In this post, I will show you how to tan a rabbit hide. Actually, you can use this method to tan any small animal hide. I’ve done this with a raccoon before and you can do the same thing with a beaver or any other small animal. This is fur-on tanning, which means we are leaving the fur on the hide. Let’s do this!
I have ruined eight rabbit hides in the past year. Do you know that emoji with the girl slapping herself on the forehead? That’s what I would have inserted here if I could.
I’ve asked forgiveness from all those eight rabbits and I hope they forgave me for ruining their hides but hey, this is how you learn. So I’m happy to report that the ninth hide was a success and I would like to share this success with you!
My journey in tanning started with deer hides (read: How to Tan Deer Hide) It took me a few hides to feel comfortable with brain tanning and making buckskin. All of my deer hide tanning included taking the hair off the hide and naturally I was also curious to learn how to do this with the fur on.
My friend raises rabbits for meat so I asked her to give me the hides after they butchered their rabbits. I tried a few different ways but really was looking for a simple way to tan a hide fur-on without needing to look for products like alum and such (tanning rabbit hides with salt and alum and borax are some common ways you’ll come across if you search online for tanning tutorials).
How to Tan a Rabbit Hide…
Before we start going through the steps, let me just say that this is how I do this, it’s not the only way to do it. They say that if you ask a dozen hide tanners how to tan a hide you will get a dozen different answers. This is true, I think.
Hide tanning is an art, and in art, there is no wrong way and there is no one way. If it works it works, that’s all there is to it. I’ve tried a few ways of tanning in the past and I’ll keep trying and experimenting with different ways, but for now, this process of tanning that I am about to share with you works well for me.
Ok, let’s get to it…
Skinning the Rabbit…
First, we had to get the hide off the animal. I will go into how to do this in more details when I write about how to butcher a rabbit and I’ll be sure to come back to this post to link the butchering post, but for now, just know that it’s fairly easy to skin a rabbit and it’s kinda the same as you do with a deer (you can see how we did that in this post: How to Butcher a Deer on the Homestead).
Hang your animal from its back legs, cut the skin right under the back legs joint and then continue in a V shape towards the center of the tummy, between the two hind legs. From there you move in a straight line down the stomach until you get to the neck. Cut the head off and you are left with the hide.
Rinsing the Hide…
The next thing we want to do is the rinse the hide. I don’t use soap or anything else, just cold water.
Fleshing the Hide…
Fleshing is removing all the flesh and fat from the skin.
I use this fleshing knife that I bought from Amazon. It has a very dull edge, not sharp at all. You can also use a piece of dull metal or a spoon or a butter knife.
Whatever you use, our objective here is to gently scrape the flesh off of the skin.
I place the hide on my beam which I made from a 4′ PVC pipe and a couple of cedar logs…
I wear this apron and hold the top of the hide to the beam with my body, then gently scrape the flesh away from me. This is so much easier with a deer hide! It’s a hundred times tougher so you can just go at it, but rabbit skin is so thin. In some areas, it’s as thin as paper. You have to do this gently or you’ll rip the hide.
If you do make holes in the hide it’s not a huge deal because we can always sew them later. But do go gently here and take your time.
Here is another look. You can see the clean skin on the top and the skin that still has flesh on it on the bottom. You just keep pushing the flesh off gently.
I had to get rid of the hide that was around the front legs. I just cut it off which, of course, left me with two holes. Since they are close to the edge of the hide you can either trim around them or sew them. I just left them to sew later.
Ok, here is the clean hide after the fleshing. You can see that I did rip it in a couple of places…
Rinsing the Hide…
After fleshing is done, it’s time to rinse again. This time in order to get rid of some of the fat, I put the hide in a bucket and used a tiny drop of dish soap and cold water.
After you’re done rinsing it make sure to try and squeeze it and twist it as good as you can to remove as much water as possible.
Drying the Hide…
We are going to slightly dry the hide. The emphasis here is on SLIGHTLY, we want it just a tiny bit damp.
I place the hide skin down on a piece of clean plywood and use a hair dryer and a brush to dry the fur. This takes some time… We don’t need it completely dry, it’s going to go through another washing but we also don’t want the hide completely wet.
Of course, you don’t have to use a hairdryer. If it’s a nice day outside you can simply leave it in the sun and check on it once in a while. Make sure your dog can’t reach the hide and be mindful of flies, we don’t want them to come to lay eggs all over the hide.
To dry the hair on the edges I folded the fur on itself and worked the other side.
This is the fur about 70% dry…
Now, flip the hide on the board so the fur is to the board and dry the skin just a bit. Again, we want it damp, not too dry but not too wet.
Pinning the Hide to the Board…
You can use whatever nails you have, they don’t have to be long nails like I used, It’s just what I had. Use your hammer and nails to pin the hide to the board to keep it stretched.
You don’t really need to stretch it, we just don’t want it to move.
Keep the nails at the edge of the hide and don’t worry about the tiny holes that they make, they are barely noticeable.
Braining the Hide…
Ok, now let’s talk about the braining process.
Traditionally, you would use the brain of the animal to tan its hide. It is said that every animal has a brain big enough to tan its own hide (except a buffalo, I think).
