Hi there, and welcome to my tanning instructions page!
My name is Amy Ritchie and I am going to lead you, step by
step, through the process of tanning a skin, using EZ-Tan.
Click here for a PRINTER FRIENDLY version!
Before you begin, you will need to have these products:
*PICKLING ACID (USE RITTEL'S SAFETEE-ACID!)
*TANNING OIL (PROTAL, OR RITTELS "PRO PLUS")
*SODIUM BICARBONATE (BAKING SODA)
*Ph TESTING STRIPS
As well as some
large buckets, water, measuring spoons and cups, and a
Let's begin with the first step. This comes right after you
finish skinning the animal...
drying is very important because it
leaches out unwanted liquids, sets the hair tight, and kills most bacteria that is on the hide.
Salting is the very first thing you should do after the animal
has been skinned. Do not waste time trying to remove small
pieces of flesh; you can do that after salting. As long as the
skin is in it's raw state, unsalted, it is collecting
bacteria. And bacteria are the main cause of hair slippage.
Before salting you should:
Remove the very large pieces of flesh.. you know, the big chunks of red meat (if any .. some hides don't even have much flesh on them)
Turn the ears, eyes, nostrils, and lips
Remove the tail bone, and split the tail if the animal is coon size or larger (For instance, there is no need to split squirrel tails)
After this is done, apply a heavy layer of salt to the flesh side. Rub the salt
into the flesh, making sure that it reaches into tight areas
such as the ears, legs, and tail. Then, fold it flesh-to-flesh, and
hair-to-hair, and place it on an inclined surface for 1-2
You'll want to put some type of drip pan under it, because the hide will start to drain out alot of liquids. When drained, shake out the excess salt and re-apply another
layer of clean salt. This time, instead of folding the hide, I open it up and run a fan in front of it for a few days. Depending on the size of the animal, the hide is usually pretty stiff after a few days. After it is dried hard, you can rehydrate it and begin tanning, or just keep the hide like this until ready to tan. I like to stack all my stiff, salted skins against the wall. This is the beauty of drying hides! You can save them until ready, without having them take up your freezer space.
Both iodized and non-iodized salt work well for this purpose;
Non-iodized salt is typically cheaper in large quantities,
however, so it is usually preferred. I can get a 50 lb. bag of plain salt from my local feed store for just 4.99... that's not bad!
you are ready to pickle your skins, you'll need to relax them
in a brine solution, as they will be stiff from salting. Some people think that you can relax a salted skin in plain water, but this is NOT true. You need something stronger to open up those fibers in the skin that have dried rock hard. I use
Rittel's Ultra-soft relaxing agent, and soak them for 10-24
hours until they are completely relaxed and soft again. Salt dried skins usually relax very easily, but other types such as
air-dried and African flint dried skins may not relax as easy.
The Rittel's Ultra-Soft is most certainly recommended for these
kinds of skins. Add 4 tablespoons of it to each gallon of
water needed to submerge the skins (8 tablespoons per gallon
of water for greasy skins... raccoons, bears, etc.).
pickle is a low pH acidic solution that is used to stabilize
skins in the tanning process and stop deterioration. Pickling
plumps the skin, which makes shaving easier, and sets the
Salt alone simply creates a poor environment for bacteria to
live; but unfortunately it doesn't kill it all. The acidity of a pickle does,
A pickle also helps remove the non-tannable proteins in the
skin. Skin is made up of two types of protein - globular and
fibrous. Globular protein is the unwanted protein in the skin,
and that is what the pickling solution will remove. It will
wash the protein away, leaving open sites for the tanning
chemicals to attach to.
So, once your skins have been salted and relaxed, they are
ready to go into a pickle bath! Make sure you have removed any
blood stains before you put the skins into the pickle.
There are many acids used to create pickle solutions. These
include Formic, Citric, Oxalic, and "Safetee" acid.
Citric acid, Formic acid, and Safetee acid are the three most
commonly used acids. I use Safetee acid and suggest that you do too, but all the acids have their good points.
3 oz. Citric acid
1 lb. Salt
1 Gallon water
The positives of this acid is that it is easy to get, very
safe to use, and does an excellent job of plumping the skin
The negative is that it is one of the weaker acids and should
only be used once and discarded.
1 oz. (90% Formic acid)
1 lb. Salt
1 Gallon water
The positives of this acid is that it is a very strong, stable
acid. If the pH is checked and maintained, it can be re-used
several times. It does an excellent job of plumping the skins
for shaving, and the skins can be kept in the pickle for
months if you want. The negative is that the acid can be VERY
dangerous in full strength; it will cause serious burns if it
comes in contact with your skin. And the fumes are potentially
harmful to the lungs. I would be very, verry careful using the acid, and if you live in a house with children or pets, I wouldn't use it at all!
