Basics of Bark Tanning Tutorial

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Basics of Bark Tanning Tutorial

Captain Sensible
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Captain Sensible
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August 10th, 2010, 7:22 am #1

Although I am no expert on the topic of bark tanning leathers, I have gained some experience and would like to share it. You can make bark tanned leather at home as easily as making buckskin, albeit with a lot more time involved. You can use many different types of plant extract; here I will focus on bark extracts as these are what I am familiar with. I will not extol the virtues nor complexities of different tannins that come from different types of bark, and I will not discuss the exact nature of pH and chemical changes within the skin as it tans. But I will lead you through a low-tech way of bark tanning, and hope it helps someone out. I will use sheep and goat skins as examples but this will work well for any deer too. Sheep are much easier to tan than deer, but the feral goat hides I get are much harder to tan than deer (tough hides), so it will work for small and large deer species. Larger hides such as cattle require a more specialised, prolonged and complex tanning procedure which I will not discuss here. So let's get going.

Firstly, a list of ingredients:

1. Hydrated lime
2. Water (ideally rainwater)
3. Vinegar (any sort)
4. Bark (more than you think you need)
5. Some soap and some vegetable or animal oil
6. A dead animal or its skin

Equipment you will need includes:

1. Fleshing knife of sorts
2. Beam for fleshing (PVC pipe)
3. 60- 70 litre (30 gallon) tub or bin
4. A stake in the ground to soften the leather

Now lets get started!

1. Get your hide and flesh it fairly clean. Don't be too fussy, just get the meat and fat off. The other rubbish will come off later.

2. Mix a few cups of hydrated lime with a bin full of water. Throw your skin in there to remove the hair and saponify (clean and turn to soap) the natural fats in the skin. You will need at least three days in the lime, but you should leave it in for at least a week to get the fibres loosening in the skin. Bacteria will grow in this lime solution and help the process. BUT make sure you add more lime once every 5-10 days if you plan on a long liming process, because the lime turns into inert products and stops working quite quickly. It still looks the same, like a white powder, but it is not the same! Leave the skin in the lime until ALL the hair slips out easily. Longer times are better than shorter times, if you keep the lime levels up.



3. Once you have the skin limed and the hair off, you have a plump, white gelatinous skin. Put this skin in a bucket of water and wash it, repeatedly changing the water. Once the water stops going so milky, just leave the skin to soak for a few hours, then wash and rinse again manually, then soak for more hours. This is a long process and should be done thoroughly to remove the lime. When you decide the skin is rinsed free of lime (it won't be plump and gelatinous any more, it will be thinner and firmer) you need to acidify it a little bit. The final stage of rinsing is to add one litre of vinegar to your bin full of water and soak the skin in there for 30 minutes with occasional stirring. After this acidifiying, wash the skin (yes, again!) in plain water to get the vinegar out. We need the skin a little bit acidic before it goes into the bark tanning solution. These hides below are rinsed and ready to enter the bark tan.



4. Meanwhile, get some bark, crush/break it up and fill a large saucepan or boiler with it and water. Boil gently, simmer or steep for a few hours. Ensure your saucepan is stainless steel or the metal contaminants will stain your leather. The type of bark you use will determine the colour and, somewhat, the texture of your leather (plus many other things). For simplicity, any bark that produces a nice brown or red solution after 30 minutes in hot water should do the trick. Here in Australia I use Acacia and Eucalyptus bark mostly. Acacia gives a deep colour and Eucalyptus gives a lighter colour. Regardless of the bark you choose, you need to extract at least 20 litres (10 gallons) of strong tannin from your bark. You can reboil a batch of bark several times. Keep some bark for later.

5. Throw your clean, rinsed skin into the tannin solution ensuring it is always covered. Stir it at least once a day, moving the skin around gently to get even tannin penetration. They will take on colour very quickly. Here is a goat skin after a few days in Acacia bark tan:



More to follow...
Last edited by Captain Sensible on August 10th, 2010, 8:30 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Captain Sensible
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August 10th, 2010, 8:27 am #2

So, now that the skin is nicely soaking in the tannin solution, you will notice that as the skin takes on colour the solution loses colour. Of course!- this is the tannin leaving the solution and entering the skin, permanently. Time to add more bark juice. Below is a solution that, due to its transparency, requires strengthening i.e., more tannins added.



