Leather is such a popular material that has been made for thousands of years. Most everyone owns something produced from it, and has at some point becomes curious about how leather is made.

Leather is made from animal hides and skins through a process called tanning. Tanning is comprised of up to 25 steps through the phases of Beamhouse, Tanyard, Retanning, & Finishing. Tanning takes days to months depending on the process used. Leathers can have varied colors, textures, and finishes.

With leather so common, it is fascinating how many different techniques go into leather production and the tanning process. It is also incredible how some of the methods today are the same as they were thousands of years ago. Let’s explore a little background, then each of the 25 steps.

 

How to Make Leather

Making leather can be done in many different ways. Rudimentary leather tanning can be done by an individual, with some know-how and time. For thousands of years this was the method used to turn animal hides into leather, useful shoes, clothing, protective wear, and tools.

It worked, in simple terms, by cleaning the fresh hide and treating it using natural occurring acids from vegetables, called tannins. The acids would help stabilize the animal hide so they would not rot. It would also strengthen the bonds within the hide, making the material stronger. The hides would be dried, and the result is a very basic leather. This is commonly referred to as “vegetable tanned”, or “veg-tanned” leather.

Vegetable Tanned Leather Hide - How Leather is Made - Liberty Leather Goods
Vegetable Tanned Leather Hide

 

Leather Making Methods

Vegetable tanned leather is still very common today, though the processes to make it have become much more refined and industrialized. Even with that, vegetable tanning is a slow process that can take weeks to months to produce a finished leather piece.

Demand for leather goods has increased over time. Along with advancements in technology came demand for a leather tanning process that would be faster than vegetable tanning. This faster process is called “chrome tanning”, short for chromium tanning.

Chrome tanning takes only days, and allows for much more control over the qualities of the finished leather. This has made it a preference to the leather production industry as they can produce leather faster and to desired specifications. Chrome tanning is heavily chemical based. Vegetable tanning can utilize many chemicals, or be done using natural techniques.

In today’s more industrialized processes, the chemical solutions used in each step are usually piped or poured into very large rotating drum containers. The containers can be emptied through pipes or into nearby drainage areas, then filled with the next solution. This saves the huge overhead of having to have a set of drums for each tanning step, and also saves the effort of frequently moving the hides between multiple drums during tanning. It helps the process be more efficient.

How to Make Leather - Tannery Drum - How Leather is Made - Liberty Leather Goods
Tannery Drum

As we explore further, we’ll look into the steps involved in the modern tanning process used to make leather. Some are similar for both veg-tanned and chrome-tanned leathers. Some are a little different. Soon, you’ll be able to recognize the leathers used in some of your favorite products and be able to guess how it was made.

The tanning process is made up of 4 major phases; Beamhouse, Tanyard, Retanning, and Finishing. Let’s check them out! Once you see the steps some might sound very familiar (like dyeing, finishing, or grading).

 

Tanning Phase 1 of 4: Beamhouse

Beamhouse is the term that refers to the first phase in the leather tanning process. This phase focuses primarily on taking the raw hide (hide that was just removed from an animal), and preparing it for the tanning process. Holding a piece of leather, It’s amazing to think about all the steps involved in tanning and the journey it has gone through. This is the start.

Also worth a note, sometimes a piece of leather will be referred to as a “hide”, and sometimes a “skin”. The difference generally lies in the size of the animal the piece came from. Leather from larger animals, such as deer or cows, are referred to as “hides”. Leather from smaller animals, such as rabbits, are referred to as “skins”.

 

How Leather is Made Step 1: Curing

First, the hides need to be “cured”, or preserved. A leather piece begins as the recently skinned animal hide. In this state, it can very quickly begin to degrade and decompose within only about 5 hours due to bacterial growth.

How to Make Leather - Deer Hide - How Leather is Made - Liberty Leather Goods
Stretched Deer Hide

After about 11-12 hours more significant breakdown of the hide begins to occur. It is very important that this natural process is halted so that the hide can make the journey to the tannery. To cure a hide, there are a few methods:

Sun Drying

This is the oldest method dating back to the origins of leather tanning. Drying involves stretching the hide out in the sun and allowing it to dry. Once it is dry, the decomposition process is halted and the hide is preserved.

