Tanning is the process which converts the protein of the raw hide or skin into a stable material which will not putrefy and is suitable for a wide variety of end applications. The biggest difference between raw hides and tanned hides is that raw hides has already formed a hard inflexible material that can putrefy when re-wetted , while tanned material dries out to a flexible form that does not become putrid when wetted back, because it has formed a stable structure.A large number of different tanning methods and materials can be used; the choice is ultimately dependent on the end application of the leather. The most commonly used tanning material is chromium, which leaves the leather, once tanned, a pale blue colour (due to the chromium), this product is commonly called “wet blue”.
The acidity of hides once they have finished pickling will typically be between pH of 2.8-3.2. At this point the hides are loaded in a drum and immersed in a float containing the tanning liquor. The hides are allowed to soak (while the drum slowly rotates about its axle) and the tanning liquor slowly penetrates through the full substance of the hide. Regular checks will be made to see the penetration by cutting the cross section of a hide and observing the degree of penetration. Once an even degree of penetration is observed, the pH of the float is slowly raised in a process called basification. This basification process fixes the tanning material to the leather, and the more tanning material fixed, the higher the hydrothermal stability and increased shrinkage temperature resistance of the leather. The pH of the leather when chrome tanned would typically finish somewhere between .
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