Tip of the Week: Field Expedient Hide Tanning:

Discussion in 'Vintage Topic Archive (Sept - 2009)' started by Jag, Feb 24, 2008.

  1. Jag

    Jag Member

    Sorry for my absence as of late here on the forum. I've had a few college duties to take care of over the past couple of weeks, so I've been busy. Here's my latest tip of the week.

    Ever wonder how one could produce basic tanned animal hides in the wilderness with a minimum of tools and equipment? Well, here's how to do it. Bear in mind that this is a lengthy process that should be used only when there is an expectation of a long-term survival situation. The following instructions were given to me by a self-trained individual with around thirty years of experience--my dad :) . Enjoy, and post your replies!

    Kit for Field Tanning & Drying Animal Hides:

    * One box or small bag of Borax

    * One can/bag/box of iodized salt

    *A good knife

    *Several lengths of parachute cord or other type of rope/cord

    Steps for prepping hides:

    * Flesh out hide after skinning (scrape with knife to remove as much fat, inner membranes/skin, etc., as possible)

    * Build a stretcher to dry hide (a board with nails or wooden stakes shoved into the ground with cord tie-offs for the hide works well); rub Borax paste into the underside of the hide (mix with a small amount of water until it reaches a thick paste-like consistency); let air dry

    * Take a rock with a ragged edge and scrape/rub in all directions to work Borax into hide to kill bacteria and other pathogens & to remove any other bits of flesh left on the hide

    * If desired, for a further drying of the hide rub iodized salt on the hide in the manner described above

    * Repeat the above chemical treatments 3-4 times at a minimum

    * Keep working hide with chemical treatments & scraping to help soften; boil brains, eyes, and/or hoofs of animal (hoofs if applicable to the type of animal that you harvested) in a pot of water and work the finished mix of water & brains into the hide in several layers to soften the hide over time

    * Now, once it is softened, cut and use as clothing patches, rawhide rope, etc; cut as needed

    * A few notes: sun/air drying is best, but smoke/smokehouse drying in winter is possible

    -To make a softer pelt, the secret is to keep rubbing as long as possible

    -It helps if weather conditions are good (i.e., sunny and warm)

    This process is not a quick one; it takes time to cure and soften a hide. This is something that should be done in a survival situation only if time/needs are available for such effort.

    Jag 8)
  2. Good post, thanks.

  3. In my experience and attempts, I have found that the borax and salt is not necessary. Obviously if someone is in a survival situation they dont have borax and are not going to waste salt.

    The key to native american tanning is the brain of the animal. That is all that is needed for a chemical.

    To sterilize the hide, bring it to a hard boil before setting it out on a board or flat hard surface.

    Work in the boiled brain as mentioned above as much as possible.

    I take a different approach when it comes to smoking. I think it is preferred because it waterproofs the hide and is simple to do.

    To obtain the softness, you just have to use good old fashioned muscle to work the hide.
  4. The History Channel had a 1 hour special on brain tanning about 3 months ago. That would be a great video to order, if it didn't cost so damn much. It was a great show.
  5. Jag you are how old??????

    You impress me with your posts!!!!! Great Job bro!!!
  6. Oh, and Jag, if you can come up with a narrative "How To" on the tanning process, with either pics or videos, I'll sticky that one for sure.
  7. Jag

    Jag Member


    Thanks for the compliments, guys!

    Now, if only the world had a few more folks like you guys, the world would become a very decent place indeed...

    Anywho, back on topic. Stryker1, I'm 20 (will be twenty-one in about two weeks). Thanks for the kind words; I don't get them too often. Most people think I'm some sort of oddball or freak because I can recite much of what I write in these posts from memory. Judge me how you will, of course, since it is everyone's right to have their opinion; however, an opinion isn't always a fact...

    PrimalSeal, I will try to come up with a "How To", but it could take awhile. I'd have to actually tan a hide using the methods described here in this thread, and that would have to wait for this year's harvest from hunting season. It could be awhile before I have something, but I'll certainly try.

    Thanks again for the kind feedback! I'll post more as I can. Later all, and enjoy!

    Jag 8)
  8. F751

    F751 Member

    Nice post and I'd like to add a thing or two also. If you want to make leather and remove the hair/fur, soak the entire hide in a container with water and hard wood ash. Turn the hide and stir the solution a few times a day. The ash will make a lye solution and after a day or so you can scrape the fur off very easily with the back of a knife blade. I agree that borax/salt is not absolutely necessary, especially if you're tanning soon after harvest. If you harvest a hide and can't get to tanning for awhile then scrape it and salt it, let it dry. Remove salt and put on fresh salt and roll it up, fur side out. It will keep for a long time if you have it completely dried out. The brains are best for tanning but you can boil acorns and use that water. Tannic acid (tanning!!) from the acorns will do the job. Smoking the finished hide is good for waterproofing. Lot's of ways to it. If you live in a tepee put it near the top by the smoke hole or make a mini tipi out of sticks and wrap the hide around them. A small smokey fire with green wood will do the job. They're finished when you see a slightly greenish color all the way through the hide. Cut a small slit to see progress. Sorry for the long post but it brings back memories. 25-30 years ago I skinned animals and tanned hides using nothing but flint and leg bones and some of the above techniques.
  9. I saw a How Its Made episode where they show the 3 major ways of factory producing it, then showed the old school way with a couple of hippies doing it somewhere. Was prety interesting.
  10. Thorn 242

    Thorn 242 Well-Known Member

    Hey primal?....I have a small book that explains brain tanning and hide smoking as done by the lakota....
  11. SAPPER12F

    SAPPER12F Guest

    For a lot of information on primitive tanning methods (and everything else about primitive survival) look up a series called the Foxfire Books. There are twelve, I believe