When it comes to leather, there are a lot of choices to make. Do you want cowhide? Bison? Pig? How about an exotic animal skin? And then, once you know what kind of animal hide you're after, which part of the animal do you want? The front shoulder? The back quarter? The belly? It can be overwhelming! In this post, I'll walk you through how to choose your leather and show you some samples so you can see the differences for yourself.
Leather is a natural product that comes from animals. It's been used for thousands of years for clothing, leather apron, furniture and other items because it's strong and durable. Leather is often associated with luxury, and it's no wonder
The origin of leather
Almost as old as human history, the origin of animal leather is ancient. Our hunting ancestors used the skin of their game to protect their bodies, hands and feet. The basic process consists in preserving the skin of a mammal, reptile, bird or fish with a more or less complicated treatment that prevents the skins from rotting. The leather was very used at the time for its resistance and the protection against the cold that it brought. Thousands of years later, it is still very much used in our society in different forms and the tanning methods have improved significantly.
The different leathers
Before you can choose your leather, you need to know what the different types of leather are. Leather can come from multiple hides and research in the field can now even have leathers of plant origin. It is important to know that in most cases leather is divided into two main categories.
- Animals with fur: among which we find mainly lamb, calf, cow, goat, sheep, buffalo, chamois, deer and antelope.
- The exotic animals: which include the crocodile, fish, snake, ostrich etc..
And here you will say to me, "where are the leathers of vegetable origin?" for these leathers it is a little particular because they are still very recent and little used so I will not speak about it here.
All these leathers are mainly used for your shoes, clothing, furniture and leather goods. Depending on what you want to do with it, there will be a different leather work. So we usually talk about 3 different types of leather depending on the layer of leather.
The full grain leather
This is the upper surface of the animal's skin with the original grain intact. The density of fibers is denser in this part of the leather, it is the most qualitative leather. Compared to the lower layers, it is more elastic, soft to the touch, has a good resistance and obtains a beautiful patina with time.
Corrected grain leather
Correcting the grain of leather is an operation that consists of sanding the surface of a hide to make its surface smoother and more homogeneous. The tanner eliminates the coarsest defects to obtain a leather that has fewer asperities. This process removes fibers, which makes the hide less elastic and less resistant. As a result of this operation, the leather is no longer called "full grain"! A leather whose grain has been corrected will not necessarily be suitable for all uses because the skin will be less qualitative.
The leather crust
It comes from the cutting (slitting) of thick leather into two "sheets". This process allows the leather industry to double the surface of usable skin. One is the grain: the external part, supporting the hair. The second, the crust, is the part coming from the flesh side of the dermis.
The crust is usually coated with varnish or polyurethane and "printed" to simulate full grain leather. This leather finish is stiffer and of much lower quality than full grain leather, but also less expensive for the consumer.
But the common point between all these uses of leather is the tanning. Indeed, the skins cannot be used as is and depending on the use there are different tanning methods for the leather.
The different types of tanning
When you choose a leather wallet you should know that there are always different types of tanning applied to it and this can influence your choice.
How does it work?
After collecting the hide from the animal, it is salted or dried to remove all moisture. This raw hide then undergoes the process of tanning, which is a mandatory process that makes the hide rot-proof, more resistant and more flexible than the raw hide. For this, it is necessary to soak the skins in "tannins".
There are two kinds of tannin:
Tanning is generally done with basic chromium sulfate, a mineral salt that has the property of penetrating quickly into the skin. This is the fastest tanning process, it takes only twenty-four hours to complete. However, the products used require precautions and a specific wastewater treatment.
The vegetable tannin
Extracted from the bark and wood of certain trees such as oak or mimosa, vegetable tannins take longer to act than minerals. Vegetable tanning can take several weeks and gives stiffer leathers that require more softening work. Nevertheless it is an environmentally friendly process and above all it is the vegetable tannin that gives this caramel color very characteristic of "natural" leather.
Once the tanning process is finished, all that is left to do is to make the last finishing touches on the leather: pigmentation to color it, printing to draw patterns on it and polishing to soften the leather.
Recognizing the quality of a leather
Now that you know the basics of leather making, the next step is to gauge the quality of a leather and especially to avoid fake leather.
How to recognize a good leather?
Leather is a living material and therefore it has imperfections that is also what makes its charm. It is therefore necessary to pay attention to its imperfections they must be present without being too marked either, otherwise it is a sign of a poor quality leather, which lacks resistance.
It is also necessary to observe the grain of the leather, it is more or less visible depending on the type of leather and appears in the form of small grains. A tip to identify the quality of calf, buffalo, cowhide, is that the more regular the grain, the better the quality of the leather.
To the touch, a quality leather will have a smooth and slippery surface. Conversely, a poor quality leather or one that has not been properly tanned will be sticky and rough. It is also possible to delicately scratch the surface of the leather, if you notice a thin film coming off, it means that it is probably not real leather.
The smell, very characteristic, the smell of leather is a good way to distinguish if it is a real animal leather or a leatherette. Indeed the imitation leather has no smell unlike real leather. With leather, you just need to have a nose for it.
You are now armed to spot the quality of a leather and choose it! A skin with a beautiful graining, pleasant to touch, and that smells like "real" leather, it's all good!