How to Tan Alligator Hides at Home

by Joe Kelly
Tan an alligator hide so that purses, shoes or trophy mounts can be made from the hide.

Tan an alligator hide so that purses, shoes or trophy mounts can be made from the hide.

Tanning the hide of an alligator at home is a fairly labor-intensive process, but preserving these valuable hides can be a rewarding challenge. Tanning an alligator hide requires cleaning the hide and soaking the hide in some very strong smelling chemicals for up to a week. It is highly recommended that the hides are tanned outdoors or in a well ventilated area. Alligators hides can be tanned and used for making purses, wallets, shoes, handbags or stuffed and mounted to make display as a hunting trophy.

Preparing the Hide

Place the skin flesh-side up. Scrape the hide using the fleshing knife to remove any leftover meat and fat.

Apply a 1 inch think layer of salt to the hide. Wear rubber gloves and make sure to push the salt into every crevice and cranny. Roll up the hide and wrap with a large rubber bands.

Soak the hide in a 50 gallon covered plastic drum. Create a brine; combine water, pint of bleach, 1 pound boric acid and 30 pounds of salt, stir together and then let rest.

Submerse the rolled hide into the brine and rotate wearing rubber gloves to remove air pockets. Cover the plastic drum and let soak for 24 hours, this will help draw the moisture out of the hide.

Remove the hide from the plastic drum and rinse the hide and the drum thoroughly with clean water.

Make a pickling solution. In a cleaned plastic drum mix 25 ounces. formic acid, 25 pounds of salt and 25 gallons clean water. Test the pH with the test strips, you want a pH of 1 to 1 1/2. The pickling process will make the skin pliable.

Place the hide in the pickling solution, cover the plastic drum and allow to soak. Small alligator hides up to 5 feet long should be soaked for 24 hours. Larger hides will take longer to completely pickle a 12 foot hide will require about 5 days of pickling. Stir the pickling solution. The pickle is complete when the thickest parts of the hide are white.

Remove the hide from the plastic drum when the pickling process is complete and add 25 oz of baking soda to raise the pH to 4 to 4 1/2. Place the hide back into the drum and soak for 15 minutes, then remove the hide and rinse with clean water.

Tanning

Tan the hide. In a clean plastic drum combine 36 oz. of Lutan-F, and 16 lbs of salt. Check the pH after mixing you want a pH of 4. If the pH is too high add Lutan-F, if too low add baking soda. Cover the plastic drum and soak in the tanning solution. For hides under 10 feet soak for 24 hours. Hides over 10 feet should be soaked up to 48 hours.

Raise the pH to 4 1/2 and soak an additional 90 minutes after the tanning period.

Remove the hide from the plastic drum and rinse the hide with clean water and let drain for 30 minutes.

Heat the tanning oil. Lie the hide on a clean, flat surface and apply a layer of tanning oil to the hide with a soft brush. Wait 30 minutes, then apply a second coat of tanning oil. Roll the hide up and let cure for a minimum of 8 hours.

Mount the hide or cut the hide to fashion handbags, wallets or shoes.

Items you will need

  • Fleshing knife
  • Rubber gloves
  • 100 pounds non-iodized salt
  • Large rubber bands
  • 50 gallon covered plastic drum
  • 1 pint bleach
  • 1 pound boric acid
  • Formic acid
  • pH test strips
  • Baking soda
  • Lutan-F
  • Tanning oil
  • Soft brush

Warnings

  • Maintain a pH between 4 to 4 1/2, during the pickling process to prevent "acid swell." Acid swell makes the hide slimy and spongy.
  • Use a tanning oil that works well with Lutan-F.

About the Author

Based in Colorado, Joe Kelly has been a freelance writer since 2007. His writing has appeared in various online publications such as OC Publife, The Raiders Post, Liberty Abyss, Chasing the River and PipingShark. Kelly has a Bachelor of Science in business administration from California State University, Northridge.

Photo Credits

  • Hemera Technologies/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images