This process is not ideal, as it generally only works in regions that have a warm climate with low humidity. Also, the leather produced from sun drying is sometimes lower-quality. This is due to deterioration of the hide due to over or under drying, since natural drying can be affected by many environmental factors.

Freezing

Hides can be put into a freezer to stop the decaying process. This works relatively quickly. However the cold temperatures and related expansion of water molecules when frozen, can cause structural damage to the hide. This yields an inferior leather down the line. Also, frozen hides would need to remain frozen all the way to the tannery, so refrigerated transport and storage make this a logistically challenging and costly method to preserve hides.

Dry Salting

The hide is heavily covered in fresh salt, then hung to dry. As the air flows around it the salt draws out much of the water from within the hide. This is similar to the old stye of salting meats as a preservative. Once cured with salt, the hides are resistant to bacterial growth and become very stiff. They can remain in this state until ready for shipping.

Wet Salting

This process involves soaking the hide in a highly-concentrated salt solution. Similar to dry salting it draws out the moisture, inhibiting bacterial growth, and curing the hide. Wet salting is generally a more preferred process, and the hides that come from wet salting respond better later in the tanning process when they’re introduced again to water for processing.

 

Controlled Drying

Controlled drying functions similarly to sun drying, though usually yields a more consistent and higher-quality leather. This is due to the ability to better control the environment the hides are in, usually a temperature and humidity controlled drying chamber. With this method, though, there are relatedly high costs of installing and maintaining the heating, cooling, dehumidification, and airflow related to this setup.

Leather Drying Rack - How Leather is Made - Liberty Leather Goods
Leather Drying Rack

Once the hide is cured, it can be properly stored.

 

How Leather is Made Step 2: Storing

Tanneries are usually separate operations from the locations that process and cure the raw animal hides. As such, the storage of cured hides becomes really important before they are shipped.

Depending on the curing process used, storage methods will vary. Frozen hides will need to be stored in freezers. Dry salted hides should be kept in an environment with low humidity and away from insects/vermin. Hides can be stored individually or in large bundles ready for shipping.

 

How Leather is Made Step 3: Shipping

Based on the curing method used, shipping might be more urgent, or might not have to be in such a hurry. For example, freezing-cured hides will need to be transported in freezer-trucks. This will need to be a fairly tight logistical plan.

Dried and salted hides can keep for several months. This makes shipping logistics easier, as well as allowing the hides to be more easily shipped to further away tanneries for the next processing step.

If well-cared-for during the storage step, shipped hides will be in great condition and ready for sorting when arriving at the tanner.

 

How Leather is Made Step 4: Sorting/Trimming

Hides in this step are sorted for a few factors, including weight and quality. It is important to know what a hide will ultimately be used for, to ensure early on that a hide has the potential and qualities to meet the need.

Also, hides are trimmed as this step to remove any unnecessary or extremely damaged portions. This helps ensure that only the necessary and valuable pieces go through the future processing steps.

Scraps and trimmings can either be discarded, or reused for other less refined processing needs.

 

How Leather is Made Step 5: Soaking/Washing

Before soaking, the raw hides are salted and very stiff, which as a result helps prevent them from growing bacteria and molding. Though, they’re also not very usable or pliable in this state. Soaking, done in water, allows the salts to be removed, and moisture from the water enter back into the hide. This allows for pliability and further treatment during tanning.

Leather Washing Drum - How Leather is Made - Liberty Leather Goods
Leather Washing Drum

This extra moisture introduces the risk of bacteria growth during soaking, so some chemicals including disinfectants can be added at this step to help inhibit that from happening. Also, chemicals can be added into the wash that help speed up water absorption. As washing continues, the hides will be relatively clean from most salts and debris.

Washing is usually done in very large vats or rotating drums, with high volume of leather for efficiency. Once washed, in this state, they are very wet, pliable, and ready for the next step.

 

How Leather is Made Step 6: Liming

The liming step introduces methods to help remove a lot of the organic substances that might still be part of the hide. These will not be needed later in the processing, or desirable in the final product. Mainly, these include the epidermis, roots of the hair, and additional undesired fats and soluble protein.

