How to preserve your own animal skins with fur using all natural ingredients: Oil, Eggs, Soap & Smoke

There is beauty to be found in the changing of earth's seasons, and an inner grace in honouring the cycles of life.
- Jack Kornfield

 

 

About time you learn how to make your own furskin rugs? 

Well here's a quick overview of the processes and tools you will need!

**This is by no means a comprehensive guide, but will point you in the right direction

 

Video: Shows an overview of how to preserve a sheepskin fur, although the same method can be applied for all furskins big and small.

 

Tools you will need include:

1. Double handled fleshing knife and/ or small scraper (can purchase a single handed scraper from our Etsy store if you're wanting to start with smaller skins first like rabbit, fox, possum, fish etc.. - CLICK HERE)

2. Large softening stick with pointed end (not so pointy that it pierces the hide while softening - easy to make this for yourself), or an old lathe chisel will work too (just be careful with the sharpness of it!)

3. Skinning knife (F-Dick or Victorinox do a really sharp, affordable and multipurpose skinning/ butchers knife that is a great knife to start with as shown in the video. Any drop point knife will do, although some knives are more specialised than others for skinning, dressing and butchering)

4. Raw hide, cotton or nylon cordage for tying up your skin into a frame (depending on how large the animal you intend on tanning i.e. stringing up a rabbit into a frame is probably not worth the effort as it is quick and easy to do all the tanning and softening by hand). For this you will need approx. 100m or 330ft for a large sheep skin, small deer or kangaroo hide.

5. Hairbrush for removing knots, burs, dags and any other material that has stuck in the fur. You may need to cut some fur out if it's too difficult to brush (some brushes are made specifically for animal hair. The one in the video is a bamboo brush for human hair but works fine).

6. Stainless steel, wooden, plastic or some kind of mixing bowl that you can mix the following ingredients in: 1x egg yolk (yellow only), 1tsp of natural soap (soapnuts, castile soap etc), and 100ml of vegetable based oil i.e. olive, rapeseed, canola etc (you will need to scale this recipe up or down depending on the size of the hide).

7. Block + Sandpaper and/ or a pumice stone for an abrasive to remove all the excess fiber that can remain after and even during the tanning processes (this is really intuitive and you will notice when there is excess fibers that can be removed. Often leaving a more suede affect on the flesh side of the furskin - great if you plan on using it close to the skin. Not so important if it's just being used as a floor rug or liner for a project).

8. Old woolen sock + natural leather balm for finishing your furskin to make it somewhat waterproof and conditioned so it doesn't dry out too much (we will be stocking our new leather balm range soon, if not already by the time you are reading this - so keep an eye on our Etsy/ website for more details).

 

Step 1. Fleshing

 
 Picture: Josh demonstrating the layers that need to be removed to prepare the skin for the tanning solution

Picture: Josh demonstrating the layers that need to be removed to prepare the skin for the tanning solution

 

Step. 2 - Framing/ Spreading your hide out 

 
 Pictured: Stringing up a hide in a round wood frame made of bush poles cut on site. 

Pictured: Stringing up a hide in a round wood frame made of bush poles cut on site. 

 
 Pictured: Don't they just look awesome in their frames in the bush. Ready for more softening! And more softening.... until your arms are tired (always working on the flesh side only).

Pictured: Don't they just look awesome in their frames in the bush. Ready for more softening! And more softening.... until your arms are tired (always working on the flesh side only).

 

Step 3. Softening

 
 Pictured: Showing a clear difference between softened (white) and unsoftened (black). Usually starting at the edges as they dry faster and working towards the centre. ***Always work the sections that are drying faster. And the tool that's being used here is referred to as a 'Beavers Tooth' (As Canadian born Tanner Daniel Prophet told us).

Pictured: Showing a clear difference between softened (white) and unsoftened (black). Usually starting at the edges as they dry faster and working towards the centre. ***Always work the sections that are drying faster. And the tool that's being used here is referred to as a 'Beavers Tooth' (As Canadian born Tanner Daniel Prophet told us).

 

Step 4. - Mixing/ Applying Tanning Solution

 
 Pictured: Josh (facilitator), separating the white from the yolk in a Fish Leather Tanning workshop to prepare the same solution that is used in tanning Buckskin and Furkskins. **Your hide will need another softening after leaving the solution to mature/ impregnate the skin for 1-3 days.

Pictured: Josh (facilitator), separating the white from the yolk in a Fish Leather Tanning workshop to prepare the same solution that is used in tanning Buckskin and Furkskins. **Your hide will need another softening after leaving the solution to mature/ impregnate the skin for 1-3 days.

 

Step 5. - Smoking

 
 Pictured: 2x Sheepskins sewn together to form a sack are hung over a steel drum. The hot coals in the drum, combined with rotten hardwood aka 'Punk Wood' produces a lot of smoke, finalising the tanning process.

Pictured: 2x Sheepskins sewn together to form a sack are hung over a steel drum. The hot coals in the drum, combined with rotten hardwood aka 'Punk Wood' produces a lot of smoke, finalising the tanning process.

 

Step 6. - Marvel and Enjoy!

 
 Pictured: A beautiful lambskin rug now ready for a lifetime of enjoyment and appreciation. Congratulations on your hard work! It takes approx. 2-3 Days of work, or perhaps up to a week for those with little to no experience.

Pictured: A beautiful lambskin rug now ready for a lifetime of enjoyment and appreciation. Congratulations on your hard work! It takes approx. 2-3 Days of work, or perhaps up to a week for those with little to no experience.

 

Other materials and tools not mentioned in the video that you will probably need include:

 

9. A 44gallon drum (plastic or metal), to soak your hides in the lime or wood-ash solution. Old bathtubs work as well, although the hides can tend to float in the tub. You want to be able to fully submerge your hides as any air contact will potentially spoil your skins.

10. Fleshing beam. The one featured in the video is a hardwood log split in half by a chainsaw, and then propped up on half-housed forked legs with a bolt through the centre for extra stability. If you have little to no experience with working with timber, you can always prop up a round log onto something so that it sits at the right height for fleshing (In Matt Richards book 'Deerskins into Buckskins' he has lots of examples and practical info on tanning beams, tools and other processes that crossover with preserving a furskin. Highly recommend this book!).

11. Bush poles for making a frame. You can also make a frame our of off cut pine framing timbers and or anything else that achieves a solid frame to tie your furskin into (get creative!).

 

Congratulations!

 

If this isn't enough and you are keen to come and learn first-hand, don't forget to check out our up and coming WORKSHOPS FOR 2018 (updating the list constantly).

And if you want to gift a workshop, or anything traditional tanning and leathercrafting related, you can CONTACT US to discuss our 'Gift Vouchers' and get a friend or loved one involved to!

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The Bush Tannery