The Tanning Process Explained

The Tanning Process Explained

The Tanning Process:
From Raw Skin to Beautiful Leather

Our business has always been one that gets a lot of questions... After all, there are only a handful of tanners in the world with the skillset and knowledge to turn a raw alligator skin into a beautiful piece of glazed leather.  Each tanner's proprietary  technology is a highly protected secret, but we want to help educate our clients so they can understand the steps involved in the delicate process in order to appreciate it more.

The details of  reptile tanning are quite technical and scientific, but we have put together some information that will help you understand (in plain English!) exactly what a skin goes through in our tannery.  Of course, we can't give away any top secret recipes, but we do hope you'll learn a little about reptile tanning and why alligator skins are so precious.


Buying, Grading, and Measuring Skins

Buying raw alligators is the beginning of a long journey a skin takes "from the marsh to market" and while in our care.    The buying season for wild alligators occurs only once a year, usually during the  month of September.  The harvest lasts approximately 30 days, but the bulk of the skins are bought in the first 2 weeks of that month.    The frenzy of buying, transporting and processing more than 6,000 large alligators in approximately 15-20 days is very intense.


Once the season is over and the skins are validated by Louisiana Wildlife Officials, the alligators are delivered to our tannery via refrigerated trucks in order  to maintain their freshness.   The skins usually arrive in mid October.

Once they are received, we measure, grade, and carefully 
inspect each skin.  Skins are sorted according to their sizes and are then put into batches so they can be processed together.

The Wet-End Tanning Process

descaled skinsOnce the tanning batches are prepared, the skins must be re-hydrated to begin the soaking and descaling process of the skins.  The skins are placed in huge paddle tanks filled with water and chemicals.  The chemicals gently dissolve the scaly layer of the skin, while the paddle softly agitates the water to "open up" the skin and  encourage the sloughing of the scales.  

wetbluedamon wetblue

After 7-10 days, when the grain of the skin is exposed and the pH of the water is adjusted, the skins are ready for tanning. The tanning of the skins takes place in large stainless steel drums which are filled with chemicals, one of which is a mineral based tanning substance called "chrome".  Over the course of the next 4 days, the skins will churn in the drums, and the skins will become tanned and in a state of what is known as "wet-blue". Skins are held in wet-blue for 2-6 weeks, to ensure the tannage is complete and the chrome becomes firmly bound in the skin

After the skins have "rested" in the wet-blue  phase, they are shaved to a uniform thickness by a machinist who skillfully operates a high speed rotating blade.  Each skin is meticulously checked after shaving to ensure all of our rigorous quality standards are met.


The skins are readied for the bleaching, neutralization and re-tanning phase to begin.  During this step. the skins are put, once again, into the huge drums.  The natural markings and pigment in the skins are removed.,  All free radicals and acids in the skins are neutralized and the exact characteristics of the leather is imparted to the skin by the addition of synthetic or vegetable tanning extracts.   Finally essential specially formulated oils known as "fatliquor" are added to the skins to achieve the perfect touch and enhance the beauty of the final product.   After this three-day process, the skins are toggled to dry.

Once the skins are dried, they become what tanners call "crust".  Crust is  leather which has neither been dyed nor finished.  Skins are held in this state until color and finish choices can be made

Skin Selection, Dyeing, and Finishing

The crust skins are, once again, re-graded, measured and sorted according to their new specifics.  The skins can be stored in the crust state indefinitely until a designer chooses a color and a finish and a manufacturer places an order.

When a client places an order, we again re-select their skins according to his or her specifications, ensuring the skins are tailored to meet the needs of the final product.  



Skins are batch
ed together for the coloring and finishing operations and are placed in smaller stainless steel drums with water, dyes, and oils to achieve the exact desired hue of the leather.  The dyeing process takes approximately 1 full day.

toggling 2
Once the ski
ns are dyed, they must be shaved a final time to ensure the proper thickness specifications are met.   While the skins are still damp, they are stretched and dried on large toggling boards.  Shaving, toggling, and drying takes approximately 1-2 days.

When the dried colored skins are removed, they are readied for the special chemicals which impart and enhance the final finish.  The type of chemical used determines whether the skin will have a brilliant, glossy shine or a satin, soft glow.  The skins are then glazed by a highly skilled technician operating a machine using an agate stone.  Glazing a skin takes between 30 minutes and 1 hour, depending on the size of the skin.

Once the skins are glazed, they are placed in a temperature and humidity controlled room, where the final "bombee" or plumping of the scales is achieved. Only a fraction of the world's reptile tanners  are able to achieve a true glazed finish.  We are proud to be a member of this minority community.
glazed half way

Finally, the skins are moved to the finished stock room, where they are checked, graded for the 5th and final time, measured, packed, and shipped to their final destination.  We also store some skins as stock to sell to clients who buy skins on an as-needed basis.  

finished skins

We currently have over 400 colors and several different finishes, and the ability to produce endless combinations of them.  Custom colors are no problem for us, and we are happy to develop exclusive finishes for our clients.  Please contact us if you are interested in a special project.  

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