In this step, an alkali (salty base that dissolves in water), and mixes of other additives (cyanides, amines, sulfides, etc.) are used to treat the hide and aid in the removal of unnecessary elements. This includes weakening the hair, additional proteins, fats, collagens, etc.; essentially anything beyond the preferred and usable hide material.

During liming, the hides are in large vats or bins, similar to those used in washing. Liming also raises the alkalinity of the hides to a PH of about 12. If preferred for some hides to keep the hair on them, the skin side is treated with a compound that will help to clean and remove hair from that side specifically, leaving the hair-side intact.

 

How Leather is Made Step 7: Fleshing/Unhairing (Scudding)

Once limed, the hide is now ready for removal of undesired parts. They have been weakened by the liming process, and unhairing can begin. This is usually done mechanically by machines, rollers, and blades. It can also be done using hand tools and scraping/scudding. The manual way is a very labor-intensive process.

The History of Leather Craft - Leather in the Industrial Revolution - Lohgerber_1880
Leather Tannery Workers Scraping Hides (1880)

 

After the hide is unhaired, it can be fleshed. This involves removing the epidermal layer of the hide as well as the hair roots (generally referred to as “scudding”. Also usually done mechanically, scudding can be optionally done by hand.

At this point, the hide is very well cleaned, prepared, and all that remains is the most quality part that will be further refined and turned into leather in the tanning process. This is the last step in the Beamhouse phase. The hide has already made it a long way, and is ready for the Tanyard phase.

 

 

Tanning Phase 2 of 4: Tanyard

Tanyard refers to the second major phase in the leather tanning process. This phase focuses mainly on taking the prepared hides (cleaned, disinfected, and without hair or the outer skin layer), and turning them into a usable leather piece. This is where the leather gets “made”! 🙂

Depending on the type of leather tanning being done (vegetable tanning or chrome tanning), some of the steps will vary. Vegetable tanning usually involves fewer steps since it’s a more simpler process. Chrome tanning involves a few more steps, while also giving the tanner more options for their preferred end-result for the hides.

 

How Leather is Made Step 8: Bating (Deliming and Buffering)

At this step of the leather tanning process, the PH is brought down to a lower level using buffering salts. Buffering essentially reverses the effects of the previously performed liming process, hence the reference to deliming.

This is very important as the the enzyme agents (the specific agents can be chosen based on the preferred end state, and ultimate use for, the leather) will be more effective at a lower PH. These agents treat the leather for improved properties such as softness and pliability.This process is called bating.

The next step is the first where we start to see a difference between the modern vegetable tanning and chrome tanning processes.

 

Underside of a Leather Hide - How Leather is Made - Liberty Leather Goods
Underside of a Leather Hide

 

How Leather is Made Step 9: Pickling (only for chrome tanning)

Pickling is a step only done for hides that will be chrome tanned. This is because the chromium tanning agents are not soluble under the previously established alkaline environment. Pickling drops the chrome tanning PH to about 2.

This involves treating the hides with salts, then sulfuric acid (when mineral tanning will be done). Pickling lowers the PH of collagen in the hide to a very low level, priming the hide for the penetration of the tanning agents to come. Salt is generally preferred to acid, as it penetrates the hide faster, and helps alleviate some negative effects of a sudden drop in PH.

At this point, the hides are ready to be tanned, the fun part! For vegetable tanned leather, pickling is not necessary as the tannins used in vegetable tanning can properly function at a higher PH level.

 

How Leather is Made Step 10: Tanning

Early tanning processes utilized often harsh, and very smelly substances to prepare and tan leathers. Tanneries were often located outside of towns and far away from people due to the smell. Today, things are refined a little bit, and we’ll look a little deeper into the two main processes used to tan leather; vegetable tanning and chrome tanning. We’ll also briefly touch on other chemical tanning methods.

Vegetable Tanning:

This is the oldest known common method, and utilizes tannins (naturally occurring astringents) from plants and bark. In raw hides, the tannins bind to the collagen, covering them. This makes them less susceptible to bacterial growth, less water soluble, and more flexible/pliable.

The vegetable tanning process can, depending on the specific type of process used, take anywhere from 2 days in the accelerated process, up to 30 days or more in the standard process.

