Fur slippage when alum tanning, what did I do wrong?


Sustainable Newbie
Oct 30, 2010
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This was my first attempt at alum tanning (I've read it's actually not tanning since there are no tannins, and therefore the skin will still rot if it gets wet, so it's really called tawing- but I digress). I am following the recipe found here: http://www.motherearthnews.com/Modern-Homesteading/1983-01-01/How-To-Tan-Rabbit-Hides.aspx?page=8 and I am using a cased gray squirrel skin. I followed the instructions except for a few minor details:
1. The animal was frozen whole in the spring, thawed in lukewarm water, and then left in brine (water + noniodized salt) for 2 days before going into the acid.
2. I did the boil test per the instructions after 1 week, then 10 days, and it was still instantly rubberizing, so after 13 days I decided to just go for it. (Does this boiling test really apply to skins that are not technically tanned?)
3. After washing with mild soap, I squeezed out the excess water and started stretching the skin immediately, instead of letting it mostly dry first. I only worked it for a few minutes.

After letting it dry out more overnight, I started working it this morning and a lot of fur is coming out.

I did some internet searches and found a forum post where the guy was having the same problem with a raccoon skin. Replies said he probably let the pickle become too basic, and that he should have kept the pH below 5.0. But another source recommended rinsing the skin with a basic solution (baking soda + water) before washing with soap, to remove any acid which, they wrote, may cause fur slippage later on. So which is it? Will too acidic or too basic a pickle prevent or cause fur slippage, or neither?

Another thought I had was that the animal was shot in April, when it was probably shedding it's winter coat. Will the tanned skin retain the shedding state it was in when the animal was skinned?

The only other thing I can think of is that it was due to leaving it in salt water too long. Or maybe it should have been dry-salted instead of soaked in brine. OR that freezing it on the carcass had something to do with it. Any ideas?


Queen Filksinger
Dec 3, 2009
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I don't have any ideas for you, but I'm glad to see someone else on here is interested in tanning hides. I read that Mother Earth news article as well and wanted to try it. We are raising meat rabbits and I will have many small, thin-skinned hides and I'm not sure what I will do with them, but I was thinking possibly lap blankets and such.

What are you going to do with your hide and did it come out for you? I see this is an old post but no one answered it and I am also interested in this topic and how it came out for you. That article doesn't give a lot of detail so I was thinking there would be a learning curve.

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