The fur tanning process

In this visit to a tanning plant, we follow the process of transforming raw beaver pelts into a material ready for garment designers.

First a worker sorts through the raw pelts to determine the type of garment they’re suitable for, and then hammers a lot number into the underside of each pelt. He then cuts out the ear cartilage.

The pelts are dry because of preservation techniques used before they were delivered to the tanning plant, so they are rehydrated using chemical washes, including tanning chemicals. These convert the underside of the skins to supple leather that will allow them to be shaped into garments. 

All the washes cause the pelts to thicken, so they are thinned down using a flesher’s knife. This is a skilled process. One false move and you’ll cut into the follicles and lose fur.

Next, the pelts are placed in a rotating drum of sawdust and mineral solution to clean and condition the leather. The furs emerge still damp, so they are hung over wooden dowels, leather side up. 

Now, a worker scrapes off the long hair to expose the downy undercoat, which has the most desirable look and texture. A generous amount of oil is rubbed onto the leather to lubricate it, and the pelts are then tossed into a “kicker box” which causes the oil to penetrate the skin.

Next, a spinning metal wheel tugs at the pelt to stretch it. That done, a worker cuts away the edges, and it’s into the hot press. This irons and adds luster to the fur. After a quick brush, the pelts get one more press. Then a shearing machine cuts the hairs to an even length. 

And the pelts are ready for their trip to the garment factory!