It is usually carried out in large pits, or in large rotating drums which help agitate the leather within the tannin solution. The hides are exposed to stronger and stronger levels of the tannins throughout the process. Some of the barks used to extract tannins used in this process include:

  • Chestnut
  • Hemlock
  • Mangrove
  • Oak
  • Redoul
  • Wattle
  • Mimosa

The colors that vegetable tanning produces can vary from yellows to shades of brown and even some reds. Since it is a more natural process, the results can be unique and often quite pleasing. The leather produced from vegetable tanning while softer than a raw hide, is still relatively strong and a bit stiff, making it great for uses in saddlery, luggage, tooling leather, sheaths, and belts.

Vegetable Tanned Leather Hide - How Leather is Made - Liberty Leather Goods
Vegetable Tanned Leather Hide

 

Chrome Tanning:

Chrome (chromium) tanning is very popular and efficient. It was introduced around 1858, and due to the properties of chromium, it lends to a soft, thin leather. Different than the tannins used in vegetable tanning, the chromium binds to the collagen in raw hides and even increases the space between proteins in the hide. This allows them to be more stretchable, and resist shrinkage in heated water.

The chromium ions are also much smaller than those in tannins, allowing them to penetrate the raw hide at a much faster rate. A chemical bath much more complex than water is needed to soak the hides in, and activate the chromium in such an effective way.

Though, the overall process can take less than one day. This is usually done in a “one-bath” method at a low PH (2-4). In this method the hides are milled in the single solution until tanning is complete.

Leather tanned with the chromium method can contain about 4%-5% chromium in the material. In the end this is a much faster process than vegetable tanning, requires less labor, and results in a leather that is softer and stretchier.

Other Chemical Tanning:

Similar to chrome tanning, other chemicals can be used to treat the collagen in leather. Also, chromium can be toxic in some ways to the environment, so efforts have been spent utilizing other substances for the tanning process. Some of these include:

  • Aldehydes
  • Titanium
  • Iron salts
  • Zirconium
  • Aluminum

Each of these produces a leather with slightly different properties. It would depend on the intended end use, material preferences, and cost/time factors as to which of these might be used for any specific tanning run.

 

How Leather is Made Step 11: Wringing/Drying

During tanning, the hides have been submerged in various solutions and takes on a significant amount of moisture. So after tanning, the hides are dried. Generally, this is done either by pressing the leather through large, heavy rollers, to push out the moisture.

It can also be done via vacuum suction through large steel plates, setup in specialized machinery. Once excess water is removed via wringing, the leather is dry and ready to be worked by the next step.

 

How Leather is Made Step 12: Splitting

Now that the leather is tanned, it must be further worked based on it’s intended end-use. Some leathers in thinner products, for example gloves or wallets, are very thin. In order for the right thickness to be obtained, the leather need to be split.

Splitting is the longitudinal cutting of leather (the thickness of it) into thinner layers. Also, each hide has several natural layers to it. This needs to be factored in when splitting. A splitting machine with rollers and blades is used to slice the thick hides into several layers based on preference.

When split, different layers of the original hide remain based on the cut. Here is a look at the most common splits and their characteristics once fully processed.

 

Leather Hide Cross-Section - Liberty Leather Goods
Leather Hide Cross-Section

 

Full Grain Leather

This cut of leather contains the outer layout of the hide, referred to as the “grain”; it hasn’t been sanded or buffed to remove any imperfections. The grain generally has densely packed fibers that are finer; this results in a surface that is very strong, durable, and can withstand tough use. This makes it good for saddlery, footwear, and furniture. Since the outer layer isn’t removed, it develops a patina (a surface color change from use) over time that can be pleasing to the eye. Full Grain is looked upon as the highest quality leather available.

Top Grain Leather

This cut is very similar to full-grain, except that it has had the very top layer sanded and/or buffed to remove imperfections and irregularities in the finish. This makes the leather softer and more pliable, with various dyes and finished applied to it. Given its softness and flexibility, top grain leather is often used in high end leather goods, including handbags, wallets, and shoes.

Genuine (Corrected/Split-Grain) Leather

Genuine leather can come from any layer of the hide, and undergoes treatment to the surface to provide a more uniform appearance. It can be sanded or buffed to remove surface imperfections, then dyed (or spray painted) or stamped/embossed to give it a final surface appearance. The process alters some of the preferred qualities of leather, so while not a top quality, it is often used for belts and similar goods.

