How to Tan a Cowhide

Written by sarah metzker erdemir
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How to Tan a Cowhide
. (Cow photo courtesy of www.photos8.com)

When cow is culled or slaughtered for meat, it's a shame to waste any part of it. A tanned cowhide makes an attractive and durable floor covering or wall hanging. Tanning hides yourself at home is hard work, but it's well worth the time and effort. This is a relatively inexpensive way to tan and preserve a hide by yourself without professional machinery or equipment.

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Things you need

  • Scraper or blunt knife
  • Shears or very sturdy scissors
  • Large flat surface not exposed to heat and sunlight
  • Salt
  • Plastic, 10-gallon tub
  • Water
  • Cool, dark place to hang the hide
  • Dull hacksaw blade
  • Soda ash
  • Borax
  • Dish soap
  • Large paddle for stirring
  • Chrome alum
  • 2 large plastic containers
  • Plastic, 50-gallon tub
  • Mink Oil

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Start the tanning process as soon as possible after the cow has been slaughtered and bled out, or you risk spoilage. Remove the animal's skin, and scrape off all remaining fat and meat with a scraper or a blunt knife, taking care not to damage the skin.

  2. 2

    Trim off all the ragged edges of the hide with the shears or scissors.

  3. 3

    Spread the hide with the flesh side up on a flat surface away from heat and direct sunlight and use your hands to smooth out all of the wrinkles. It's not necessary to stretch the hide at this point; just make sure it's smooth.

  4. 4

    Completely cover the hide with clean salt, making sure the edges aren't exposed. You should use a pound of salt for each pound of hide. Leave it in the salt to cure for two weeks.

  5. 5

    Shake the excess salt from the hide and hang it in a cool, dark, dry place.

  1. 1

    Clean and soften the hard cured hide by soaking it in a 10 gallon tub of cold water for no more than two hours. Change the water twice during this process.

  2. 2

    Spread the hide on a flat surface and scrape the flesh with a dull hacksaw blade to remove any remaining tissue.

  3. 3

    Fill the tub with lukewarm water and the following solution: 28.4gr. borax or soda ash plus 29.6ml dish detergent for each gallon of water. Stir the hide in the solution with the paddle to thoroughly clean and de-grease it.

  4. 4

    Lay the hide flat and scrape the flesh side with the dull side of the knife to break up the fibres in the hide and make it soft.

  5. 5

    Rinse the hide in lukewarm water, changing the water several times, and allow it to drip dry.

  1. 1

    In one plastic container, mix a solution of 3 gallons of water, 3 ½ lbs. soda ash, and 6 lbs. salt, and stir until they're completely dissolved.

  2. 2

    In the other plastic container, mix 9 gallons of water with 1 ½ lbs. chrome alum and dissolve completely. Chrome alum takes a while to dissolve, so stir it frequently with the paddle.

  3. 3

    Add the soda salt solution to the chrome solution and mix well.

  4. 4

    Pour 4 gallons of the solution into the 50 gallon tub with 32 gallons of water.

  5. 5

    Put the hide in and immerse completely, making sure the liquid reaches every part of the hide. Leave the hide in the solution for 3 days, stirring at least 6 times during this period.

  6. 6

    Remove the hide from the tub and add and mix half of the remaining alum solution, and repeat Step 5 in this section.

  7. 7

    Remove the hide and add and mix the remaining alum solution and repeat Step 5 in this section.

  8. 8

    Wash the hide thoroughly in clean water and soak it in 20 gallons of water mixed with a pound of borax. Stir often and leave overnight, then hang it out to drip-dry.

  1. 1

    When the hide is still damp, rub mink oil into it to replace the moisture lost during the tanning process.

  2. 2

    As you rub in the oil, work the hide with your hands, bending and folding it to keep it soft. Oil and work the hide like this until it completely soft.

  3. 3

    The hide is now ready to be used as a decoration.

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