Brain Tanned Leather – Fascinating Things you should know!

Genuine leather often undergoes different types of tanning, which is necessary to keep the hide free from rotting. Asides from popular options like vegetable and chrome tanning, there is another effective curing method termed “brain tanning.”

Brain-tanned leather is durable piece made from hides tanned with juices of the animal’s brain mass. Although this tannage is rare in the modern world, it remains one effective traditional method of refining leather.

Since each tanning method further influences the characteristic features of the finished products, brain-tanned leather is known to be pliable and have a comfy feel. While you may not be overly familiar with such leather, this article offers you exposure to all crucial to know about brain-tanned leather.

commercial brain tanned leather

What Is Brain-Tanned Leather?

Brain-tanned leather is a material sourced from animal hides and subjected to brain tanning. Kindly note that brain tanning is a form of curing that employs the juices from the brain mass of the animal.

Tanners ascertain that using brains for tanning leather breaks down the hide’s connective tissues, thanks to the enzymes and fats that the brain releases. You would find brain-tanned leather with many variations, with smoked options having a darker appearance, while non-smoked variants emerging white or lightly colored.

A soft and supple feel characterizes this type of leather; it is flexible, breathable, and highly durable. With some of the animal’s hair still intact, this piece works well for making traditional “leather and fur” products.

However, the properties of each characteristic animal hide further determine the end products for brain-tanned leather. For instance, the stretchiness and softness of elk leather come in handy for making clothing items like brain-tanned leather jackets and even bags.

Moose leather, on the other hand, is thick and works best for making moccasins and furniture pieces. The furs on the animal are not left out; they are durable options that suit various ornamental applications.

Brain-Tanned Leather Explained

Leather tanning has gone through several modifications. Before the invention of chemical tanning, leather tanners cured hides with various concoctions, ranging from urine to natural tannins from plant bark and leaves.

These substances successfully soften and degrease the leather and preserve them from decomposing. Nevertheless, animal brains remain one of the tanning substances with a track record of great success.

What is brain tanning for? It is a refining method for raw leather hides that employs refined oils and enzymes from the brain tissues. Brain-tanned leather mostly comes from hunting and wild games like deer, beaver, and raccoon. However, all hides of mammals appear suitable for such tanning methods.

The production process for brain-tanned leather is very different from other tannage forms. Comparing brain tanning vs. chemical tanning like chrome tanning, you would find the former labor and time intensive, but the result is also attractive.

Brain tanning can be traced to ancient North American Indians as an ancient method. Hence, brain-tanned leather is also called “Indian leather.” This tannage is also familiar amongst various Asian groups, the Sami (in Scandinavia), and the Zulus in Africa.

How to Make Brain-Tanned Leather

Knowing the procedures involved in producing brain-tanned leather would keep you more informed about the leather’s properties and how to make good use of it. Also, you can decide to take on such DIY leather hide tanning project – so here’s how to make brain-tanned leather.


Brain tanning starts with the fleshing of the animal’s skin. Once the raw leather hide is sourced, you should scrape off the fat and flesh attached to the hide. Such an action allows the leather to absorb the tanning agent properly and prevents rotting.

After fleshing, you can rinse the bloody hide in water (the use of soap is optional) to keep it clean for the following procedure. Please note that the fleshing of the hide could take about one hour.


You can dry the hide away from excess heat by stretching it atop a flat surface or tying it to a rack. The time it takes for the leather to dry varies, based on the weather condition, but it should range from averages of a few hours to days.

Scraping and Sanding

In a bid to remove the outer layer and hair on the animal skin, you should scrape them off using a metal tool, preferably a steel blade, and buff the hide afterward. Scraping and sanding the hide further facilitates the absorption of the brain tanning agent.

Washing and Wringing

Another wash would go a long way in removing the grime on the hide and prevent likely interference in the tanning process. Then, you can move further, wringing the hide to remove excess moisture. Nevertheless, you can skip this second wash if the hide appears manageable – not too greasy.

“Braining” the Hide

This step is the main deal; you introduce the emulsified oils of the animal’s brain to tan the hide. Begin by mixing into a gallon of hot water a mashed animal brain. Then, get the hide soaked in the mixture for about 4-8 hours.

Please know that the more the leather is soaked, the more tanning extract it absorbs, which is better.


This technique is hand-softening the leather and stretching it. All you should do is remove the hide from the brain mixture and get it stretched using a rack and poking stick till the leather gets dried.

While you can also stretch the leather with your hands, tying or pinning the hide on the rack with the poking stick would be much easier. And be sure to keep the water away from moisture to prevent hard patches and spots.

