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I'll warn you right now that this Will develop your arm, back and abdomen muscles!! I'm going to write this as if you know nothing about deer and tanning. Ready??? Here goes!

** Getting the hide **

1a. From the Animal: Peel or cut the hide away from the animal. The hide should be split up the belly and include the neck, partial legs and tail. (Cut the tail away for fly fishing flies!! Save the hooves and dew claws for necklaces, rattles or decorations on bags and garments. Well, that's what I do! There is a trick to removing the hooves and dew claws. I'll tell you about that some other time if you're interested!)

Be very careful to not nick the hide during removal, this could cause problems later on in the tanning process. Better to remove it 'dirty' (a lot of flesh still on the hide) from the animal. ** Do Not salt the hide **

1b. From a butcher: Go to your local deer processor and ask if they will give you deer hides (while you're there, pick up deer suet and render up some tallow for soap and candles!) Some places will charge you for the hides, some won't. If they do, here is the rule of thumb I use. If the hide is frozen, don't pay more than $5. You don't know what you are getting. If you can look at a fresh hide, examine the flesh side. A good fresh, raw (** Not Salted **) hide will go for $8-$10 Check the number of holes in the hide. 2 is acceptable (entry and exit wound) any more than that and I start deducting $1 per hole. If you can get a hide where there is little flesh and no nicks, this is prime! Otherwise get a hide that has a lot of flesh (red meat) still on it.

Notes on a salted hide: If all you can get is a salted hide, then your first step is to rinse, rinse, rinse, rinse. You need to get the salt out of the hide. Once you have rinsed it real well a couple dozen times, then rinse it again (always in clean flowing water) again a dozen times more.

** Fleshing the hide **

2. 'Flesh' the hide. In essence this is removing all the meat and fat on the flesh side of the hide. I know, I know I just told you to get one that had a lot of flesh! There are a couple ways I know of fleshing deer. One is with a fleshing knife and beam, a traditional way is to use a deer leg bone or iron flesher. I use a fleshing beam and knife and always flesh the hide when it is partially frozen, the flesh seems to peel right off. There is also a thin 'film' between the flesh and the hide. Try to get as much of this off too. If you can't get it now, don't worry, you can get it when the hide dries. It is very, very, very important that you get every itty-bitty, little piece of flesh and fat from the hide.

** Drying the hide **

3. * The drying frame: I have frames I have made using four 2"x4". I have pairs in varying lengths from 5' to 10'. The ends of each 2x4 is notched so that it will fit with the alternate boards I'm using. I secure them together with 'C' clamps. Each board has large nails spaced about 3" apart. When putting the hide on the frame, I lean the frame up against a wall. Alternately, pound some nails about 3" apart on a wall in a 6' square. It is essential that you make sure there are a couple inches between the hide and the wall for air circulation.

* Make small slits all around the edge of the hide, parallel with the hide's edge (this helps to prevent the hide from tearing) about 3-5" apart.

* For this step you will need a Lot of nails and a Lot of cord (about the size of a laundry line)

**Note: if you are using an outside wall or the side of a barn, make sure the hide is high enough for critters not to get at it!

Tie a loop at the end of a 2' piece of cord. Find the center of the neck, insert the loop from the hair side to the flesh side. Put a nail in the loop, tie the other end of the cord on a nail at the top center of your frame.

Tie a loop on the end of 2 other pieces of 2' cord. Find a hole on each back leg, insert the loop from the hair side to the flesh side. Put a nail in the loop, pull the cord and tie the other end of the cord on a nail in each bottom corner of the frame. This should stretch the hide from the top to the bottom sides. You may also want to do this for the front legs also. Make sure you start with the neck and tie off the rear, legs second then the fore legs, then continue around as described in next paragraph. This keeps the integrity of the shape of the hide.

Starting back up at the neck, find the hole to the right or left of the center neck hole, insert the loop from the hair side to the flesh side. Put a nail in the loop, pull the cord so the nail is tight and loop it around another nail in the frame. Find the next hole on the hide and make a loop (Not tied) with the cord, insert the loop, put a nail in the loop, pull the cord so the nail is tight and loop it around another nail in the frame. Continue in this fashion until you have reached the underside of the front leg. Tie off the cord on the frame and start on the other side of the hide, continue past the underside of the front legs, going to the rear leg where you originally tied this up. Tie off the cord to the frame and go back to the first side. The object is to Stretch the hide onto the frame. You might be surprised how much a wet hide will stretch. Remember, the better you stretch it, the bigger your piece of finished leather.

