TANNING WITH EZ-TAN
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.
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 fleshing/shaving tool.
Let's begin with the first step. This comes right after you finish skinning the animal...
Salting and drying is very important because it makes the skin dry fast, leaches out unwanted
liquids, and sets the hair tight.
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
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. Then, fold it flesh-to-flesh, and hair-to-hair, and
place it on an inclined surface for 1-2 days.
When drained, shake out the excess salt and re-apply another layer of clean salt. Again, fold
the skin and let the salt penetrate for another 24 hours.
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.
When you are ready to pickle your skins, you'll need to relax them in a brine solution, as they
will be stiff from salting. Use Rittel's Ultra-soft relaxing agent, and soak them for 10-24 hours
until they completely relax and are soft again. Or, you can mix 2 lbs. of salt to every 1 gallon of
cool water. Salt-dried skins usually relax easier, but other types such as air-dried and African
flint dried skins may not relax easy. The Rittel's Ultra-Soft is definitely 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).
A 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 hair.
Salt alone simply creates a poor environment for bacteria to live; but it doesn't kill it. The acidity
of a pickle does, however.
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
Citric acid, Formic acid, and Safetee acid are the three most commonly used acids.
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 for shaving.
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. Formic acid should never be put
in a metal container.
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!
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 pickle.
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 capes.
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.
After at least three days in the pickle, you should take the skins out of the mixture and shave
them using a fleshing machine. 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. Some tanners
compensate for shaving by double oiling the skins (we'll talk about oiling later on), or sanding
the skins thin once they are dry. Because I do not have a fleshing machine, I usually sand my
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.
If 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 tanning.
When 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 neutralizing bath.
The purpose of a neutralizing bath is to bring the pH level of a 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. After neutralizing, rinse them and allow them to drain.
Tanning with EZ-Tan
EZ-Tan, 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.
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. 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 this method.
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.
Did 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.
If 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 skinâ€¦ 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 driedâ€¦
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.
When 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.
Where you can find these products?
Most taxidermy supply companies sell Rittels products. A few of my favorites are:
Or, you can order Rittel tanning products straight from Mr. Rittel himself at http://www.