Tanning: Wikis

  
  
  

Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.

Encyclopedia

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Tanned leather in Marrakech

Tanning is the process of making leather, which does not easily decompose, from the skins of animals, which do. Often this uses tannin, an acidic chemical compound. Coloring may occur during tanning. A tannery is the term for a place where these skins are processed.

Tanning leather involves a process which permanently alters the protein structure of skin so that it cannot ever return to rawhide. Making rawhide does not require the use of tannin and is made simply by removing the flesh and fat and then the hair by way of soaking in an aqueous solution (often called liming when using lime and water or bucking when using wood ash (lye) and water), then scraping over a beam with a somewhat dull knife, and then leaving to dry, usually stretched on a frame so that it dries flat. The two aforementioned solutions for removing the hair also act to clean the fiber network of the skin and therefore allow penetration and action of the tanning agent.

The English word for tanning is from medieval Latin tannāre, deriv. of tannum (oak bark), related to Old High German tanna meaning oak or fir (related to modern Tannenbaum). This refers to use of the bark of oaks (the original source of tannin) in some kinds of hide preservation. [1]

Contents

Ancient methods

Tannery at Fez

In ancient history, tanning was considered a noxious or "odiferous trade" and relegated to the outskirts of town, amongst the poor. Indeed, tanning by ancient methods is so foul smelling that tanneries are still isolated from those towns today where the old methods are used. Ancient civilizations used leather for waterskins, bags, harnesses, boats, armor, quivers, scabbards, boots and sandals. Tanning was being carried out by the South Asian inhabitants of Mehrgarh between 7000–3300 BC.[2] Around 2500 BC, the Sumerians began using leather, affixed by copper studs, on chariot wheels.

Skins typically arrived at the tannery dried stiff and dirty with soil and gore. First, the ancient tanners would soak the skins in water to clean and soften them. Then they would pound and scour the skin to remove any remaining flesh and fat. Next, the tanner needed to remove the hair fibers from the skin. This was done by either soaking the skin in urine, painting it with an alkaline lime mixture, or simply letting the skin putrefy for several months then dipping it in a salt solution. After the hair fibers were loosened, the tanners scraped them off with a knife.

Once the hair was removed, the tanners would bate the material by pounding dung into the skin or soaking the skin in a solution of animal brains. Among the kinds of dung commonly used were that of dogs or pigeons. Sometimes the dung was mixed with water in a large vat, and the prepared skins were kneaded in the dung water until they became supple, but not too soft. The ancient tanner might use his bare feet to knead the skins in the dung water, and the kneading could last two or three hours.

It was this combination of urine, animal feces and decaying flesh that made ancient tanneries so odiferous.

Children employed as dung gatherers were a common sight in ancient cities. Also common were "piss-pots" located on street corners, where human urine could be collected for use in tanneries or by washerwomen. In some variations of the process, cedar oil, alum or tannin were applied to the skin as a tanning agent. As the skin was stretched, it would lose moisture and absorb the agent.

Leftover leather would be turned into glue. Tanners would place scraps of hides in a vat of water and let them deteriorate for months. The mixture would then be placed over a fire to boil off the water to produce hide glue.

Variations of these methods are still used by do-it-yourself outdoorsmen to tan hides. The use of brains and the idea that each animal (except buffalo) has just enough brains for the tanning process have led to the saying "Every animal has just enough brains to preserve its own hide, dead or alive".[citation needed]

Modern methods

Tanneries of Marrakech
Two men pressing the leather near the end of the tanning process in an American tannery. circa: 1976

The first stage is the preparation for tanning. The second stage is the actual tanning and other chemical treatment. The third stage, known as retanning, applies retanning agents and dyes to the material to provide the physical strength and properties desired depending on the end product. The fourth and final stage, known as finishing, is used to apply finishing material to the surface or finish the surface without the application of any chemicals if so desired.

Preparing hides begins by curing them with salt. Curing is employed to prevent putrifaction of the protein substance (collagen) from bacterial infection during the time lag that might occur from procuring the hide to when it is processed. Curing removes excess water from the hides and skins using a difference in osmotic pressure. The moisture content of hides and skins get greatly reduced. In wet-salting, the hides are heavily salted, then pressed into packs for about 30 days. In brine-curing the hides are agitated in a salt water bath for about 16 hours. Generally speaking, curing substantially reduces the chance of spoilage by bacteria. Curing can also be done by preserving the hides and skins at a very low temperature.

In a process known as soaking, the hides are then soaked in clean water to remove the salt and increase the moisture so that the hide or skin can be further treated.

