Tanning Hides

Marie_TX(z8 N Houston)November 7, 2002

To those of you who tan hides, what method do you use? Do any of you use non-chemical means?

-- Narie

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composts(Z6 SW-Ohio)

Brain tanning and bark tanning are easy methods.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2002 at 11:01AM
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There's a good book out there that gives these methods in detail. It's called Tan Your Hide. I don't remember the author and don't know if it's out of print or not, but if so, I just saw a copy on eBay the other day. Look over there and then do a websearch and I'll bet you'll find it!

I don't know if I'd call ANY method of tanning "easy" (*grin!*), but if wearing gloves and a respirator while you work and being extra careful to keep from being poisoned isn't your bag (like it sure isn't mine), then these two methods ARE easy! :)

    Bookmark   November 21, 2002 at 1:29PM
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weebus(Z8 Sunset 5 WA)

When I used to get my hide tanned, my parents used the "Go pick out your switch" method.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2002 at 7:38PM
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modjadje(Willamette Valley Zone 8)

Weebus, that's FUNNY! My mom tanned several angora goat hides long, long ago. I remember that at some stage she rubbed the pulp from some green succulent-type plant on it ... sorry don't remember any specifics, I was too small.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2002 at 8:44PM
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Marie, I used to tan deer hides by using 1 lb. of salt, 1lb of alum in about 5 or 10 gallons of water. The hide came out very white and,after rinsing in several changes of clean water, it dried very hard. The work really started trying to soften it up. I just worked it back and forth over a board until it got soft. The city(small town) where I live used to use alum in great quantities in their water purification plant. A friend of mine worked there and I could get all of it I wanted. However, they have now switched to liquid alum and it doesn't seem to work as well. I wish I knew where to get the old granulated form.
By the way, I used to live down there ( Houston ) really liked it, but that's been a long, long time ago.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2003 at 9:09AM
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Jwj__(Rocky MT 5)

Hide tanniing simple ,, not,,, if you figure in the proper amount of work,, I do alot of hides, and my kids do them as well but we never use the chemical methods, we use the traditionals,,
Bark tanning is a pain, you have to track down the materials with the proper amounts of tannins,, and more then likely you will end up with a spoiled hide if you have no experience,,as well as the leather is not always an even color tone, even if smoked to get a nice brown or tan color,
brain tanning done properly produces an extremely soft leather that is a very nice leather to sew and bead on, it wears very well,if one has never felt a properly brain tanned hide it is similar to chamois except thicker, and appears to look slightly sueded on both sides,, these come out white or off white , then are smoked to get the colored hides,, differnt types of woods produce differnt color tones,,from a light buckskin color to a dark almost black color ,another thing about brain tanning is the fact that each animals brain is conviently the proper size to tan their hides,this also keeps one from wasting when they have deer,LOL,, unless ya like brain, ick,,, in the case of very large animals like moose and bison,,however it may take several brains,pig brains are generally an acceptable substitute for any animals and can be gotten from local butchers if you ask,,
A great none chemical substitute for blendered brains would be powdered eggs,, these come out very comparable to the brain tanned hides if you put the work into the scraping and stretching which is so very important to get those nice lofty soft hides,,
another method which gets a little out of the natural aspects, is to tan with crud ,, ummmm, fels naptha soap , it will produce an acceptable tanned leather ,I know others who have substituted Murphys oil soap as well and had great results,, both of these methods may require a small amount of neets foot oil added as well,,
the real key to getting the nice hides comes in the work , stitching up even the smallest holes after you are done scrapping,, and then once you think your done stretching and rubbing going back and doing it again,, it is hard work, and not very nice if you have carpal tunnel,, LOL,, but well worth it,, the same may be said for properly tanning rawhide,, a really nicely done rawhide is a beautiflu white tone and can be made almost trasparent,
In our culture we do not use the salts, to preserve hides prefering to freeze them,, the only chemical I use at all is lye or lime whichever I have to help the hair to slip, traditionally we used to tie the hides into the creek and let the water soak it to the hair slipping point however that has more smell ,not to mention slower,, or make lye by using ashes , I just find that doing it with ashes it is hard to predict the stregnth of the lye,, so it is easier to buy lye that one would use for making soaps

    Bookmark   January 9, 2003 at 12:02PM
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here is a good site for tanning hides I have gotten a lot of good info off of it.

Here is a link that might be useful: braintan.com

    Bookmark   March 29, 2003 at 7:15AM
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We offer a soft tan, beautiful tan skin, done the natural way.

Here is a link that might be useful: north texas tannery

    Bookmark   November 17, 2005 at 9:08PM
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hotzcatz(Hamakua, Hawaii)

Aloha Marie,

The brain tanning method works, although it is a bit messy, at least when I tried it it was. Had I picked a better hide to tan than a mongoose, the results probably would have been better, too. Oh well, mongoose was what I had. I think there is enough hide there to make a hatband and it isn't nearly as soft as I would have thought it would be, but then, I think it was the type of animal tanned and not the methods.

A hui hou,

    Bookmark   December 6, 2005 at 3:06AM
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Hi folks...I have a ladder-back chair that belonged to my great-aunt, made by her father around 1890. It has the original cow hide seat in it, but it's split & needs to be replaced. I am looking for a replacement fur seat from red & white cow hide or deer hide with the fur. If anyone has a peice big enough for this standard size chair, please e-mail me your phone number & I will call you to talk price & shipping details....e-mail me @ : confederateblueboy@yahoo.com Thanks Robert Spires
Broxton, Ga.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2006 at 10:56PM
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I tan hides non chemically. There are a number of methods I do, but mostly I ash tan for making our water drums for peyote meetings.
however, I have taken the brain from the animal and smeared it on the hide, place in a plastic bag over night or so. It becomes warm...the hair falls off...rinse hide. then I soak it in hot water, not scalding hot, three times...it takes time for the hide to warm up...then between the flesh and the hide it bubbles up. Then you can put your hand between and work off the flesh side. (or you can strech, and flesh it with a tool, but I don't like the marks it makes.) Then I would take a post set in the ground with the top roughed up...cut some groves in it... dry the hide but not completely dry, Work the hide until broken up. It will be white buck skin...However, if you get it wet again, it will harden or stiffen up.
I also ash tan hides. I make a ash paste and work into hair side, then I sink into a thinner ash mixture...I will then soak this any where from 7-14 days...check often to see if the hair is falling off...I will streach this and scrape off the dark out side layer...I will soak and pull off flesh side like brain tanning way...bubbles..etc.
this makes a raw hide for making drums...one can tie raw hide drums
or can smoke lightly...making it like buck skin almost...this is to tie the water drum...for peyote meetings...
I have bark tanned...this works pretty much the same way...soak bark until you make black water... soak hide in this mixture same as ash way only check often. hair falls off and work off flesh side same way.
The ash tanning way is the way my grandmother did for peyote meeting drums...so is our traditional way.
There is also the black water one finds in the hallow of a tree method...this water can be saved to tan a hide like bark tanning...My uncle told me about this, I plan on trying this some time.
I did 28 hides last year and have 50 or so hides given to me this year. Most of which I will ash tan and make raw hide drums.
I am five foot tall and weigh only about 130 pounds soaking wet. I am a woman. I take the easy way. I do not scrape or use fleshing tools.
I am an Indian. (Native American Indian)

    Bookmark   March 20, 2006 at 7:16PM
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the book deerskins to buckskins is great there are alos several gatherings around the US where folks gather and teach and learn traditional skills including tanning hides, and many other things from hunting to weavingand many of the workshops are based on traditional ways especially of the tribes from their area. one that i enjoy is the earthskills rendevous in georgia, they have a website

    Bookmark   December 11, 2006 at 10:27PM
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you can get granulated alum like okie71 mentioned above at this site:


They sell it bulk and they also have a tanning kit that comes with tanning oil that makes the alum tan soft.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2007 at 5:16PM
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yes, I am directing this mainly at Angelann, but any response is welcome.
I also build drums for ceremonial purposes, though I am an african (specifically ethiopian of the tribe of Judah) living in america INI are known as the "Nyahbinghi".

although INI have retained many of our cultural traits, (in spite of slavery), in INI family tanning is not one of them. So I can apprecilove the maintainance of your traditions and knowledge as it is vital more today then ever, raspect!

I have been building drums for years but never tanned the skin, until recently once (did'nt go well).
where I live now, is culturally isolated, and as tradition demands specific requirements for INI drum skin it has been very difficult to get what I need, that is male goat/or sheep skin(buck or ram) 3 or 7 years old.
I have been raising both goat and sheep, but I need to know what is the best method to tan the hides for drum skin, it must be very tight for high tones.

usually the skins are very hard and stiff when I recieve them, and still have the fur on it. I soak them, then put them on, and shave them when there tight, I wouldnt mind pre-removing the hair, but am worried the skin texture or thickness might be comprimised? what method would you recommend to achieve what I'm looking for?
I give thanks for your response,
Blessed Love,
Ras Lion

    Bookmark   April 23, 2007 at 6:33PM
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pablo_nh(z4/5 NH)

Scrape all fat off the hide, then soak in a concentrated hardwood ash slurry/solution. After the hair starts to slip easily, rinse it off and scrape the hair off- or use a power washer. I know a guy that then brings them to the car wash and hits them with their power washer, but I'm sure they don't appreciate the mess :)

I can't give good specifics for the skins you mention- best to find a good book on the subject, or consult www.braintan.com

    Bookmark   April 24, 2007 at 9:27AM
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I don't know if this question falls under this topic, but I was wondering if some one call help me out with this one anyways.

We currently tan hides in India and I am currently looking for Raw Hide sellers in Texas or Mexico. Any hints, ideas, or any direction I can be pointed to would be appreciated. Thank you very much!

    Bookmark   May 31, 2010 at 5:10PM
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I want to know an, easier way to soft tan hides with hair on, i know that there wont be a super easy method, but i would like to do something that doesnt use battery acid like ive found before. i dont really feel comfortabel using that seeing as im clumsy... if you could help me it would be greatly aprriciated :)

    Bookmark   December 15, 2010 at 1:51PM
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Can you purchase hide that is tanned with the hair on. I need to replace a cracked hide seat on a VERY old baby straight chair that was my dads. Would like to keep it as authentic as possible. If that is not an option, can anybody tell me a way to tan the hide without removing the hair?

    Bookmark   November 11, 2012 at 7:30PM
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So I tanned my first deer hide using the salt&alum method. I wanted to make a loincloth. Heres the problem.... most of the hide tanned and came out very soft and flexible almost like Cloth, but some other parts came out and are now as stiff as sheet metal. I did cut the skin down into smaller pieces before processing. The larger ones are the stiff ones. Probably didnt work em enough. Anyway is there a way to soften them of is it a lost cause? If it cant be softened, can it be given to the dogs? I used neatsfoot oil btw. I like tanning, great experience and will do again.....but I need some input..

    Bookmark   December 26, 2013 at 10:56PM
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