Saturday, 21 July 2012

Tanning with White Tan

Recently I have set up a little tanning system in my apartment, and have been processing some skins. In looking through my freezer, I found 5 stoat skins and 3 guinea pigs to work with.

European stoat pelt, tanned and taxidermy-ready
The stoat pelts were already ready for tanning as they were purchased from a lady in Scotland already skinned. I skipped the salting step as they had been soaked in methylated spirits prior to freezing. They turned out pretty nice, though I had to degrease them a fair few times!

The guinea pigs were processed from raw frozen and so I will explain how I process my skins here:

- Firstly the animal is defrosted, I usually spray them with 'stop slip', or soak them in methylated spirits.

- The animal is then skinned. The way in which it is skinned depends on the way it is to be mounted. Usually I skin my specimens with a 'ventral incision', this is a cut that goes from the genital area, or just above, to the mid chest or under the chin.

Winter version of the above

- After skinning, the animal is fleshed. This is the process of removing all fat, meat and membrane from the skin. This is to ensure that the salt and the tan penetrates the skin layers. Tanning solution will not work properly through fat tissue. In the fleshing process, the lips and ears are split and the nose cartilage and eyes are thinned.

- Next the pelt is salted. This is the process of rubbing salt into the skin to ensure that all fat molecules and moisture are pulled out of the skin. The tanning solution will replace that 'space' in the skin layers. The pelt is rubbed all over on the skin side with salt, and then placed on a tilted mesh to drain. 24 hours later, the wet salt is shaken off and the pelt is re-salted and then hung or placed to dry.

- 24-48 hours after this, the pelt is degreased. To do this, I soak it in a bucket of fairy washing up liquid and cold water for half an hour. This helps to draw out the grease in the skin. I then rinse the skin in the sink and make sure all suds are washed out.

Domestic guinea pig pelt
- Next is the tanning step. I use Snowdonia Supplies white tan for small animals up to a fox, and also capes. I have a large bucket which has my tanning solution in it. The same tan keeps for a while, so this is very convenient to me. I put the skin in the tan and make sure to stir it once or twice a day.

- I leave the pelt in for a week (though they take less than this, I leave them in longer to ensure that all parts of the pelt are penetrated with the tan). After this, I remove the skin, degrease it again, rinse it and hang it to dry. If the skin is to be mounted straight away, I freeze it in a plastic bag at this point.

- Once the skin is dried hard, I apply warm Snowdonia Supplies supa-soft oil to the pelt, allow it to soak in overnight, and then stretch the skin the next day. If the pelt needs degreasing again, I then do that.

- Then the skin is left to dry, stretching it several times a day until dry and soft.

A red fox vixen pelt that I currently have in my tanning bucket. 
And that is how I process my small animal skins!

I would also like to add that all guinea pigs were purchased frozen from and were not killed for the purpose of taxidermy.

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