A selection of craft information for artisans of the HFS.

    How to Tan Leather


    Posts : 81
    Join date : 2011-05-30

    How to Tan Leather Empty How to Tan Leather

    Post  Admin on Thu Jun 02, 2011 12:08 am

    While it may
    be surprising, you can easily tan leather in your own backyard with a few
    simple tools. While there are a few different ways to tan leather, brain oils
    are most commonly used and will give you better, longer lasting results than
    any other method.

    You'll Need:

    • Leather

    • Emulsified
      oils, usually from brains

    • Softening

    • Scraping

    • Pumice

    • Grainer

    Tan Your Own Leather Hide Using Brain Oils

    Find a
    leather hide to work with. While you can use leather hides from animals you
    skin yourself, you can also order cut hides to work with.

    Prepare the
    hide. Remove any bits of meat or fat by soaking the skin and carefully scraping
    it with a dull knife. This is called scudding. A sharp knife might make the
    work faster, but you risk a chance of cutting the hide. You should also remove
    the hair at this point if you decide that you want a bare hide.

    Lay out the
    hide using stakes or a frame. You can also use a piece of upright plywood to flatten
    the hide on. Don't stretch the hide. You just want to keep it from shrinking.
    The hide should be moist, but not soaking.

    Mash brains and a small amount of water in a
    blender or by hand. You can use the brains from the animal you skinned or buy
    canned brains.

    Rub the
    brains into the hide, skipping the fur side if you are creating a fur hide. Use
    all of the brains and liquid that you cooked. Let the brains soak into the hide
    for about 6 to 8 hours.

    Submerge the hide in
    water overnight or for about 10 hours. The hide should be pliable, ready to

    Stake the
    hide again, or lay it out the same way as before. Push a grainer across the
    hide until all the water is removed. You can use a pool or other hard object.

    Stretch the
    hide removing excess water while you do so. You can use rope or cable tied
    between trees for larger hides or you can stretch it by hand. The idea is to
    saw it back and forth until it is completely dry. When dry, it should not feel
    cool at all and should stretch but return back to its shape easily.

    Try watching
    instructional videos available from Traditional Tanners for more hints on
    tanning a hide (see Resources below).

    Tips & Warnings

    The liquid used to keep hide moist
    before tanning can determine the color. Salt or brain oils create paler
    leather, while urine will create a hide that appears almost white. Tallow
    (animal fat) gives the hide a more natural color.

    Tanning gets its name from the tannins,
    which are used in vegetable tanning. There are three modern ways to tan
    Dame Katrin Karlsdottir
    Dame Katrin Karlsdottir

    Posts : 28
    Join date : 2011-06-02
    Age : 51

    How to Tan Leather Empty The Old Way

    Post  Dame Katrin Karlsdottir on Thu Jun 02, 2011 6:46 pm

    After the animal has been killed If you hunt,
    raise your own animals or plan to do either in the future, you can make your
    own leather. There are a number of ways to tan leather and furs. Some are
    easier than others, like buying a tanning kit from Tandy or the Leather Factory.
    These contain pre-measured chemicals and instructions for using them. I am not
    going to cover the use of kits, but the old ways of tanning your hides.


    Making leather is a time consuming and smelly
    process. The first thing you need to do is to prepare your hides for tanning.
    The hides can be from cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, horses and deer, elk or
    antelope. Actually if it can be skinned it can be tanned.

    and the skin is carefully removed, the first job
    is to remove any bits and pieces of meat and fat. To do this the skin is soaked
    and pounded, then placed over a wooden beam and scraped with a dull knife. Take
    care not to tear the skins.

    The hair and outer part of the skin is then
    removed by rubbing urine, quicklime or wood ash into the wet surface. This will
    loosen the hair and allow it to be scraped off.

    After the hair has been scraped off, you need to
    prevent the hide from stiffening or rotting. There are several methods that can
    be used. You could rub it with an oily substance like tallow (animal fat,) egg
    yolk or “dubbin” (a mixture of fish oil and tallow. It can also be treated by
    rubbing salt, brain or potash alum into the surface to produce a very pale
    leather. Saving urine to use at this time will make an almost white hide. Any
    of these methods are quick and easy but if the leather gets wet, the oils or
    minerals would be washed out and the leather would rot. So it is time to tan
    the leather.


    The best way to tan the leather is by using a chemical
    called tannin. (Gross time) To do this the hide is rubbed with dung (which
    allows the tannin to penetrate the leather.) This is called bating. The bating
    process is remarkable one from the properties it imparts to the hide. The dung
    of carnivores, especially dogs is used as it contains an enzyme that digests
    collagen, which is an elastic component of the hide.