SAFETEE ACID (the best, in my opinion!):
1/2 oz. Safetee acid
1 lb. Salt
1 Gallon water
This is the acid that I use, and I have had great results!
The positives are that it is very easy to get, fairly
affordable, and extremely safe. It can be re-used if the pH is
maintained; it does an excellent job of plumping the skin for
shaving, and can be disposed of safely and easily. The
negatives? There are none that I have found! I *have* heard several people say that they noticed that, sometimes, the pH goes up quickly once hides are put into it (because the hides are drawing in the acid), and this CAN be dangerous if you don't watch it (high pH = hair slippage). But I have never had this problem, and as long as you keep an eye on the pH and adjust it if it goes up, everything will be fine!
A 3-gallon mix will pickle an average whitetail cape, but it
is much better to be safe than sorry, and mix 4 gallons for
each cape or 8 gallons for 2 capes, etc. A two or three gallon
mix works well for a fox-sized animal or smaller. Just make
sure the capes or skins are completely submerged in the
No matter what acid you use, after mixing the pickle up, you
should check the pH level using quality pH papers or pH meter.
It should read below a 2.0. Usually it reads 1.1. You should
not let the pH go about 2.5 during pickling, and definitely
not about 3.0, because then bacteria will continue to grow.
If the pH is too high, add more acid. If it is too low, add
more water and salt or a little baking soda diluted in water.
The time it takes to thoroughly pickle the skin will vary
depending on the thickness of the skin. You can tell it is
completely pickled when the skin is a milky white color all
the way through, with no pink color.
The minimum time to pickle is at least 48 hours for small
game, bobcats, fox, etc. and a minimum of 3 days for whitetail
Be sure to check the pH levels on a regular basis during the
period the skin is in the pickle.
Do not let the temperature of the pickle go any lower than
55F. Low temperatures cause the salt level to drop, thus
lowering the protection of the pickle. For best results, keep
the mixture at room temperature.
at least three days in the pickle, you should take the skins
out of the mixture and shave them.
The thinner the skins are shaved, the softer they will be in
the end. Light furs, such as fox or coyote, can be tanned soft
without shaving. However, heavier thick skins like deer,
buffalo, moose, or elk should definitely been shaven. The most preferred method for shaving is using a fleshing machine. Now, if you're a beginner, don't worry!! There ARE alternate methods. You can do a fairly good shaving job by simply using a scalpel blade. It will take longer than a fleshing machine (alot longer!), but it will work. I use this method alot, and I prefer to use #22 scalpel blades. Some
tanners also compensate for shaving by double oiling the skins
(we'll talk about oiling later on), or sanding the skins thin
once they are dry. I like to do this as well. After tanning, let the skin dry out COMPLETELY (very important). Then, sand the skins using an electric sander. I found that a heavy grit sandpaper works better than a light grit, but be gentle when sanding, especially on thin skins.
If your skins do not need to be degreased, you can now return
them to the pickle. Always return the skins to the pickle.
This will allow it to penetrate to areas that have now been
exposed by shaving.
you skin is a greasy type, such a bear or raccoon, it will
need to be degreased after shaving. Use Rittel's Super Solvent
(1 capful to every 1 gal. Of water), or you can use 1/2 oz. of
Dawn dish soap per gallon of water (if only light degreasing
is necessary). Leave the skins in the solution for 30 minutes.
Then rinse the skins and return them to the pickle for at least
another 24 hours. Using Safetee Acid, they can be left in the
pickle safely for at least 2 weeks before neutralizing and
you are ready to tan, remove the skins from the pickle and let
them drain for 30 minutes or so. While they drain, mix up a
So, what is the purpose of a neutralizing bath? Well, it brings the pH level of
the skin up. Most tanning agents bond better to the skin at a pH
of 4 to 5, which is approximately the pH that your
neutralizing bath should be.
For every gallon of water needed to submerge the skins, add 1
tablespoon of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). Put the skins
into the mixture and stir them in the mixture for 20 minutes. Do not leave them in for longer than 20 minutes, or you may not get as much stretch out of them once they are tanned!
After neutralizing, rinse them and allow them to drain.
in my opinion, is one of the best tanning agents you can buy.
The skins are white-leathered, durable, soft, and stretchy,
and there is little shrinkage! It is great to use for pelts,
garments, taxidermy use, and rug work. One common question I recieve is, "What is the difference between EZ-Tan and Lutan?". Lutan is another tanning agent on the market, which is the same price and works in very much the same way as EZtan. But there are two differences that I have found. First off, with Lutan you use twice as much of it per gallon of water as you would EZtan, therefore making it technically twice as expensive. Secondly, EZtan is a WASHABLE tan (making it great for garment use!), and Lutan skins can not be washed.
