tanning rabbit hides

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We have been raising rabbits for years and butchering for our own table. We want to be able to use the fur from the rabbits. My books seem to complicate things a lot. In Where the Red Fern Grows they just nailed up the racoon skins to the side of a building to dry. without using a lot of chemicals. Does any one have any suggestions. Thanks Linda in Indy

-- Linda in Indy (peacefulvalley3@yahoo.com), July 11, 2001


First, a disclosure- I have never done this myself. I remeber, as a small child, the side of my grandmothers barn was covered with skins ranging from racoon to beef hides. Inside out. I asked my mother about it and she said the hides were first scraped of all tissue then nailed on the side of the barn that got the morning sun. After several weeks, they were taken down and rubbed with either linseed oil or neatsfoot oil. She can't remember. She said they were pulled back and forth over a smooth round pole, inside down. She has a couple pair of slippers made from sheep hides that she has had since childhood. She is 55 years old and was raised in what most folks would call poverty. They raised and made everything. She said she would ask my uncle for futher details. I will let you know what she finds out. I say give it a try. You may waste a few hides, but you may also get lucky. Best wishes.

-- Terri Perry (teperry@stargate.net), July 11, 2001.

Linda, I can't remember exactly how we did this, but when I was a teen I raised rabbits for meat and tanned the hides myself. I know that I never used any chemicals- it seems to me that I simply scraped all of the flesh off the hides and then rubbed the hides with table salt. At some point I tacked the hides to a piece of plywood and left them to dry, and I vaguely recall repeating the salting several times during the drying period. When the hides were dry I would rub them until they became soft and pliable. Seems as if it was a fairly simple process, and I got some nice hides from it. Sorry I can't recall exactly, but hopefully someone else can expand on this.

-- Elizabeth (ekfla@aol.com), July 11, 2001.

As far as I can recall my Dad's technique with rabbits was to skin them by cutting around the rear legs then standing on the feet full the entire skin up and off the carcass rather like taking off your sweater. The skins were dried by bending a couple of feet of fencing wire into a 'U' shape and stretching the skin over that. The skin is of course inside-out.

Treatment was by rubbing salt in and by softening with oil, which might have been linseed as I don't recall neetsfoot oil being around the place.

I think there is a process you can do using tea, as in Ceylon tea.

-- john hill (john@cnd.co.nz), July 11, 2001.

Linda, what you were seeing is how a hide has to be dried before it is actually tanned. The hide must be scrapped of all the fat and meat and then dried until ready to be tanned. There are several methods of tanning which consist of chemicals and natural products. The indians didn't have the chemicals that they use now days, but did it with wood ashes, brains, and smoke. Here is a site you may check into. www.braintan.com Oh another thing about the indians. The braves would have there squaw chew the fat off the hides while they went back hunting again. They may have been more civilized than the whites!

-- Russell Hays (rhays@sstelco.com), July 11, 2001.

Agree with both John and Russell. You can oil-tan skins, although I've heard it doesn't last as long as other methods. You can also tan with - guess what? Tannin! As John said, you can get that from tea - but a cheap nasty bitter one would probably be better than the finest Ceylon. People used to get it from oak galls - the tree secretes a LOT of tannin to try and kill the invading insect. You have to soak acorns to take the tannin out of them if you're going to use them for people food. There are other sources - in Australia people used to use some varieties of a local tree called wattle. Try a search from www.google.com for "tannin leather" and for just tannin - you'll likely find some interesting stuff, and may even find sources for straight concentrated tannin for home tanners. I understand nothing is better than chrome-tanned leather for shoe soles, but not necessary for a lot of other things, and the chromium salts are polluting and poisonous (although not as much so as many other things - like pesticides and herbices, for instances).

-- Don Armstrong (darmst@yahoo.com.au), July 11, 2001.

Countryside had a great feature piece on tanning and tawing rabbit hides last year. If you don't have the issue ask Anne-marie about ordering it from the back issue list. Its only $4 for the issue if she has it and you'll have a great reference for your library.

-- Jay Blair in N. AL (jayblair678@yahoo.com), July 11, 2001.

I found this link while surfing. I have not tried it but if I ever find time I would like to.



-- ourfarm (ourfarm@nospam.com), July 11, 2001.

I am sure you are right about the tea Don, I only mentioned Ceylon so that no one thought I meant 'camomile' or 'lemon', incidently I believe you can use the tea even after it has been through your kidneys :-)

-- john hill (john@cnd.co.nz), July 12, 2001.

john (sorry about the capital last time), you're probably correct. Jean M Auel in one of her "Earth's Children" palaeolithic novels talked about creating white leather by treating it with urine which had been allowed to sit until it turned ammoniacal - bleached it and ripped out the fat all at once. Those novels are brilliant, and so meticulously researched that I'd be inclined to believe almost everything in them (except some of the spiritual stuff).

P.S. Your U-shaped fencing-wire stretchers were exactly what we used to dry whole rabbit skins (i.e. peeled off - not slit down the paunch). A bit of the "U" poking out the neck end to hang them up by.

-- Don Armstrong (darmst@yahoo.com.au), July 12, 2001.

Right Don, I am sure you can learn a lot from some of those novels if you have the basic common nounce to sort the wheat from the chaff. Yes, I have always skinned rabbits in that manner so that the skin is off in a sort of tube, we do the same with still-born lambs to make a jacket for 'mothering on' another lamb.

-- john hill (john@cnd.co.nz), July 12, 2001.

Interesting thread-- I have another question. Is it better to use fall and winter pelts? I was unimpressed with pelts I tried to dry last year and was told it was because it was summer fur.

-- Terri in NS (terri@tallships.ca), July 12, 2001.

Yes Terri, it is better to use a winter pelt. If you skin an animal out before it has its winter coat it is called a blue hide. They don't look as good after tanned and if you tan it with the hair on the hair will fall off in a short period of time.

-- Russell Hays (rhays@sstelco.com), July 12, 2001.

Found the issue in my reference library. It is in Countryside issue 83/6 (Nov/Dec 1999). They cover tawwing. Indian tan leather, How to tan a rabbit hide, A cheap and easy way to tan sheepskins and Tanning with alum. Hope this helps.

-- Jay Blair in N. AL (jayblair678@yahoo.com), July 13, 2001.

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