Sharing talent for tanning

By Madeleine Caccianiga

Malcolm Watts has been perfecting the art of animal tanning for more than 20 years and shares his passion with the Tatura Men’s Shed members.

A passionate hunter, Mr Watts saw potential in using the whole of the animal in his motto ‘‘waste not, want not’’ when away camping with a mate, where he decided to ‘‘pull the rug off a goat’’.

Mr Watts spends months tanning, stripping, stretching and cleaning pelts to create belts, rugs and fox tail aerials.

‘‘Tanning is a process that turns the skin into leather,’’ Mr Watts said.

Using only three implements, Mr Watts spends time crafting the pelts by taking all the fat and unwanted flesh off the skin.

‘‘Initially I put the pelt across the tanning beam and I’ll use one of the implements or maybe all three, take all the fat and meat and unwanted flesh off, salt it down, and roll it up,’’ he said.

The process includes salting down the pelt a number of times to kill any bacteria within the animal skin.

Mr Watts said after salting, the pelt was left for 36 hours to draw the moisture from the skin.

He then wipes it down and re-salts it again.

From there, Mr Watts washes the pelts in tanning fluid.

‘‘I wash them, put a product in to soften it up and wash it and rinse it and make up a formula which involves tanning fluid, a quantity of water and salt, depending on the quantity of skin,’’ he said.

He said the pelts had to be put out flat to dry and stretch the fibres.

‘‘They get stretched out on the rack to dry and then it is painted with a leather fluid,’’ Mr Watts said.

He said the only time he used power was to finish things off.

‘‘I use power for perhaps 15 minutes at the end of the process ... when it’s strung up and dried and turned into leather, to get the underside of the skin nice and smooth I use a belt sander,’’ he said.

‘‘From there I take it down, cut it and make a nice shape out of it and make it look pretty.’’

He said if the hair was not a nice pattern, he found another use for it.

‘‘I won’t waste it, I’ll de-hair it and that’s another process where I can just make a sheet of leather out of it,’’ Mr Watts said.

He said he had been doing this process at home for many years, but when the men’s shed came along it was a convenient option.

‘‘Look, it’s another string to the bow of the men’s shed,’’ Mr Watts said.

Tatura Men’s Shed is located at 157-161 Ross St, Tatura. For more information, phone 58241089 or email