Fleshing - The Why, What and How.


The underside of the animal skin is known as the flesh side - or more commonly, the pelt or leather side. It's this side of the pelt that needs to be fleshed during the tanning process. The Pizzari Home Tanning Kits Instruction Leaflets will inform the user of when fleshing needs to occur during the tanning process.

It has been said that fleshing a hide is the most difficult part of the tanning process. It requires care and attention to detail as it is very easy for a a blade to cut through the hide or hair roots.

If the pelt is still white when fleshing, then you need to flesh more. If the pelt changes to a blueish or silver grey colour then you have fleshed the perfect amount off the pelt. However, if you notice dots, you have cut through to the hair roots which will result in the hair falling out - you have fleshed too far.

At Pizzari's Home Tanning Kits, we sell 8" Single Blade Fleshing Knives. You'll note that the knives are not sharpened when sent out to our customers. We do not sharpen our fleshing knives for the simple fact that every hunter or taxidermist flesh a range of different hides that are of different thicknesses. For example, the sharpness of a blade needs to be considerably dull to flesh a rabbit hide compared to the sharpness of a blade when fleshing a Sambar hide.

Do I need to Flesh the Skin?

The simple answer is yes. The skin needs to be fleshed and the reason for this is that the finer the pelt the better the result. Once a hunter or taxidermist has fleshed a hide, the hide goes back in to the tan bath. This is where the most important process takes place. The tanning agents now penetrate the skin in the preservation process. If the hide has not been fleshed, the tanning agent will not penetrate and you may as well have soaked the skin in a bucket of water.

However, with the above said, be aware that shaving too deep can damage the hide as you can easily cut through the hair roots. See the below example of a hide that has been cut too close.

Tools For Fleshing

For ease during the fleshing process, you should use a fleshing beam/board. The beam has rounded corners and edges and is typically about 6 inches in diameter and about 6 feet long. If you prefer not to go out and spend money purchasing one, you can make your own. I've seen some done with plywood, PVC pipe etc. There are plenty of internet sites that can give you some good tips and advice on DIY fleshing beams.

Note: which ever material you use to make your own beam, you need to make certain that the surface of the beam is very smooth. Any hint of a ridge, wood knot or raised edge runs the risk of you slicing/cutting your hide with your fleshing knife.

Secondly, a good fleshing knife is an important part of the process. The fleshing knife is used to cut away all the flesh (fat and muscle).

At Pizzari's Home Tanning Kits, you can purchase your very own fleshing knife. These knives have been imported from the US. They are a single edged, single blade, double handled knife and the blade is 8 inches long.

The fleshing knife blade must be sharp enough to suit the type of skin you doing. Sharpness can range from - dull enough to run your fingers over with some pressure and not getting cut to extremly sharp. If anything, err on the side of too dull with your fleshing knife which will work just fine but will require a bit more energy.

Other than the above, you need some good elbow grease, time, patience and attention to detail to get the best results from fleshing.

It's Time to Flesh, What Do I Do Now?

Below is a short demonstration on good fleshing technique. Take a look and have a read of the details below. This video is a good example of the technique you should use when fleshing a hide.

Set one end of the log on the ground, the other end on a cross-brace about waist high. Lay the hide on the beam (hair side down) with the head hanging down one side, the tail down the other so that as you shave down the beam, your shaving the hide from one side to the other side, not head to tail. If you have a beam similar to the one shown in the video, you can lean against the beam and it will hold the hide in place. Run the concave edge of the knife down the skin shaving off the excess flesh, fat and mussel. Keep in mind that the purpose is to eventually thin it down using even and slow cuts. Don't cut too deep or you'll cut the hair roots. It's better to take your time and leave just a little too much on rather than going too deep and cutting the hair roots.

Be very careful around the eyes, lips, ears and nose of a hide. You may want to use a scalpel around these areas of the skin.