I never intended to tan sheep pelts into beautiful sheepskins in my bathtub… I started off like most sheep owners. After sending my lambs to the butcher to be processed and wrapped, I wanted to send the pelts (of my bloody, dirty, and generally icky Icelandic Sheep carcasses) to a tannery and magically get back perfect, soft, clean and beautiful sheepskins.
However, when I picked up my freshly skinned pelts from the butcher, there clearly was a problem. All seven of my pelts had gaping holes in them! Nooo! You can imagine my horror and frustration.
I took the pelts home and set them up in my garage, salted them, and then began calculating. I quickly concluded that the cost of shipping the salted skins to a tannery would exceed the value of the finished sheepskin. What was I going to do?
I put on my big girl pants and tanned those thangs myself…at home… in my bathtub!
Want to know EXACTLY how I did it? Read on or JOIN the at home Sheepskin Tanning video course HERE.
At Home Sheepskin Tanning
Do you have a pelt that has been salted and is now completely dry (cured)? And, have you thought about maybe tanning it yourself, instead of sending it out to a tannery? If your answer to both questions is an enthusiastic, YES, then you are ready for the first step.
And hey! I’ve put together a comprehensive video course to walk you through tanning your own sheepskin pelt at home! It includes videos for each of the 7 steps on sheepskin tanning, as well as a TON of bonus materials and downloads. Learn more HERE.
What You’ll Need
- Cured Sheep Pelt
- Utensil, such as a wooden spoon
- Baking Soda
- Unicorn Power Scour
- Dawn dish soap
- Fleshing Tool (I use this Fleshing Tool by Trap Shack)
- Fleshing Beam (aka edge of my bathtub)
- Deer Hunter’s & Trapper’s Hide & Fur Tanning Formula
- Nitrile Gloves
- Large Bath Towel
Step 1: Bathtub, Meet Sheep Pelt
Knock off all of the loose salt and your bathtub is ready to meet your pelt! Now, you don’t HAVE to use your bathtub to begin the process of tanning your sheep pelt. You can use any suitable container that holds water, as long as you are able to get the water comfortably warm.
Get the brine solution ready by making a concentrated brine solution of fine salt and baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) in a relatively small (kettle-sized) amount of very hot water. Use 2 pounds (1 quart) of salt and 1 pound (1/2 quart) of baking soda. Mix with a utensil of some sort until respectably dissolved.
Put the entirety of the concentrated brine solution, into the tub or other water container of your choosing. For the bathtub, fill it about 1/4 of the way with warm water. Mix well.
Throw your pelt into the brine in your bathtub, flesh-side down. Use your mixing utensil to submerge the pelt so that the fleece gets soaked through. The heavy, wet fleece should be enough to hold the pelt underwater. You may add more water at this point if the pelt is not completely submerged.
The pelt will need to soak for 3 to 6 hours. Stir the pelt occasionally, and make sure that it is fully submerged each time.
After 3 hours or so, the pelt should be completely rehydrated and soft. A good way to check this is to feel the legs. If they are still stiff, the pelt needs to soak longer.
When your pelt is soft, you’ve made it to Step 2!
Step 2: Rinse, Wash, Rinse, Wash, Rinse
Drain the brine water from your bathtub. Rinse the soft, yet dirty (very dirty) pelt in clean, warm water.
Next, wash the fleece (the fiber-side of the pelt) with Unicorn Power Scour. Unicorn brand is great because it is pH balanced. But, feel free to use Dawn dish soap. I have many-a-time, with no adverse effects. Rinse.
Then wash and rinse the fleece again! And maybe again, if you have a very dirt pelt. The result you are going for is pretty clean, but not perfect.
Done? Now, you’re ready to flesh!
Step 3: Fleshing Is Fun
Get your fleshing tool! It can be a fleshing knife, kitchen knife or, my favorite – the Fleshing Tool by Trap Shack. For my fleshing beam, I use the rim of my bathtub, skin-side up. I find that the shape of my bathtub edge it perfect for fleshing. Alternatively, you can make a fleshing beam from a 6” PVC pipe if you want to work in an upright position (blueprints coming soon!).
Fleshing is a skill, somewhat of an art, and definitely a labor of love.
Scrape as much of the flesh, fat, and membrane from the skin as possible. Put some muscle into it, unless you are using a sharp knife to flesh, then be very careful. You don’t want to puncture the skin, or scrape too far down into the hair follicles.
Practice makes perfect. Be patient and take your time. This is the hardest part, but you’ll feel great when it’s over and you have a pretty pelt to show for it.
Step 4: Degrease & Final Wash
Once you get the pelt nicely fleshed, wash the flesh-side of the skin using Dawn dish soap. Dawn is a great degreaser and you’ll want to make sure there isn’t any oil on the skin. This makes the tanning formula absorb well.
Wash the fleece again with Unicorn Power Scour.
Rinse the entire pelt in warm water two or three times, until the water is clear.
Before you can proceed to Step 5, the pelt needs to be somewhat dry. Meaning, the pelt is soft and moist, yet not dripping wet or dry and hard. You can achieve this result by hanging the pelt over a sawhorse for a few hours and letting it drip-dry. I prefer to expedite the process by throwing the pelt into my clothes washing machine for the spin cycle only. Just the spin cycle!
Step 5: Sunburn-free Zone – Tanning
Is the pelt the perfect amount of dry? Now, you’re ready to apply the tanning solution! Finally, right?!
Warm the bottle of Deer Hunter’s & Trapper’s Hide & Fur Tanning Formula in a pot of hot water.
Lay your pelt out on a flat surface, skin-side up.
Once the tanning formula is warm, shake the bottle well (with the cap securely closed, duh), and put on a Nitrile Glove. Apply an even layer of tanning formula to the flesh side of the pelt, rubbing firmly into all areas of the flesh. Use about 4oz for a large sheep pelt.
Fold the pelt in half, skin to skin, and lay it on a large towel. Leave it folded for 12 to 16 hours. I usually time mine so that it tans overnight. In the morning, open the pelt skin-side up and let it dry slowly over the next 2 to 3 days on the towel.
Step 6: Stretch It Out
Now is a good time to stand up, stretch, and take some deep, relaxing breaths!
Stretch the pelt periodically with Nitrile Gloves on, starting 8 to 12 hours after you initially opened up the pelt after the first night.
The second night, fold the pelt in half, skin to skin. This will slow the drying of the pelt and allow you to sleep, not worrying about the pelt getting too dry and stiff while you’re busy counting sheep 😉
On day three, you will really need to be on top of your stretching, as the pelt should be almost dry.
I stretch over the end of a 2” x 6” piece of wood (that also happens to be a very narrow bench in my case). Get creative, many normal-looking things around the house can double as an implement of stretching. Think, bed post, top of a chair, handrail of a staircase, etc.
Need some extra pointers on how to stretch a sheepskin? I made a video just for you! Get it HERE.
You now have a sheepskin! Hooray!
Step 7: Finishing
I use most of the pelts that I tan to make home decor items, such as pillows or upholstered benches. This means that nobody is ever going to see the flesh-side of the sheepskin. So, I don’t need to worry about the color or texture of the skin. I sew or patch any holes and get on with my crafting.
If you’re going to enjoy your beautifully home-tanned sheepskin as-is, you may use sandpaper to even out the texture and color of the flesh-side of the sheepskin.
You will also definitely want to trim around the edge of the sheepskin with sharp, pointed scissors. Be careful not to cut the fleece as you trim.
Are you ready to join the At Home Sheepskin Tanning COURSE? Seven videos, PDF downloads, lifetime access and lots of bonus materials. Instant access available now…