Steps Involved with Alligator Tanning
The alligator is touched by more than 20 pairs of hands on its journey from Marsh to Market. Each craftsman takes great care and pride in how the leather is worked. The steps below describe the many steps involved in creating the leather. This process takes several months from start to finish, but it is only one stage in a trade that involves hunters, farmers, graders, legislators, designers, manufacturers, importers, exporters, marketers, and retailers. The many stages, the great passion, and the time consuming processes help explain the high prices of genuine alligator products.
Skinning and Preservation
- Skinning (flaying): this step is often done in the wild. The skin is cut off of the meat in a very particular pattern, perserving the most valuable cut of the belly skin.
- Scraping: any flesh remaining on the hide is scraped off.
- Salting: a fine-grain of salt (free of dirt and other contaminants) must be used. Bad salt curing can cause irreparable damage to the scales (such as peeling) due to bacterial damage of the skin proteins.
- Bactericide: a non-tanning agent with bactericidal and fungicidal properties is added.
- Rolling: the skins are then folded and rolled in a particular way, with a layer of salt separating the individual hides and shipped to a cooling house.
- Soaking: the skins are soaked in water with wetting agents and disinfectants. The soaking rehydrates the interfibrillary protein, creating a more flexible hide.
- Liming: liming chemicals (lime, sodium sulfide, and water mixture) are used to "descale", or remove the epidermis. The natural fats are also saponified and partially removed. The hides are then grennish-white, semi-translucent, swollen, and rubber-like.
- Deliming: citric or lactic acid, sodium bisulfite, and ammonium salts are used to adjust the acid-alkaline pH value to 8.0-8.5 and reduce the swelling of the hides.
- Bating: enzymes such as rennin and trypsin are used to remove additional proteins.
- Pickling: an acid, salt and water solution is used to adjust the pH balance to 3.3-3.8 and remove osteoderms in the belly region. An alligator hide, which has basically no osteoderms on the belly can finish this step in as little as 1 or 2 days. A caiman hide, which has extremely pronounced osteoderms, may take as long as 45- 60 days.
- Chrome tannage: carried out in drums, chrome salts offer a more even tan on crocodilian leather than vegetable tannins.
- Shaving: this step creates a uniform thickness within one tenth of a millimeter of accuracy
- Neutralizing: a weak alkaline removes all inorganic acids from the hide
- Retanning: the hides are generally tanned a second time with synthetic or vegetable tannins to improve the glazing and polishing properties.
- Dyeing: to achieve an even dye of the color of choice, three applications of dye may be used
- Fatliquoring: synthetic or sim-synthetic fatliquors give the hides a softness, pliability, and stretch. It also gives them resistance to abrasion, chimical attacks, and dirt.
- Finishing: an albuminous product such as casein, egg albumen, milk, or gelatine is applied through padding, brushing, or spraying
- Drying: the hides are dried
- Glazing: creates a gloss by polishing the dried hide with an agate stone
- Bombe'ing: (pronounced like Bombay) creates a curvature of the tiles through steaming the hides.