Tanning is the process of making leather from the skins of animals which does not easily decompose. Traditionally, tanning used tannin, an acidic chemical compound. Coloring may occur during tanning. A tannery is the term for a place where these skins are processed.
Tanning leather involves a process which permanently alters the
protein structure of skin. Making rawhide does not require the use of
tannin and is made simply by removing the flesh and fat and then the hair by way of soaking in an aqueous solution (often called liming when using lime and water or bucking when using wood ash (lys)
and water), then scraping over a beam with a somewhat dull knife, and
then leaving to dry, usually stretched on a frame so that it dries flat.
The two aforementioned solutions for removing the hair also act to
clean the fiber network of the skin and therefore allow penetration and
actiohttp://app4.websitetonight.com/WST.aspxn of the tanning agent.
Tanning can be performed with either vegetable or mineral methods.
Before tanning, the skins are unhaired, degreased, desalted and soaked
in water over a period of 6 hours to 2 days. To prevent damage of the
skin by bacterial growth during the soaking period, biocides, such as TCMBT,
2-(Thiocyanomethylthio) benzothiazole, are added. After 1980 the use of
pentachlorophenol and quicksilver (mercury base) biocides and their
derivatives was forbidden.
The English word for tanning is from medieval Latin tannāre, deriv. of tannum (oak bark), related to Old High German tanna meaning oak or fir (related to modern Tannenbaum). This refers to use of the bark of oaks (the original source of tannin) in some kinds of hide preservation.]
In ancient history, tanning was considered a noxious or "odiferous trade" and relegated to the outskirts of town, amongst the poor.
Indeed, tanning by ancient methods is so foul smelling that tanneries
are still isolated from those towns today where the old methods are
How To Tan A Hide
Ojibwa women have been
tanning hides for centuries. Buckskin is good material for clothing
because it is warm and durable. Different thicknesses of hides can be
used for different purposes, and tanning is not too difficult to do
- Clean the flesh side of the hide by scraping it with a blade.
Bone fleshers were once used for this purpose. You want to remove all
the flesh and blood stains.
- Soak the fleshed hide in clean water for three days and three
nights. If you want a plain skin rather than a fur, de-hair it: wring
the hide out and fasten one end of it to a fence or tree, and scrape the
hide to remove the hair. If the hair is really long, cut it first. Go
against the grain of the hair, and scrape away from yourself.
- Soak the fleshed and de-haired hide in a mixture of brains and
water. Every animal has just enough brains to tan its hide. Simmer the
brains in water with a little fat in it, then rub the mixture onto both
sides. Rub it in well until it is almost absorbed. If the hide is
dry, get it wet and soft before rubbing on the brain mixture. Now
sprinkle the hide with warm water and roll it up tightly. Let it set
- There are also more convenient chemical tanning methods.
- Loop the hide over a stout stick, then take the two ends and twist the hide into a thick rope.
Roll the sides up toward the middle first. Use another stout stick at
the other end and overlap the ends. Grab hold of the ends and the
stick and wring the moisture out of the hide. This also stretches it.
Place the hide on a big piece of wood and scrape it again on both sides
to remove any remaining little scraps of flesh, hair, or liquid. Now you
need to stretch the hide back to its original size.
- Hold onto the hide tightly and use your hands and feet to
stretch it as much as you can. Make a rough wooden frame larger than
the original hide. Punch holes all around the edges of the hide, about 3
inches (7.6 cm) apart. Use leather thongs or waterproof cord to attach
the hide to the frame, making the hide taut.
- Turn to the hair side and work the hide with your hands and a
tool to soften the hide and stretch it. In the old days people used a
bone or antler with a stone lashed to it, but later on people used a
tool like a small hoe. Guide the scraper with your left hand and use
your right hand to press hard to break the hide down and soften it.
You'll have to tighten up the cords now and then to keep it taut.
- Note that once the skin is soft, pliable, and dry it is ready
to be smoked. Stitch up any holes in the hide, then sew it up the sides
of the hide to make a bag. Close one end so it is pretty tight - tight
enough to hold the smoke. Invert the skin bag over a hole about a foot
across and half that deep. Use sticks to make a rough frame to hold the
skin bag open, and you can tie the closed end to a tree or use another
long stick to keep it up.
- Make a small smoky fire built in the hole to smoke the skin.
Once the little fire has a coal bed built up, start adding smoke chips
to it and peg the skin around the hole. A little channel tunneled out
to one side will allow you to keep the fire supplied. Once the inside is
smoked, turn the bag inside out and smoke the other side. The smoking
doesn't take very long. A very thin hide might be done in ten minutes
(one side). Thick moccasin hide might take an hour.
- Note that smoking the hides gives them color. This color can
range from cream to brown. Also, a smoked hide that has gotten wet can
be carefully dried out so it stays soft and smooth. Unsmoked hides will
stiffen up after getting wet.
- If you put some wood ash from a campfire in the water while it
soaks, the hair should pull out very easily. It makes the water a
diluted lye solution.
- White pine smoke tends to make black hides.
- Dried corn cobs will smoke very well and give the skins a yellow color.
- Be very careful when you are scraping and stretching the hide.
Work away from yourself. Scraping and stretching tools shouldn't be
sharp, but because you are applying pressure, they can hurt you if you
- While the hides are smoking, stay right there and keep an eye on the fire.
Tanning Deer Hides and Small Fur Skins, New Mexico State University, http://www.state.tn.us/twra/pdfs/tanninghides.pdf (with several methods)
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