Observations on Goatskin

By Vaughn Terpack, © 1998

This article originally appears in The Bulletin of Primitive Technology Vol. 16


In all of the books on tanning, somewhere there is the mention that goat hides can be brain-tanned. And while these brief mentions confirm the idea, they go into no detail on what differences there might be between goat and deer. There is sure to be some discussion on tanning elk and buffalo, and maybe even moose, but the common goat is given only a sentence or two. So, for what it is worth, here are a few notes from my solitary goatskin experience. (ed. note: use this article as an adjunct to one or more of the recommended books on brain tanning)

First Impressions

Greasy & Thin! The fat deposits that lay under the skin were not solid like what is found on a deer; rather, they were watery and full of air bubbles. Even when the hide was dried in the frame, it still maintained some of that greasy feel, reminiscent of a raccoon.

With the hide off the carcass, just how thin it was, was very clear. I had heard that goatskins were thin but it was still surprising. The neck and shoulders were no thicker than the thinnest flank of a deer skin and when dried in the rack, the goat flanks had the thickness of fax paper. The skin was so thin in fact that fresh off the animal, you could see the sunlight through it at its thickest part


Because the hide is so very thin, it will not tolerate knife cuts or scores. Every place a blade touched my skin would later open up under the stresses of tanning. If you do not take the skin off yourself, check it very carefully. If you do take it off yourself, use your hands to pull the hide free. (read the braintan.com tutorial How To Skin for further instructions.

Note these black areas on the
lower flanks. This is the black grain showing through the sparse hair.


Thankfully, the grain on the goat skin was darker than the underlying layer, ranging from beige to black, and made it very easy to see if you missed a spot. The epidermis on goats, however, is covered with what are called hair pits. Looking similar to the dam one builds around a freshly planted sapling to catch rain water, each and every follicle of hair gets its own pit, giving the grain the look of chicken skin and making dry-scraping more difficult. The slightest letup in pressure on the blade causes it to skip down the grain making washboard inevitable.

Here you can clearly see some of the chicken skin. It might work better to sand the grain at the flanks.

(ed note: sorry folks, this photo doesn’t
do the original justice)

On the rump, the grain was very thick and black in color. This black grain had the tendency to grab the scraper blade like a puddle grabs a car tire. One minute you’re doing fine and the next, the blade is going off in an entirely new direction.

Remember that goatskin is thin and is not as tough as steel. Ouch!

(ed. note: here I believe is a glimpse of
the ever elusive Vaughn Terpack)

The best way I found to remove the grain was to crosscut the inevitable washboards. Stopping every fourth stroke to sharpen the blade, just keep scraping until there is only white before you. Whatever you do, don’t scrape in one spot so long that you generate heat or you will suffer the consequences. Goat skin rips nicely.


As I was scraping the hair off, I noticed two quarter-sized glands located at the shoulders. These were not visible when fleshing the fresh hide on the beam but once the rest of the hide was thinned by dehydration, these oily glands stood proud of the surface, like a mesa in the desert. I scraped them off.

On the flesh side, you can 
see the ridge of skin that 
runs under the black mane.

Also on the flesh side. directly under the black mane, there lay a ridge of skin that I am assuming is some type of scent marker. Thicker than the rest of the skin and more tightly woven, it required extra scraping but had no oily feel like the shoulder glands. Once the hide had dried, I simply scraped this spine ridge down.

Neither presented any problems in softening or smoking.


The membrane proved to be very similar to deer and presented no challenges whatsoever. Since the hide still maintained the greasy feel, however, I removed it from the frame and soaked it in soapy water overnight to prevent the possibility of grease-burn on the thin hide. I removed the membrane on the fleshing beam after the soak.


Soaking in the brain slurry for only twenty minutes, the hide was laced into a frame without first being wrung out. Goatskins are so thin that the edges will dry out completely before you have time to finish the lacing, so I opted to leave the hide as moist as possible and remove the excess later.

Due to the thin nature of the hide, softening proceeded at a quick clip. I initially used a stake to stretch and soften the hide but found that it was too easy to poke holes with it and after adding a dozen small holes. I pulled the hide out of the frame and softened it by hand.

Because the hide dried so quickly, almost all of the softening was done in the shade. Fven on a cool day. the breeze wicked the moisture out of the edges almost faster than I could keep up with it.


Hide smoking. The beige color 
is due solely to smoke penetration (bleeding through from the inside).

For speed and simplicity, I used the gluing method pioneered by Matt Richards and detailed in his book, ‘Deerskins into Buckskins‘ to close the hide bag. Quick to do and air-tight. The glued seam forced the smoke to penetrate the fibers of the dermis instead of just venting out through gaps in the stitching.

With just minutes on the smoke, color started to bleed through to the outside. particularly at the flanks. Ten minutes into the smoking and the entire outside of the bag was a light beige color, the inside being only slightly darker. It took about twenty minutes before I got a color I could live with.

Last Impressions

I have been told that goat and antelope skins are approximately the same thickness but, to my thinking, antelopes are an exotic to the overwhelming majority of tanners: most will never see an antelope let alone have the opportunity to make buckskin out of one. Goats, on the other hand, are plentiful and available nationwide. Both make great warm weather clothing.

The finished goatskin buckskin

For teaching, goatskin seems ideal. Being so thin. it dries quickly yet not so fast that you can not keep up with it, and the grain is easily differentiated from the dermis by its color and chicken skin texture. And because it is available during the spring and summer, not only does it cut down on the need to store a year’s supply of deerskin, but it cuts short the frantic race to get all of your hides during a brief hunting season. Overall, goats would seem to be a great untapped resource for the brain tanners of the world.

For more information on goats contact:
The American Meat Goat Assoc., POB 498 Mertzon, TX 76941