Tanning a Deer Hide: Part 3

I finished it! I have an awesome deer hide stretched on my wall that I tanned myself! I’m really proud of this. I learned a lot, going through this process. It’s not perfect, but I did it!

It’s been a while since I’ve posted about this, so here’s a quick recap. In Part 1, I went over the first half of the tanning process: cleaning the hide and putting it in the tanning solution. Then came the start of stretching and cleaning the hide, detailed in Part 2.

It became obvious throughout the stretching/cleaning process that I had not successfully removed the membrane from the hide. Above you can see the cleaner white area where I painstakingly pried the membrane off with my fingers, post-tanning.

Many tanning websites mention working oil into the hide to soften it as you stretch it. Another learning moment: don’t do this if the membrane is still on the hide!

These two pictures show the ugliness that occurs if you work oil into the membrane. It stiffened the hide, too.

The reason why this post is so far from the others (the last post was in April) is that I got sick of peeling the hide after many hours of working on it. I rolled it up and stuck it in a corner of my living room to work on later. It was tanned, so it wasn’t going to rot or smell at all, but it was stiff like a piece of poster board and needed more love before it could turn into anything neat.

This October, I decided to host board games at my house for Halloween. You know what that means, right? Cleaning. Deciding to clean my house finally made me unearth the hide and finish it, haha.

Instead of hand-peeling the membrane off, inspiration struck me: I sanded it off! I unrolled the hide outside, grabbed my sand paper, and got to work. So much quicker and easier!

If you’re ever tanning a hide and find some membrane you didn’t get off well – you can sand it off. Below is the before and after picture. The right image (post-sanding) is smoother and whiter, without the bumpy ridges that was the dried hide membrane.  The surface was much softer to touch.

Sanded hide! Even the ugly areas that I had oiled sanded off just fine.

I decided that I wasn’t going to worry about making the hide supple enough to make clothing out of it – I didn’t have the patience with this particular project anymore. Besides, clothing wears out, and there’s a part of me that wants to be able to keep my first hide for a long, long time.

I went to Home Depot and bought some 2×2’s, had them cut, screwed them together, and stained it with my favorite stain (dark walnut). I also picked up some jute cord, because it had a nice brown color and natural feel.

Before stretching the hide on the frame, I stuck it back in my bathtub in a few inches of warm water and a couple capfuls of laundry detergent. I had been too cautious before in cleaning the hide post-tanning, and I wanted to be able to pet the hide without my hand coming away salty and gunky feeling. I worked the laundry detergent into the hair side thoroughly by hand (15 minutes?), which also re-wet the hide for stretching.

I started at the middle of each of the sides, poking holes in the hide with my awl and feeding the jute cord loosely through the holes. Once all the holes were made, I tightened the four sides a bit at a time until I couldn’t tighten it any more without the hide ripping.

Finally, I worked fat liquor oil (3 ½ ounces of neatsfoot oil combined with 3 ½ ounces of warm water and 1 ounce of ammonia) into the hide, to try and soften it a little.

I didn’t bother to cover the hide with plastic overnight and work the stretched hide (to make it supple), but just let it dry, as it was going to be decorative, not functional.

It took the better part of a week to dry fully.

The hide isn’t perfectly soft, but it sure looks fantastic on my wall!

Improvements if I do this process again:

    • Buy a fleshing knife and follow this video for getting the membrane off the hide before tanning
    • Get some small clamps and a frame for stretching the hide – the holes made by the jute here would’ve ripped if I’d applied a lot of force to try and make the hide supple while on this frame (I imagine the reason a lot of hides have little square marks along the edges is from clamps used during the stretching/softening process)
    • Soften the hide while stretched on a frame – it is far too hard to stretch by hand otherwise
  • Get more advice from other people who’ve done this

Has anyone else tried tanning? Or had a project that didn’t quite go as planned, but still turned out neat? Tell me stories!  ~Kell

Author: Wynter

I'm a scientist from Ann Arbor, MI! Leatherworker. Sewist. Exuberant gardener. Board game addict. SCAdian. Huge nerd. :)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *