Tanning rabbit pelts doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, it is an easy way to dip your toes in the water of preserving hides, without the physical labour or hours that larger hides require. Rabbit pelts are also easy to come by, making it great practice versus the investment of a deer or moose hide, which are not as easily found. All you need is a rabbit pelt, coarse salt and an egg!
Preparing The Rabbit Pelt
Immediately after skinning the rabbit, dunk the pelt into cold water to bring down the temperature and keep blood from staining the fur. The pelt can sit in the cold water while you finish processing the rabbit meat. Just don’t leave it in the water for too long – this can cause the fur to fall out later in the process, which is super disappointing!
You can start the tanning process right away, or else tuck the pelts into the freezer to deal with at a later date.
Salting The Pelt
Lay out the pelt on a flat surface (preferably something you can move around, like an old board) fur side down. Cover the entire working surface of the pelt with coarse salt (any salt will work, as long as it does not have any additives in it).
Check the pelt occasionally and add more salt if necessary. After 48 hours, proceed to the next step.
Flesh The Pelt
Remove all the salt from the pelt by shaking and scraping it off. You can reuse the salt for more pelts in the future, so scrape it off into a container. Be sure to label it, as you won’t want to use it for other purposes.
Now you can remove any flesh or fat. It seems to peel off easiest when starting from the rear of the pelt. It will come off in big chunks or smaller pieces – just be careful to not pull too hard during this process, as rabbit pelts are fragile and tear easily. Remove all the bits of fat and flesh, as this will harden later in the process if left behind.
Finally, give the pelt a quick rinse in water to ensure all the salt is removed.
Yolk The Pelt
Whisk up one egg yolk per pelt. Rub it all over the working side of the pelt, trying to avoid touching the fur. Cover with a wet tea towel and leave for 24 to 36 hours. The towel might need to be dampened several times over the time period.
Wash The Pelt
Once the pelt has sat with yolk on it for 24 to 36 hours (you will want to do this step before the yolk completely hardens on), wash the egg yolk from the pelts. Use a gentle shampoo to do this. Be careful to rinse all the shampoo out until no suds are left behind.
Squeeze, don’t wring, the pelt to remove as much liquid as possible. Lay flat to prepare for the breaking process.
Breaking The Pelt
Now it’s time to soften the rabbit pelt. Every few hours (leave it in a cool room overnight and it will be okay, just don’t leave it anywhere near a woodstove – it will dry too fast) work the pelt by gently pulling, stretching and rolling the pelt. Rabbit pelts are susceptible to tearing, so exercise caution when pulling, particularly near the edges.
The fibres in the hide will turn white where they have been broken properly. Continue the process until you have a nice, supple pelt. If desired, you can work some mink oil into the working side of the pelt, avoiding the fur.