Working with Rawhide

Working with rawhide

Here at Absaroka Tannery, we  produce rawhide which is created using organic materials. Elk, deer, antelope, moose and beef hides are hand scraped to remove the hair, we then neutralize in food grade white vinegar so there are no harmful chemicals to deal with. If you would like to order some, please go to our web site at www.absarokawesterndesign.com.

So now you just received this hard stiff piece of rawhide and are wondering how in the heck do I get this soft enough to use. I have received many calls from clients asking how to best rehydrate the rawhide. This is the best method I have used….

Rawhide Lace:
The best way I have found to relax rawhide lace is to place the entire bundle in lukewarm water. Hot water will destroy the tissue in rawhide and you will have gelatin. Leave the bundle overnight, if you even think you might leave it longer than 12 hours, add some pinesol or a bit of bleach to the water, usually a cup of pinesol or a couple oz. of bleach. This is to keep bacteria from developing. If you don’t, the rawhide will stink after a couple of days. Doesn’t affect the rawhide much, but your friends will avoid you for a few days after working with this stinking rawhide. If the rawhide in not relaxed enough, soak longer but add the pinesol/bleach.
After relaxing the lace, rinse with warm water and begin your project.

Rawhide skins:
The larger and thicker the skin, the longer it will take to relax it. Please note, no skin will ever relax to its original state (i.e. When the skin was first removed from the animal and hair was removed) It will be close, but once processed into a dried skin, the fibers shrink and just cannot fully rejuvenate.

OK, lets start with deer and elk skins. Find an container large enough to get at least half of the skin submerged. A 32 gal plastic trash can works, or you can simple fill the tub up with water and lay the skin in it. It is preferable to remove rawhide before taking your wife takes her evening bath! As the skin relaxes, just keep pushing the skin under water. You may need to weight it down with something like a rock or brick.

Here’s an idea I use to relax a rawhide completely, but I am warning you, get permission first or wait until the wife is gone. After the skin is relaxed enough in the tub or plastic container, fill the wash machine with warm water. Fill the machine first and leave the lid open, check the temperature to be sure it is not hot. Add some detergent, any brand will work. Place the skin in the water and allow it to agitate. Again leave the lid open so the machine will not drain and spin at this time. Allow the skin to work itself soft. This is the best way to fully relax rawhide. It does not ruin the machine or the hide. Just don’t use hot water!

Once the skin is soft enough, close the lid and let the wash machine go through its cycles on a cold rinse. If your machine is not big enough, go to the local Laundromat and use the commercial machine. People will look at you funny, tell them it is a new type of material used to deflect bullets and is being considered for use by the military.

On large rawhide skins like cow or buffalo, you will need a large container. If your neighbor has a swimming pool, that will work just fine, just use necessary precautions. Actually, you can use a large plastic trash can, just keep pushing the hide down until is fully submerged. This may take a few hours. The thicker the hide, the longer it will take to fully relax.

Some ideas on working with rawhide. Look for fleshing cuts on the back side of the skin when laying out your pattern. These thin areas can break through when the rawhide is drying. Also brands can be a problem. Darker rawhide is stronger than light, lighter spots usually have a higher fat content and can be weaker. A thought for drum makers. I have cut my pattern out while the rawhide is dry then soak just that piece. If you do decide to soak the whole skin, and either have scraps left over or find you do not have time to work with the rawhide right away, just place it in a plastic bag and freeze. Thaw out in water or room temperature to use again. Do not take out and forget it, it will begin to spoil after a couple of days. Or you can just hang and dry it out again, but you will have to go through the soaking process again.

Dry rawhide will last for a very long time, in humid climates you may have to watch for mold or bugs, not in Wyoming though, drier than a popcorn fart around here.

Which ever project you are making, consider what type of rawhide will work best for you. We have made drums, lampshades, rawhide containers, laced furniture and snowshoes, and braided rawhide. Each project requires careful thought as to just how much do I relax the skin.

Have fun with your rawhide and if you have any questions or need some tips, just email me at awd@dteworld.com

Joe Brandl


Buffalo Hide

Preparing hides for tanning


The purpose of curing a raw skin is to take away the environment for bacteria and provide a means of storage prior to tanning. Many hides are ruined from poor handling before tanning could ever take place. The moment the animal quits breathing, oxygen is no longer being carried to the cells of the body. Decomposition begins immediately. You have to slow this natural process.