6. As your solution loses colour by donating its tannins to your skin, you'll need to add more solution, or even better, make your existing solution strong again. To do this just take out some of your existing solution and boil it up in a pot of bark. Do this with several pots of solution and you'll achieve your goal - a tannin-rich bark extract. Keep replenishing the solution as soon as it appears weak, or you risk ruining the process! This is very important. As a rule of thumb, I suggest keeping your solution as strong as possible until you gain experience.

7. After two, three, four weeks depending on the skin you are tanning, it is time to check whether the skin is ready. You can snip a little cut into the edge of the thickest part of the skin (usually the neck) and check it there is any white left in the centre of the skin. If there is, keep tanning, and if not, then check another part of the hide. If all is brown, termed "struck through", then it's time to remove the skin from the tannin solution. How exciting!

Below: this goat skin looks great on the outside after two weeks in a bark tan, but the tannins need more time to penetrate into the centre of the tough skin. Another week should do it.



8. Pull the skin out of the tannin And rinse it repeatedly in water until it runs reasonably clean of tannin. The excess tannins that are not bonded to the skin will make it a bit stiff, so rinse them out well.

9. Take the wet rinsed leather to your beam and flesh/ membrane the underside very well. You will need to pad your fleshing beam with a blanket or at least a towels to prevent damage to the grain side of the leather. This process with both clean the flesh side and remove excess water.

10. Lay the leather flat to dry. As it begins to dry, coat thickly it in an oil of your choice (I suggest tallow or lard for starters). Allow the leather to dry for 24 hours, then wash it in warm (not hot!) water with a bar of soap grated into it and well dissolved. After washing the leather well, take it out and re-membrane. No membrane should come off but the water will shed out. You should then lie the leather flat, or frame it for a flatter, stretched leather, and soften it as it dries as you would buckskin. Avoid the grain side. I use a wooden stake in the ground to soften over, but you can use any sturdy, edged object, such as the back of a chair. Keep softening periodically as the leather dries. I recommend doing this slowly, over a day. If your leather goes nasty and hard, you didn't soften it properly. Soak it in water until wet, then soften it a bit over the stake and begin the drying process again. Sometimes this is frustrating to learn, but it's worth it!

11. After drying and softening, you have a beautiful leather! If it is stiff, then repeat the oiling/greasing and washing procedure and dry as it softens (yes, again!). This time it should come out soft. You can now dress it with the oil/s of your choice, or even wax it to waterproof it. The options are many, and the applications diverse and wonderful!

Below: Acacia tanned goat skins





Above: Acacia tanned goats and Eucalyptus tanned goat on far end.
Below: Three Eucalyptus tanned sheep skins.




Finally, please any other members on this forum with bark tanning advice please feel free to contribute, or more importantly, correct my mistakes!
S

 
Last edited by Captain Sensible on August 10th, 2010, 9:13 am, edited 2 times in total.
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raceryz350
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August 10th, 2010, 9:43 pm #3

THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!!! this is excactly what i have been scouring the internet for. THANK YOU. could you use oak or cedar bark instead of eucalyptus.
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Captain Sensible
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August 10th, 2010, 10:32 pm #4

No worries Racer, happy to be of use! Of course you can use Oak or Cedar bark. Oak will give a beautiful firm leather from what I understand. Cedar might take a lot of bark to get enough tannin.
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raceryz350
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August 11th, 2010, 10:54 pm #5

k so oak it is if i get a 'yote this year i will probably tan it like this or braintan idk.
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hayseed
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December 1st, 2010, 12:01 am #6

do you store hides for future tanning in the rawhide state? Ever have problems with the grain cracking upon softening a previously rawhided skin? I am in the process of softening a bark tanned deer skinand it has always had a papery feel to it, wondering if i did not rehydrate it enough before putting it in the soution- it is truly a different beast from the other hides i have done and this is the only difference.
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geoslim16
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February 28th, 2011, 2:53 pm #7

