Research Update — Deer Hide Tanning

Salt and alum.

The tanning project continues. One hide has been tanned with the hair on and the other will be tanned with the hair removed. These require different processes and a different investment of time. In both cases, I am following the steps laid out in a previous blog post.

Hair-On Tanning

Hides before being weighted down with a bucket of water.

This is fairly straightforward. I mix up the salt-and-alum mixture with five gallons of water and immerse the hide. I had to use two wooden boards, bricks, and a 5-gal bucket full of water to weight down the hide. Otherwise it floats above the level of the fluid and would not tan evenly. Each day I pulled the hide out, dunked it a few times, rotated it, and then resubmerged it. I kept it in the pickling solution for six days. At this point, the skin is stark white.

Hair-Off Tanning

Lime and ashes.

None of the instructions I read said how much time it would take to get the hair off this thing. After soaking the hide in the caustic solution of lime and ashes for three days, I rinsed it well in clean water. I had checked to make sure the hair pulled out easily. I did notice that a few holes had appeared in the leather and the underside seemed a bit chewed up from the process.

Plucking the hair.

I found the easiest process to pull the hair out was to put it over a bucket and pluck away the hair while the hide was draped in this way. The weight of the hide keeps it stationary as I pluck away. I’ve gotten about three gallons worth of hair already and I am only half way through getting all the hair off. It has taken me three hours so far.

As I couldn’t get it all done in one sitting, I have to immerse the hide in the pickling solution between sessions, so it is on its way to being preserved as I continue to work on it but it doesn’t seem to make the hairs harder to pull out.

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