Tanning agents are very sensitive, and you should always check
the pH before putting the skins into the tanning solution. EZ-Tan
tans at a level of 4.0 pH. If the pH is too low, add small
amounts of baking soda. If higher, add small amounts of the
pickle, or some Safetee Acid (very small amounts). Check the pH before putting the skins into the
mixture, and also a half hour later.
There are two different formulas for mixing EZ-Tan:
Tanning Formula based on wet drained weight:
After neutralizing the skins and letting them drain, weigh
them. This is their wet drained weight. This formula is the
least wasteful and most accurate method, and it is the method
I use. For every 1 lb. of wet drained weight, mix:
2 quarts water
1/2 oz. EZ-tan (4.5 level teaspoonfuls = 1/2 oz.)
4 oz. salt
Tanning Formula based on water volume:
You may prefer to make things simple and simply mix enough
solution to completely submerge the skins. This formula is
based on the amount of water used. For every 1-gallon of water
1 oz. EZ-Tan (3 level tablespoonfuls = 1 oz.)
8 oz. salt
You should be careful not to overcrowd the skins when using
When mixing, you should first add the EZ-Tan to the water and
let it dissolve; then add your salt.
Keep the tanning solution at a comfortable room temperature
(between 65-75F). Leave the skins in the mixture for 16-24
hours. 16 hours will work well for a small fox-sized animal.
Almost all skins will thoroughly tan in 24 hours. After the
required amount of time, remove the skins from the solution.
Rinse them and allow them to drain for only 20 minutes, no
longer, or they will get too dry.
you know that oiling is THE most important factor in producing
a soft, supple pelt? It's true! That's why it is so important
that you invest in good quality tanning oil. There are several
kinds of great tanning oils available. Some of the best are
Rittel's "Pro Plus oil" and "Protal". I
have used Protal with good results, and have heard that Pro
Plus works great too.
Once the skins have drained for 20 minutes, they are ready to
be oiled. Mix the oil using 1 part oil to 2 parts hot water.
It is important that the mixture be warm, because the oil will
bond to the skin best when warm. Make sure that the pelt you
are oiling is at room temperature, too. Apply the oil to flesh
side of the pelt using a paintbrush. You may also want to rub
it in with your hands (I would advise wearing plastic gloves).
Apply it carefully around the edges and around holes. Keep
applying the oil until the skin will take up no more. Then
fold the skin up tightly, flesh to flesh and hair to hair. Put
it in a warm spot to "sweat" for 4-6 hours. Maximum
take-up of oil will occur in this period.
the skin is to be mounted, after sweating it can be toweled
dry and then mounted, or frozen for thawing and mounting
later. Some people double-oil their skins, but I read an
article by Mr. Rittel (the maker of many great tanning
products) and he said that that double oiling is just making
up for using cheap oil. If you use high-quality oil and oil
the skin well enough, there should be no reason for doing it
again. It's a waste of time and oil!
If you want to dry and finish the skin… after it has sweated
in the oil, open it up and hang it to dry. The time it takes
to dry depends on the thickness of the flesh. It will usually
take 1-2 days, but some of my thin pelts have only taken a few
hours to dry! Some people put their pelts in the clothes dryer
to dry them quicker (assuming it is set on NO heat). I haven't
tried this, but I've heard that it can dry the skin out too
much and make the skin crack when dried…
When the skin is almost dry, but not quite, begin to work and
stretch the fibers of the skin with your hands. This is where
the work comes in, but it must be done to produce a soft pelt.
If you stretch the skin carefully and the place you stretched
turns white, then that area is ready to be worked and
stretched. If it doesn't turn white, then it is not quite dry
enough. Continue carefully stretching and pulling on the skin
until the whole thing is white and it feels very soft.
the skin is completely dry, use sandpaper to clean up the
flesh side (or shave it thinner, if you need to), and trim
away any ragged edges. If the skin feels too stiff, you can
try sanding down the flesh to produce a softer skin.
If everything goes well, you should be rewarded with a soft,
stretchy pelt with a nice white leather, that will last for a
long, long time!!
While I certainly can't claim to be an expert on tanning, if you have any questions about what you have read here, feel free to contact me.
you can find these products
taxidermy supply companies sell these tanning products. I
ordered mine from Van Dykes -- http://www.vandykestaxidermy.com
You can also order Rittel tanning products straight from Mr.
Rittel himself at http://www.rittelsupplies.net