The Difference Between Various Brain Tanning Methods: page 7
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Some Recommendations for Different Situations

Wilderness Tanning

What's the simplest way to tan in a wilderness situation? Wetscrape, hands down.  Why? Because you don't need a razor sharp tool. Razor sharp tools are at a premium in  the woods. You'd probably have a knife with you, but do you really want to reshape that  knife into a use-able dryscraper? Sure you can make one by flint-knapping, and knapped  rocks can be incredibly sharp, but few will hold up to the abuse of scraping hides for  long. It can and has been done, but I have yet to hear of a single modern person who can  dryscrape a hide with knapped tools in any kind of efficient timely manner. Even the  most experienced dryscrapers I know, people like Jim Riggs or John McPherson, have  only done one or maybe two hides totally primitively with dryscrape…and they'd be the  first to tell you it was a pain in the butt. 

Wetscrape on the other hand is relatively straightforward to do with primitive  tools. Every deer, elk or moose comes with more than enough bones to scrape a few  dozen hides. I've had many, many, novices tan their very first hide with all primitive tools,  and most of those hides have come out every bit as good as the best hides you've seen, and it doesn't take much
Related Articles
Brains, Bones & Hotsprings, a seven page guide to Native American tanning at the time of contact.
longer. If its important to you to know a method that you can rely on in a wilderness living or survival situation, learn to wetscrape. The other factor that makes dryscrape less practical for survival or wilderness  tanning is that you really need good weather to get the hide dry enough to scrape,  whereas wetscrape can be done in just about any weather.

Backyard Tanning

Backyard tanning is different. Sharp tools are easy to come by, as is five gallon plastic 
buckets and other wonders of modern life. 

We usually recommend learning the bucking method of wetscrape, as we feel it's the 
easiest and most efficient method. However, this method does rely on a fairly liberal use 
of water, so if you live somewhere where water is really at a premium (you are paying for 
it and there are no creeks nearby) it may not be the best for you. Next we'd recommend 
the pre-smoking method, as it is also very efficient. However, if you live somewhere 
where generating a fair amount of smoke would be a problem (like in some suburban or 
urban situations), this won't work well for you either.

In situations where you are limited by your water use and ability to create smoke, you are 
better off doing either the plain wet-scrape method or dry-scrape. Numerous folks who have 9 to 5 jobs like to dry-scrape because they can hang the hide on the rack and scrape off some now and then whenever they get five minutes. Of course most wet-scrapers would argue that in the time you took to hang the hide on the rack, you would have been done wet-scraping! Whatever appeals to you most....

Tanning For a Living

If you want to tan hides for sale, wet-scraping with either the bucking or pre-smoking 
methods, is the most efficient for volume tanning. There are definitely people dry-scraping hides as part of their living, but the vast majority of volume brain tanners wet-scrape.

Historic Reproduction

Related Articles
Brains, Bones & Hotsprings, a seven page guide to Native American tanning at the time of contact.

The History of Brain Tan, a six page online article.

Period Clothing section of the Gallery Bibliography

If you are trying to do historically accurate Native American work, wet-scrape is appropriate for doing deer, elk or moose in any part of North America. Dry-scrape is documentable for deer and elk on the Northern Plains only, moose in much of central Canada, and for Bison anywhere. 

All evidence in Mediaeval and Renaissance Europe, and Colonial America points to the use of wet-scrape. If you are re-enacting the Fur Trade Era, the traditional white man method for deer hides again was wet-scrape. Undoubtedly some picked up dry-scraping Bison or moose from the Natives.

Much of the documentation for this can be found in the bibliography. Primary documentation of actual tanning methods, written during the Fur Trade Era in the fur trade region is admittedly scant, but there is some. The above statements are based on the best available evidence.


If you want to learn how to brain tan, or learn another method of doing it, we highly  recommend learning from someone who already knows how. Experimenting is great, we do it all the time, but you'll save yourself a tremendous amount of effort if you gain from 
another person's experience. If you find that you are bit by the brain tanning bug,  then experiment from there! The amount of high quality books, videos, instructors, and just plain friends who can teach you is greater than it has ever been in recent history. I've been brain tanning for a living for over 10 years. When I wanted to learn about pre-smoking I messed around with it a bit at home, and then drove to the Dinsmore's, tanned a hide with them and watched their video. Saved me a fair amount of head banging and scratching. 

In fact, there are many more ways to go about this, then what is presented hear. I know guys who buck or pre-smoke their dryscrapes. Others who wetscrape a hide, string it up in a rack and then go over it with a dryscraper. I've even heard of people dryscraping hides, and then going over it on the beam with a wetscrape tool. I know one guy who puts his Bison hides between two big pieces of plywood and drives back and forth over it with his truck. 

What do I do? I do my hair-off hides with wetscrape (almost always bucking), but I use a dryscraper for thinning out the thick rumps and neck on large furs like buffalo, bear, etc. 

Keep using your brains,

Matt Richards

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