How to Tan a Hide

Tanning a hide by the methods used by Native Americans involves four steps: cleaning, braining, softening, and smoking.


Up next in Wilderness Survival Skills (40 videos)

Conquer the wilderness with the survival tips in these Howcast videos. You'll learn how to make fire, build a shelter, boil water with hot stones, make a bow and arrow, avoid poison ivy, purify water, track animals, make a solar still, tan a hide, sharpen a jackknife, avoid a snakebite, tell directions without a compass, and much more.

You Will Need

  • A small animal hide
  • A knife
  • The animal's brain
  • A stove
  • A pot
  • Water
  • A blender
  • A brush
  • A storage area
  • A chair
  • And smoke


  1. Step 1

    Scrape the hide

    Remove meat and fat from the hide by scraping it with a knife. Scrape from side to side -- not head to tail.

  2. Use a fresh hide, preferably from an animal that has died a natural death or been the victim of a recent accident. If you use a frozen or dried hide, you will have to restore it to fresh condition.

  3. Step 2

    Add brains

    Cook the animal's brain -- beef or pork brains can also be used -- in a pot of water, then put it a blender with warm water and mix well.

  4. In general, any small animal has enough brain to tan its own hide.

  5. Step 3

    Apply the brains to the hide

    Moisten the hide until it feels like a sponge, and then apply some of the brain mixture to the flesh side with a brush. Let the brains sit on the skin for an hour before applying more.

  6. Step 4

    Store the hide overnight

    Roll the hide up with the brains inside and let it sit overnight in a cool, protected place.

  7. Step 5

    Apply more brains

    Apply another coat of brains in the morning before stretching out the hide.

  8. Step 6

    Soften the hide

    Run the hide over the back of a chair to soften it until it is completely dry.

  9. Step 7

    Smoke the hide

    Smoke the hide over an open fire. Smoking prevents the skin from turning hard after getting wet and discourages insects.

  10. Native Americans used animal brains to tan hides because the oil in the brains lubricated the fibrous structure of the skin.