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Tanning Rabbit Pelts

A healthy rabbit produces a fur that is sleek and beautiful, with a white, soft leather. Definitely too good to waste.

The most natural method to tan any hide is brain tanning. Most animals have enough brains to successfully tan their own hide, and it is said that the result is wonderful. However, this is something we have not yet tried. We would like to move onto brain tanning one day, but right now we have so much stuff going on in our lives that time efficiency is a big factor. We use a solution of battery acid and salt, and it works great.

Materials & Tools
Materials

6 Rabbit furs

2 gallons water

1 cup Battery acid

2 lbs Salt (cheap, but must be without iodine)

Large, plastic colander

Tanning oil

Tools

Ph strips

Five gallon bucket

Rubber gloves

Wooden or plastic spoon or stick

Clean, non-metallic weight (like a river rock)

A Knife

 

Step 1: A note on slipping

One of the most common problems with tanning pelts is that the fur will “slip”, meaning that patches of fur come loose and fall out. If your pelts slip, they are ruined. There are two main approaches to avoiding this issue, and both must be met.

Temperature

If the hide is allowed to get warm, the bacteria that cause decay will do their damage.

  1. Skin an animal as soon as it is killed.
  2. Put the hide into cold water immediately.
  3. Keep the hide in a cool place (below 70 degrees) at all times until it is cured and dried.
Poison

To stop the bacteria that will rot your hides, you must effectively poison them. Salt goes a long way to doing this, but acidity is far more deathly. Salt is used in conjunction with acid, so that the acid does not burn the furs.

  1. Any acid, even the gentle and harmless ones, can be used, but you want the Ph to be 1 or 2.
  2. Many of the stronger acids can be re-used. Get some Ph strips to make sure that the desired Ph is maintained.
  3. Putting a cup of vinegar into water at your butcher station will help keep the bacteria in check until you can get the pelts into your tanning solution.

 

Step 2: Tanning solution
  1. It’s a good idea to mix this solution the night before you plan to tan your rabbit pelts, so that it can cool off sufficiently.
  2. Put 2 lb salt into the empty bucket.
  3. Heat the two gallons of water, and then pour them into the bucket, stirring until the salt has fully dissolved.
  4. Once the solution has cooled to room temperature, add the cup of battery acid and stir. Be very careful when pouring the acid, as you do not want it to splash into your eyes or onto your skin. Always use rubber gloves when handling acid.
  5. With a Ph strip, check that the acid is between 1 and 2.
  6. This solution is good for about 5 or 6 junior pelts. If you are tanning adult pelts, put less into the water and stir them every couple of days. The hide of an adult is thicker and requires a stronger solution to penetrate. Too many hides in the solution can cause slipping.

 

Step 3: Adding furs
  1. Once you have skinned the rabbits, rinse the pelts and put them into the bucket of tanning solution.
  2. With your gloves on, carefully swill the pelts around in the solution. Then stack them together and put the weight on top of them so that they are held submerged.
  3. To stop the furs floating to the top at the edges, we cut the base off a large, plastic colander. It fits snugly inside the bucket, but allows the solution to pass through it.
  4. Place the bucket in a dark, cool place for a week to 10 days.

 

Step 4: Fleshing
  1. Remove the furs from the tanning solution, but do not throw it away.
  2. Wash them in a gentle detergent. Squeeze the water out of them gently. Do not wring them.
  3. Place a pelt, fur down, on a flat surface. The flesh should be thickened and somewhat separated from the hide. If it doesn’t come away fairly easily, put it back in the acid for another couple of days.
  4. Starting at the tail end of the pelt, peel the fleshy membrane away from the hide. You should be able to peel it off in mostly one piece, although the edges (around the legs) can be a little trickier. You can cut these edges off if you don’t want to mess with them. Junior pelts can tear easily, so go gently. Adult pelts are thicker and harder to do, often requiring some pretty good tugging.
  5. Place the fleshed pelts back in the acid solution under the weight.

 

Step 5: Breaking hides
  1. After another week or so in the bucket, your furs will be ready to remove. You can however leave them in there at this stage for a lot longer.
  2. Wash the pelts in a gentle detergent and then hang them up to dry. You want to hang them somewhere shaded and cool. If they dry too quickly they will become stiff before you have a chance to work them. Should they become stiff, wet them down again and hang them back up.
  3. Once the rubbery texture of damp hides starts to disappear, but before it completely dries out (patches will turn white as they dry), you will need to start “breaking” it. If bits of the hide are a little stiff, spray some water onto them with a spray bottle.
  4. Pull the hide gently back and forth over a pipe or the back of a chair until it turns white all over. Some patches may require you to stretch them gently by hand. The end result should be a white, soft leather.

 

Step 6: Oil

To ensure that the hide is waterproof, you will need to oil them.

  1. Use one part water and one part tanning oil, and warm the mixture gently.
  2. While it is warm, apply it sparingly to the leather.
  3. Hang the fur up, so that it can completely dry before touching any other furs.

 

The leather of rabbit pelts is so soft that it does not require a special needle. If you are using a sewing machine, be sure to tack it together first, as the sleek fur will slide out of place if not held together. We have made blankets, bags, slippers, footwarmers, hats and more using our own furs.

Tanning your own rabbit furs and turning them into something beautiful takes work and patience, but it creates a gift too rich to buy.

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