Any skin should be completely fleshed of all meat, fat and any connective tissue before salting or drying. Do not just throw some salt on a hide before fleshing it!!!

Bacteria action is stopped when the moisture content is reduced to below 15%. It is important that this process is carried out as soon as possible. Even though some of the bacteria is killed by drying, other bacteria and the spores deposited by bacteria only become dormant and will be activated upon rehydration. Bacteria indiscriminately attacks the hide substance by secreting enzymes. They in turn redigest the broken down protein. This is especially important to control when tanning to prevent skin degrading and hair slippage. Once the protein that hold the hair follicle is destroyed, hair slippage is irreversible.


Although drying a skin as quickly as possible is important, drying by direct heat or exposure to the sun can cause gelatinization and case hardening. The water soluble glues and fats become insoluble. This is seen when hides get a hard yellow appearance on the flesh side Fur skins are most often stretched on wire or wood frames and air dried, but the most common method for curing is by salting. Salting not only dehydrates the skin but it combines with the proteins and separates the fiber. This makes rehydration much easier. It is important to use a bactericide in the rehydration process such as Pinesol.

Raw skins should never be salted below freezing. A skin salted at 0 degrees F. will only have 20% penetration. It takes approximately 12 hours at room temperature for salt to penetrate the average skin. After 24 hours the salt should be shaken off and the skin re-salted with clean salt. Only then can the skin be stored in a cool, dry area.

For skins that are to be stored in the summer months or skins that are extremely bloody, the following soak solution is recommended. For each gallon of water add three pounds of salt and a bactericide/fungicide (Pinesol). Leave the skin in this solution for at least twelve hours, drain, salt, and dry.


Before you go hunting or kill any animal, decide what you are going to do with the hide or cape. Make proper cuts as per your decision. If hide is to be tanned, be sure to make a clean cut up the center of the hide. Keep tail intact, skin to just behind the ears and down to knee on legs. If cape is to be saved, the first cut should be behind brisket and around shoulders. LEAVE PLENTY OF BACK SKIN! Do this before field dressing is started. Once hide or cape is removed follow the next instructions:

  • Remove all flesh and fat, (turn ears, split lips, and split nostrils, if for taxidermy or take cape to a qualified taxidermist. The better job you do, the better results you can expect.
  • Lay skins flat and salt thoroughly, using a FINE grade salt; livestock or hay salt works fine. We recommend 50 lbs per elk, 25 lb/deer, 100 lbs/moose, buffalo, cow and horse. Salt is an inexpensive investment. Use plenty of it.
  • Allow skins to dehydrate, not puddle. After a couple of days hang on a rack or incline to drain fluids. Shake off loose salt and re-salt with clean salt if a cape. Allow to dry (not hard). Flip hide over and allow hair side to dry. Leave hide with hair side up………then
  • Fold skins carefully, hair side in.
  • If skins do not dry in humid weather, a fan to circulate the air is helpful.
  • Before the skins get hard, fold and store in a cool place or place in cardboard box until ready to make a shipment.


– Be sure to count your hides accurately! Enclose a packing list with each order. Include your name, address and phone number for a safe return.
– UPS is suggested for shipping parcels under 150 lbs. Use a cardboard box or burlap bag. Do not ship in plastic! No exceptions!!!
– For larger shipments, use common carrier.
– When calling your shipper, be sure to inform them you are sending GREEN SALTED HIDES for the lowest rates.
– Ship all orders PREPAID.

We reserve the right to reject items, prior to finishing, which have major hair slippage or defects to the point where skin value is lost. We will call you if any problems occur.

Any additional skinning or fleshing on our premises is done at a rate of $65.00 per hour unless prior arrangements have been made.

Conditions of acceptance: In view of the many factors which have a definite effect on the final results of fur dressing (such as primeness, general conditions of each specimen, climatic conditions, lack of facilities, and sportsman’s lack of knowledge in the field) we assume no responsibility nor guarantee the results of any dressed specimen.

ALL TANNING IS DONE AT OWNER’S RISK, due to the fact that we have no control over the handling prior to receiving shipment. We believe our tanning is the best around and take great pride in our work. We have tanned hides and furs available for sale also.
Stop by and visit our tannery and store.

Joe  Brandl


Wyomings Finest Tannery and Showroom