    Prior to bating the hide is springy and “lively,”
    rather like having a mind of its own. After bating it is quite relaxed and will
    lay flat. It’s difficult to describe but easy to recognize when the hide is
    compared before and after bating. The dung is washed from the hide after
    bating, it has done its job and there is no reason to keep such a smelly
    component of the leather making process.

    Now you need a clay-lined pit with a log or pole
    in it. The hide is hung over the pole and soaked in a mixture of water and
    crushed oak bark. This is what produces the tannin. Soak the hide for a couple
    of days, then remove it and spread it out to dry. This leather can be carved,
    tooled or left plain. It can be used to make shoes, knife sheaths, holsters or


    This is a very primitive method of tanning
    leather. Oddly enough each animal has just enough brains to tan its own hide.
    Brain tanning produces a beautiful buckskin and it does require a bit of work
    to produce it.

    After removing the hide from the beastie, stretch
    the hide out by laying it on the ground flesh-side up. Punch wooden stakes at
    intervals around the edges and drive them into the ground. You want the stakes
    close to the edge but not so close that the skin tears. It will all depend on
    the animal and the thickness of the hide. Don’t stretch the hide beyond its
    original size. You don’t want to stretch the hide, just keep it from shrinking.

    Now you need to flesh it. This will be easier if
    you are careful while skinning the animal and not let a lot of meat or fat on
    the hide. You can use a stone, a bone flesher or the dull knife from above.
    Once again, be careful to not cut or tear the skin.

    Scrap the skin to get every bit of meat or fat
    off, this includes the tiny veins that cling to the surface of the skin. Any
    fat or meat left on the hide will cause you misery later. Now that the fleshing
    is done it’s time to decide if you are going to make buckskin or a fur.


    Flip the hide over so that the hair side is up.
    The idea at this stage is to remove the hair as completely and easily as you
    can. You can mix up a slurry of wood ashes and water and rub it into the hide
    well. Cover every square inch then let it set until the hair starts coming
    loose when you pull on it. It can take a couple of days for heavier hides.

    If you don’t want to wait that long you can use a
    sharp knife and scrape/shave the hair off. You may have to scrape the hide even
    if you used the water/ash method. Scrape the entire hide, when you do this it
    will also scrape off the epidermis layer. This is important as it allows you to
    soften the hide later.


    Simply omit the de-hairing process and move to the
    next step.

    stinky time

    The tanning process breaks down the glycerin and
    loosens the fibers of the skin. The agent used in this method are found in the
    brain of the animal that provided the hide/fur.

    Take the brains and cook them in a little water.
    Squish and squeeze them with your hands (wear gloves) to mash it well. When the
    brain soup is almost to hot for you to touch, rub it into the hide using your
    hands and smooth round stones that have been heated. Start by rubbing the
    mixture into the skin side of the hide and then into the hair side (skip this
    side if you are making a fur.) Use all of the mixture including any “broth”
    left in the pot. Leave the hide alone and out of the sun for 6 to 8 hours
    before continuing.

    After the brains have soaked into the hide for 6
    to 8 hours, submerge the hide in water overnight. You want it to be completely
    saturated and pliable. While it is soaking, you can prepare your “graining”
    tools. There are two types needed. The first is a wooden wedge shaped tool,
    with or without a handle. The other is simply a sick about two inches in
    diameter. The end of the stick is carved into a smooth, blunt, rounded point.

    Re-stake the hide after it has soaked and use the
    wedge shaped grainer to “ooze” the water out of the hide. Do this until you
    can’t get any more water out of the skin.

    Now take the blunt stick grainer and work every
    inch of the hide. The object is to stretch and loosen every inch of the hide
    while it is drying. If you stop before it is completely dry it will become
    When the hide seems dry, unstake it.

    You can now cut away the edges with the stake
    holes, since there may be areas you couldn’t scrape well.

    Loop the hide through a rope loop or over a branch
    tied between two trees and pull it back and forth. This will stretch the hide
    and the heat/friction will dry the hide some more while breaking up the grain
    farther. When you are done, use a smooth stone to rub any imperfect areas.

    Note: If
    you are making a fur be careful and do not run the fur side over the
    branch or through the rope loop, if you do you will ruin it!

    The hide is now complete. However it will become
    stiff again if it gets wet. To prevent this, make a tripod of sticks and drape
    the hide over a small smudge fire. You want to smoke the hide until it becomes
    a nice buckskin color. Turn it over as necessary for the smoke to penetrate all

    Have fun, folks...

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