Salt and Alum Tanning
This is an old, widely used method for fur skin
tanning. When properly carried out, it produces
skins with stretch and flexibility. However, alumtanned skins often come out stiff and hard and
must be worked repeatedly or sometimes retanned.
• Non-metallic container
• Ammonia alum (ammonium aluminum sulfate)
or potash alum (potassium aluminum sulfate)–
may be available at local pharmacy, farm supply
store or through taxidermy supply catalogs
• Washing soda (crystallized sodium carbonate)–
available in laundry section of many
• Salt (preferably technical grade, but non-iodine
• Flour (if applying as a paste)
• Brush or scraper knife
1. Prepare a salt-alum tanning solution by
dissolving 1 pound of ammonia alum or potash
alum in 1 gallon of water. Dissolve 4 ounces of
washing soda (crystallized sodium carbonate)
and 8 ounces of salt in 1/2 gallon of water. Pour
the soda-salt solution very slowly into the alum
solution while stirring vigorously. The soda-salt
solution must be poured slowly enough to
prevent an overflow of foam from the container.
Amounts may need to be increased
proportionately for larger skins.
2. Immerse the skin in the tanning solution for 2 to
5 days, depending upon its thickness. Two days
should be sufficient for a rabbit skin, while a
deer hide may require up to 5 days. Since a hide
cannot easily be over-tanned using this process,
it would be better to leave the hide in solution
too long rather than not long enough.
Because alum affects some furs, it may be best
to first test a scrap piece of the fur in the tanning
solution. If the test fur is affected or there are no
scrap pieces to test, it may be best to apply the
tanning solution as a paste to the flesh side only.
• Mix the tanning solution with sufficient flour
to make a thin paste, adding the flour in small
quantities with a little water and mixing
thoroughly to avoid lumps.
• Spread the hide so it lies smoothly and tack
down, flesh side up. Using a brush or scraper
knife, coat the skin with the tanning paste
about 1/8" thick. Let stand until the next day.
• The next day, scrape off most of the paste and
apply another coating. Apply two or three
coatings at daily intervals. Only thick hides
should need as many as three treatments.
Leave the last coating on for 3 to 4 days.
• Scrape off the paste.
3. Rinse the hide clean in a gallon of water containing about 1 ounce of Borax. Rinse again in clean
water. Put the skin on a smooth board and use a
dull edge to press out most of the water. Proceed
to the oiling and finishing process.
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