The tanning process has five basic steps; preparing the hide, soaking and cleaning, hair removal, tanning and oiling and finishing, with each step requiring a different combination of tools. Most tanning methods require a scraper to remove flesh or hair, a chemical or preservative to uphold the hide and miscellaneous other tools that hold the hide in place or serve a specific purpose in a tanning procedure.
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Scrapers are primarily used to remove flesh and hair from the skin before the tanning process. Depending on what the leather will be used for, hair removal may not be necessary, but all the flesh must be scraped away to prevent decomposition of the skin. To use a scraper, the hide must be soaked first and then spread taut across a barrel or large flat surface while the fat and connective tissues are scraped off. Two scrapers, wet and dry, are used in leather tanning. Wet scrapers scrape the wet flesh, membranes and fur from the hide. They are made from recycled mill-planer blades and are long, straight rectangular blades with two grips on either end. A straight blade or a knife may be used in place of a scraper. Dry scrapers are used only in the dry scraping process where dried flesh, membranes and hair are scraped from the hide. Traditional dry scrapers have a long wooden handle with a weighted short blade set at an angle. The weight of the blade and it’s angle make the scraper easier to hold and prevents “chattering”, or the bouncing around of the scraper.
Chemicals and Perservatives
Depending on the specific tanning method or process chosen, a chemical or natural preservative agent cures the hide. The most common natural preservative agents are salt and vinegar. Some common chemicals include ammonia alum, washing soda, borax, baking soda, wood alcohol, turpentine, dishwasher detergent, hydrated lime, USP lactic acid and washing powder. Many of these chemicals are used in the soaking and cleaning, tanning, hair removal and oiling and finishing procedures while some are used based on the tanning method. Brain matter from the animal can also act as a preservative or tanning agent and is the most natural and oldest method used for tanning. These chemicals and preservatives stop decomposition and prevent dehydration of the hide.
Other Miscellaneous Tools
Many leather tanning methods require a specific type of work surface. The most common include a large barrel for curing and soaking and a large flat surface for hide preparation, hair removal and cleaning. During different procedures in the leather tanning process, nails, weights or ties might be needed to stretch the skin taut. Various process also call for the use of stirring paddles, brushes or cloths such as during the cleaning process or application of preservatives and chemicals. Certain chemicals may require a nonmetallic barrel or work surface so make sure to check all chemicals closely to make sure they don’t erode metal or the hide will be ruined and toxic chemicals will spill.
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