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Hair falling out while tanning!

Discussion in 'Beginners' started by mustangfury, Jan 2, 2011.

  1. mustangfury

    mustangfury New Member


    I am fairly new to taxidermy. I have tanned several small animals (raccoons/squirrels) and had good success with them producing nice furs. I have been working on two deer blankets and the cape of a doe as a practice mount. I just took the first skin to be used for a throw blanket/rug out of the tanning solution and the hair just pulls right out like when you get a chicken to the right temperature for plucking. I was wondering what caused this.

    My process included:
    1. Skinning and fleshing the hide
    2. Stretching and salting the hide until dried out (supposedly to help set the hair?)
    3. Washing and relaxing the hide with Tide laundry detergent
    4. Picking in Oxalic Acid (4 oz. acid/ 4 gallon water) for 48 hours with more salt than the water could absorb (pH lower than 2)
    5. Neutralizing in baking soda for 10 minutes.
    6. Soaking in an ammonia alum solution (1 lb. alum/ 4 gal. water) with more salt than the water could absorb for 1.5 weeks
    7. Removed and soaked in borax to relax the hide before oiling and noticed clumps of hair in the solution, then noticed all the hair was simply falling out.

    Any help on what mistakes I may have made or what could cause this is much appreciated. There is always a chance I messed up one of my mixes. Also, there was an intense odor when I removed the lid from the tanning bucket. I smelled an odor on the other hides that went away after rinsing but nothing this intense.

  2. Not familiar with a Alum tan but 1.5 weeks seems like a VERY long time in a tanning Solution with no Acid... Probably Acid Swell.

    And what the heck is the Borax for?

  3. mustangfury

    mustangfury New Member

    Alum is aluminum sulfate. The two different chemicals used for tanning with it are pot ash (potassium aluminum sulfate) and ammonia alum (ammonia aluminum sulfate). The recommended soaking times I have found from different articles range from about 1 week to 2 weeks. Van Dyke's instructions recommend 2 weeks. A publishing by New Mexico State University says to soak it for 5 days.

    "Supposedly" with this method it is hard to over tan. I tested this "hard to over tan" theory using a squirrel hide. I left it in the solution for a month. Turned out great. Really soft, pliable, no odor, good color, and great hair retention. I have a raccoon in another solution of alum that has been there for over a month as well and it does not share the same problematic properties as the deer skin.

    Will acid swelling cause hair loss? Could that have been from leaving the fur in the acid bath for too long?

    Borax is a cleaning agent. It is often used in laundry. I read a few articles on alum tanning that suggested using it to soften the hide and make it more pliable before oiling. I couldn't answer your question further than that.

  4. jorgy

    jorgy Member

    I always add bactericide to soaks and pickles, seems to stop any hair loss issues.
  5. cyclone

    cyclone Posts: 400001

    #3 was the start of your problems if the cape was in good condition to begin with...

    Borax also has a high pH, it is alkaline.
  6. mustangfury

    mustangfury New Member

    The cape was a little dirty from dragging it through the woods. I use laundry detergent mainly to degrease the skin. It also cleans up the majority of blood splatter and/or dirt.Is Tide bad to use as a degreaser? If not, what is wrong with #3?

    So, do you think the borax was the problem?

  7. Tide- Like Most Household soaps has a high pH which can act like a dehairing agent and affect the pH of your pickle, Esp. on the hair side where it will stay if you don't get it 100% out.

    Borax is a Dessicant and I see absolutely NO use for it in step #7.
  8. mustangfury

    mustangfury New Member

    That makes sense. I think my problem was probably a mix between the high pH of the laundry detergent (pH=8.1-8.6) and the borax (pH=9.1 wow, didn't know that). Being a larger skin than the raccoons and squirrels I have done, the laundry detergent would take a lot more rinsing and work to get it all out. The smaller skins in a 5 gallon bucket of water were probably diluted enough.

    Would the wrong pH in the acid bath cause the intense smell I got?

    In the future I'll try to pay closer attention to the pH to make sure it stays below 2. So, laundry detergent would still be OK as long as you get it out/keep the pH correct?

    So if i don't use step #7, would I jump directly to oiling from tanning?

    Thanks for the input. very helpful.
  9. Once your hide comes out of the tan, Rinse, Drain and Oil. No need to "Relax" a Sopping wet skin. "Relaxing" is for dried skins either Air dried, Salted or dry Tanned.

    Cold water does the same thing to get the blood and crap out. OR use a tannery Degreaser (which has a lower pH). Makenzie sells a good degreaser... They advertise it as "Tannery Degreaser"
  10. cyclone

    cyclone Posts: 400001

    Tide laundry detergent also contains enzymes designed to break down starches and proteins..Your hide is made of proteins..

    Re-hydrate with salt water. If you must wash before the pickle, do so after re-hydration and use a mild dish detergent. Dawn, palmolive...etc..and rinse very well. There should be no detergent residue left when going to the pickle.

    Whitetail hides rarely need degreasing.

    Now, I haven't alum tanned in a long time but shouldn't the neutralization come after the tanning soak as opposed to before?
  11. mustangfury

    mustangfury New Member

    from what I have read about alum tanning it works best at a pH of 4.0 - 5.0. The pickle is neutralized for only about 10 minutes just to raise the pH from its original 2.0.

    Thanks for the help