Have you ever wanted to make your own leather? There are many uses for leather; purses, shoes, jackets, and wallets. You are able to buy leather pre tanned and ready to use, but what’s the fun in that? Here I am to explain my first (definitely not last) failed attempt at making leather. 

!WARNING FURTHER PHOTOS MAY BE UNPLEASANT FOR SOME!

Why would I share a failed attempt? Because it was still hard work and most won’t succeed on their first try. Hoping to encourage those who tried, failed, and desire to try again. Yes, I plan to try again. Maybe not with an entire cow hide, but I plan to fail till I succeed. This isn’t just for myself but to show my children, if you desire to accomplish something keep trying till you have done it to your best ability. 

Making leather, prepping work space

Desire

I had the desire to get a pair moccasins, but didn’t have the money to buy a pair. As we were approaching the date to pick up our cow, I had the idea to see if it would be possible to get the hide along with our meat and organs. Than I could just make my own right?! 

Research

I had the plan set up to bring the hid home, now I needed to figure out how to do this. What salts, chemicals, tools would need to be involved, and how can I do this as natural as possible being 6 months pregnant. I’m not willing to compromise my baby by breathing in harsh chemicals. Oh, I found a way. 

Purchases

I had gather the list and was off to collect the salt and lime to make this happen. A little tip, YOU WILL WANT A FLESHING KNIFE. I did not start off with one, and spent hours….hours using just a knife..get a fleshing knife. But you may need to order online for one, unless a friend near by has one readily available for you to borrow. I ended up calling 7 stores, going into 2, too figure out Minnesota Metro area does not carry them or they were sold out entirely. 

Soaking Hide, making leather

Soaking

I started with soaking the hide in salt water for 24 hours. From what I read on you can start with this but it would be more beneficial to get the skin as fresh as possible and start fleshing right away. Although you can soak immediately too to loosen the loose fat and skin. I put the hide in a 15 gallon trash can and bought buckets of water from the tub to the porch. Prepping the mixture before adding the hide, in hopes to get a good coverage. 

Hide in sink, making leather attempt #1

Fleshing

Next I took a filleting knife and started scrapping off the loose flesh and fat. After 6 hours of this, I again soaked the hide. Not all the skin and fat was off but I’d say about 60%. This time I added the lime in hopes to start on the hair once finishing the fat side. By this time I knew I needed a fleshing knife. I took another 6 hours to get the fat off and started on hair with the fleshing knife. That knife made the world of a difference, but hair was NOT wanting to come off like they had said it would. 

Fleshing on tub, making leather

My Theory

I am assuming it was due to the time of year I choose. As it was getting cold out and I was soaking the hide out on the porch. The smell is not pleasant but I wasn’t extremely turn off by it. Either way the hide was soaking in a cooler, some nights freezing temperatures. This is where I think the lime wasn’t not working correctly. Only in chunks was the hair coming off nicely. 

I got my husband in to help at this point. So he and I spent another 5-6 hours trying to pull off the hair… We got maybe a 2×2’ space 100% ready to tan. Leaving 80% of the rest of the cow hide still full of hair. This could have also very well been the way the hide was placed in the bucket for soaking. My guess is both, as I did stir and move the hide around during the lime soaking process. A cow hide is massive and heavy. 

Daughter Helping pull hair off, making leather

Suggestions

Don’t start with an entire cow hide. Start with a bunny, or if you must a deer. Start small so the time isn’t so long, I assume you wont be so in over your head, as I was. If all you can get is a cow. CUT IT UP. Freeze the other part. Take a 1/4 of the hide and work with that first. YouTube is a great source. I watched many videos and read serval books and blogs, before and during this process. I learned there is a reason why leather products are expensive. It’s not simple work. You could also call around to butchers and see if they have the fancy equipment to rid of the extra skin and hair before selling you the hide. We did not pay anything extra for our hide. As a matter of fact, he lead me into this back room and pull up some other cows hide, threw it in a bag and off I went. It was still fresh, but not prepped for what I was trying to accomplish.

Don’t worry. This time may have not went the way intended it to, but I will try again this summer. As I’m convinced I failed due to cold weather.  I will also have the out doors to work on an actual platform designed for fleshing, rather than my counter top and bathtub. Plus the benefit of not being pregnant. I learned a lot, my children, who knows what they learned other than their mother does weird stuff. One day I pray they appreciate their moccasins made from leather their mother slaved over to tan for them.