Bonded (Reconstituted) Leather

Bonded leather is like the scrapple or hot dogs of leather; it is made up of leather scraps that are finely shredded and bonded together using polyurethane or latex onto a fiber mesh or sheet. The amount of leather in the actual mix can vary greatly (from 10%-90%), and thus affect the functional and aesthetic properties of the finished product. Bonded leather is often painted to give it color and could also be pressed/embossed to give it the appearance of a particular grain or leather style.

 

How Leather is Made Step 13: Shaving

Once split, hides can undergo even further refinement of thickness, through shaving. Shaving removes thinner volumes of leather than cutting.

When splitting or shaving totally dry leather, a tremendous amount of leather dust can be generated.

Vintage Leather Shaving Machine - How Leather is Made - Liberty Leather Goods
Vintage Leather Shaving Machine

 

 

Tanning Phase 3 of 4: Retanning

It’s made it! The leather has been tanned and taken a long journey already from raw hide to a fine, usable material. At this phase in the tanning process the hide has been stabilized, treated, and refined. Generally, for efficiency, the Retanning steps are completed in sequence within a single rotating drum with washing and drying steps in between them.

A lot of the more tangible qualities and preferred characteristics of the leather can now be influenced further, depending on the goal of the finished product. These can include softness, flexibility, pliability, density, and color. During the Retanning phase the leather really begins to come to life. But, we just tanned the leather. What is re-tanned leather really about and why would we re-tan??

For chrome tanned hides where particular preferences for softness or flexibility exist, they actually might go through the tanning process again to further refine those characteristics. before coloring. Leather that has been chromium tanned has a light blue color to it. So once its tanning cycles have been completed, this type of leather is almost always colored.

 

How Leather is Made Step 14: Bleaching/Dyeing/Coloring

In order to produce the wide array of pleasing leather appearances, they are often colored, dyed, or bleached. Dyes can be water soluble or oil based, where the water soluble dyes generally have better material penetration and go deep into the fibers.

Dyeing differs than painting, whereas pertaining applies a top coat of color that does not penetrate into the fibers. With the dye, other materials/conditioners can be added to affect properties of the leather such as softness, flexibility, and leather storage life.

Leathers Dyed Different Colors - How Leather is Made - Liberty Leather Goods
Leathers Dyed Different Colors

Generally, vegetable tanned leather is not dyed; it’s pleasing appearance come from the natural leather color and tannins used to process it. Of the dyes available, there are four main types:

Acid Dyes

Acid dyes produce very vibrant, vivid colors. They combine with the basic (in PH terms) elements of the hide. The longer the dye is exposed the hide the deeper the color penetration will be. This is a reliable type of leather dyeing.

Basic Dyes

Basic dyes also produce very bright colors and overall good color consistency. They combine with the leather due in large part to their positive electrical charge. Acid dyes are generally used more often than basic dyes.

Direct Dyes

Direct dyes are synthetic dyes. They require a more specific PH range of the hide when applied in order to ensure smooth and even coloring. these dyes aren’t as bright as the Basic or Acid dyes.

Sulfur Dyes

Sulfur dyes offer several benefits to hide coloring. In general they penetrate the hide very well for a deep, even color. They are also more resistant to water and light than the other dyes. This helps the finished material retain its preferred qualities longer once it is used in the production and turned into leather goods.

Blends of dyes can be used to achieve a preferred shade. Also, bleaching can be used to neutralize color pigments, if a lighter-toned hide is preferred.

 

How Leather is Made Step 15: Fatliquoring

Up to this point, the hides have been tanned, refined, and colored. All of this helps to stabilize the material and add desired properties to it. However, it also can leave the leather somewhat dry and stiff.

Fatliquoring is the application of lubricants to the leather to make it stronger and more flexible. Many different types of substances can be applied during Fatliquiring, depending on the desired qualities of the finished leather. They can include mineral oils, natural fats, synthetic fats, and synthetic oils. At this step, the leather is really starting to come to life.

