This is barbaric, you think. True, it is. But if you are a do-it-yourselfer who thinks you need to make utmost use of all that you come across, you may not retreat from this making-leather-from-hides-at-home business. And if you already have beef tallow by your side (rendered at home), you need not bother about tanning your leather. You also don’t need to live in a ranch to do this. You just need a few things like – 50 gallon wooden soaking barrel, lactic acid, sulphuric acid, sandpaper, borax, stretching frame, agricultural lime and finally, animal carcass with skin intact. All other things would be available in your kitchen.
The whole process can be divided into three stages: Skinning, Preparing and Tanning. Below is the step-by-step process on how to make prepare and tan hides (into leather) at your home:
1. Remove the hide from the animal carcass using a skinning knife. Hang the carcass upside down while doing it. Then, attach the skin to a stretching frame and allow it to cool.
2. Once cooled, lay the skin on a flat surface and scrape off all fat or animal substance from the flesh side of the hide. Use a blunt kitchen knife to do this. See to it that you don’t cut or scratch the hide while doing so.
3. After scraping, spread and rub salt on to the flesh side, working it all the way up to the edge of the skin. Use 1 lb. salt for one pound of the hide.
4. Fold the salted sides together and put them on a slope for two to three days to let the liquid drain away. After two days, wipe out old salt and apply new salt and rub thoroughly. Let it remain for another two days and dry. But keep the hide away from direct sunlight.
Preparation before tanning: Before you start the tanning process, you need to prepare the hide for it:
5. Prepare a borax solution with warm, soft water. If you are not able to find soft water, you can collect rainwater and heat it to make it warm. Use 1 oz. of borax per every gallon of warm water. The amount of the solution prepared should fit your hide well.
6. Now, soak the hide in the borax solution for three to five days. Scrape of all the salt before you do so, and keep stirring the solution several times a day with a wooden paddle or a stick (if it suffices the purpose). After 5 days, remove the hide and rinse well and then, scrape off all fat, flesh and membranes that cover the flesh side of the hide.
7. Prepare a solution with warm soft water and agricultural line. Mix 8 lbs of lime and then soak the hide in it. Let it sit for 3 days to 6 weeks, depending on the conditions of your weather. Stir several times a day and see to it that the hair in the fur side comes out. After this process, remove the hide and place the fur side up and scrape of hair using the blunt side of a fleshing knife. Then, soak the hide again, say for 24 hours in a solution containing warm soft water, 5 oz of lactic acid and 2 ½ qt of vinegar. After 24 hours, clean the hide in clean water.
Tanning process: Tanning is a difficult process and this is where you need beef tallow:
8. Prepare a solution with water, salt (½ lb for every gallon of water) and sulphuric acid (½ oz for every gallon of water) and soak the hide for 3 days. After the period, lift the hide and rinse it in clean water several times.
9. Next, rinse the hide in a solution of borax (2 lbs for every 40 gallons of water) and then, soak it overnight.
10. Take it out of borax solution and apply a thin layer of oil to the hide. Wipe off excess oil and work on it till the hide is soft and supple.
11. Mix l lb of beef tallow and 1 lb of Neat’s foot oil and apply it to the fur side of the hide. Work on it several times to soften the leather.
12. Last, rub both the sides of the leather with fine sandpaper to smoothen the surface and make it more supple. Once all these are done, your hide will be ready for use as leather.