tan deer hides

jsr283

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Over the years I have attempted to tan many of the deer hides from deer that I have harvested. The general process that I use is to skin, flesh, salt, scrap, resalt, remove excess salt and then allow to dry. When I start the tanning process, I soak the skins in a solution of wetting solution, dish washing liquid, small amount of Lysol disinfectant, and water until skins are soft. Next is pickling in Safety acid, where I maintain a pH of 2.0 or less. Then the tanning using a product called Lutan F. I get most or all of my supplies from Van Dykes Taxidermy Supply.
None of my finished skins has ever been as soft and pliable as what I would like, even though I probably spend a couple hours or more on each, breaking them.
My last batch of 2 skins produced a different result. Skin #1 was a 7 pt killed in 12/02 and was salt dried. Skin #2 was a spike from 12/03 and is the only skin that I have ever tanned without salt drying. I kept it in the freezer for 6 months before I even fleshed it out, and frozen another month until starting the tanning.
During the pickling I noticed that #1 looked and felt just like all the rest of my skins, kind of yellow. But #2 puffed up and remained white. It reminded me of bar soap when it has been left soaking in water too long.
While in the tanning solution, #1 seemed to get stiffer and #2 continued to be soft.
Now the 2 skins are almost completely dried and I have applied a tanning oil with leather scent. #1 is maybe the worst result that I have ever gotten. It is stiff and hard. But #2 is by far the best result. It is soft and pliable and stretches easily.
Just quessing, I would say that in the past my pickling has been insufficient and somehow this is related to having salt dried the skins. But I would appreciate any comments by those of you who may know.
Also, if my theory is correct, is it possible to re-tan or re- pickle the hides that turned out stiff? Thank you.
 

M.Magis

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A couple questions. Do you rehydrate before putting the hides in the pickle? Do you shave them after two days, then back into the pickle? Not salting the hide will make no difference in how soft it turns out. All types of tans will dry stiff without breaking. It's an extreme mount of work to get one soft like a tannery, almost impossible. They have equipment that we just don't have. The thinner your able to shave the hides, the easier it'll be to break them, and the softer they will get. You "could" retan them, however you'd just be wasting your time and supplies. Once it's tanned, it's tanned. The only thing that'll really get them softer is to shave them thinner and some more breaking.
 

jsr283

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Answers to the questions: I do rehydrate using a solution of liqid dishwashing soap, a cap full of Lysol disinfectant and of course water. In addition, if available, I add an amount of a product that I have purchased at Van Dykes. I think it's called Van-wet. It has a slick soapy feel to it and is clear.
By shaving I am assuming that you are referring to reducing the thickness of the hide. I do not shave hide - don't know how.
The hide that seemed to be soft was still somewhat damp the last time I held it (I left it at my hunting camp) but was limp as a t shirt. The other hide had pretty much dried and was hard enough that I can't imagine softening it by working it.
My question should have asked "can the hides be re-pickled?" I suspect that many of my hides did not properly pickle. It's my vague understanding that the pickling process "eats away" undesirable matter contained interspersed within the hide, and leaves the fibrous portion. Am I wrong? Thanks for any help.
 

M.Magis

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The pickle does a few things. First, at a Ph at 2 or less, it kills the bacteria. Also, it plumps up the skin allowing for easier shaving (thinning). Once a hide is tanned, it won't help you to go through the process again. When rehydrating, use either plain water or, some suggest using 2-4 lbs. of salt per gallon of water. This is the most universal method among professional tanneries. Without a fleshing machine, it's extremely difficult to thin a hide well. For mounting purposes, I use a skife knife. That would work for you as well, but would take a LONG time. I've also used a regular knife, VERY sharp, and a fleshing beam. When breaking the hide, it must be worked as the hide is drying out, after being oiled. Your right that once a hide is dried, you won't be able to soften it. As the hide is drying, check for area that appear dry, but are still pliable. When you stretch the skin, you'll be able to see white "separation" marks. At this point is when it needs to be worked. Many people work them over an ax head clamped in a vise. Since the hide will be thicker in some areas, you won't be able to do the whole thing at once. The thinner places will dry first. As you can see, it's a huge amount of work, and not really worth the effort, but it's a good home project. Professional tanneries have fleshing machines, staking machines, and huge tumblers that allow them to get tanned skins to the soft state your looking for. As home tanners, we just don't have the equipment to get those results. Good luck.
 

jsr283

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I appreciate your explanation. I've always felt like the time and effort to home-tan a deer hide was a little excessive, especially when you stop to consider the less than satisfactory result. The plumping of the skin is something that I have read about before, but never witnessed, until I finally observed it in this one hide which I've written about in these last few posts. None of the previous hides had ever shown any sign of doing anything in the pickle bath. I had come to the conclusion that it was pointless.
So now I will try 2 experiments. The first will be to select one of my tanned hides that has dried hard and I will re-hydrate it and put it in an acid pickle until it either finally plumps or it ruins. It'll be no loss if it does ruin. And the second will be to tan another deer hide without salt drying it to see if the result will be as good as the other which I tanned without salt drying. I'll need to wait until hunting season opens to do the second one, though.
Thanks again for your time and help.
 
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