'Brain-tanning furs', an illustrated four page article by George Michaud
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Brain Tanning Furs

by George Michaud

Editors Note: This article is adapted for the web from an article George originally wrote for Fur-Fish-Game Magazine. There is an assumption that the reader already has a basic knowledge of certain steps of fur-handling. I recommend using this article in conjunction with Jim Miller's article Tan Your Pelts With Nature's Tools, as a source of more information and alternative ways of doing things.
Over the last several years I have been brain tanning many of my furs. This is the way the Indians did it. It is a safe, easy and inexpensive way to tan your furs. The skins that you do this way are even edible.

The furs that I have tanned with varying degrees of success are marten, muskrat, fox, coon, bobcat, coyote, and beaver. Beaver and muskrat are the two hardest that I have tried. When tanning coyote and coon you must thin the skin on the shoulders to get the softest tanning job. To thin the fur I place the dried skin on a fleshing beam and using a sharp large knife I scrape the skin. I hold the knife at a 90 degree angle to the skin and I scrape it very carefully.

Getting Started

I will describe how to tan a fox. Most any fur will work the same way. The process begins as soon as we get the animal, the less knife cuts you make in the hide when skinning the easier it will be to tan and the nicer it will come out. (If you are worried about fleas you can place the dead fox in a trash bag and spray it full of Raid or some other flea killer).


After skinning the fox you want to scrape it thoroughly making sure to get rid of all the fat and any membrane. Be very careful that you don't damage the hide. If you do put a hole in it, sew it up, and take extra care when you begin to soften the skin in this area.

I use two different types of fleshing beams. One is a 5 foot maple beam that has a rounded and tapered point that is mounted to a 2X6 base board and it has a supporting leg. It is set at an angle that hits me just above my belt. In this way I can place the fur on the beam and hold it in place by pressing my body against the beam. I use this method for deer. beaver, coyote, and coon. I use a two handled fleshing knife that I bought through a trapping supply catalog. I also have a small beam that I can mount on a bench and use a hose scraper for muskrat, mink, and pine marten.

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