bummer  Recommended Tanning Books  bummer
That Can Teach You How To Tan

These are the only four written resources, we know of, that can successfully teach you how to braintan. Every other book and magazine article lacks the detail and/or expertise. If you want to learn how, you need to either own (or borrow) one of these books or have an experienced person to teach you. Preferably both. We will still endeavor to tell you the pluses and minuses of each one.

You will find links to order on-line from Traditional Tanners.

Deerskins into Buckskins

Deerskins into Buckskins: 2nd Edition
How to tan with Brains, Soap or Eggs

Matt Richards · 240 pages, 150 photos and illustrations · $19.95

Best how-to book on the subject!

  • Excellent step-by-step instructions
  • Efficient tanning method
  • Extensive section on crafting with buckskin and garment construction


Seven years of substantial improvements to the tanning process, woven into the easy to follow format of Deerskins into Buckskins. Deerskins into Buckskins is a step-by-step presentation of the simplest traditional method we know of to tan a hide. Most folks who have tried the tanning method in this book, now use it. Also features the most thorough chapters on using stone, bone and wood tools, history, science, hide glue, and garment construction. What’s new in the 2nd Edition!


A new 15 minute step that creates:

  • Easier to soften Hides.
  • Hides that come out super soft.
  • Hides that take the dressing even when dry, which in turn:
    1. Removes the variability of trying to get the perfect moisture content before dressing.
    2. Makes it much easier to get complete brain penetration on thick hides, which makes tanning 
      thicker hides such as moose, elk or even thick deer, way less work.
    3. Makes it so you can skip one of the wringing steps (which takes 15 minutes itself).

Other key new highlights include: 

  • Different skinning cuts for a better hide shape.
  • How to tan Moose, Elk & Antelope.
  • Bibliography (thorough and user-friendly).
  • Important improvements to the Bucking process.
  • Important improvements to the Dressing step-by-step, to ensure success for first timers.
  • A step-by-step guide to varying this books’ Basic Method if you want to tan without the bucking step.

Wet-scrape Braintanned Buckskins

Wet-scrape Braintanned Buckskin
A Practical Guide to Home Tanning and Use

By Steven Edholm & Tamara Wilder · 308 pages, many photos and illus. · $19.95

Excellent general resource

  • Museum quality illustrations
  • Information that is not available anywhere else
  • How-to is buried in text
  • Wet-scrape method (how to do multiple brainings efficiently)

This is an encyclopedic information source for brain-tanning. Its only weak-point is that the basics of ‘how-to tan a hide’ are buried in all of the information. Their approach is to give you a general knowledge of each step and then let you choose how to go about it. This can be confusing for the beginner. It is rich in how-to information however, and very worth having. The best illustrations, bibliography, dyeing chapter, trouble-shooting, tool sharpening, and glossary of any tanning book. Good chapter on garment construction and a user’s guide to the various brain-tanning methods. Packaged with a steady flow of primitive post-industrial humor.

Blue Mountain Buckskin

A Working Manual to Dry-Scrape Brain-tan
Jim Riggs · 134 pages, lots of photos and illus. · $14.95

Blue Mountain Buckskin

The Classic Guide to Dry-Scrape

  • Thorough and expert tanning instructions
  • Good garment construction section
  • The best moccasin pattern
  • How-to is a little bit buried in text

This is the guide that taught so many of us the pleasures and pitfalls of braintanning. Jim writes in a way that makes you feel like you’re hanging around the fire drinking a beer with him (which of course we’ve done many times). You do have to follow him on a few tangents to get all the how-to information, but it’s expert, and you’ll have a good time doing it. Beginners might want to brain their hides more than the one time he recommends.

Braintan Buckskin

John McPherson · 50 pages · Many photos · $3

Short and Effective

  • Probably taught more people than any other book
  • Very easy to follow
  • Not a particularly efficient method
  • But it works…

This booklet has turned alot of people on to brain-tanning. He has a few un-necessary steps, a few that strike me as waste-ful and a few that influenced me. John really excels at presenting information in a way ‘that do work’. His method of braining dry-scrapes repeatedly will make up for just about any mistake you may have otherwise made. There are much easier ways to smoke hides than he shows, check out another book for this step.

                                                                                  The Tanning Spirit
                                                                                Brain-Tanned Buckskin

By Melvin Beattie · 45 minutes · $30

Get this with a book

  • Recommended if you don’t have access to hands-on instruction
  • Helps you see how to do each step of the wet-scrape process
  • Valuable learning tool, but lacks the detail to be used as your only guide

If you don’t have the opportunity to take a class or work with someone more experienced, watching this video will show you what a book can’t. Mel’s hides are so even, soft and beautiful, that they inspired a whole generation to switch to the wet-scrape method.

His depiction of braining and softening wet-scrapes is over-simplified (through no fault of his, he was actually doing something to the hides that he wasn’t aware was greatly affecting them – which he doesn’t show in the video. If you take a fresh hide, and tan it exactly the way he shows it will not normally come out soft). Despite this, it is very helpful to look over the shoulders of this master tanner and see the motions of scraping, wringing, softening etc. Get this video with Deerskins into Buckskins or Wet-scrape Braintanned Buckskin 

How to Brain-Tan a Buffalo Hide

By Wes Housler · 60 minutes · $25

How to Brain-Tan a Buffalo Hide

  • The only complete guide to buffalo tanning we know of
  • Very well done, good attention to detail and complete
  • You should have a few deer under your belt before attempting a buffalo

Wes Housler has braintanned over 500 hair-on buffalo robes! (That’s a lot). I’ve never bought a video in my life (cause we’ve never had a TV), but when you are taking on a project as big as a buffalo and someone has done 500 of them, you listen. Wes takes you step by step through the entire process. He does it well and it makes a lot of sense. If you ever want to do a buffalo get this video…and once you’ve wrapped up in one, you might start wondering if native peoples really had it so bad.