This kind of leather is also called "veg-tanned" leather and is the only type suitable for use in leather carving or stamping. Do not get this kind of leather too wet or it will shrink and become brittle.
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Garwar Mayher
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August 31st, 2011, 6:21 pm #8

I have red oak bark to use, dose the bark need to be drid out first and how mush should i brake it up.
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Foxfire
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November 7th, 2011, 7:22 am #9

Cap'n Sensible, wonderful tutorial. I'm working on a variation of your technique (hair on deer hide, so I didn't lime it first) and so far it's working great! Just waiting for the colour to strike through any day now ...

Edit to add: Method works fine n dandy! Again, much thanks, Cap'n. Here's my experimental bark-tan hair on deer hide
Last edited by Foxfire on January 15th, 2012, 5:13 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Captain Sensible
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March 19th, 2014, 12:51 pm #10

Thanks for the positive replies folks! Yes, Foxfire, I have done a few hair-on goat skins using this method and they have not lost hair after 4 years. I prefer to oil-and-soap-and smoke ("brain tan") them though - they come out softer.

I've not been online here for a long time but I needed to source the information in this thread for a friend. I don't have time to tan at the moment due to work and I can't source hides where I am living (and I still have a pile of goat leather to work with for when I get the time 5 years after tanning my last one!). I'd like to note that the veg tanned leather presented in this tutorial will not go brittle and crack if it gets wet. Quite to the contrary I am still washing my veg tanned leathers in the washing machine - the same leathers made and illustrated in this tutorial! And the leather is looking and feeling great
Happy tanning, all!
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Quillsnkiko
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August 12th, 2014, 1:37 am #11

Wish  you  could come back more  Cpt....as your tutorial and information were great . Good to know your washing your leathers.You made a beautiful leather Jacket if I remember right from your bark tanned leathers .




I am soon going to try sumac tanning and may do some bark as well .Thanks for the update. Take care !~! Quills
" You can't stop the waves .... but, you can learn to surf."
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Ma Tanner
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August 13th, 2014, 4:02 pm #12

Quills, thank you for bringing this back to the top... I would like to try this too.

Ma
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Daveyap
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October 23rd, 2014, 4:16 am #13

Awesome one of a kind tutorial. I am so tempted to create a special category on leather tanning on my website at http://www.worldofleathers.com but for the fact that I don't want to get entangled in copyright issues.
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russellcook
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November 4th, 2014, 11:53 am #14

Hi everyone,

Would this method work with a rabbit skin? I may be able to get some from my great uncle some time soon and would love to try some tanning.
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Quillsnkiko
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December 2nd, 2014, 2:55 am #15

It will work on all fur skins....I am sure .Though I've not done it myself.Pa Skinner who is on here has bark tanned fox , coyote and coons I believe. I know fox & coyote . Quills
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Enigma
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July 26th, 2015, 10:33 am #16

This is a great photo tutorial for people who have'nt bark tanned before. I use Gosford Wattle dried bark, off dead standing trees, and get a nice deep plum colour, in the dark browns.

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ashleygorecki282
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October 21st, 2015, 8:10 pm #17

Its nice but can you please name the thing whch you tanning in this picture... I am so curious to know... Is that an animal skin??


Tanning Lotions | Fake Bake
Last edited by ashleygorecki282 on October 22nd, 2015, 6:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Tyrannocaster
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June 19th, 2017, 12:41 pm #18

Bump. Good thread, but old, so newer members haven't seen it.
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Quillsnkiko
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March 15th, 2018, 4:53 pm #19

Bump to March of 2018. Quills
" You can't stop the waves .... but, you can learn to surf."
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torink1
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July 13th, 2018, 6:40 am #20

This is a great thread! Thanks. I've been wanting to bark tan for a wile now. Couple questions, there are poplar, willow and spruce trees where I live, has anyone tried any of these for bark tanning? I will try boiling some up to arrow and see if they give me a good colour. Also, has anyone tried bark tanning with the grain removed?


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