Question for Bruce Rittel

Submitted by CHUCK on 9/6/00. ( )

Hi Bruce,Although I could have used your personal email I thought to share my ignorance with everybody. One of my other hobbies is historical reenactment(viewing not participating)My question is concerning the Indian method of tanning deerhides known as braintanning.#1 What substance is in the brain tissue that allows the fibers in the hide to be manipulated? #2 Is this a "Tan" or a modified rawhide? #3 What is the most attainable solution or material for garment leather that would be similar to the time periods (1770's to 1840's) portrayed in these reenactments of the fur trap trade era.Thanks in advance- CHUCK

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Not Bruce, but Ducky

This response submitted by Ducky on 9/6/00. ( )

Bruce can give you the exact formulars and chemical actions,(You did chose to question the (the best-in my opinion)expert on tanning) but I thought I would give you a place where brain tanning is the thing still. You can even buy some leather. Check out the site There are some tapes out there on brain tanning Archie Phillips in LA sells some. and Bruce may well have some too..Ducky

Brain Tanning!

This response submitted by Bruce Rittel on 9/6/00. ( )

Ignorance is only if you never take the time to ask first! All questions are good questions - if they help us understand where we want to go! I have always found it amazing that the early natives and settlers found Brain Tanning, and used it so successfully - by accident, really! They had no idea why it worked - but it produced useable leather! Actually since then, there has been some scientific work done to pinpoint exactly why it produced such good leather for its time. #1) The best explanation I have found is that the brain material and fats, breakdown chemically with the heat produced as its worked, forming an aldehyde product, which in turn, acts similiar to a tanning agent. Even Formaldehyde and our Rittel's Preservz-It have tanning ability. The fats add lubrication to the skin, and later, the creasote coating lend a "sealer" type of sheathing to the material. #2) I would call this a tan. Yes, its also stuffing or "Tawing" but the presence of the aldehyde and its bonding to the fibers, makes it a step up from merely "rawhide"! Rawhide is only a raw skin with a non-drying oil impregnated or stuffed into it. #3) As for US Military types of leathers - after and during the Civil War - they were mostly tanned using Vegetable tans - to government specifications. Very durable, light leathers. And they held up much better with wear than brain tanned materials.

One of the fascinating aspects of brain-tanning is that you don't necessarily have to use the brain material of the specific animal that you are tanning. People use cow and pig brains to do it! These are more available, and not apt to be spoiled. I think Ducky gave you some good advice on visiting that website for more info on the subject. Happy re-enactment watching - thats neat stuff!

Rittels Tanning Supplies
Bruce Rittel

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