Are you ready to transform a deer hide into buckskin with your own hands?

The online hide tanning course is a video-based program that guides aspiring hide tanners through every step of tanning a deer hide using the wet-scrape brain tan method.  Your guide on this journey, deer hide alchemist Natalie Bogwalker, has led hundreds of students through the otherwise confounding process of tanning hides.

Check out the video above to learn more about the class, what it covers, who we are, and how tanning hides will enrich your life. 


What Is Brain Tanning?

Brain tanning is the ancient art of transforming a rawhide (sometimes stinky, and definitely prone to rot if you don’t intervene) into a soft, supple, useable buckskin. You actually use the deer’s brains as a key ingredient in the tanning process (don’t worry, if you don’t have brains on hand, you can use egg yolks).  A lot of skillful technique and physical effort are required, and at the end, smoke is used to preserve the softened hide that results from the brains and your brawn.

Indigenous people on every inhabited continent practiced some form of brain tanning; many of them still do.  It’s also totally natural and completely non-toxic, unlike many modern tanning techniques.

stretching a deer hide for brain tanning

Why Learn to Brain Tan?

When you know how to brain tan, a discarded deer hide becomes a valuable, useful resource. The buckskin (leather) made through this process is uniquely strong, supple, durable, breathable and  deliciously smoky smelling. It’s quite unlike anything that’s available commercially.

deer hide with hair on

Not only is the product of brain tanning wonderfully cool, the process itself is also rewarding and magical.  It’s an enriching thing to do on your own – or with friends and family – including children.   We’ve had families work on hides together, and our youngest official student was 12 years old at the time.

Brain tanning is a family affair

 

Tanning a hide deeply connects you to the natural world.  Many of our students have felt personally transformed by hide tanning, and we bet you will too!  

 

proud tanner with brain tanned buckskin

 


How the Online Hide Tanning Course Works

In a series of detailed videos, broken up into 15 very doable sections, we walk you through the process of brain tanning a hide, step by step.  The comprehensive course manual works in tandem with the videos as a written reference that includes photos and diagrams. We suggest that you use your phone, tablet or laptop to watch the classes while you are actually tanning your hide.

scraping deer hides

We’ve talked with lots of folks who have attempted brain tanning with just a book as their guide.  It generally takes them weeks’ worth of work before they get to anything resembling a finished buckskin.  Brain tanning a deer hide with the guidance of this online course can be done in 3-4 days, but you don’t have to complete it start-to-finish all at once.  

In both our course manual and video collection, we highlight points in the process when you can put your hide on pause, which means hide tanning can fit in with the rest of your life.  It’s a wonderfully unique benefit of the online course.

stretching a hide for brain tanning


What Makes This Online Hide Tanning Course Exceptional?

deer track  Amazing Quality

The videography and attention to detail are stunning.  This makes the content easy to understand and follow. Free videos on the subject tend to be poor quality and often skip over many important steps of brain tanning. Our course was finely crafted from hundreds of hours of footage.  It’s been distilled down to a much more manageable 12 hours of pertinent instruction.

deer track  Comprehensive, Quality Content

With both the in-depth videos and comprehensive manual, this course covers the bases.  It’s got all the guidance you need to be successful, starting with your first hide. Brain tanning is a tactile skill and the videos really bring each part of the process to life in a way that books and other written instruction cannot.  Because the course material is yours for life, it becomes a searchable reference for your whole hide tanning career.

deer track  Extraordinary Support

We give students more than two months of responsive, personalized support after they sign up for the course.  This will get you well through annual fall hunting season. Our support includes bi-weekly live videos in which your questions are answered by an extremely experienced tanner.  We also have highly responsive technical support.

deer track  Many, Many Years of Experience

We’ve been tanning hides for a long time.  Not only that, but we’ve been teaching hide tanning for quite a while, too.  This experience has given us much insight as to what tends to trip people up, what kinds of questions arise and how different people approach tanning.   We’ve used our knowledge, plus that of our teachers, to tailor your hide tanning experience to be crystal clear and free of mysteries.

