Wildlife Sculptures

 Go to main menue                   by Clive Seddon


 HOME  Go to my Studio

 METHOD 1   Tanning a Cow Hide.  Use this tanning recipe at you own risk.   Some dangerous chemicals are used.


How to tan a cow hide.

If dry skins are to be cured, soak them in cold water with a little borax added  (1/4 cup to for every 4 litres), until soft and pliable.

Wash the hide of all blood in cold water.  Salt with fine salt . Put the skin on a non mettallic grate (wood or plastic) , above a plastic fluid collecting container.

 Allow to drain for a day or so in a cool place, .

Flesh the skin.


 Shave off all membrane and fat. This will take 8 to 12 hours.

 Use a Drawknife or Butchers Knife. Drape the Skin over a stay post or something similar.

Do not cut holes in the skin or you will have to sew them up before stretching the skin.

Or for fleshing, you can stretch it onto a frame and then: While stretched on the frame:
You can flesh it, using a heavy duty grinder with a wire brush (can be a bit dangerous and messy. Old clothing overalls and facemask. )
or a portable electric fleshing disc with depth guides and safety skids.
(Made out of heavy duty drill and Van Dykes fleshing disc parts). Can be dangerous using this method.


Put down a sheet of plastic 4 metres X 6 metres on the ground.

This is for half under the skin and half folded over the skin.



Lay down 4 strong planks 150mm X 50mm leaving a min of 300 mm all round, Bolt the corners.






Cut 500 hooks out of 12g hi tensile wire or use bale hooks.


Stretch the hide on a frame using high tensile hooks and strong cord. Keep out of hot sun at all times.

 Keep damp with borax and water while stretching the skin. do not let it dry out at this stage.

 After the skin is stretched on the frame, put a layer of fine salt on it while it is laid flat.

(Salt is available from your local stock firm or Farm Supplies.)

 Leave for 3 days but spread it evenly every day.


Cover the Skin with the plastic sheet folded over, to keep the moisture in as soon as you have finished stretching it.

 Leave it on unless you are working on the skin.


Optional: but not for Children. ( Keep your Children well away from this operation ). At this stage you can pour on a solution of formic acid , 1 cup to 4 litres water, to make the skin more pliable.

 ( Dangerous, wear rubber gloves and glasses. Wash if you get any on you straight away and after the job.)

Tighten the cord around the skin.

After 3 days sprinkle on Alum powder. Leave for a couple of weeks. Spread the mixture around every day.

(Alum is available from your local swimming pool supplies store.) Alum can wash out of the skin making it a rawhide again.

You can use chrome alum ( Chemical Supplies or Tanner ) to make your skin washable. Just mix up a weak solution to start with ( 4oz to 5 litres warm water ) and gradually strengthen it over a period of a week. Apply 3 coats spaced about two days between each appliction. Dangerous wear rubber gloves

You may have to tighten the chords around the skin every so often.

Scrape off the excess salt,  alum, chrome alum, and put in a plastic container. You can use this again.

Wash the skin and collect the liquid in a plastic container. The run off kills grass and rusts metal.

Neutralise the skin with 4oz sodium bicarbonate to  4 litres water or 8oz Borax to 4 litres of water. Let sit for an hour. Wash. Drain and let dry to about 70%.

Oil the skin with a mixture of heated  lanolin ( Oil from Sheeps Wool ) and min turps. 500ml Lanolin to every 4 litres mineral turps. Let it cool before applying to the skin.

As the skin dries to about 80% to 90%, work it and break the fibres with the rounded end of a tyre lever, that has a 25mm angled piece with a rounded end .

With a Cow Hide you can just walk all around the surface of the skin to stretch it. Tighten the chords every now and then when required.

Sand the skin with very coarse sandpaper then wire brush. You can use a 7" angle grinder with a wire brush on for larger skins ( Wear a Dust Mask and protective clothing). The dust is bad for you on the skin, so have a shower as soon as you finish.Sprinkle on Talcuum powder while wire brushng/sanding  the skin. You can use scented powder if you like. You can buy bulk talcuum powder from the fiberglass supply shop.


  Some dangerous chemicals are used in tanning skins, take care and use rubber gloves and protective glasses. Do not get the solutions on your own skin. Use this recipe at your own risk.

Please email me on your Tanning results and experiences clive@wildlifesculptures.co.nz

A good overview of tanning is given by Van Dykes




Tanning skins consist of the following processes:

1. Washing and soaking in cold water with borax. 5. Draining and washing.
2. Fleshing. 6. Stretching, oiling and drying.
3. Soak in Formic Acid (Dangerous - use rubber gloves and glasses.) and Salt. 7. Beaming and breaking the fibres.
4. Immersion in tanning solution. Alum, Chrome Alum + water. 8. Sanding, trimming, cleaning hair.

Wash the hide of all blood, or if dry skins are to be cured, soak them in water with a little borax added, until soft and pliable. 

Flesh the skin on a 4" x 2" board with rounded corners, using a carpenters draw knife, until all fat and membrane is off. 

Soak in half a cup of Formic Acid  (dangerous) per 5 litres of water plus 1lb of salt per 5 litres for 12hr to 48hrs depending on the thickness of the skin. This stops the skin shrinking too much during the process.

Now mix up the following solution in a non-metallic container:-

RATIO ONLY,- 1 gallon warm water, l lb Alum, l lb Salt, 4oz Chrome Alum (Dangerous - use rubber gloves and glasses.).
e.g:- 1 gallon minimum for Rabbits. Oppossums etc.
5 gallons minimum for Chamois, Goat.
10 gallons minimum for Sheepskin.
20 gallons minimum for Cow Hides, Bull Thar.

Put the hide in the solution and leave for two weeks or more until the hide is of even colour throughout. (Test by cutting a small cross Section). Stir the hide in the solution and stretch out the wrinkles every two days.

 Drain the skin, then wash in detergent and water, then in petrol.

 Stretch the skin on a frame. Paint a thin coat of., 1 part, Lanoline (sheep grease) - to 9 Parts Turpentine. Melt the lannoline- before mixing in the Turpentine, making a very thin warm liquid. Dilute it with Turpentine if necessary. 

When the skin is nearly dry. scrape with grubber, tyre lever or blunt instrument, to break up the fibres. Work the skin while it is drying until it is dry. First sprinkle with french chalk talcuum powder, ballroom powder, fine sawdust or some similar substance, then sand with very coarse sandpaper or wire brush. 

The hair can be cleaned by a brisk rubbing with turpentine on a rag.


Talcuum Powder

Draw knife for thick skins only.

The hooks and cord method is by far the best.

You can use wool bale hooks.

Hooks with holes is slower.

Some people use skin clamps which are more expensive but good if you are tanning a lot of skins.


Alum can wash out of the skin making it a rawhide again later on, that is  why the chrome alum is added because it is permanent.



<<<<<< Home


Methods of Tanning leather and uses   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leather



Mobile:0212164222 Website http://www.wildlifesculptures.co.nz/