Wet tan vs. dry tan?

Submitted by SC on 1/2/06 at 1:18 AM. ( Crazycatentertainment@comcast.net )

Hi everyone. I am new to this board and new to taxidermy. I am wondering, what is the difference between wet tanning and dry tanning? I know one is wet and one is dry, obviously. But what are the other differences? Just curious.. Thanks.


Return to Beginners Category Menu


This response submitted by Wolfe on 1/2/06 at 5:12 AM. ( )

a wet tanned hide comes back from the tannery frozen and must be kept frozen until you are ready to mount it.

a dry tan does not have to be frozen so you don't take up valuable freezer space. A dry tan has to be rehydrated and stretched before it is ready to mount.

George had a very good post about this wet vs. dry tanning

This response submitted by Mr.T on 1/2/06 at 6:17 AM. ( )

Thank you again George, I found this when I clicked on the orange button on the left here.

By George Roof
Last month, after getting several questions about tanning, I attempted to get a free education by posing a question on the industry forum (albeit a poorly worded one). If you keep up on here, you already know what I got (if not, click the industry icon and go to Aug 24). I also got some very BAD information and so that it doesn't take you 43 years like it did with me, I want to share what MY TANNERY TOLD ME.
Yesterday, I killed 2 birds with one stone as I hand delivered some African hides to Carolina Fur Dressing in Raleigh, NC. I met and was given a tour of the tannery by Rick Morgan, the owner and a fine gentleman. What he told me, I will attempt to parlay in laymans language to you. REMEMBER, This is how Carolina does it. YOUR TANNER MAY NOT DO IT THIS WAY.
The tannery is located in a modern metal building on the industrial side of town. The receiving dock looks similar to all other businesses, but that's where it all ends. What I saw inside, away from the administrative clerks with their computers and records files, was the exact same thing I saw over 40 years ago. Not a whole lot has changed in tanning as for as the machinery and equipment. The only technique that has changed is the "Wet Tans" and Rick verified that Seminole Fur had claimed to be the first in their attempts and they had touted not adding oils. (Many away from the industry still think it was simply a pickling process that didn't have enough stretch and when rinsed, sometimes developed problems). Todays wet tans start out just like the dry tans with some of the final steps eliminated.
Dry Tan: This tan is ideal for rug works and has been used for ages in taxidermy. Hides are tanned using the same steps you'd use at home. After the tanning is complete, they are dried in gas driers until most of the moisture is removed. They are then painted with "grease", a heavy, thick, water INSOLUBLE oil. The hides are then put in "kickers", machines that literally pound the oil into the cell structures and drives the water out. They are dried again slightly to remove excess oil and placed in HUGE tumblers with floured sawdust. The tumblers are harsh on the hide as the "breaking" takes place in here. Once tumbled dry, the hides are ready for shipment.
Wet Tan: Tanning is done exactly the same, but when the process is completed, the hide is taken to an oiling table where a WATER SOLUBLE oil, much like a hand lotion, is applied to the cape after it is semi-dried. Excess oil is removed, the hides are placed in plastic bags, frozen and then shipped. This tan is ideal for mounting as the harsh tumbling steps where ears may be damaged and noses torn is omitted.
Dry Preserve: If you've ever seen a dead cat on the road, you understand that an animal hide will retain hair if the meat is removed and the hair allowed to stay in place until the skin dries. DP works just like this. The cell structure of the skin remains intact, but has nothing left to hold it's shape. Because of this, DP hides always have excessive stretch while green, but the stretch is greatly reduced as it dries which produces cracks in eyelids, noses, and seam patterns. Shrinkage is a real problem and only the best epoxie glues can ever hold a cape to withstand these stresses. DP consists of many products, but the standard is talc, borax, alum, and sometimes moth crystals in varying amounts and combinations. This dry chemical "sweetens" the cape to reduce insect infestations and the rotting of the flesh that may or may not have been left on the cape. The dry chemical constantly removes moisture from the hide and in humid areas, my even cause dripping. This contracting/expanding of the hide also weakens it. As the cell structure is not preserved, rehydrating a DP cape (intentionally or not) reforms the hide to its natural state.
Conversely, a tan actually pickles the hide to preserve the cell structure. Dry tans are softened by the intentional collapsing of these cell structures and the oil softens that structure so that this collapse does not sever the cell wall. Contrary to some inputs, very little protein is lost during the process, rather converted. As all skin, hair, and flesh are made of protein, any destruction or elimination will endanger the hair and hide remaining intact. Wet tans were a product of necessity to insure the quality in taxidermy. Any damage avoided at the tannery spells better quality of the end item. The oils traditional taxidermy did not work well in wet tanning as it left the capes greasy and water would not remove any excess. Both problems were avoided by using the water soluble oil to retain the integrity of the hide.
Now, I repeat, this is what MY TANNERY does and how Rick Morgan explained it to me. I apologized for my own ignorance and taking his time, but he was genuinely put off by that. He said that his biggest concern was that MORE TAXIDERMISTS didn't call or visit his tannery to see the work that went on. They would quickly see just why, at any given moment, it was impossible to account for a particular hide from a particular customer. (His shaving room had 8 people shaving hides at a rate of one deer cape every 10 minutes and two huge bins were filled to overflowing with shaved capes ready to be sent out to tanning vats. In the loading dock area were crates, boxes, bags, cartons, and cans with incoming dry salted hides awaiting their turn and in the packing area, thousands of capes were being sorted, folded, and packed for shipment. Rick also noted that many taxidermists tan their own capes because "they always have". He noted that if a taxidermist has a larger volume of work, the $30 he charges for tanning are quite a bargain. If a taxidermist takes 4 hours to tan his or her hides, they utilize $100 worth of labor that could be spent on other projects.
For you beginners, I would encourage you to contact YOUR tannery and ask any questions you have. Refuse to be intimidated. A tanner who doesn't have time for you isn't earning his money. You wouldn't let your car dealer get away with that. You'd go someplace else. Treat business the same way. Tanning is NOT magic. It's basic concept hasn't changed much since the Indians used brains or oak bark. It's a primitive trade that endures because of people like us. Some of the methods have been modified, but the basics are the still the same. Asking questions threatens no one's livelihood and tanners weren't born with pH papers in their diapers. Visit your tannery, but call before you go to insure someone has the time to show you around. Tanneries today have myriads of government agencies pestering them and making them spend hours on records keeping to feed the bureaucratic monsters. The work is arduous, tedious, and ball breaking brute labor (How would you like to sit at a shaving machine for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 20 years. Aside from looking like Popeye, you'd probably go crazy.) The only difference between a "good" tannery and a "bad" one is the quality of the final product. You can make the bad ones go away by not utilizing them, and once you visit one, you won't have any fantasies about what goes on there.

Return to Beginners Category Menu