Adventures in Hide Tanning: Yak, Beavers, and more?

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(Dennis Lanigan) #1

I’m going to post some of the hide tanning stuff I do here. Feel free to ask questions or post your own stuff.

I’m yakkin’ about Yaks first. I just put two little Yak hides in a stream to rehydrate them.

I hope these picture conveys how big they are.

Since they were preserved dried and pretty big I have to put them in the stream for a while. Possibly a week. I REALLY hope the hair doesn’t slip as I’d love to make a parka or something ridiculous like that. But the hair will likely slip.

(Dennis Lanigan) #2

Day two. Now some beavers are taking a dip for a while. These hides may be in the stream for even longer because I want the hair to slip. But the stream might be too cold to allow that. We’ll see.

Got them tied up with some paracord through the eye holes of each hide. Then some length to tie them to a tree.

Now they are in the stream. They are still too dry to sink quite yet. On the far left you can see a submerged Yak hide.

(Dennis Lanigan) #3

In the near future I’ll do a small tutorial on how I make a knife sheath. I used the knife to open up the eye holes for the rope.


Do you use wood ash to slip the fur?

(Dennis Lanigan) #5

I usually use hydrated lime for the bulk of the tanning I do, though I prefer lye for buckskin. If you don’t know concentrated hardwood ash can make potassium hydroxide or lye. Most of the wood I am burning is soft so the lye from my ashes won’t likely work. But I haven’t tried it yet.

I don’t want to use lye or lime for the beavers because I am told (from Making the Attikamek Snowshoe) that they will weaken the fibers. I want to make rawhide for bowstrings and snowshoes.

I may use lime on the yaks if the start slipping for bark tan. If they don’t slip I’ll just scrape the membrane/flesh side and start braintanning for furs. I’m hoping the “tumble cycle” in the stream will do some softening for me.


Yeah soft woods produce less available potassium salts then hard woods …it will make a softer soap. I believe grass and seaweed actually produce the highest.

Oh I forgot you were making bowstrings …I was thinking less smelly route lol

(Andrew) #7

Fish or other critters don’t attack them in the river? Between the weasels and fish around here, that would seem like a risky proposition.

(Dennis Lanigan) #8

I’m more worried about humans than the raccoons. The stream is not on the property where I live so people could jack my shit. A fancy hot springs resort owns it so it’s a grey area.

There’s no fish really. There’s crawfish. Humans have really fucked this river so there’s not much consistent wildlife. During the growing season they divert the entire flow for irrigation and kill any chance for much to thrive.

(Dennis Lanigan) #9

All the hides are hydrated and accounted for. I decided to turn the Yak hides into bark tan so now they are in a big lime bath. It’s questionable whether I can finish them before I leave but I am going to give it a shot. Yak leather is some of the strongest leather on Earth so it’s worth a shot.

Not sure what to do with the beavers yet. I’m going to let them hang out in the stream until I do. It’s too cold to “sweat” any hair off. The stream is definitely not going to get the hair off as it’s too cold too. My best option is to sweat them by my wood stove which might prove stinky.

(Dennis Lanigan) #10

Well somehow the day time highs went up to 68F and now the beavers are slipping. Gonna scrape the hair and tack them up tomorrow. Then I am going to make a rawhide bowstring for my bow.

(Dennis Lanigan) #11

The yaks have been in the lime and now the hair is slipping.

The beavers aren’t slipping their hair evenly after soaking in a stream and now in changes of water. Not sure this method works for me, so I put four of six beaver hides in lime water instead. Once both batches have slipped I’ll test the strength of the rawhide and compare. My guess is liming will still be strong enough as the other method literally is rotting the hide somewhat.


Most of what I see on bark tanning involves really large amounts(120 lbs. dry for a cowhide)of bark. It doesn’t seem practical to do a lot of hides like that in terms of trees used. Are there methods that don’t have such a high requirement? I’ve seen a video of Saami people using a bark liquor/tea that they repeatedly painted on, which seems like it need less.

(Dennis Lanigan) #13

I have always been confused about small amounts of tannins used by some traditional methods. My guess is they aren’t tanned through and the tannins act a a slight preservative similar to what smoke would do. Not sure. Notice that some of these methods seem to need frequent re-softening.

I suggest people get away from bark altogether if they’re going to cut down trees. Oak galls, sumac leaves, and black walnut husks will work great.

Can you find the video?

Hmm…these reindeer hides look awfully soft:

In this amazing photo series there’s a picture of a woman with a tannin stained hands. She clearly knows more than I do! I wonder how much pushing the tannins in helps. I know the more you handle a hide in tannins the faster it tans. Seems a more precise approach versus the potentially wasteful steeping method.


I was thinking of using sumac because I have a ridiculous amount on the place.
I’ve started watching the video on different books, yes.

Those pictures show basically what I was thinking of.

(Dennis Lanigan) #15

Yeah, sumac leaves work great. Higher level of tannins than most sources.

I have heard Siberian reindeer folks bate their hides with manure. They coat it on the flesh side, tie the hide up, and leave it in a warm place for three days. The manure is just to get digestive enzymes so there are alternatives.

Here’s the only picture I could find of a Chukchi woman using manure.

(Dennis Lanigan) #16

Now that things have warmed up a bit I have been working on buckskin.

(Alexander Meander) #17

@dennis - it is great looking through all your tanning projects. thanks for keeping us updated. while i do not work with hides myself i really enjoy hearing about the process.

and i know of an amazing sumac patch where you can gather leaves for tanning during your stay here. it is an area within a 10,000 acre game lands that i frequent for foraging and so on. :slight_smile:

(Dennis Lanigan) #18

A tool that helped with the buckskin is this piece of chert I found. Except that it is not just a piece of chert. It’s actually an artifact. I showed it to archeologists at the knapping pit at Winter Count and they guessed what it was and where it is from without any info from me: it’s a hide scraper from Cerro Pedernal, a huge source of flint in the region. Needless to say, I am going to put it back on the mountain.

(Dennis Lanigan) #19

Finished another. Going to go for #3 tomorrow.

Here’s where the Yaks are hanging out.