Liming process of hides and skins

After soaking, the hides and skins are taken for liming: treatment with milk of lime (a basic agent) that may involve the addition of "sharpening agents" (disulfide reducing agents) like sodium sulfide, cyanides, amines etc. The objectives of this operation are mainly to:

  • Remove the hairs, nails and other keratinous matters
  • Remove some of the interfibrillary soluble proteins like mucins
  • Swell up and split up the fibers to the desired extent
  • Remove the natural grease and fats to some extent
  • Bring the collagen in the hide to a proper condition for satisfactory tannage

The weakening of hair is dependent on the breakdown of the disulfide link of the amino acid called cystine, which is the characteristic of the keratin class of protein that gives strength to hair and wools (keratin typically makes up 90% of the dry weight of hair). The hydrogen atoms supplied by the sharpening agent weaken the cystine - cysteine molecular link, and the covalent disulfide bond links are ruptured. This weakens the keratin. To some extent, sharpening also contributes to "unhairing," as it tends to break down the hair proteins.

The isoelectric point of the collagen in the hide (this is a tissue strengthening protein unrelated to keratin) is also shifted to around 4.7 due to liming, which is an acidic type of tannage.

Unhairing agents used during liming are:

The majority of hair is then removed using a machine, with remaining hair being removed by hand using a dull knife, a process known as scudding. Depending on the end use of the leather, hides may be treated with enzymes to soften them in a process called "bating." But before bating, the pH of the collagen is brought down to a lower level so that enzymes may act on it. This process is known as "deliming."

Once bating is complete, the hides and skins are treated with a mixture of common (table) salt and sulphuric acid, in case a mineral tanning is to be done. This is done to bring down the pH of collagen to a very low level so as to facilitate the penetration of mineral tanning agent into the substance. This process is known as "pickling." The common salt (sodium chloride) penetrates the hide twice as fast as the acid and checks the ill effect of sudden drop of pH.

Tanning can be performed with either vegetable or mineral methods. Before tanning, the skins are unhaired, degreased, desalted and soaked in water over a period of 6 hours to 2 days. To prevent damage of the skin by bacterial growth during the soaking period, biocides, such as pentachlorophenol, are used.

Vegetable tanning uses tannin (this is the origin of the name of the process). The tannins (a class of polyphenol astringent chemical) occur naturally in the bark and leaves of many plants. Tannins bind to the collagen proteins in the hide and coat them causing them to become less water-soluble, and more resistant to bacterial attack. The process also causes the hide to become more flexible. The primary barks used in modern times are chestnut, oak, tanoak, hemlock, quebracho, mangrove, wattle (acacia; see catechu), and myrobalan. Hides are stretched on frames and immersed for several weeks in vats of increasing concentrations of tannin. Vegetable tanned hide is flexible and is used for luggage and furniture.

Mineral tanning usually uses chromium in the form of basic chromium sulfate. It is employed after picking. Once the desired level of penetration of chrome into the substance is achieved,the pH of the material is raised again to facilitate the process. This is known as "basification". In the raw state chrome tanned skins are blue and therefore referred to as "wet blue." Chrome tanning is faster than vegetable tanning (less than a day for this part of the process) and produces a stretchable leather which is excellent for use in handbags and garments. (Encarta, 2003)

Tawing is a method that uses alum and aluminum salts, generally in conjunction with other products such as egg yolk, flour, and other salts. The leather becomes tawed by soaking in a warm potash alum and salts solution, between 20°C and 30°C. The process increases the leather's plyability, stretch, softness, and quality. Adding egg yolk and flour to the standard soaking solution further enhances its fine handling characteristics. Then, the leather is air dried ("crusted") for several weeks, which allows it to stabilize. Tawing is traditionally used on pigskins and goatskins to create whitest colors. However, exposure and aging may cause slight yellowing over time and, if it remains in a wet condition, tawed leather will suffer from decay. Technically, tawing is not tanning.[3]

Depending on the finish desired, the hide may be waxed, rolled, lubricated, injected with oil, split, shaved and, of course, dyed. Suedes, nubucks etc. are finished by raising the nap of the leather by rolling with a rough surface.

See also

References

  1. ^ [1] Reference dictionary, accessed July 22, 2009.
  2. ^ Possehl, Gregory L. (1996)
  3. ^ Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology: tawing.

Bibliography

  • Microsoft Encarta, 2003
  • Possehl, Gregory L. (1996). Mehrgarh in Oxford Companion to Archaeology, edited by Brian Fagan. Oxford University Press.

External links


Simple English

Tanning is the process of turning animal skin (often called "hide") into leather. An acid called tannin is generally used. This prevents the leather from falling apart and often gives it a special colour.

A tanner is someone whose job is tanning. In the past centuries tanners were often poor. Because tanning was a smelly job they often lived at the edge of towns.

A tannery is the buildings where the tanners worked with the animal skins.








Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address
Message