Ancient craft of tanning alive and well

Flint's Tannery has been tanning furry hides since 2011 in Cranbrook.

Top: Jesse

Top: Jesse

Flint’s Tannery has been tanning furry hides since 2011 in Cranbrook. The tannery is locally owned and operated by Dan and Lorraine Flint, along with a modest staff.

“We’ve been in the business since 1985,” Lorraine said. “Taxidermy first, and then as time progressed tanning just became part of the scenario and it grew bigger.”

They moved to Cranbrook originally from Southern Alberta.

The Flints offer hair-on tanning of all types of game.

They work on skins for taxidermists, hunters, trappers and farmers.

The tannery doesn’t work on leather for clothing or anything besides hair-on tanning.

“This is a real specialized market,” Dan said. “So there’s a lot of hands-on labour with the fleshing room. Detailed work around the heads and the faces and the noses. It makes for a quality hair-on hide that can be hung in your home to put up for display, or to mount it, because it has to be done to a higher standard if you want to mount them for taxidermy.”

In the entrance room to the tannery hang the furs of cougars, bears, deer, elk, wolves, domestic sheep, cows, buffalo and beavers.

“Here we have a bison flat skin,” Dan pointed out one of the larger furs.

Then there are also the animals that trappers bring in, such as bobcats, lynx and otters. They work on those as well.

The craft of tanning is a fine one.

“If these were poorly done, you wouldn’t have the clean hair,” he said, showing the softness of a bear fur. “This really displays the hair and the beauty of the bear. If you don’t do a good job there, they look terrible.”

He noted the soft, stretchy and clean qualities of the leather.

In the back, the hides come in salted and skinned. They are then rehydrated before the process of pickling begins. This step removes all of the impurities from the skin. The skill of the flesher then comes in to play as they bring the skin to a uniform thickness and even out the final leather product.

That is followed by the tanning process. Flint’s uses vegetable, mineral or synthetic tanning solutions to get the desired results from the skin.

Oils are then used to lubricate the tanned skin. This oil replaces the natural oil that was once in the skin, but was removed in the pickling process.

The final step of the process is drumming. The large rotating drum is used in the finishing process to clean the fur and leather. Dan noted that is what gives the fur or hair a glossy sheen that a quality skin should have when completed.

The showroom and tannery is located at 901A Industrial Road No. 2 in Cranbrook. Call Flint’s Tannery at 250-426-8232.