Beef <— All the best things in life start this way. I eat a lot of beef. We have a ridiculously huge chest freezer to store the beef we are planning to eat. Ok, fine. I keep other stuff in there too, which leads me to the point of tonight’s post…rabbit pelts. I also eat rabbit occasionally as does our dog and I just love raising bunnies. When you raise the most stunning rex rabbits with exceptionally awesome fur, throwing away the pelts is just plain wasteful and I could not do that. I also had no idea what to do with a raw pelt, no matter how beautiful. When we raised rabbits in Las Vegas, I gave our pelts to a friend who gave them to another guy who tanned them. Here I have no such link to crazy outdoors-men…so I put them in the freezer because that’s what you do. Needing to reclaim the freezer space for beef, the tanning fell to me. To the Internets!
[these pictures are from my first batch which I did last summer. I started a batch a week ago and will be doing the exact same process with these new ones.]
I went with a super easy method that didn’t involve fancy chemicals. It results in a finished pelt that isn’t water proof and not overly soft (on the leather side) or supple. But…I did it. I managed to make a wet, twitchy, slimy tube into a for-real, tanned and stable pelt. (Yes the skin will move and twitch for a good 10 minutes after it is separated from the body.) I’d fist bump myself if I could do it without looking weird.
It’s a bit of a process, but with my handy internet to lead the way, I dove in.
The cover photo above is my current set up because I’m doing a double batch or 10 pelts. But no matter how many you do, they go into a non-reactive container with water, alum, and salt. Stirring a few times every day makes sure they “pickle” evenly.
Fleshing is about as appetizing as it sounds. You have to peel all the squishy bits off the actual skin/leather. It’s been toughened up by the soak but it’s a challenge to pull off. I enlisted my favorite husband to help me.
Next is another longer soak in alum/salt water and then a good wash with yummy smelling shampoo. No, really…the pelts smell kind of funky and the shampoo makes the fur soft and silky. After they are washed, you finally cut them down the middle to hang them to dry. Since we had just had the shed delivered when I did this batch I decided to make use of the empty and secure location to dry the pelts.
If fleshing is challenging and gross, breaking is deeply gratifying. Not sure what it is, but it feels really cool to work the leather and break down the skin fibers by stretching them. Not so hard it rips, but the skin turns from splotchy black to a lovely cream color. It actually looks like leather.
Quick aside: My dad is an avid appreciator of things that are well made. I’m really grateful that he is also a great giver of gifts. So because he loves a good quality boot, I have the coolest cowboots and riding boots around. He sent me this nifty leather oil to keep them in good condition and since a tiny bit goes a really long way, I tried it out on my pelts. I just rubbed a bit in and it worked beautifully.
So now I’m stock piling rabbit pelts. The kids have put in orders for slippers and mittens and I’m thinking if I get my act together, I might just be able to finish something for Christmas.