From Paw to Product: small scale tanning.By
The end to yet another busy week has arrived. My taxidermy shop has been very busy all week between taking in bounties from this season for tanning, to prepping mannikins from the past deer season I have not had much spare time.
When you have so much to do it is hard to even know where all the time went! I do enjoy being busy as I find it rewarding to wake up every morning and go to bed tired every night.
Spending time tanning and working with fur got me thinking I should write a little about the process of a small scale tanning operation like mine.
It all starts with you the fur trapper, you make a catch and decide that this catch is going to be on your wall! From this point on it can go one of many ways… You can skin the animal process it and put it up just like any of your other catches, then ship it or deliver it to my door( I like to have visitors.) or you can bring the animal to me whole, or I will also accept fresh frozen hides. I will take in a fur for tanning in just about any form you want to bring it with the exception of slipping or still breathing!
Now the fur is in my hands what’s next? If the fur is dried it must be rehydrated until pliable, if green it is ready for the washing process. All fur goes through my rigorous cleaning/ degreasing procedure. First the pelts are placed into a degreasing wash with a commercial solution, they are hand washed making sure both the hide and fur are fully penetrated. After this the pelts go through a cold water rinse and a few minute drip dry while I prepare the next wash. The next wash is a odor eliminating wash along with a second wash of the fur, it is very important to start with a clean fur so the end product can be it’s best. The pelts will once again go through a cold water rinse and be hung to drip dry for a couple of hours.
Now the pelts are prepped to enter the tanner. My tanner is a 22gal auto tanner from TASCO company. The tanner can take a good amount of fur depending on the size of the pelts. This tanner works off of a pre-mixed commercial chemical solution, water, and 50lbs of air pressure. Once the pelts are loaded into the tanner it is kind of a set it and forget it operation (for the moment), the furs are in the solution for a minimum of 4 hours as the tanner slowly turns to tan the entire batch evenly.
When the tanner has finished it’s cycle my hard work begins. All hides must be drained, then rinsed and hung fur side out to drip dry. I will blow the furs out individually to speed up the process, then place them on a stretcher fur side out over night. The next day I invert the pelts to skin side out and place back onto the stretcher. The drying process takes the longest, about 2-3 days for the 70% dryness I am looking for.
The skins are now starting to look leather like and are ready for the next step. I oil each skin by hand and roll them in order for the oil to sweat into the hide, this takes one night. It will ensure the best flexibility on the finished product.
Once the hide has absorbed the oil it goes into the breaking process. I break all hides by hand at this point, hope to have a tumbler soon but, I work with what I have. Each pelt is rubbed over an edge to stretch the skin fibers and bring back flexibility and suppleness. It takes about 30 min average, some larger pelts more, smaller pelts less always using the the same process.
Once the leather is flexible the skin is once again inverted fur side out. Each pelt is then blown out and brushed to make it as pretty as they can be.
A commercial tannery has a lot of tools that make these processes more efficient so more fur can be processed in a shorter period of time. The biggest difference from my small scale tanning to the big guys is the turn-around time, I can have your fur back in your hands in less than a month, the big guys have a 6 month plus time frame. In the end you always have a beautifully preserved fur that holds the memory of your catch and will last a lifetime.