deer track  Community of Fellow Tanners

Our students tend to be extraordinary humans.  We are honored to host online discussions amongst those who are taking the course, including photo-swapping and tip-sharing.  We welcome you to get to know each other, we know you’ll learn so much from one another’s experience.

deer track  We sell hides and gear (if you need them)

Not everyone has access to a deer hide and brains.  Don’t worry. We have a limited number of fleshed and dried hides, ready to tan, that we offer exclusively to students of our online course (for $65, including shipping to the continental US).  We’ll also sell, or can point you in the direction of, all the specialized tools that you’ll need for tanning. It’s likely you’ll be able to scrounge up these items locally for free or cheap if you have a little time to hunt around.

 

brain tanned buckskin in the garden


 

What our Hide Tanning Students Have to Say

 

Brain tanning class student

“As a hunter, the hide tanning class offered by Wild Abundance gave me the skills needed to fully utilize the animals I harvest.  I’m no longer troubled by the fact that I’m wasting a valuable part of the deer. I tan my own hides now, and, thanks to Wild Abundance, I have the confidence, ability and knowledge to do so in my own backyard.”

(Austin Hall, firefighter and hunter, Canton, NC)

Brain tanning class student

“Natalie gives very clear instructions and lots of support along the way, and by the end I was SO proud of my finished hide!”

(Rachel Watersong, psychologist and homesteader, Cedar Grove, NC)

Brain tanning class student

“This class – with all its subtle tips and tricks – made the process of brain tanning extremely clear and concise. Natalie’s expertise is incredible, as her insights surely saved me many hours of work and much frustration. The class was an absolute pleasure, as there is nothing quite like learning to turn a rotting deer skin into a soft, supple, extremely tough piece of buckskin!”

(Owen Doll, student from Hillsborough, NC)

Brain Tanning

Overview: How to Tan a Deer Hide

In this three-day workshop near Asheville, NC, you will learn the ancient art of leather making and how to tan a deer hide. Each student will learn and practice the wet-scrape braintan process to transform deer rawhide into soft, supple, natural, beautiful wearable leather.

Please note that this is a physically intensive class.

We also offer an Online Hide Tanning Course, which provides comprehensive, video-based instruction, plus a very thorough course manual and an online community of support.

deer drawing


scraping hair off a deer hide for brain tanning
women scraping beams brain tanning

What to Expect: Tanning Hides Start to Finish

Friday: Discussion About How to Skin a Deer and Begin Scraping Your Hide

We will start on Friday at 9:30 am with a discussion of the hide-tanning essentials: how to skin a deer, a fleshing demonstration, discussion of hide preservation and an overview of tanning techniques. Each student will be given their own hide, and the day will be spent learning and practicing the art of removing hair and grain. Everyone will remove the hair, grain and membrane during this first day. Some students will begin “braining” their hides.


stretching a deer hide for brain tanning

Saturday: Brain Tanning

Students will spend the day learning the techniques of brain tanning: soaking the hides in a brain soup! Braining, wringing, braining, wringing… You may see a pattern here…. and softening. This process involves many specialized tools that you will learn to make or set up at your own place. This day is fairly strenuous, but you will learn everything you ever wanted to know about how to braintan a hide.


smoking a deer hide for brain tanning

Sunday: Smoking Hides

Some folks will be finishing up with softening; others will be sewing their hides into tubes and preparing them for the smoking process, which preserves the super-soft character that the hides have taken on, gives them a that lovely honey color and prevents them from turning back into hard rawhide. The class may go on until fairly late. This often involves much merriment as we wait for our hides to smoke, feeding our coals frequently with “punky” wood. Those that need to get going earlier may be able to leave by 8:30pm, while some students will be smoking their hides well into the evening.

Walk away with a finished brain-tanned buckskin, knowledge of how to tan again and a booklet written by Natalie for easy reference when you tan in the future.

Permaculture Design Course

Optional: October 5th Presentation Day

 

 


A place-based permaculture design course that empowers students to integrate what they learn into their lives and landscapes.