After brain tanning leather hides, it is often smoked, which could leave a strong smoke smell afterward. Not to worry, you can wash your smoked brain-tanned leather hide with soapy water to reduce or altogether remove the smell. You may find some commercial brain-tanned leather also having a smoky smell; regular cleaning should help solve this problem.

Pros of Brain-Tanned Leather

Brain tanning is an age-long method for refining leather, and even though it works better for small-scale production, it is pretty relevant in the industry. Moreover, brain-tanned leather is durable and long-lasting, giving a supple and comfortable feel.

Since there are few or no chemicals involved in this tanning process, and it poses no risks to the environment. Furthermore, most folks favor this method because everything needed for tanning the hide comes from the animal.

Cons of Brain-Tanned Leather

Brain-tanned leather possesses several excellent features but isn’t without its drawbacks. The major downside to this leather is its high cost; brain-tanned leather can be expensive since it is rarely available and has a labor-intensive manufacturing process.

How Do You Care for Brain-Tanned Leather

It is no longer news that leather items require adequate maintenance to ensure it remains in pristine condition for an extended period. The woody smoke smell left after smoking brain-tanned leather can be pretty repulsive.

Hence, it would help to begin a good cleaning with leather cleaner or mild soapy water. Cornstarch would also help remove stains and maintain the leather’s shape and texture. Also, use soft-bristled brushes or microfiber cloths to clean this leather piece.

How Do You Clean Brain-Tanned Leather

Proper cleaning is a significant care “routine” for brain-tanned leather, and it is crucial to gather the right supplies for such leather cleaning. A microfiber cloth and suitable leather cleaner should do, except for tough stains that may require some stain-removing agents.

Nevertheless, here are some tips to guide you if you are keen on knowing how to clean brain-tanned leather properly.

  • Start by wiping off dust and dirt from the leather
  • Then, clean the leather piece with a soft cloth damped with leather cleaner or soapy water.
  • Be sure to dry the piece away from direct sunlight and excess heat.
  • When using a machine, gently wash in warm water, use low-spin cycles, and dry in a well-ventilated area – avoid using a dryer.
  • You can also apply a top-quality leather conditioner to maintain the leather’s natural oils and keep it supple.
  • Be sure to store brain-tanned leather properly in a cool, dry area. It is crucial to store leather jackets, pants, and other similar items away from humid areas and direct light.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why are brains used for tanning leather?

The brains of animals have enzymes, fats, and oils that work as a natural tanning agent for leather hides. Brain tanning is an age-long form of tannage, first practiced among the Native Americans and other groups in Africa and Asia.

It stands tall amongst the different curing techniques for leather hides and is proven to be highly effective. Using brains to tan leather is a cost-effective method since everything needed for the tanning is from the animal. Also, it is environmentally friendly since it does not involve harsh chemicals.

Can you use brains for tanning leather?

You can use the brains of animals to tan hides since the oils or lecithin in the brain serves as a natural tanning agent. Thus, brain tanning is a simple and traditional refining method that remains effective today.

Although rarely practiced, brain-tanned leather is durable and pretty supple. While most brain-tanned leather has a smoky smell following the smoking that follows its tanning, you can reduce or altogether remove such smell by washing it with soap and water.

How do you tan your brain leather?

You can brain tan your leather hide after its preparation, fleshing the hide, removing the hair, and washing to remove the grease. Braining the animal hide requires you to introduce the brain oils to produce soft-tanned leather.

Start by putting the animal brain in a gallon of hot water, and mash using a suitable tool. Then, soak the rawhide in the mixture for up to eight hours. Afterward, remove the hide, dry it on a rack, and stretch the hide.

Is brain tanning safe?

You would find brain-tanned leather for sale after it has undergone a natural curing process and may not necessarily pose any threat. However, some studies hint at the potential hazard of contact with leather tanned with infectious brain matter.

Do you salt a hide before brain tanning?

Salting the raw leather hides helps set the fur or hair on the animal’s skin and further prevents it from rotting as it gets transported to the tannery. For brain tanning, a non-iodized salt is required, and you can salt the leather coat immediately to inhibit microbial activities that could cause the hide to putrefy.

Final Words

Brain tanning is a traditional form of curing leather that involves animal brains, which are known to contain natural emulsified oils that work efficaciously as a tanning agent. Brain-tanned leather is exceptionally supple, soft, and durable.

While such a rare leather type is mainly employed for making traditional leather/fur products, you can find different brain-tanned leather clothing, bags, and ornamental pieces. These are all the key details you should know about brain-tanned leather.

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