Supple Leathers - How Leather is Made - Liberty Leather Goods
Supple Leathers

 

How Leather is Made Step 16: Setting

In processes where air drying will be used, the hides are now ready to be set out to dry. It is important this step is done correctly in order to ensure the previous treatments result in an even overall finish across the hide.

When setting, hides are usually stretched or mounted to allow all areas to be exposed to airflow. The more uniform the drying will be for the entire hide, the more consistent the end product will be. In processes where mechanical drying will be performed, the hides are set into the machines for the next step.

 

How Leather is Made Step 17: Drying

After setting, the hides are dried. This is generally done mechanically by pressing the leather through large, heavy rollers, to push out the moisture. It can also be done via vacuum suction through large steel plates, setup in specialized machinery.

If the hides are being air dried, they will usually do so is a specialized temperature and humidity controlled chamber with proper airflow. Drying can also be done in a large drying loft. Due to it’s speed and efficiency, mechanical drying is very common. After drying, the dyed leather is ready for finishing.

 

 

Tanning Process 4 of 4: Finishing

Finishing is the, yes :), last phase of the leather tanning process. We’ve seen the majority of steps involved in how to make leather. These last few focus mainly on refining the leather with more specific qualities for its ultimately intended use.

The finishing steps can greatly change the appearance of the leather hides. In some cases additional materials actually cover the leather underneath, creating surface finishes that the look and perform very differently than the original leather.

 

How Leather is Made Step 18: Conditioning

In this step, conditioners are applied to the leather. This helps them retain some helpful moisture and oils that will keep the leather healthy, flexible, and supple over time.

The type of conditioner will vary based on the leather. It can be applied either mechanically or by hand in a manual process.

 

How Leather is Made Step 19: Staking/Dry Milling

Staking is a lot like tenderizing meat with a mallet. The leather is mechanically beaten to soften the texture. This helps turn it into a smoother, more supple material that is preferred for leather goods and accessories.

Staking can also be performed manually, in low volume or individual tanner productions, though is very time and labor intensive.

 

How Leather is Made Step 20: Buffing

In order to create a more visually appealing grain side of the hide, as well as make it smoother to the touch, it is buffed. Buffing if performed with a sanding drum. This step leaves the grain side smooth, though also produces a lot of leather dust from the sanding.

Different surface abrasion techniques can also be used to apply a finish to the leather. These can include buffing with special paper to help create nubuck/suede finish, or wheels with various materials on them to provide a sheen or shine to the surface of the leather.

 

How Leather is Made Step 21: Surface Pressing

This is where leather can really take on a different look and feel. During surface pressing, large machinery that utilizes rollers or presses can imprint a pattern into the leather. This creates a textured or patterned appearance on the surface.

Leathers with Different Textured Surfaces - How Leather is Made - Liberty Leather Goods
Leathers with Different Textured Surfaces

 

Some common leathers that have been surface pressed (or embossed) include Saffiano leather, Palmetto leather, pebbled leather, and micro-grain leather. Since these pressings are unique designs, a virtually unlimited number of different surface pressings can be done.

The specific design within the surface press can also add performance qualities to the leather. For example, Saffiano leather is generally strong and scratch/abrasion resistant do to the pattern of pressed diagonal rows on the pressed leather.

Surface pressing is one way to make a leather very unique with beneficial performance traits. There’s even more opportunity to fine-tune the look, feel, and performance of leather before it hits the marketplace, with surface finishing. Let’s check out what that is.

 

How Leather is Made Step 22: Surface Finishing

At this point, the leather is highly refined, customized, and able to serve very specific functional purposes. Yet, there’s more! 🙂 Surface finishing allows refinement to an even more specialized level.

Leather Treated with a Protective Finish - How Leather is Made - Liberty Leather Goods
Leather Treated with a Protective Finish

 

Finishes are added to the leather that provide unique characteristics that protect it or enhance it’s wearability. These can include wax surface finishes, such as seen on Saffiano leather. The transparent wax makes the outer surface hard (scratch resistant), water resistant, and protects the leather and color underneath. For items that will be carried/used often, this is a great method to extend the life and quality of a leather item.