What makes this class special is the assimilation of permaculture principles and design strategies into the South’s rich cultural and ecological elements. Students will receive their Permaculture Certification at the end of the course. Near Asheville, NC.

permaculture homestead diagram with greenhouse and chickens

Learn permaculture design through lectures, site visits, hand-on activities, and plenty of design time.

If you want to dive even deeper into permaculture and Earth-based living, check out our Permaculture Design Certificate Immersion too. It’s spread out over 9 months (1 long-weekend/month), instead of an intensive 12 days.


Compost pile for permaculture homestead

What To Expect:

This class is appropriate for those interested in pursuing a career in permaculture design, as well as those who want to learn how to apply Earth-inspired philosophies in their own lives. All students will cultivate a deep engagement with the natural and human systems of which they are an integral part. You’ll learn how to compost and grow organic food and the basics of gardening, homesteading, living off the grid and urban homesteading.


You will learn to integrate a whole-systems approach to your life and landscapes:

Our whole systems approach in . This class empowers students to become effective ecological designers, using the tools and knowledge needed to integrate permaculture into every landscape. We follow the PINA curriculum, adding more time to aspects that we find especially compelling and putting some extra emphasis on design for the South. You’ll learn the permaculture principles and how they can be applied in designing a sustainable landscape. We’ll cover:

  • Principles of ecology
  • Introduction to forest guilds
  • Reading the land and observing patterns
  • Plant identification
  • Climates, biogeography, microclimates
  • Understanding zone and sectors
  • Mapping
  • Plant succession
  • Holistic forestry and orcharding
  • Urban farm tour
  • Conservation, waste and recycling strategies
  • Human nutrition
  • Social ecology and invisible structures
  • Client relations and interviews
  • Economics

Permaculture garden
Shiitake logs with edible mushrooms


Permaculture Design Certification Course presentation with map

Receiving your Permaculture Design Certification:

Students who complete the course (and submit thoughtful designs and presentations) will receive their Permaculture Design Certification. Please note that in order to advertise your design skills, you should invest significant time and experience into applying permaculture into real-world landscapes above and beyond this permaculture class.

The PDC will take place at Wild Abundance (located 20 minutes north of Asheville in Barnardsville, NC) and at the Ruby Roost in Madison County, NC. One homestead is nestled in community, and the other is a multi-generational homestead; both are fantastic examples of permaculture in action. Please note that both sites include camping and meal options.


This Permaculture Design Course will revolutionize how you view and relate to the Earth and your everyday life


If the 12-day intensive isn’t accessible to your schedule, check out our Permaculture Design Certificate Immersion. It’s spread out over 9 months (1 long-weekend/month).

Natural Building and Tiny House Workshop

The Tiny House Building Workshop with a Natural Twist

It’s time to get tiny, naturally! Do you dream of living in a beautiful, practical, ecologically responsible home built by your own hands? Do you yearn for the autonomy of owning a home, but don’t have the budget to buy? This natural building and tiny house workshop near Asheville, NC will help transform those dreams into reality in 8 days. It’s a crash-course covering the basics and beyond of tiny house design and construction, with an emphasis on ecological considerations and natural building techniques.

Learn to build your very own tiny house and use natural materials for beauty and function.

Whatever style of learning works best for you, we’ve got you covered. Over the course of eight full days we’ll engage in a healthy balance of theory, application and exploration.  This includes lots of hands-on learning. Throughout the workshop we’ll be constructing an actual tiny house from the ground up.  It’s for a member of the community, who gets a home at the end!  Getting a chance to apply ideas and concepts right away will bring them to life and anchor your learning.

Students learn the basics of building through lectures, engaging class discussions, and practical applications. As a result, you’ll leave the class prepared to build your own tiny houses or natural buildings. In fact, many past participants have gone on to build tiny homes in Asheville and beyond!


What to Expect from this Tiny House Workshop and Natural Building Course:

raising a wall in a tiny house workshop

Theory and Design: Foundations, walls, roofs, passive solar design, materials sourcing, tiny house plans, oh my!

