catgut - Catgut; catgut - This peculiar kind of cord, of a horny substance, having immense strength and wearing qualities, is made entirely from intestines or gut. Whether those of a cat were first used, and gave the name this material bears, is not known, but the gut of practically every living creature can be put to this use. In practice, the intestines of the cow and horse down to those of the silkworm are all in large demand, the latter making the fine white gut so largely used in fishing tackle.
Take the entrails of sheep, or any other animal, procured from the newly killed carcase. Thoroughly clean them from all impurities and from attached fat, and wash them well in clean water, soak in soft water for two days, or in winter three days, then lay them on a table and scrape them with a small plate of copper, having a semicircular hole cut in it, the edges of which must be quite smooth and not capable of cutting. Now, after washing, put them into fresh water, and there let them remain till the next day, when they are again to be scraped. Let them soak again in water for a night, and two or three hours before they are taken out add to each gallon of water 2 oz. of pearlash. They ought now to scrape quite clean from their inner mucous coat, and will consequently be much smaller in dimensions than at first. They may now be wiped dry, slightly twisted, and passed through a hole in a piece of brass, to equalise their size; as they dry, they are passed every two or three hours through other holes, each smaller than the last. When dry they will be round and well polished, and being oiled are fit for use.
"Gut-spinning" is the twisting of prepared gut into cord of various diameter for various purposes - i.e. for ordinary catgut, for use in machinery, and for fiddle-strings. Hence in different establishments, articles of different fineness and coarseness are prepared, from the most delicate fiddle-string to a thick catgut cable. Sometimes all these varieties are made in the same establishment. The first operation, however, in every instance is the "gut-scraping."
The gut used for the above purposes is the small intestine of sheep and hogs. It is said that the sheep's small intestine measures 25 to 30 yd., and the hog's about 20 yd. The guts are collected from butchers, and in some establishments they are received from the country, or, packed with salt in barrels, from Ireland. In some establishments dried guts previously scraped are received from abroad for further manipulation. For fine purposes, such as the making of fiddle-strings, only the best and freshest guts from the butcher can be used; but for coarser purposes, their condition as to freshness is less material, and sometimes they arrive at the works in an offensive condition. The scraping is more easily effected when the gut is not quite fresh. The process of scraping is, in the larger establishments, performed by women. A bench or table is provided, at which a woman sits and scrapes the gut with a wedge-shaped piece of wood as she passes it along the table before her. In some places the back of a knife is used for this purpose. By this process all the interior softer parts are detached and pass along the gut to the end, where they are discharged, the peritoneum of the gut, and probably a little of the muscular layer, being alone left. It is again thrown into water.
The further treatment depends upon the use to which the scraped gut is to be applied. When it is to be used for sausage-skins, the scraped guts are simply packed in barrels with salt. Such as are intended far making catgut or fiddle-strings are treated further.
In some establishments, scraped guts are dried for exportation. They are stretched over frames, dried in a chamber, artificially heated, and then tied up in bundles. When dried guts are received, they are soaked in water to prepare them for spinning.
For making ordinary catgut, no further preparation is needed than sewing together lengths of scraped gut with a needle and thread. They then go to be spun by means of an ordinary spinning-wheel. The number of strands of gut spun into a cord varies with the thickness of catgut required. Catgut ½ in. thick will have as many as 700 strands of gut in it. When a length of catgut has been spun, it is dried by stretching it over pegs and exposing it (protected in some way from the weather) in the open air. Before drying, however, it is customary to bleach it by stretching it upon a frame and putting it for about 3 days into a chamber where it is exposed to the action of the fumes of burning sulphur.
The preparation of fiddle-strings is a very delicate operation, and for the finest violin strings requires the utmost care. The best scraped guts alone are used, and such as have any flaw in them are rejected. Each gut is treated separately. It is put into a clean earthenware pan containing a weak alkaline solution, and this solution is changed (a fresh pan being used each time) twice a day for 7 or 8 days, and each time the gut is transferred it is stripped through a ring formed by bending a strip of copper, or through a perforated brass thimble, the thumb being pressed upon the gut as it is passed through. After this treatment it is ready for spinning. The first strings of violins are made by twisting together 3, or better 4, such prepared guts. (Dr. Ballard.)
The external membrane removed in the scraping process is called filandre by the French, and is employed for the cords of battledores and rackets, as well as for sewing together the ends of intestines. The alkaline solution for treating the fiddle-string gut is commonly made of 4 oz. caustic potash and 4 oz. carbonate of potash in 3 to 4 gal. water. The so-called " bleaching " with sulphur fumes is intended rather as a preventive of putrefaction. The twisted and smoothed cords are often finally dried for an hour in a room heated to 180° to 200° F. (82° to 93° C.). Hatters' cords, for bowstrings used in one of the stages of felt-hat making, are made from the longest and largest sheep-gut, 4 to 12 strands being used, and the ordinary length being 12 ft. In France very strong cord is prepared from the intestines of horses, asses, and mules. The scraped gut is divided into 4 equal parts by drawing it over a fixed knob with 4 sharp edges; 4 to 8 of these strips are tied at the end with packthread, twisted together, and polished with dog-skin. This cord is used as a substitute for leather belting on light machinery. About three-fourths of all the gut used in Europe is said to come from Italy. The superiority of the Italian article is ascribed to the leanness of the sheep, so that probably emaciated carcases yield the best strings.
