Research Update — Deer Hide Tanning Instructions, Part 2

Continued from Part 1.

So far, we have skinned, fleshed, salted, and rinsed our hide.

Refleshing (optional)

This is just a repetition of the scraping done in the first step. After salting and rinsing, more membrane (and a bit of fat and flesh missed before) can be scraped off on top of the hide-scraping bench with the butter knife or dull hacksaw blade.

Hair Removal (optional)

If you want just leather, you’ll have to remove the hair. This is done by soaking the hide in an alkaline solution. Be careful, as you could create a solution with a high pH and cause chemical burns. In this case, we’re adding 1 gal wood ashes and 2 lb slaked lime to 5 gal water. The hide is immersed in this mixture for two to three days, when the hair should slough off with ease. Don’t leave it longer than necessary to remove the hair, though, or the hide will break down.

Remove the hair by the same process that the fat, muscle, and membrane were removed from the other side. Once the hair is off, soak the hide in clean water for 6-10 hours, then in a bath of 10 gal with 1 pint of vinegar to stop the action of the caustic solution (the acid of the vinegar might cause some slight bubbles).

Pickling and Neutralizing

The hide is preserved through a process akin to pickling. In short, an acid solution prevents the growth of bacteria. Here we’ll add 1 lb of alum to 1 gal of water, mix until dissolved. Alum is available at the grocery store in tiny spice jars, but if you look around, you can probably find a pound of it for pretty cheap. Add 2 1/2 lb of salt to 4 gal water, mix until dissolved. Then slowly, slowly pour the small bucket into the large, stirring to help the bubbles dissolve. Immerse the hide in the solution for 4-6 days (if in doubt, go longer). Stir at least once a day. Remove the hide and rinse it.


Stretch the hide out on a board. You can use nails to tack the hide — hair side down — to a large board to dry half way. Mix 3 1/2 oz of neatsfoot oil with an equal portion of water and 1 oz ammonia. Rub half of this mixture on the hide, let it soak in for a half hour and then apply the second half. Cover with a plastic sheet or something to retain the moisture over night. The next day, when the hide is slightly damp, drag it back and forth over a pole, a sawhorse, or a board. This might take some time. Take breaks, keep repeating until it is soft as desired. More neatsfoot oil might need to be applied throughout the process. Fine sandpaper can be used to smooth the surface further.

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