How to Preserve Rattlesnake Skin

Rattlesnake skins make great handmade craft items — including hat bands, boots, belts, and knife sheaths — in the hands of a skilled artisan. You can play with the skins yourself, or you might sell or gift them to a handy crafter or artist.

If you are not going to “work” the skin immediately, roll it up, wrap, and refrigerate. If you expect more than a couple days before you get to the job, wrap and freeze your valuable possession in double layers of freezer paper to reduce the potential for “freezer burn.”

DO NOT SALT THE SKIN! While appropriate for preservation of many skins in the animal kingdom, snake skins are destroyed by this additive.

Step 1) Staple the skin, with a small staple gun, or large stapler, SCALE SIDE DOWN (flesh side up), flat onto a board, pulling the skin taut, but without stretching. Make sure to keep the snake’s original centerline straight!

Step 2) Fleshing the snakeskin – a tedious, time-consuming process. Use a knife, spoon, or even a putty knife, working gently from the head end, down toward the tail, to minimize stretching and scale damage. When the fleshy side ‘turns white’ due to lack of fleshy coverings, you are essentially done!

Step 3) Tanning the skin – easy if you order an appropriate tanning product from a supplier, and follow the instructions. Or, a simple and effective home alternative is the use of ethylene glycol – plain old car antifreeze!

  • Using a clean paint brush, spread a very thin – but complete – coat of antifreeze on the fleshed, exposed side of the skin, making sure to cover ALL exposed edges where the skin was cut. Allow to air dry in a shady, cool area. Repeat four to five (4-5) times, making sure the skin is COMPLETELY dry before applying the next coat.

(CAUTION: Cats and dogs are attracted to the smell and taste of antifreeze, which is fatal to them if consumed. Be sure to prevent your pets from reaching the work site or obtaining access to the skin. And clean up the work area IMMEDIATELY after working the rattlesnake skin.)

Step 4) Done! Remove staples CAREFULLY, using a needle-nose pliers, or other round-tipped tool! Skin will be very stiff. For a great wall decoration, apply to a board, with a felt background.

Step 5) Softening the Skin! Before converting your rattlesnake into a hatband, belt, or other piece of finery (including shipping to a boot-maker for your very own custom foot-ware), you will need to make it pliable:

  • If you live near the woods, find a smooth, debarked, small-diameter log. Otherwise, buy a round post or other pole-shaped object at least 3” in diameter, with a smooth surface.  Grasp the skin, scaly side UP, and treated-side DOWN (against the object surface), with both hands. GENTLY force the skin to adapt to the shape around the log or pole. Push gently against the rounded object, while slowly pulling sideways, back and forth against the surface.  Begin an easy buffing motion much like shining your shoes, and gently work out the kinks.  To get the ends of the skin soft, you may need to roll them over dowelling, with the skin inside the fingers of your hand. The dowel from a wooden towel rack, for example, works well to help make the skin edges soft and pliable.