Brain Tanned Leather: What is it and how do you use it?

Taylor Miles
Brain Tanned Leather: What is it and how do you use it?

Leather tanning is a process almost as old as human civilization itself! One of the oldest methods still in use is brain tanning. So what exactly is it? 

Traditionally, dehaired hides are soaked in the natural fats and enzymes of animal brains to break down the connective tissues. Hence the name!

The hides are then stretched till dry and smoked over a smoldering flame to finish them. This is what gives the hides their VERY distinct scent. Think open campfire or beef jerky.

Since this tanning method can take several days, it requires patience and time.

Of course, not all brain tanning methods are the same---modern times call for modern speed so some methods are a bit more large scale. 

Commercial brain tanning is done using man made versions of the chemicals found in animal brains. This allows tanneries to make much larger batches. The hides are processed in vats, instead of individually by hand. The rest of the process remains the same. These are the types of hides we carry.

This time intensive process is reflected in the price of brain tanned leather as it is typically more expensive than other types of leather. But it's worth it for the durability and quality!

However it is produced, brain tanning creates a very durable and soft hide that will last for generations. In fact, many people find that the more they wear this leather, the better it looks and feels!

Why does brain tanned leather smell?

As mentioned above, due to the smoking process, brain tanned leather tends to have a strong, smoky odor. Some folks love it while others…not so much.

If you’ve decided to grab yourself a hide and just cannot deal with the scent, air it out for a bit. Hang it on a porch or in the garage. Let it have a few days to mellow down. The smell will eventually wear away entirely.

Who uses this method and leather?

Brain tanned leather is a traditional leather. It has been used by Native Americans and other indigenous cultures for years upon years. The soft leather is easy to wear and has been a part of regalia and cultural garb for years and years.

Survivalists and hunters also tend to favor this method because everything they need to tan their hides is available in the animal.

With that being said, these are not the only folks using this leather… 

What is brain tanned leather used for?

Brain tanned leather is not only strong, but also soft, stretchy, and won’t get ruined when wet.

That’s right, this is a leather that can be laid out to dry and not turn stiff as a board. This leather will not keep you dry, but if that isn’t a concern then it can be used for many projects where it will be subjected to the elements.

The strength of brain tanned leather makes it perfect for shoes, bags, and fringe. Being lightweight and breathable makes it preferable for clothing.

Hides that are smoked gain a lovely golden color to them that makes for beautiful, rugged pieces. This leather will work wonderfully for just about any project where you don’t need the leather to have structure.

While this leather may not be for everyone, it has a unique beauty to it that has been loved for centuries. Whether you are looking for a traditional leather for a traditional craft or you want to bring a little rustic flair to a modern piece, brain tanned deerskin may be just the thing you need.

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