the work and can show it, you shouldn't be posting an ible. taking info you took from other sources and rehashing it out is not the point of this website... just my opinion.

The turpentine way works quite well for small furs. Mine usually come out stiff. The author eluded to parts of the finish work on furs but from lack of doing it, never finished this ible.

Once you have processed your furs, you put them in a big drum, or in my case, a 5 gallon bucket with a lid, as well as sawdust, some rubber / plastic dryer balls and tumble them for an hour for small or 2 hours for larger furs. The point of this is to beat up the skin and make the whole thing very soft and workable. I use 2-1 by volume of sawdust to fur skins. 4 balls per square foot of fur.

after tumbling, I will take out the furs and check them. if the skin is soft enough for my needs, then it is done, if not, it goes back in for another half hour at a time until complete.

then you just shake off the dust, vacuum it till nice and clean. You can wash them if you choose, but make sure you dry them completely as fast as you can, the skin is now tanned, but it can still rot if wet for too long, or it will/can dry hard.

Do your own research or read the instructions from a commercial package. This ible is almost useless and will leave you with a rotting, stinky, chemically scary mess. It is not complete enough to properly process a fur.

Sorry if I offended anyone - truth hurts.

LucilleI1 (author)2017-05-01

I have 2 caribou hides I just fleshed out & laid flat to dry; can I soak and salt them to do a processing? And which process would be best to use. Or will I just be experimenting on them?

Sorry for the late reply. I have been doing deer skins for a butcher shop and the best method i have came up with is to buy hunters and trappers hide tanning solution and follow the bottles instrutions. If you cannot do that brain tanning may be the best for you. Jyst a tip when fleshing tack the hide down and use a powerwasher pointed at a 45 degree angle. You will have the hide fleshed within 20 minutes!

dallasfrog (author)2016-09-19

I am a deer hunter and we have always thrown away the pelts after skinning. I want to make buckskin out of them instead. How do I need to prepare the pelt at camp until I can get it home (about 5 days)? I don't want to come home with ruined pelts. thanks

The best way to save the pelt intill you get home is to get all the meat off the hide with a dull knife being careful not to cut the skin. Then apply a think coat of salt to the hide and roll it up. Try to keep as cool as possble. Check the salt every few days. If it looks nasty change the salt out. Im glad your going to use the skin! Honor the animals by useing every scrap!

Thanks for the speedy reply. I have never tried brain tanning and will do so this season. I think that my wood burning stove that I use in my wall tent will work perfectly for smoking the hides.

Follow up questions: I have heard mixed reviews about using iodized salt versus noniodized salt. I can buy iodized salt in bulk pretty easily. Not so easy to find noniodized salt in Dallas. What is your take on the subject? AND, about how much salt will I need to salt one typical sized deer?


The worst Idoized salt will do is stain your pelt. I never had any trouble with it before. It can take up to 10 to 15 pounds of salt to dry a skin out depending on the thickness of the hide.

Thanks for the info. I feel comfortable going out to the field now and coming back with workable hides. I bought a book called Deerskins into Buckskins by Matt Richards. It is pretty informative too.

JazibS2 (author)2016-10-10

hello sir

i want to start producing cowhide rugs wide hides of cows from my local community. Please take me through the step by step process of the production line. From machinery to chemicals to be used. . my production will be 500 rugs per month.

fredk26 (author)2016-08-18

I want to start producing cowhide rugs wide hides of cows from my local community. Please take me through the step by step process of the production line. From machinery to chemicals to be used. I.e fleshing machines, drums etc. Im looking at minimum 100rugs per month.

joseisraelval (author)2016-08-03

Any method for vegetable tanning?

kgn001 (author)2015-11-29

when doing the alcohol turpentine tanning proscess do you need to flesh it still before putting it in the solution

Yes because the meat and fat will rot over time. Plus you wouldnt want meat on your finished leather would you? Lol

sondra15 (author)2015-06-25

My cow hide is in salt process and is really hard can this be fixed???

