Although there is a great variety of leather types, a leather can usually be put into one of three categories:
- Aniline - the most natural looking, with natural surface visible, but is less resistant to soiling
- Semi-aniline - somewhere in-between on both counts, having a light surface coating
- Pigmented (protected) - the most durable but is less natural in appearance, having a polymer coating
Forms of leather
There are a number of processes whereby the skin of an animal can be formed into a supple, strong material commonly called leather.
- Vegetable-tanned leather is tanned using tannin (hence the name "tanning") and other ingredients found in vegetable matter, tree bark, and other such sources. It is supple and brown in color, with the exact shade depending on the mix of chemicals and the colour of the skin. Vegetable-tanned leather is not stable in water; it tends to discolour, and if left to soak and then dry it will shrink and become less supple and harder. In hot water, it will shrink drastically and partly gelatinize, becoming rigid and eventually brittle. Boiled leather is an example of this where the leather has been hardened by being immersed in hot water, or in boiled wax or similar substances. Historically, it was occasionally used as armour after hardening, and it has also been used for book binding. This is the only form of leather suitable for use in leather carving or stamping.
- Chrome-tanned leather is tanned using chromium sulfate and other salts of chromium. It is more supple and pliable than vegetable-tanned leather, and does not discolour or lose shape as drastically in water as vegetable-tanned. It is also known as wet-blue for its colour derived from the chromium. More esoteric colours are possible using chrome tanning.
- Rawhide is made by scraping the skin thin, soaking it in lime, and then stretching it while it dries. Like alum-tanning, rawhide is not technically "leather", but is usually lumped in with the other forms. Rawhide is stiffer and more brittle than other forms of leather, and is primarily found in uses such as drum heads where it does not need to flex significantly; it is also cut up into cords for use in lacing or stitching, or for making many varieties of dog chews.
Leather can be oiled to improve its water resistance. This supplements the natural oils remaining in the leather itself, which can be washed out through repeated exposure to water. Frequent oiling of leather, with mink oil, neatsfoot oil or a similar material, keeps it supple and improves its lifespan dramatically.
The type you choose depends on the appearance you want, the product and the usage which the product receives.
In general, leather is sold in three forms:
- Full-Grain leather or Top-Grain leather is referring to the upper section of a hide that contains the epidermis or skin layer. It refers to hides that have not been sanded, buffed or snuffed(otherwise known as Corrected) in order to remove imperfections on the surface of the hide. Only the hair has been removed from the epidermis. The grain remains in its natural state which will allow the best fibre strength, resulting in greater durability. The natural grain also has natural breathability, resulting in greater comfort for clothing. The natural Full-Grain surface will wear better than other leather. Rather than wearing out, it will develop a natural "Patina" and grow more beautiful over time. The finest leather furniture and footwear are made from Full-Grain leather. For these reasons only the best raw hides are used in order to create Full-Grain or Top-Grain leather. Full grain leathers can mainly be bought as two finish types: aniline and semi-aniline.
- Corrected-Grain leather is any Top-Grain leather that has had its surfaces sanded, buffed or snuffed in order to remove any imperfection on the surface due to insect bites, healed scars or brands. Top-Grain leather is often wrongly referred to as Corrected-Grain. Although Corrected-Grain leather is made from Top-Grain as soon as the surface is corrected in any way the leather is no longer referred to as Top-Grain leather. The imperfections are corrected and an artificial grain is sometimes applied. Corrected grain leathers can mainly be bought as two finish types: semi-aniline and pigmented.
- Split leather is leather that is created from the fiberous part of the hide left once the Top-Grain of the raw hide has been separated from the hide. During the splitting operation the grain and drop split are separated. Split leather then has an artificial layer applied to the surface of the split and is embossed with a leather grain. Splits can are also used to create Suede. The strongest suedes are usually made from grain splits (that have the grain completely removed) or from the flesh split that has been shaved to the correct thickness. Suede is "fluffy" on both sides. Suede is less durable than top-grain. Suede is cheaper because many pieces of suede can be split from a single thickness of hide, whereas only one piece of top-grain can be made. However, manufacturers use a variety of techniques to make suede appear to be full-grain.
Other less-common leathers include:
- Buckskin or brained leather is a tanning process that uses animal brains or other fatty materials to alter the leather. The resulting supple, suede-like hide is usually smoked heavily to prevent it from rotting.
- Patent leather is leather that has been given a high gloss finish. The original process was developed in Newark, New Jersey, by inventor Seth Boyden in 1818. Patent leather usually has a plastic coating.
- Shagreen is also known as Stingray skin/leather. Applications used in furniture production date as far back as the art deco period. The word "Shagreen" originates from France and is commonly confused with a shark skin and stingray skin combination.
- Vachetta leather is used in the trimmings of luggage and handbags, popularized by Louis Vuitton. The leather is left untreated and is therefore susceptible to water and stains. Sunlight will cause the natural leather to darken in shade, called a patina.
- Slink is leather made from the skin of unborn calves. It is particularly soft, and is valued for use in making gloves.
- Deer Skin is one of the toughest leathers, partially due to adaptations to their thorny and thicket filled habitats. Deerskin has been prized in many societies including indigenous Americans. Most modern deer skin is no longer procured from the wild, with "deer farms" breeding the animals specifically for the purpose of their skins. Deer skin is used in jackets and overcoats, professional sporting equipment, as well as high quality personal accessories like handbags and wallets. It commands a high price due to its relative rarity and proven durability.
- Nubuck is top-grain cattle hide leather that has been sanded or buffed on the grain side, or outside, to give a slight nap of short protein fibers, producing a velvet-like surface.
- Belting leather is a full grain leather that was originally used in driving pulley belts and other machinery. It is often found on the surface of briefcases, portfolios, and wallets, and can be identified by its thick, firm feel and smooth finish. Belting leather is the only kind of leather used in luxury products that can retain its shape without the need for a separate frame; it is generally a heavy-weight of full-grain, vegetable-tanned leather.
- Nappa leather, is extremely soft and supple and is commonly found in higher quality wallets, toiletry kits, and other personal leather goods.
We offer a wide range of leathers to suit your requirements, including Chamois Leather, Upholstery Hide, Goat Suede, Pig Lining, Shoe Upper Leather, Garment Nappa, Softy Pig-Suede, Embossed Sides in Crocodile, Snake etc, so visit our online shop to see what products we have available.
If you need any more help in deciding which leather you need please contact us on +44 (0)1832 732216 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leather is a collective term for all hides and skins which have been tanned. These can come from any type of animal. Because it is a by-product of the meat industry most leather is produced from cow, sheep, goat and pigskin. There are smaller amounts of deerskin and exotic leathers such as crocodile, lizard and the like.
We offer a wide range of leathers to suit your requirements. We are constantly striving to improve the quality of raw material and finishing techniques. Our bridle finish in particular has evolved over the years and has resulted in excellent customer feed back. If you need it in leather, speak to one of our helpful advisers.