How to Skin an Alligator
- Outline the body where skinning will start.
- The cut along the sides is made between first and second row of scutes on the back.
- A straight cut is made from the back along the top of each leg (through the largest scales).
- Cut completely around each foot at the wrist or ankle.
- The outline cut on the tail is below the top row of tail scutes.
- When cuts reach the single row of tail scutes midway along tail, cut through base to end of tail
(butterfly end of tail).
- Skin tail completely along the sides.
- Begin skinning body section with front legs and adjacent side skin.
- Slowly cut skin away from front legs and side of body.
- Some pulling can be done on upper leg portions.
- Skin hind legs and adjacent side skin same as front legs.
- The sides should be completely skinned and only the belly portion should be left unskinned now.
- After sides and legs are skinned, turn alligator on its side and make outline cuts along lower jawbone.
- Cut is made along the outer edge of the lower jaw skin.
- By pulling on the jaw muscle, the flesh can be tightened, allowing for easier skinning.
- After the hide is cut from lower jaw and neck, the alligator is ready to be skinned down the belly.
- Skinning the under side of the alligator can be accomplished by both pulling and cutting.
- Pulling is easier on small alligators, with careful cutting required otherwise.
- Cut carefully around anal opening (vent) so this area won’t tear if pulled.
- Both pull and cut hide from the remaining tail section.
- Meat and fat remaining on the hide must be removed.
- Scrape with dull objects (pipes, scrapers, spoons, etc.) taking care not to cut or tear the hide.
- Once scraped, the hide should be relatively free of flesh and white in appearance.
- The hide should be washed in clean, fresh water to remove blood and other fluids.
- Hang hide in shaded area and allow to drain.
The Right Tools
- Good light
- Knife and sharpener
- Steady table at a comfortable height
The area between the neck and vent in Diagram 2 is the part of the belly hide that is graded.
Holes or cuts in this part of the hide make it difficult or impossible to cut full belly patterns for purses, briefcases or larger leather articles.
Enough holes or cuts in the flanks can even make cutting shoe vamps or smaller leather-goods difficult.
The one row of scutes along the sides of the alligator are left so the tanner has some extra hide to tack to when the hide is stretched and dried during the tanning process.
Special care should be taken not to cut or put holes in the belly pattern of the hide (particularly around the legs and flanks where the thin hide is easy to nick with a knife).
- Skinning should take place as soon after the harvest as practical.
- Avoid direct sun or heat on the carcass or hide whenever possible.
- Keep hide away from blood, entrails, or other contact with dirty surfaces where more bacteria can get into the hide.
- Always skin carefully and particularly avoid holes or cuts in the belly pattern.
- Scrape excess meat and fat from the underside of the hide with blunt knives, paint scrapers, beveled pipes or other dull tools
How to Cure an Alligator
The purpose of curing alligator hides is simply to remove moisture from the hide so it can be better preserved before tanning.
A fine-grain mixing salt works best and is the preferred method of curing alligator hides.
Salt should be applied generously (1/2 to 1 inch thick) and rubbed into all parts of the hide.
Salt should be rubbed thoroughly into the hide, making sure enough salt gets into the creases, flaps, tail and similar places where bacteria can get a start.
Salt helps slow bacterial growth.
Tightly roll the hides and stack in a well-ventilated place where they can drain.
After three to five days in a cool or shaded place, the hides should be resalted for best curing.
Don’t use rock salt and don’t freeze hides (freezer burned hides won’t tan properly).
If done correctly, a brine solution for both curing and storing alligator hides is an acceptable way to handle them.
But close attention must be paid to keep the brine saturated with salt and hides should be checked frequently to assure proper curing.
In order for brine solutions to be effective they must be carefully prepared and maintained.
A plastic or other non-corrosive covered container of sufficient size should be used.
Heavy, 50 gallon plastic drums used for shipping olives, peppers or pickles are best, but large plastic covered garbage cans are good substitutes.
The brine solution must remain saturated with salt.
Too little salt in solution will cause the loss of hides.
Fill container half full of water, add salt, borax and bleach to drum and mix thoroughly.
After complete mixing a 2 or 3 inch layer of salt should remain on the bottom.
The bleach and borax will assist in keeping bacterial growth to a minimum.
Alligator hides are sensitive to many chemicals which may affect the tanning process.
When it comes to chemicals, more is not better.
DO NOT add formaldehyde or other chemicals which may affect the hide.
Hides should be properly scraped and salted with a one inch layer of salt, tightly rolled and secured with a rubber band prior to placing in brine.
When submersing a hide in the brine it should be rotated to allow most of the air pockets to escape.
If properly salted, the layer of salt in the rolled skin will act as a wick to draw the brine solution throughout the hide. All hides should be entirely submersed in the brine at all times.
Each time a hide is added to the brine a few pounds of salt should be sprinkled over the top.
This is important to maintain the saturated solution.
The brine container should be kept tightly covered to keep insects and airborne contaminants from entering.
When hides are to be delivered for sale they must be removed from the brine and entirely resalted prior to being shipped or placed in refrigeration.
Grandma's Brine Solution
- 50 pounds of salt
- 1 pound of 20 Mule Team Borax (boric acid)
- 1 pint bleach
- 25 gallons water