Let the hide stay in this manner until it is thoroughly dried. Depending on your climate, this could take 1-7 days. Now is the time to peel that thin film that may be left on the flesh side. If it is acting stubborn, I've been know to take course sand paper and sand the flesh side.

What you have now is fur-on rawhide. Now the work begins! (Oh, this first part was just the warm up!!)

** Dehairing the hide **

There is only one way I know to dehair. It is using old fashioned elk antler hide scraper. (I'm sure there are other ways, but I will warn you Not to use chemicals!) The elk antler scraper is a piece of elk antler in the "L" shape. When you are using it the "L" looks upside down. The top of the scraper is smoothed flat and a piece of metal, the width of the scraper is tied on with rawhide with one end projecting over the end of the scraper. This projected end is curved and a beveled edge is ground on it.

If you stretched the hide to the side of the barn, you need to put it on a lower portion of the barn to dehair it. Fortunately, using the method we did, all you need to do is pull the nails out of the loops on the flesh side and then pull the cording through the holes.

If you stretched your hide on a frame, simply flip the frame so the hair side is exposed. Using the elk horn scraper, you actually scrape the hair and scarf skin (epidermis) off. You can use a lot of pressure on the hide to do this. Be very careful around any holes, also be careful over any thin areas on the hide, caused by nicks. The belly and leg area are also thin. Too much pressure in these areas will cause Ďblow outsí. These can be sewn back up once youíve tanned the hide.

When all the hair is off, take it down and cut it close to the holes (unless you are Really good and have managed to get every little bit of hair off around all those holes! You may be able to find implements to dehair in taxidermist magazines. The important part to remember is to take not just the hair off (shaving) but the scarf skin also. This is so the brains can saturate into the hide. Scarf skin will remain rough after the tanning process.

*** Braining the Hide ***

(An easy step!)

Cook the brain of the animal in about 1 cup of water until the brain is tender. Each animal has enough brains to tan its own hide. (In a pinch you can use hog or cattle brains or straight Murphy's Oil Soap). Put the water and brain in a blender and blend it very well. Your hide will be hard and dry, you will need to get it wet & pliable again to incorporate the brain mixture. It won't take much water to do this! Once it is wet, you'll need to get as much water out so the hide can absorb the brains. Wring it out and then place between towels and wring again, change towels as needed. You will need to apply the brain mixture to both sides of the hide. Smoosh it in really well. Now you will have to let the hide sit for at least 24 hours. The longer it sits and absorbs the brain the better. I roll the hide up into a ball and put it in a gallon freezer bag to store in the refrigerator (or freezer if it will be more than a few days.)

*** Softening the Hide ***

(back to work!)

(Some folks rinse the brains out of the hide before this step, but I've never done this.) Put the hide back up in the frame (using the technique described before) and squeegee out as much as the brains as you can. I use a rounded paddle that was made for me out of deer antler and a stiff rounded piece of metal. You could probably make one using a large putty knife (or drywall knife) just make sure the ends are curved and well rounded so you won't tear the hide!

Some folks just keep paddling the hide while it's in the frame until it's soft and dry. I do a combination of paddling in the frame, then taking it out and stretching it in all directions for a while, then putting it back in the frame. If you take it out to stretch it, it is a lot easier to have two people pulling on it. Pull the hide from the edges, rotate it and turn again. The time it takes to dry and soften the hide depends on the weather. I try to save this step for a winter day when I have the fireplace going so it's good and dry in the house. If you're working this step when it's humid, it will take longer than forever!! I've done this step in as little as four hours and as long as over a period of days. If you get too tired while doing this step, just roll it back up into a ball and put it back in the freezer bag and back in the freezer.

I also have a Ďhide breakerí which is a length of 2X4 with a rounded metal blade at one end. I place the board between my feet and run the hide back and forth. Alternately, Iíll string a thick piece of rough rope vertically and pull the hide back and forth, rotating it until itís all soft.

I hope this explains the process well enough. If you have any questions, get a hold of me!


Brain Tanned Dress, Leggings & Moccs
~ beaded and painted
Kiowa style ~ circa 1890

Beaded "Possible" Bag

Beaded Effigies




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