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Tanning another hide

When we have a steer butchered we like to try to use every part of the animal.  We eat the meat and some of the offal, the dogs get the bones and the rest of the offal, we render the tallow and tan the hide.  The only waste is the head, which we bury, so at least it enriches the soil.

Tanning the hid is a big job.  This our third hide, so we are getting better at the process every time.  I posted some detailed instructions (here and here) when we did the last hide this time last year.  The most important thing to get the hide spread out somewhere safe and dry and covered in salt as soon as possible after the animal is skinned.  If the hide is dried out sufficiently it will last for months, and we have found that it actually improves as it dries.  This hide was in the shed since August, so it was about 5 months, and it was very stiff and dry, which made it easier to work.

In the past we have fleshed the hide using a scraping tool, which took several days and was very hard work. This time Pete used a grinder with a wire brush attachment, and finished the job in 2 hours!  I helped by holding the hide taught over a log.  My only recommendation is to do this away from the house, as it made a bit of a mess and didn't smell too good for a few days!  We had dried using an orbital sander on previous hides and it didn't work because the hide was still too wet, so it is best to wait for the hide to dry completely if you want to use a power tool.  I think its good to know that we can do it with hand-tools, and I did quite enjoy the exercise and the time spent talking as we worked the hide last time.  The power tool was so much quicker and easier, it would be crazy to go back to the hand tool, but it was a bit sad that we both had ear plugs in and couldn't really talk while we worked.

this is the mess - dried flesh "snow"

the dogs love to help with this sort of activity

After we finished fleshing we rinsed the hide using the pressure cleaner to remove most of the blood and dirt and then put the hide in a wheelie bin of water and detergent to degrease it.  It can be difficult to fold a stiff dry hide into a wheelie bin, but it does soften as it gets wet and then only fills half the bin, so don't give up!

We then took the hide out of the first wheelie bin, rinsed again, and put the hide into the wheelie bin of chrome solution.  We have used the same solution for the past two hides and its probably the last time we'll use it as we had to dilute it to cover the hide.  We left it into the chrome solution until we could see by cutting the edge of the hide that the chrome had fully penetrated.  

Unfortunately this hide tanning story doesn't have a happy ending.  The hide was not tanned after one week, so we left it in the solution another week, the HOT heat wave week, only to find that all the hair started to fall out.  We shouldn't have tried to use the same solution three times, it had become too dilute, and the hot weather didn't help us.  We had to dispose of the partially tanned hide, so we weren't able to find out if this method gave a smoother or softer result.  I'm sharing this anyway, because it might help you to know that the angle grinder does a quicker and easier job of the fleshing.  We will have to wait for our next steer kill and try again :(

Any tanning experience yourself? 


  1. Do you use the beef cheeks and the tongue? My mum used to use cow and pigs heads to make brawn...I think I was scared for life by the whole experience because I am vegan now! BUT I do remember her buying cow and pig heads from the butchers specifically to make the brawn (that I did eat...just couldn't ever handle those eyeballs and brains! ;) ). How is your property weathering the floods? Good to see you are still online (can only be a positive thing!). We have been watching it on the news and I guess it's a bit like the Tassie bushfires down do the best you can to save what you can.

    1. I have to admit that we fed the tongue to the dog, but the cheeks ended up in the mince I think. We are high and dry, but others are not doing so well...

  2. None, but I definitely have to show this post to my husband. He would like to learn to tan the hides of anything we butcher. Your experience will be most helpful!

  3. What a shame it went pear shaped! Hubby would love to tan hides using wattle but we can't find much info on the net. We are watching your efforts with interest! Good on you for using the whole animal!

    1. I'd like to try wattle too, but haven't found much of a recipe, we don't have any chrome left, so will have an extra incentive to try the wattle tan next time.

  4. No experience myself but thats interesting reading. Sorry it didn't work out after you put in so much effort! I love to try and tan a fox hide.

  5. oh bummer... that's a real shame it didn't work out after you got it to that stage!

    What's the nasty-rating of chromium? ie disposal and stuff?

    I've only recently worked out what 'beef cheeks' are after having them at some fancy restaurant as part of another dish... lol

    1. Actually I was pretty disappointed that the kit didn't come with a material safety data sheet (MSDS) which tells you precautions for use and disposal of the chemical. The tanning solution probably contains chromium sulfate, potassium alum and aluminum sulfate, but I can't be sure, as it didn't list any ingredients. As they are all rated as irritants, we worm gloves and safety glasses when working with the tanning solution, however it was quite dilute, so I didn't consider it a huge issue. As we are on septic, we disposed of the spent liquid on our property (dug a hole and tipped it in). This is all good reason to either make your own chrome tanning solution (so you know what's in it) or use wattle.

  6. What a pity it the tanning failed after all that work. My step-daughter in Katherine tans hides. I'll have to ask her what she does.

  7. Thanks so much for this. It is very timely that I have found your blog. I am wanting to tan rabbit skins , square them up and make a rug. I will look at your other tanning posts to gain from your experience.

    Thanks again.

    1. oh a rabbit-skin rug would be lovely!

  8. Thanks Liz for another brilliant post! We just killed our first cow and kept the hide but are having difficulty finding a local tannery. But I looked up your blog as I was sure you'd done it. Thanks again, we're looking into doing it ourselves

  9. I just found a web site that uses Black Wattle for tanning a hide instead of the chrome solution.The fellow uses a bucket of the bark. Drills holes the bucket and makes a big cup of tea in a plastic 44 gallon plastic drum. Soak the hide in the tea for a week and do all the other steps just the same.
    Glenn from Foxdale

  10. Hiya
    looks like this tanning fun is all a while ago but i am tanning a goat hide using the Leder/Leidreiter kit at the moment and googling for timing tips and came across your excellent blog. i have to tell you there is a great little book if you can get hold of it. its called a Handbook on Knives Skinning & Tanning by John Leidreiter printed by Eurasia Press. i got mine on Ebay when we first moved to our five acres in Southern Tablelands NSW and it contains so much of the info that's missing from the kit. maybe once upon a time they were sold together? its very Aussie, awesome bushcrafty and full of drawings. contains list of tanning bark trees! if this little goat works out i will have a crack at one of our home-kill cowhides. all the best


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