We’ll get started by learning about how buildings stand up (foundations, loads and bracing), floor systems, walls, roof systems, how to choose a building site, passive solar design, working with clay, tiny home plans, and regenerative timber harvesting. Our tiny house workshop will also include discussion of material sourcing and introduce plumbing and electrical specifically for tiny homes. We’ll talk about how to build a tiny house on skids, how to build a tiny houses on a trailer, and other special considerations for movable structures.


log cabin tiny house nc

Exploration of a variety of tiny homes, cob construction, adobe, and more:

After learning the theories and concepts, we’ll take a tour of natural buildings in and around Asheville, NC. You’ll get to see a variety of tiny homes, a straw bale house, cob construction, natural buildings and a passive solar design at their finest. It’s Asheville’s own Tiny House Nation! You will have the chance to see, touch and learn about various styles, such as timber framing, log cabin construction, cob, stone masonry, adobe, wattle and daub, earthen floors and bamboo construction. We’ll visit many hybrids of conventional and natural construction. Taking a natural building course doesn’t mean you can only apply what you’ve learned if you build 100% natural. We encourage students to mix and match based on their interests, skill set, and desired outcomes. You can find your own sweet spot!


tiny house building workshop students

Hands-on Application of Building Techniques

Once the theoretical groundwork is laid, students will learn how to build tiny homes and natural buildings from the ground up. Using hands-on building techniques, you will have an opportunity to practice building and erecting walls, putting on a roof, applying earthen plaster, lime plaster, earthen paint, door and window installation and doing a bit of trim carpentry.


Your Very Own Tiny House tiny house plans

In the end, students will experiment with designing their own tiny house floor plans.  Everyone will have the opportunity to receive feedback directly from instructors and fellow students.  When you leave this tiny house workshop we want you to feel ready to get started on your own tiny home!


Check out the following video featuring one of our instructors, Barron Brown, teaching timber framing. (Please keep in mind that this program will have a more balanced gender mix than the class in the video.)

Firefly Gathering

Near Asheville, NC

A one-of-a-kind, highly dynamic and intimate community-based skill sharing festival, the Firefly Gathering welcomes children and adults interested in Earth-based knowledge and primitive skills to transform for your life. Co-founded by Kaleb Wallace and our own Natalie Bogwalker in 2007, Firefly gathers a bevy of inspiring community members and skilled teachers, highlighting the talented individuals that are drawn to a culture of rewilding and embodied ecological awareness. Firefly and Wild Abundance are sister organizations, and support each others’ goals and missions.

A gathering to share the skills and wisdom for rewilding…


What to Expect: A Primitive Skills Gathering for Sustainability, Self-Sufficiency and Rewilding to Transform your Life

This primitive skills gathering is a unique confluence of community-based skill sharing. It boasts more than 250 workshops, spanning topics on eco-homesteading, permaculture, primitive survival skills, herbal medicine, communication skills, art, natural parenting, and the human-to-nature connection that drives our deep commitment to this path.

In no other time in human history have these skills been more relevant, as we search to find a balance between our actions and the effects they have on the Earth. The Firefly Gathering allows people to cultivate hands-on earthskills and real-world solutions to the myriad problems that we face in our society.

As our culture continues to shift to self-sufficient living, these skills will become more and more valuable. This is a gathering of tremendous significance, empowerment and connection: a place to ignite your desire to live on the planet with greater awareness and love.


Sharing Practical Skills for Living Closer To The Earth

People come to Firefly to explore the cultural renaissance of returning, remembering, rewilding, and reskilling that characterizes so much of the heartbeat of the Appalachian region. Here, we learn with every cell in our body. A deep engagement of the senses is fostered as people awaken to a profound participatory relationship with the land. When the sun sinks over the horizon and the moon rises in the night sky, we sing and dance by the fire, celebrating the knowledge and traditions that we carry within us.


Location of the Firefly Gathering:

Firefly will be held near Asheville, NC, at a beautiful family farm in Leicester, NC

We hope to see you there!