If you want to use the brain you can remove it from the animal’s head as I show you how to do with deer in my post How to Extract Deer Brain for Hide Tanning. I think that it works pretty much the same with all animals.
However, it’s really hard to do with small animals!
It’s a tiny little brain and it’s so hard to get it out of the small skull. I tried, just for the sake of experimenting and even though I got the brain out I found that it was really hard to dissolve it in water as you should do before spreading the solution on the hide.
So you have a couple of options here…
- To use the animal’s brain, mix it with some water and use that solution for tanning the hide.
- Use a brain from another animal. If you have a deer brain in the freezer or if you can get pig or cow’s brain from the local butcher you can use that brain. Again, just dissolve it in a little bit of water and use the solution on the hide. If you want to see how to make the solution and for a recipe check out my How to Tan Deer Hide post.
- Use an egg yolk instead of the brain. That is what I ended up doing with this hide…
All you need is one egg yolk, it has a lot of fat in it and will help us soften the skin. Beat your yolk…
And use a kitchen brush to brush the damp skin…
Make sure to cover every area of the skin with a good amount of egg yolk (one egg yolk should be enough for one rabbit hide).
Try not to brush the fur with the egg yolk but if you do it’s no big deal.
Now, cover your hide with a damp towel. My towels were almost completely dry but I had the hide indoors in a not-so-warm area of the house so I knew it wouldn’t dry.
Leave it like that for the night and make sure the hide does not dry. So if you leave it in a warm place keep your towel a bit damp to keep the moisture.
If you leave the hide outside or in a shed, make sure to cover it well so flies don’t lay eggs on it.
Ok, so our hide is going to stay like this overnight (I actually left mine for more than that cause I had something I had to do the morning after so I didn’t get back to it until lunchtime the day after).
Next, let’s wash the egg yolk from the hide. Again, I only used water here, no soap.
Squeeze the hide well to remove the excess water. Try to remove as much water as you can by squeezing it and twisting it.
Drying and Softening the Hide…
We are almost done. Now the softening part is the hardest with a deer hide because the skin is so thick but the easiest part to do with a rabbit hide because the skin is so thin. You actually need to be gentle here since you can easily rip the skin if you pull too hard.
Alternate between drying and stretching and pulling the skin. I used the hairdryer a little bit at the beginning to get to a point where the hide is damp, then pulled and stretched a little bit.
Then I let it sit on the board to dry in the air a little bit more, then we soften again for a few more minutes.
We pull here, we pull there, we stretch it this way and that way. The point is to do this while the skin is drying. If you let it sit and dry too much it will just dry hard and we don’t want that.
As the skin dries and you pull it to open it up and soften it, you’ll notice that it changes color a little bit and everywhere that you soften and is getting close to being completely dry becomes whitish. This is how you know that you are doing a good job of softening when you see the change in color.
Some people do this for a couple of hours in front of the TV at night, I preferred doing it over a period of three days. I messed with the hide for a few minutes, then folded it in half skin to skin and again fur to fur and placed it in a plastic bag. This way I made sure it didn’t dry on me too quickly.
I went back to it after a few hours for another 15 minutes of stretching and softening and then folded it and put it in the bag again and so on and so on until it was completely dry. This just worked better for me but you can definitely just take a couple of hours to do this in front of the TV.
I do need to warn you that some hair does come off and can make quite the mess. So wear clothes that you don’t mind getting rabbit fur on and prepare to clean your house from rabbit hair if you do this indoors.
As the hide is drying, this is also your time to sew any holes if you want to. I’ve heard of people just using a regular needle and thread here because the skin of a rabbit is so thin, but if you want you can use leather sewing equipment.
Here is the skin completely dry. I think that I could have done a better job on the softening but it’s not bad.
Smoking the Hide…
The last step in the hide tanning process is to smoke the hide. If you don’t smoke and leave it at this stage, every time it touches water it will go back to being raw hide. The smoke preserves the skin, closes it, and makes it waterproof.
I haven’t smoked my hide yet. I am in the process of building a smoker so it’s easier for me to smoke hides (and other things). You can see the smoking process in the deer hide tanning post that I linked to above but since rabbit hide is smaller and thinner you should only smoke it for around 30 minutes.
Depending on the size of your rabbit this can be a nice size hide. I’ll probably need more than one to make anything and I’m still thinking about what I’ll be using this hide for.
Another option is to use it as part of a project. For example, I was thinking about sewing a purse from my deerskin and adding pieces of rabbit fur here and there. I’m not sure… If you have ideas on how to use it please comment below.
The fur is super soft! I also like that there are so many colors of rabbits that you can have many hides in different patterns and colors.
Aside from hair flying all over the place, this was a very fun project! It’s so much easier than other hides I’ve done in the past because the skin is so thin.
You can use this process above to tan any hide fur-on. It’s a basic process that, I think, works pretty well. I’ve done this same process with a raccoon before and I believe you can do the same with a beaver.
Please let me know what you are thinking in the comments below. Is this something you’ve thought about doing? Do you raise rabbits for meat? Have you ever tanned a rabbit hide? Did you do it the same way as I do it?
I’d love to hear your thoughts!