Traditional Moose Hide Tanning

moose tanningIf you want a a good hide, you’re going to have to go moose. Moose hide tanning is a traditional and laborious practice that is becoming less and less prevalent, perhaps due to the labor-intensive action required. Moose produce the largest and thickest hides of all the northern fur-bearing animals. A bull moose hide requires the most amount of work but yields a heavy load, while a moose cow will be a bit easier because it softens up faster. If you’re looking for a good pair of moccasins you’ll want to go for the bull moose. Here are some simple instructions on how to tan a moose hide properly. Patience and vigilance are required, as the process is strenuous and calls for a great deal of time.

 Hide Tanning Process

First, you’ll soak the hide for three days. This will loosen the flesh and hair. You’ll then drape the hide over a log or heavy pole. Remember that this is going to be heavy. It may be good to have somebody there to help you out. Once you’ve scraped the flesh and hair off the wet hide, punch holes along the outside edge and tie the hide to a pole stretcher for days of drying. Now the softening process can begin. Using both hands, scrape a fleshing tool across the flesh side in hard, downward strokes. This will take two full days and is tough work. When that is complete, use a smooth board or paddle for scraping off hair and follicles on the hair side of the hide. The more work you do here, the softer the hide becomes.

Now, remove the hide from the frame and THOROUGHLY rinse all blood. Use a moose hide tanning wringer to wring out all moisture. Once damp, hang the hide over the frame to dry again.

Pre-Smoking Stage

This can be done in different ways, but you’ll want the hide to be on some kind of lean-to frame. You do not want the hide to drag on the ground. A small fire beneath the hide should permeate cool smoke onto the hide. Be careful not to get the flames on the hide, as it can easily catch fire. Do both sides for three or four hours.

The Hard Part

Soak the hide again and then wring it dry. Now thoroughly massage the hide with a solution of cooked brain mashed in water. Yes, brain matter. Brain matter has just the right amount of fat to soften the hide.

Here’s the Hard Part in a nutshell: Soak, stretch, scrape, scrape again, massage with brain emollient and then repeat on both sides until the hide is soft and felt-like.

Final Smoke

You can proceed further, but technically you are done after this stage. Now the hide should be a creamy color. You’ll want to permeate the hide with smoke as we did earlier, though this time you will be using a heavier smoke. Once this has been complete, you’ve got a good hide that can be used for ceremonial regalia.


Source:  Native Art in Canada