Foreword: My tanning videos were put on hold due to the move this year, but perhaps by next summer I’ll have them ready 🙂
One of my goals for 2021 was to start making my own clothing. This will probably start with making shoes and expand to leg and torso coverings. So back in March I began playing around with natural tanning methods. I am only tanning small hides at the moment; rabbit, squirrel, guinea pig, and some other rodents. Once confident I will move on to larger hides like coyote and deer.
I started by reading about and watching videos on brain, bark, and egg tanning methods. It seemed like every instruction I was given conflicted in some way with every other. Naturally, to an extent, tanning is an art, so there’s room for variance regarding technique. However I don’t appreciate each source telling me I CAN’T do it another way and fail to explain why. When I see this I want to challenge it. I want to know why I can’t do something.
I’ve egg tanned close to 30 hides this spring. In the beginning I had excellent success with the wild rodents, acceptable success with the guinea pigs, and all-around poor results from the rabbits. Even though they were all treated in the same way, at the same time, the rabbits kept turning out papery and brittle, with ugly skin. I dove back online for an explanation and came across a blip on a forum thread somewhere; someone had asked why his deer hides had recently started coming out papery, crunchy, and/or brittle. It was suggested to him that he didn’t de-lime the hides fully, leaving them with too high a PH which resulted in the papery skin.
I took that and ran with it. I did a new batch of rabbits, this time rehydrating each salted hide in 50:50 water:vinegar(5%) for about an hour. The goal was to lower the natural PH of the hide. And the results were phenomenal. The end result of the yolk tanned hides were leathery, durable, and soft. A far cry from the ugly paper hides I was producing without the vinegar pickle.
So then I thought, “Can I fix my already tanned hides?”. My papery hides were completed- they’d been oiled, stretched, and smoked already. I threw a couple in a pickle and let them soak, then dried to the proper consistency for re-oiling and applied a new covering of egg yolk. I dried and broke these hides and they came out beautifully. Just as well as the ones I’d just done from a raw/salted state. I likewise re-processed some of my better rodent hides just to see what would happen, and they came out absolutely fantastic after a pickling and re-oiling.
Along with progressively re-tanning my “already tanned” hides, I am preparing for a new batch of rabbits hides. I will pickle these longer, and in pure vinegar, and see how “even more acidity” treats them. So far the process has been fun, easy, satisfying, and thoroughly enjoyable. I am working on producing a video walkthrough on the process, since so many of the ones I watched left me with more questions than I started with! As always, I want to share the information I am learning with others so that we can all have access to practical, helpful knowledge.