Respecting the Ancient Process
Others have written extensively and exhaustively on both the history and methodology of brain tanning leather. Consequently, will not bore the reader but hasten to note there are essentially two basic methods for the production of brain tanned leather; dryscraping and wetscraping, with numerous variations within these two modalities. Dryscraping is essentially chemical-free and usually involves immobilizing the skin in a frame and removing the hair and epidermis with a razor sharp scraper held at right angles to the skin’s surface. Wetscraping is accomplished ordinarily with the aid of an alkali solution (lye) until the grain swells and the hair begins to loosen. At this point the hair and epidermis is literally pushed off the skin most often with a metal tool with a distinct but less than sharp 90 degree angle.
After the skin has been thoroughly rinsed it is wrung dry and immersed in a “soup” of diluted brains until completely saturated. Again, it is wrung dry and manipulated until completely dry in either a frame, over a cable or against a fixed “staking” tool.
Softened hides are now ready to be smoked. This is usually done by sewing, glueing, or stapling the hide into a sack and affixing a cloth skirt to the open neck end. The skirt serves to guide the hide sack over the smoke source and distance the hide from any damaging heat. The smoking makes the hide water resistant and imparts color while highlighting the natural imperfections of the skin.