DIY Hide Tanning: Step-by-Step Instructions for Beginners

DIY Hide Tanning: Step-by-Step Instructions for Beginners

Hide tanning, a time-honored tradition, has been part of human civilizations for centuries. It's the fascinating process of turning raw animal skin into soft, durable leather, a craft that once formed the backbone of clothing and shelter in early societies. Today, we are thrilled to introduce our Tan-a-Hide kit, your gateway to this rich heritage. With Tan-a-Hide, you can experience the joy of creating your own leather right at home. It's cost-effective, completely customizable, and, above all, an incredibly rewarding skill to learn. So why not give DIY hide tanning a try and connect with a piece of human history? Trust us; it's easier than you might think!

Understanding Hide Tanning and Its Importance:

To truly appreciate the art of hide tanning, it's vital to delve into its rich historical roots. This ancient craft has been fundamental to our ancestors' survival, providing them with durable leather for clothing, shelter, and tools. Fast forward to today, and hide tanning has transformed into a rewarding hobby, offering personal satisfaction and a unique outlet for creativity. Taking a raw animal skin and turning it into a beautiful, functional piece of leather is truly a transformative experience – one that allows you to connect with your human heritage while developing a valuable skill.

So whether you've got a love for history, a passion for DIY, or just a fondness for learning new things, tanning your own hides provides a beautiful blend of the past and the present. With our Tan-a-Hide kit, it's easier than ever to embark on this captivating journey.

Tan-a-Hide: The All-Inclusive DIY Hide Tanning Kit

Tan-a-Hide Kit

Containing products formulated by the industry pioneer, Dale Knobloch, Tan-a-Hide is your one-stop solution to DIY hide tanning. We've packed this kit to the brim with everything you need to get started with your hide tanning adventure. It includes a range of carefully selected products to treat your hide, specialized tools to make the process smoother, and handy accessories to ensure your tanning project goes off without a hitch. Perfect for beginners, this all-inclusive kit takes the guesswork out of hide tanning, making it more accessible and enjoyable for all.

The kit includes:

  • Fleshing/Shaving Tool
  • Detergent
  • Pickle Tan A-21
  • Hide Oil
  • Hair Gloss & Conditioner
  • Softening Stone
  • Silk Powder
  • Dust Mask
  • Microfiber Towel
  • Non-Latex Disposable Gloves (2)

You will need:

  • Table Salt
  • Household Bleach
  • Baking Soda
  • Large Plastic Bucket/Container
  • Hot Water

The Tan-A-Hide kit is designed with ample supply to meet your tanning needs. Whether you're working with 3-4 medium-sized deer hides or a life-sized elk, moose, or cow hide, this kit has you covered. The beauty of this product is that it not only simplifies the tanning process but also produces a commercial-quality tan. The end result is a soft, supple, and stretchy leather that's on par with professional tanneries. This is because the Tan-A-Hide kit features the same high-grade products utilized by professionals in the industry. However, we've simplified the process, making it a breeze for both beginners and experienced home tanners.

Preparing Your Hide: Fleshing, Salting, & Rehydrating

Taking care of your hide from the very start is extremely important to ensure the success of your project. If you're procuring the hide directly from the animal, it's important to handle it carefully from the moment it is removed. Any delay in proper care can result in hair slipping, which will negatively affect the quality of your finished leather. Ideally, the tanning process should commence as soon as the hide is removed from the animal. However, if immediate tanning isn't feasible, the hide can be folded, hair side to hair side, and stored in a freezer bag. This will preserve the hide until you're ready to begin the tanning process.

The next step, fleshing, involves cleaning the hide and removing any excess flesh, fat, or membrane that may still be attached. Using the fleshing/shaving tool included in your Tan-a-Hide kit, scrape the flesh side of the hide using a back-and-forth "slicing" motion, ensuring that all remnants of fat and flesh are removed.


This step is crucial because any remaining flesh could cause the hide to rot during the tanning process, ruining your efforts. To avoid cutting holes in your hide, remove the thicker fat in layers.

