Leather is a material created through the tanning of hides,
pelts and skins of animals, primarily cows.
Leather is a very important clothing material with many other
uses. Together with wood, leather formed the basis of much
ancient technology. Leather with the fur still attached is
simply called fur.
Leather was developed during antiquity. Many techniques have
been invented since then, notably chrome-tanned leather.
Forms of leather
There are a number of processes whereby the skin of a dead
animal can be formed into a supple, strong material commonly
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 color of the flesh.
Vegetable-tanned leather is not stable in water; it tends to
discolor, 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 plasticize, becoming rigid and eventually
Alum-tanned leather is tanned using aluminium salts
mixed with a variety of binders and protein sources, such as
flour, egg yolk, etc. Purists argue that alum-tanned leather
is technically "tawed" and not tanned, as the resulting
material will rot in water. Very light shades of leather are
possible using this process, but the resulting material is not
as supple as vegetable-tanned leather.
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 dog toys.
Boiled leather is a hide product (vegetable-tanned
leather) that has been hardened by being immersed in hot
water, or in boiled wax or similar substances. Historically,
it was used as armour due to its hardness and light weight,
but it has also been used for book binding.
Chrome-tanned leather, invented in 1858, is tanned
using chromium sulfate and other salts of chromium. It is more
supple and pliable than vegetable-tanned leather, and does not
discolor or lose shape as drastically in water as
vegetable-tanned. More esoteric colors are possible using
Brain-tanned leathers are exceptionally absorbent
of water. They are made by a labor-intensive process which
uses emulsified oils (often those of animal brains) and which
has not been industrialized. They are known for their
exceptional softness and their ability to be washed.
Leather—usually vegetable-tanned 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.
In general, leather is sold in three forms:
Full-Grain leather, made from the finest raw
material, are clean natural hides which have not been sanded
to remove imperfections. Only the hair has been removed. The
grain remains in its natural state which will allow the best
fiber strength, resulting in greater durability. The natural
grain also has natural breathability, resulting in greater
comfort. 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
Corrected-Grain leather, also known as Top-Grain
leather, is fuzzy on one side and smooth on the other. The
smooth side is the side where the hair and natural grain used
to be. The hides, which are made from inferior quality raw
materials, have all of the natural grain sanded off and an
artificial grain applied. Top grain leather generally must be
heavily painted to cover up the sanding and stamping process.
Suede is an interior split of the hide. It is
"fuzzy" 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. For example,
in one process, glue is mixed with one side of the suede,
which is then pressed through rollers; these flatten and even
out one side of the material, giving it the smooth appearance
of full-grain. Latigo is one of the trade names for
The following are not 'true' leathers, but contain leather
Bonded Leather , or "Reconstituted Leather", is not
really a true leather but a man-made material composed of 90%
to 100% leather fibers (often scrap from leather tanneries or
leather workshops) bonded together with latex binders to
create a look and feel similar to that of genuine leather at a
fraction of the cost. Bonded leather is not as durable as
other leathers, and is recommended for use only if the product
will be used infrequently. One example of bonded leather use
is in Bible covers.
Bicast leather is a man-made product that consists
of a thick layer of polyurethane applied to a substrate of
low-grade or reconstituted leather. Most of the strength of
bicast leather comes from the polyurethane coating, which
allows this material to be used where strength or durability
Leather is sold in a variety of thicknesses. In some parts of
the world top-grain thicknesses are described using weight units
of ounces. Although the statement is in ounces only, it is an
abbreviation of ounces per square foot. The thickness value can
be obtained by the conversion:
Hence, leather described as 7 to 8 oz is 7/64 to 8/64 inches
(2.8 to 3.2 mm) thick. The weight is usually given as a range
because the inherent variability of the material makes ensuring
a precise thickness very difficult. Other leather manufacturers
state the thickness directly in millimeters.
Leather from other animals
Today, most leather is made of cow hides, but many exceptions
exist. Lamb and deer skin are used for soft leather in more
expensive apparels. Kangaroo leather is used to make items which
need to be strong but flexible, such as motorcycle gloves.
Kangaroo leather is favored by motorcyclists specifically
because of its lighter weight and higher abrasion resistance as
compared to cowhide. Leather made from more exotic skins has at
different times in history been considered very beautiful. For
this reason certain snakes and crocodiles have been hunted to
In the 1970s, farming of ostriches for their feathers became
popular. As a side product, ostrich leather became available.
There are different processes to produce different finishes for
many applications i.e. upholstery, footwear, automotive,
accessories and clothing. Ostrich leather is considered to be of
the finest and most durable in the world and is currently used
by all the big fashion houses like Hermès, Prada, Gucci, and
Louis Vuitton. Ostrich leather has a characteristic "goose bump"
look because of the large follicles from which the feathers
In Thailand, sting ray leather is used in wallets and belts
in the same way as regular cow leather. Sting ray leather is as
tough and durable as hard plastic. The leather is often dyed
black and covered with tiny round bumps in the natural pattern
of the back ridge of an animal. These bumps are then usually
dyed white to highlight the decoration.
Buffalo leather is also used in America. It is used for
gloves, jackets and some baseball gloves.It is rugged but supple
and has a waxy feel.
Leather production processes
There are many steps like 1. soaking 2. liming 3. dehairing
4. deliming 5. degreasing 6. bating 7. pickling 8. tanning 9.
painting 10 finishing
Working with leather
Leather can be decorated by a variety of methods, including:
Leather in modern culture
Leather, due to its excellent abrasion and wind resistance,
found a use in rugged occupations. The enduring image of a
cowboy in leather chaps gave way to the leather-jacketed and
leather-helmeted aviator. When motorcycles were invented, some
riders took to wearing heavy leather jackets to protect from
road rash and wind blast; some also wear chaps or full leather
pants to protect the lower body. Many sports still use leather
to help in playing the game or protecting players: due to its
flexible nature it can be formed and flexed for the occasion.
As leather can also be a metonymical term for things made
from it, the term leathering is as logical as tanning
in the sense of a physical punishment (such as a severe
spanking) applied with a leather whip.
Leather fetishism is the name popularly used to describe a
fetishistic attraction to people wearing leather, or in certain
cases, to the garments themselves.
A number of rock groups, particularly Heavy Metal groups such
as Scorpions and Judas Priest, are well-known for wearing
In today's times, many cars and trucks come optional or
standard with 'leather' seating. This can range from cheap vinyl
material, found on some low cost vehicles, to Napa leather,
found on luxury car brands like Mercedes-Benz.
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