The putrefactive odours attending this business are a frequent cause of complaint. In no case did Dr. Ballard find a deodorant applied to such raw gut as comes in an offensive condition, nor to such as had been left to soak until offensive, for the convenience of ready scraping, nor even to the offensive refuse of the process, for the purpose of destroying their bad odour. But that the use of a chemical agent for the prevention of putrefaction in the fresh guts is admissible, and even successfully practised in some establishments in France, is shown by the following translated abstract from De Freycinet's report on trade sanitation:
"The cleansing or separation of the peritoneal membrane, a portion only of which has been removed by the 'ungreasing' at the slaughterhouse, is ordinarily performed at the conclusion of a putrid fermentation that constitutes one of the most repulsive details of this industry. This maceration, whose duration varies from 8 days to a month, according to the season, is intended to partly decompose the mucus and render it less adherent, so that the workmen may be able to detach it without risk of injuring the quality of the gut. Some manufacturers are commencing to adopt Labarraque's process, consisting in immersing the intestines in a solution of sodium chloride, which hinders all putrid fermentation. A few hours then suffice for the retting or maceration of the gut." He adds that at one works the Conseil d'Hygiene publique ordered the use of "sodium chloride at 12° to 13° B., in the proportion of about 3½ lb. in 2 or 3 buckets of water per vat containing the guts of 50 oxen."
At Coulson's sausage factory at Cambridge, Dr. Ballard found it was the practice to immerse the fresh guts for a few days before scraping them in a weak solution of chloralum; this treatment avoids noxious odours, does not injure the gut, and does not in any way interfere with the scraping. Dr. Ballard lays down the following rules as essential for carrying on this trade without creating a nuisance:
A building specially erected or carefully adapted to the peculiarities of the trade, sufficiently spacious, and situated as far as practicable in a locality not closely built in. The chamber where any of the more offensive parts of the trade are conducted should have no direct communication with other rooms. It should be lighted either from the sides or roof with windows incapable of being opened, and ventilation should be provided for independently. It appears to him that the best mode of managing this would be to arrange for the drawing off of the foul air of the chamber continuously, and conducting it through a fire, or first through a screen of wood charcoal and then through a fire, and that the air for the supply of the room should be drawn from the outside through screens, or properly arranged boxes containing wood charcoal, duly protected from wet and damp, and from time to time renewed, which, when the room was shut up at night, would serve to arrest the passage outwards of offensive effluvia. The inner walls, to the height of about 6 ft., should be covered with some impervious material capable of being washed, such as smooth cement or sheet zinc.
The floor should be paved with an impervious paving, preferably jointless, and it should be properly sloped to a duly trapped drain gully.
There should be an unrestricted supply of water.
Scrupulous cleanliness should be observed in the conduct of the business. The floor should be kept constantly sprinkled with some deodorant solution, such as of carbolic acid or chloride of lime; no unnecessary litter should be allowed, and any that may be made should be frequently swept up, and, together with refuse matters and scrapings, should be deposited, with the addition of a deodorant, in appropriate vessels made of some impervious material, such as galvanised iron, and covered with covers of like material when not required to be open for use. At the close of each day's work, the floor and walls, to the height of the impervious portion, should be washed down with water containing some deodorant, and all tubs, tables, benches, and utensils that have been in use should be similarly cleansed. The inner walls and ceilings should be periodically lime-whited.
All undried gut brought upon the premises should be brought in closed impervious vessels, which should not be opened except in the chamber where they are to be manipulated, and all refuse matters should be removed from the premises daily in the closed vessels in which they are deposited. Any gut which arrives in an offensive condition should at once be placed in a deodorant solution; and some antiseptic solution should (as appears to be practicable) be used for the soaking even of fresh guts on their first arrival.
Great care should be taken in dealing with the refuse matters after removal from the premises. If deposited anywhere upon land, the matters should at once be covered over with a layer of fresh earth. At Calne, where the nuisance from the deposit of refuse in farm premises was at one time intolerable at a distance of several hundred yards, the nuisance has, without altering the position of the deposit, been obviated. A wall of straw litter is made, enclosing a space within which the refuse is thrown, and the offensive matter is immediately covered up with dry earth and ashes: this building up of the wall and deposit of refuse and earth is continued until a sufficient mound is raised. When it becomes necessary to remove this as manure, it is removed inoffensively. Such a stack as this should, however, be protected from the rain.
If care is not used the trade of catgut making is peculiarly offensive, so much so that in certain instances it has been noticed that the workpeople retain a filthy odour even after changing their clothes. This, however, is due in some measure to want of cleanliness in the work and in the person, but more to the absence of disinfectants. M. Labarraque's disinfecting liquid, which is hypochlorite of soda, has been employed with great success, and this, or some of the several disinfectants that can be used without injury to the gut and at a quite small expense, should be employed. The hypochlorite of soda is said to improve the colour of the membrane without injuring its strength.