Salting the hide is the next step in preparing it for tanning. Salt draws out the residual blood, body fluids, and non-tannable proteins. To salt your hide, lay it flat, flesh side up, and evenly spread a heavy layer (approx. 1/2 inch) of table salt to the flesh side. Make sure every spot is covered, paying particular attention to the edges, as they tend to dry out faster. Leave the salted hide lying for a minimum of 12-24 hours.


After this period, if the salt is moist, shake off the old salt, and repeat the process. This second salting will ensure that all moisture is drawn out.

Once the salting process is complete, your hide is now ready for the rehydration bath. This step is necessary to prepare the hide for the pickle. In a plastic or rubber container large enough to hold your hide, create a rehydration bath using the following mixture for EACH gallon of HOT water:

  • 3/4 cup salt
  • 1 teaspoon Detergent (in the Tan-a-Hide Kit)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of household bleach

Mix enough solution to completely cover the hide and allow it to move freely in the bath. Stir to dissolve the salt and allow it to cool before adding your hide.

Rehydration bath

Soak the hide until it is soft and pliable, usually 12-24 hours. Then, remove it from the bath and drain.

Draining the hide after rehydration bath

At this point, if the hair feels dirty you can clean it with a water hose. Begin by hanging up or laying out the hide flat, then apply Detergent along the neck area. Using gentle pressure, spray the hide with clean water in the direction of the hair, allowing the Detergent to work its way down to the tail.

washing the hide

Getting Ready to Tan: Pickling & Shaving

Our unique Pickle Tan A-21 is both a pickle and tan.  Create the tan bath by mixing 1/2 cup of Pickle Tan A-21 and 3/4 cup of salt to EACH gallon of HOT water in the same plastic or rubber container you used for your rehydration bath, making sure to mix enough solution to fully submerge your hide. Then, immerse your hide in this mixture for 24 hours or up to 48 hours for thicker hides like elk.

Mixing pickle tan

Remember to stir and agitate the hide in the solution a few times a day to ensure an even pickle. If your hide has a bluish color after 24-48 hours, it may not be thoroughly pickled, so soak it for another 12-24 hours or until it looks while all the way through.

testing whiteness

After soaking for the allotted time, remove from the pickle bath and hang the hide to drain until just damp. IMPORTANT: Do not discard the pickle bath as it will be used again to tan the hide.


After pickling, it's time to shave the hide. Shaving is essential because it reduces the thickness of the hide, allowing the tanning solution to penetrate more deeply, and produces a softer and more pliable end result.

Using the fleshing/shaving tool included in your Tan-a-Hide kit, lay the damp hide flesh side up on a sturdy, flat surface. If you don't have a fleshing beam, a board or smooth log will do.


Start at one end and work away from yourself, being careful not to shave too thin and expose the hair follicles. The goal is to get the hide as thin as possible, so keep the tool nice and sharp for best results.

If you're dealing with an extra thick hide like elk, moose, bison, or cow, you can use a hand/angle grinder with a coarse grit. Just make sure the hide is semi-dry so the grinder is not slipping across wet flesh.


Making Leather: The Tanning Bath

The tanning bath is the heart of the hide tanning process. It's where all your careful preparation pays off and the transformation from hide to leather begins. This magic happens as the hide soaks in a solution filled with tannins, which bind to the collagen proteins in the hide and prevent it from decomposing. It's this process that gives leather its durability and distinctive feel. Think of it as the hide's spa day, where it gets a complete makeover!

Now, let's get to tanning. Place the shaved hide back into the pickle bath for at least 24 hours, or up to 48 hours for larger hides. Once that's done, take the hide back out of the bath and put a few cups of the solution into a mixing container. Add in 2 heaping tablespoons of baking soda for each gallon of solution used in the bath and stir to dissolve.

mixing tan bath

For example, if you used a 10-gallon bath, you'll need 20 tablespoons of baking soda. This will raise the pH and set the tan.

