How to Make Fish Leather

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You can make leather from fish skins. Learn how to apply the ancient art of tanning to fish skins to create a supple, soft, breathable and strong leather with beautiful patterns, unlike any other in the world.

Things You'll Need

  • Fish skins
  • Fleshing knife
  • Saline solution
  • Pickling brine
  • Australian Gum Tree bark or synthetic tannins and dyes
  • Collect fish skins. If you don't have access to fish skin, find someone who does. For example, the fish counter at your supermarket. If they cut their own fillets, might be throwing their fish skins away. You can freeze fish skins, so if you're not ready to use them right away, just stick them in the freezer for later.

  • Scrape the excess flesh from the skin using a fleshing knife.

  • Soak the skins for several days in a saline solution.

  • Remove the scales. This could very well be the hardest part. Professional fish leather manufacturers use a secret chemical agent to make the skin release the scales; everyone else just has to pick them off. It might take a little longer, but it works.

  • Detox the skin. This basically means that the skins get a very thorough washing to remove any oils or biological matter. Scrub gently.

  • Soak fish skins in a pickling brine for up to two years. This preserves the skin without refrigeration so that they may be made into leather at a later date.

  • Crush the bark from an Australian Gum Tree to make an organic, nontoxic tanning solution. Or, you can use a synthetic tanning solution. Be sure to work the leather for a long time, pressing the solution into every pore and pulling at the leather to ensure it has the proper qualities. If you're using a synthetic solution, follow the manufacturer's instructions for this part of the process.

  • Dry the leather by pressing it between absorbent cloths, in the same way you'd press a flower. Otherwise pin each edge down to a board. Fish leather can also be dried by ironing.

  • Glaze your fish skin if you want it waterproof and durable. Using waxes, resins and/or polymers, you can make your fish leather functional.

Tips & Warnings

  • When your leather is done, you can buff it for a smoother finish.
  • If you're using leather-making products, always follow the safety instructions from the manufacturer.

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