In the salt process the skin will be stiff as a board. This is okay because after the tanning process you will rub you hide on a tree branch or some 550 paracord pulled really tight and tied off

Sorry ut took so long fir a reply. What you need to do after the tanning process is rub the hide back and forth on a tree branch intill it is soft and flexable. This may take some time and sime force.

gonecrazy151 (author)2015-07-07

Budgielind (author)2014-11-21

I am having trouble with my small animal pelts, they are dry and stiff even when I used the Neats foot oil just becomes oily, what I am doing wrong!

Kwolf12 (author)Budgielind2015-03-09

To get your small animal pelts soft you need to "break" them. This should happen before the neatsfoot oil, because you'll need to get the skin wet. Don't get it too wet, or it will make the hair slip--just wet enough that it becomes flexible. Then work the hide by hand--stretch it, until you see the skin turn just a bit white in the stretched area. If you're working with thin skins, don't use much pressure or you'll rip them.

It's going to take time. The tanned skins still have strong collage-fibers linking the leather together, and when these dry, they're very hard, like callouses on the heels of your feet. When you "break" the skin, you're overstretching the fibers, so they can't set up stiff again. But you'll need to keep the skin moving as it dries--and even dampen it again sometimes as you work--or these fibers will contract when they dry out. Once you've broken the skin, you can rub leather conditioner (mink oil, mineral oil, neatsfoot oil, etc.) into it and the pelt should remain flexible. (I've heard that neatsfoot oil is corrosive over time. Mineral oil might be better.)

Creak (author)2015-01-13

This is a very good starting point for someone such as myself, who has never tanned a skin before. Another idea would be for one on hides that you don't want to preserve the hair. Thanks!

Lorddrake (author)2012-06-11

very well documented instructable. I am looking forward to seeing future additions when you try different methods.

Thanks a guy also messaged me and said he has pics of him brain tanning a hide when he sends them to me ill add brain tanning too. Is there anything i can add to make this Instructable better? Input is veary appreciated.

brain tanning is rather cleaner in my honest pinion

I have read a few other guides to preserving a hide and one thing that keeps coming up is that they recommend technical grade salt .. or if you can't get that non-iodized salt.

I noticed that you used Iodized salt. Did you notice any problems because you used the iodized salt?

Nope i did not have any problems at all. I think i bought non iodized salt at walmart but i dont really see the driffernce to be honest. But non idozed salt works just fine i think buying that technical grade salt is just a waste of money.

a little more research turned this up ..

A quote from a tanning authority.... Posted by Tony Dingess on Jul 10 2004

This is a quote I found on from one of the best known experts on tanning in the US (Bruce Rittel):
"Iodized or Non-Iodized? This response submitted by Bruce Rittel on 10/28/1998. ( )

Doug - it really doesn't matter whether you use iodized or non-iodized Salt. For tanning however, the non-iodized type has always been preferred, because in bulk its usually much cheaper. The Iodine simply has no effect on your tanning. In Iodized Salt, because it was intended for human consumption, it was added simply to prevent Goiter problems. There's a new additive out too, call Yellow Prusaite of Soda. Its an anti-clumping agent the manufacturers are adding to their Salt. It wont affect your tanning - but you have to be mindful of your Ph. It slightly raises it, so your solution may be a bit higher. As long as you're aware of it, and can compensate for it, you should be OK. When you buy its always best to ask for 100% Salt. If it says anything less, check it for an additive. Happy Tanning. Bruce "

Mr. E Meat (author)2012-07-06

Nice! Favourited! I'm hopefully going hunting for the first time this year! I'll be trying this if I'm successful!!

Thanks and good luck hunting... i got my first deer this past year and tanned the hide with some stuff i bought off ebay. its not too soft because i made mestakes but i learned from them... I keep seeing roadkill around my house im thinking about skining one of those up and ill post that too.

Haha! I can smell roadkill right now... Deer are like rats where I live... Maybe I'll keep an eye out for a fresher roadkill!

Yeah that is a great idea just please always wear gloves when working with roadkill it can get kinda nasty and you never know what they have lol.around me there is alot of roadkill raccoons.

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