Next, pour the baking soda mixture into the tan bath. Be aware that the baking soda will foam, so make sure your soak tank is large enough that it doesn't overflow.

foaming tan bath

Once the foam subsides, it's time to put your hide in the tanning bath for 4-12 hours. Make sure it is fully immersed and has plenty of room to move around. Since this is a static bath, you'll want to agitate the hide every hour to make sure the tanning solution penetrates evenly.

While it's soaking, the tannins in the solution are binding to the proteins in the hide, making it resistant to bacteria and giving it that distinctive leather feel.

hide in tan bath

Once the hide has soaked for the appropriate amount of time, you can remove it from the tanning solution. Let it drain until damp (about 12-24 hours) before moving on to the final steps.

Next Steps: Oiling and Drying the Hide

Oiling the tanned hide is important in preserving its flexibility and enhancing its texture. The oil replaces the natural fats and oils that were lost during the tanning process, ensuring that your hide doesn't become stiff or crack over time. Without oil, a hide can lose its softness and become brittle, reducing its lifespan and the quality of any products made from it.

oiling the hide

Start by laying out your damp hide flesh side up, and then generously apply Hide Oil to the flesh side with your fingers while wearing the rubber gloves that came with the kit. It's important to work the oil into the hide thoroughly, using circular motions to ensure even coverage and avoid getting oil on the hair. After the oil has completely penetrated the hide (1-2 hours), fold it flesh side to flesh side and let it sit overnight.

oiled hide

The next day, open the hide and hang it to dry in a cool area where air can get to both sides.

elk hanging to dry

When it comes to drying the hide, patience is key. The hide needs to dry slowly to prevent shrinking or hardening. Start by hanging the hide somewhere cool and dry, out of direct sunlight. You want to avoid rapid drying which can cause the hide to become stiff. As the hide dries, it will start to stiffen up - this is normal. After a day or two, you can keep it supple by pulling and stretching it every few hours. This process of 'working the hide' helps to break up the fibers and keep it soft.

working the hide

Some ways to "work the hide" include stretching, folding, and scrunching. Stand in the middle of the hide and pull up to stretch it on all sides. Work the edges back and forth with your hands and over a table edge. Or, have a friend help you stretch it like a game of tug of war.

working the hide 2

tug o war hide

When the hide is mostly dry, buff the flesh side with the enclosed Softening Stone working in a circular motion. This will also help to break the fibers and create a soft suede-like feel.

softening stone

Finishing the Hide: The Final Touches

Now that your hide is tanned and dried, it's time for those final touches that will take it from homemade to showroom quality! These steps may not be essential for the functionality of your leather, but they will certainly elevate its aesthetics and feel.

Let's start with fluffing the hair. Throughout the tanning process, the hair on your hide can become matted and clumped together. To put some volume back into the hair, simply brush it out using a soft-bristled brush. Then, use a vacuum or air compressor, blow against the grain of the hair, while gently lifting the hair with your brush. This will also help remove any dirt, dander, or loose hair.

fluffing the hair

Next, let's add some shine. Hide Hair Gloss can be used to give the hair on your hide a glossy sheen. This product is easy to apply—simply spray a thin application onto the hide and then use the enclosed microfiber towel to distribute it evenly in the direction of the hair. Allow it to set for 1-2 hours and then wipe off any excess.

hair gloss

Finally, if you want your hide to have a soft and silky texture, sprinkle some Silk Powder on the flesh side of the hide and gently rub it in with your fingers. A little bit goes a long way. Once you've done that, knock or shake off any excess powder and your leather hide is now extra soft and silky.

silk powder

Caring for Your Tanned Hide:

Maintaining and caring for your tanned hide properly can significantly extend its longevity. First and foremost, you should keep the hide clean. Dust and dirt can cause the hide to become rough and degrade over time, so regular cleaning is essential. A soft cloth or brush can be used to remove dirt and dust from the hide. If you need to clean more deeply, a damp cloth and a mild soap can do the trick.

