Brain Tanning - Smoke Smell
For you brain tanners out there I have a question. I've recently started down the path of learning to brain tan, and have my first couple of hides completely through the process. After gluing the hides together I smoked them while camping in the mountains using punky wood laying around camp (it was mostly pine/fir) and using a charcoal chimney in a small hole. The set up worked well, and I smoked them for about an hour each side, then rolled them up to let the smoke "set". Since we were leaving the next day, I put them in the back seat of the truck. Now to the issue.

How do you get the smoke smell out? After a few days they were still quite pungent (as was the back of truck). I tried washing them in plain warm water and I could see something leaching out of the leather, and some of the smell was gone, but even two months later it is still there. All the books and references I can find stop at putting the smoke in. Any thoughts?
Posts: 6 | Registered: 27 October 2013Reply With QuoteReport This Post
posted Hide Post
Um..., no..., not really. You might try a different wood next go around, something in the hardwood family. I would expect pine smoke to possibly carry with it turpentine like molecules, that might hold the smoke smell, or smell themselves. Poplar and beech are good woods to use.


It's not what you know, it's what you can prove
Posts: 3843 | Location: People's Republic of Maryland | Registered: 10 November 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Picture of MountainRanger
posted Hide Post
I found several suggestions online... one suggested putting the item in a large zip lock bag with several dryer sheets for a while. Another said they had a purse that had a horrible smoke smell on it and they put it in the oven at the lowest setting (like 150 degrees) for a couple of hours. Another suggestion was to hang on the line for several hours letting the sun do the work.

You might also contact one of the big leather houses that supple brain tanned leather to see what they might suggest

Good luck.

Sua Sponte
Posts: 460 | Location: SW Virginia (New River Valley) | Registered: 13 August 2014Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Picture of Notchy Bob
posted Hide Post
First of all, I admire anybody who can shoot a deer, braintan and smoke the hides, and then make something useful from the leather. Good going there, hoss!

I do agree that the choice of wood for the smoke may have had an effect. I've read that different woods or even corncobs would be selected to give the hide a certain desired color in the smoking process. As an aside, I believe plains Indian tipis tended to wear out from the ground up, and "old tipi top" material, saturated with the smoke of hundreds of campfires, was used and even desired for some applications where increased water resistance was needed. "Old tipi top" was much used as a base for beadwork, too, as for legging strips and that sort of thing. I believe this was probably because it would be very stable, and not prone to stretch or shrink.

I did a little work with tanning when I was younger, but never did actually braintan or smoke anything. However, a few years ago I bought three good-sized pieces (ranging from 8 to 12 square feet each) of smoked commercial braintan buffalo hide from the Leather Guy. I remember the day the order arrived... I don't think I have ever seen a UPS driver happier to get a package out of his truck. I had always heard "the authorities" talk about the wonderful, woodsy smell of smoked hides. Some even compared it to bacon. Mine, however, smelled more like chimney sweepings... Pure creosote. I mean, they were rank. I knew they would not last long in the house, because the lady in charge of the premises would have thrown them out and me along with them. The entire garage reeked of creosote within an hour of bringing the package in.

Anyway, the long and the short of it is that I put a couple of screw hooks in the ceiling of our screen porch, which does not see a lot of use. I hung a line from each hook and tied in horizontal dowels or poles, sort of like a really wide rope ladder with wooden rungs. I draped the hides over the poles and let them hang inside the screen porch until the smell dissipated.

This took a while, on the order of six weeks of swinging in the breeze out there. Every few days, I would shake the dust off of them, turn them over or rotate them, and just generally look 'em over and give them a good sniff check. However, by the end of that time, the smell had settled down and they are fine now. They are lying folded on a shelf about four feet from my nose as I type, and I can't smell them at all. You can still detect the smoke smell if you hold the leather up to your face, but it is not unpleasant now, and it is actually very nice leather.

I would be wary of overheating the leather in an oven, or treating them with some other chemical smell like fabric softener, or any other "quick fix" treatment. I think the secret may be good air circulation and patience.

In any event, I hope you have good luck with the project. Let us know how it turns out!

Best regards,

Notchy bob

"Should have kept the old ways just as much as I could, and the tradition that guarded us. Should have rode horses. Kept dogs."

from The Antelope Wife
Posts: 333 | Location: Florida | Registered: 24 May 2009Reply With QuoteReport This Post
posted Hide Post
Thanks for all the replies. I think I'll just muster up some patience and see how airing them works. The smell has definitely diminished over time.
Posts: 6 | Registered: 27 October 2013Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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