As trappers we are usually a hard headed, do it yourself bunch. We can do it, so why would we pay someone else to do it. Doesn’t matter what “it” is, we can do “it” ourselves. I have fallen into this trap many times myself, and several of those times have involved tanning.
You hang around a group of trappers very long and tanning is likely to get brought up. There are plenty of “easy” one step solutions made for “self tanning.” The very first bobcat I caught I tried one of these one step tanning solutions. And I guess overall it did get the job done, I had a couple bald spots but that was my fault for letting the hide overlap on itself. The biggest problem was you could hold that hide straight out and it wouldn’t fall to the ground, it was as stiff as a board. I tried breaking it and oiling it but never had much luck.
The next time around I decided to get serious. I did some research beforehand and learned all about salting, pickling, neutralizing, and I found a multi-step process that was supposed to be what the professionals use, and I had rigged up a tumbler out of an old dryer. It was more intensive for sure, but I was confident this was going to produce a professional tan. It did do the job, but I still didn’t get the professional tan I was looking for. The fur side of the hide was nice, but the flesh side still wasn’t what I was looking for. I tried more rounds in the tumber, a rope, a board, anything I could to try and break that hide to get is soft and supple.
I probably tanned 40-50 hides like this, trying to get the to turn out nice and soft. My ultimate conclusion was that I needed to let a professional do it because they know what they are doing.
I did learn a bit about the tanning process, which is all chemistry, thus there are certain steps to go through to get certain results. I think I had a good tanning process down, but where I think I was going wrong was that I needed to be able to thin the hide down. During pickling the hide swells, and so it needs to be shaved down by small fractions of an inch, to get it back to or less than its original thickness.
There are machines that do this very well, but they run over five hundred dollars for a good used one. And of course that is no guarantee that it will turn out the result I’m looking for. So short of an in depth tour of a tanning facility (which I would love) I’ve decided to let the pro’s do what they are pro’s for and I’ll just worry about catching animals.
If you want to try some home tanning give it a whirl, just be prepared to not have a soft supple hide when you get done. And I’d recommend if you get very serious, to send your furs off to have them tanned. It will be less headache and better results.