Storage is another significant aspect of hide care. When you're not using your tanned hide, it's best to store it in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight or heat sources. Heat and direct sunlight can cause the hide to fade and become brittle. If possible, store the hide flat or loosely rolled, as folding can cause creases that may be hard to remove.

If you take good care of your tanned hide, it will serve you well for years to come. Whether you're making clothing or accessories, or just displaying the hide as a beautiful piece of natural art, proper care and maintenance can ensure its beauty and function over time. So, give your hide the care it deserves, and it'll give back in kind!

Troubleshooting Common Tanning Issues:

Even with the best intentions and careful planning, you might encounter a few hurdles during the tanning process. Remember, it's perfectly normal, and part of the learning experience. Here are some common issues and their solutions to help you out:

    • Hair Slippage: The fur or hair is falling out or is loose and shedding.  Once hair slippage occurs, in most cases it cannot be reversed (see below for Hair Set W-22.  Slippage is due to bacteria setting in.  The most common reasons to avoid hair slippage:
      • The animal was not skinned quickly enough
      • Meat, fat and membrane was not cleaned off the hide quickly or thoroughly enough prior to salting
      • The hide was left in the rehydration solution too long

    The We always say, "Treat it like you're going to eat it." That means if you're not going to tan the hide right away, flesh and salt it or freeze it. If not, the hide can spoil quickly and lead to hair slippage. The hide can stay dry salted for several months.

    In some cases, if the hair is just slightly loose, you can use our Hair Set W-22 to prevent further slippage.  Since this needs to be applied right away, the hide can be frozen to prevent further damage until Hair Set W-22 is available.

      • Stiff Hide: If the hide is still stiff after completing the tanning process, there can be several reasons:
        • The hide was not thinned/shaved properly
          • Solution: Rewet the flesh side with water and shave again, the rework the hide as it dries
        • The hide was not worked enough during drying
          • Solution: Lightly dampen the flesh side with water, roll up and place in a plastic bag for several hours until it is relaxed.  Then rework the hide as it dries. Remember, the process of 'working the hide' helps to break the fibers and keep it soft.  Don't be afraid to give it a good stretch!
        • Not enough Hide Oil was applied
          • Solution: Rewet the flesh side with water, roll up and place in plastic bag until relaxed.  Once the hide is supple, reapply another thin application of Hide Oil. Fold flesh to flesh for 12 hours, then repeat the softening/breaking process.
        • The hide was dried too fast
          • Solution: Again, rewet the flesh side and relax in a plastic bag.  Once supple, dry in a cooler area (out of the sun and indoor heat) and rework it.
      • Oil on the Hair
        • If Hide Oil gets on the hair, spot clean the area with a soapy sponge.  If needed, run just the affected hair side area under cool water and let air dry.

      Final Thoughts:

      We've taken a dive into the art of DIY hide tanning – a rewarding and practical skill that's far more accessible than you might think. We've covered everything from the initial preparation of your hide to the final steps of softening and conditioning, offering tips and solutions for common issues along the way.

      One of the key takeaways is that preparation is everything. Proper care for your hide before and during the tanning process can make a world of difference in the final result. Remember our mantra, "Treat it like you're going to eat it", and your hide will be in the best condition for a successful tan.

      We've also addressed common hurdles that you might face during the tanning process, such as thorough salting, fleshing, hair slippage, and softening. But don't let these challenges discourage you. With the right tools, a bit of patience, and the detailed guidance we've provided, you'll be well on your way to mastering the art of hide tanning.

      Take the Leap:

      TanAHide kit

      We encourage you to give DIY hide tanning a try. It's a skill that not only yields beautiful and functional results but also connects you to an age-old tradition practiced around the world. Why not make your first tanned hide a unique piece of natural art for your home, or a personal accessory that carries the proud mark of your craftsmanship?

      Don't forget to visit us at Advanced Tanning Solutions to learn more about our Tan-a-Hide kit. It's been specifically designed to help you through every step of the tanning process. We can't wait to see what you'll create!

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