Finishes can also include:

  • Solvents – for surface treatment and protection
  • Binders – that aid in adhering the finish to the leather
  • Plasticizers – give the outer surface a shiny, patent leather look
  • Pigments – additional coloring on top of the leather color
  • Specialized waxes – for surface hardening and protection

In most facilities the finishes are applied by one of a few methods:

  • Pads – pads soaked in the finishing material mechanically apply the finish to the leather surface
  • Flow Coating – the finish solution is pumped into a holder above the leather. It then flows down onto the leather and spreads across the surface
  • Spraying – the finishing solution is sprayed onto the surface of the leather

Some tanneries apply the finish manually using pads, though this is less common and often it is done more efficiently by machines. Once coated, the finished surfaces are dried. How thy are dried depends on the specific finish used. Some are dried in ovens, other air dried on large shelves where air can flow evenly around the full hide.

Surface finishing, though near the end of the tanning process line, results in profoundly different looking end results. Some surfacing finishes are legally protected by intellectual property and patent law, as they are unique design elements that are vital or an organization’s product and brand identity. such examples are luxury hand bags, luggage, and leather goods.

Also at this point, minor trimming on the hides might be performed to have more finished edges and to remove any extraneous pieces or wayward elements.

 

How Leather is Made Step 23: Grading

After surface finishing is complete, the hides are almost ready for use. The pieces will be closely inspected through a quality control process at the tannery. Each will be given a grade. The piece is evaluated for quality and several factors including:

  • Surface Properties
  • Thickness
  • Color/Pattern Consistency
  • Overall Feel
  • Overall Look
  • Flexibility/Softness

Once graded, the tanner knows the specific quality of the final piece. This allows it to be categorized properly when listed for sale.

Soft Finished Leather - How Leather is Made - Liberty Leather Goods
Soft, Finished Leather

 

 

How Leather is Made Step 24: Measuring

Next, the graded leather hide is measured. This is to determine both how large the hide is, and how thick it is (in oz). Leather thicknesses can influence what the material will be used for in the end-product.

Common leather thickness sizes range from about 1oz (1/64”, 0.4mm) to about 20oz (5/16”, 8mm) thick. Thinner leathers are uses for goods like gloves and wallets. Thicker leathers are used for good like bags and belts.

Hide size is important too as it will determine what projects the leather can be used for. Larger hides can naturally be used for larger projects, while smaller hides can be used for smaller projects.

Of course many smaller hides can be joined to create a larger surface, though if one is looking to make something with the consistent color and material properties of a single hide, larger definitely can work better. It can be used as is or cut down further for use in smaller pieces.

The hide size and thickness are important to know when categorizing a hide for sale, or when purchasing a hide for use.

After measuring, the finished hide is ready for use! It’s true, the leather is made!! Definitely time for a party, or a celebration. It’s come such a long way. But, there’s still one step to go 🙂

 

How Leather is Made Step 25: Shipping

Now that the tanner has made an incredible piece of leather (that will of course go into the making of an amazing project), it still needs to get to the customer.

The tanner might wholesale the leathers to retailers, where customers purchase it. They might also sell directly to the customer. Either way, it’s critical at this step that the leather is packed very well.

After all the hard work, protecting the leather during shipping is key. While tanned leather is pretty resilient, during shipping it should be kept away from temperature and humidity extremes. It should also be protected with some non-abrasive material to keep the surface from getting damage from abrasions during transport. It’s made it so far! Definitely keep it safe now 🙂

 

Incredible 🙂

Wow, so that is how to make leather. 25 steps to awesomeness in how leather is made! It’s exciting to see all that has gone into the tanning process. So much goes into how leather is tanned. If you’re curious about the types of leather that are made, click here to read a guide I wrote about all the different types of leather available.

Finished Leather Bags - How Leather is Made - Liberty Leather Goods
Finished Leather Bags

 

It definitely makes me appreciate the leather goods I have and the leather I get to work with. It’s already been on an incredible journey just to get here, and it’s such a great opportunity to be able to craft it further into a usable leather good that can be used and enjoyed for years and generations.

 

Related Questions

What animal skins are used to make leather?
Leather can be made from any animal that has skin. The most common animal hides used to make leather are from cows (65% of all leather), sheep (13%), goats (11%) and pigs (10%). Exotic leathers cane be made from alligator, armadillo, horse, snakes, and many other animals.

When was leather first made?
Leather was confirmed to have first been made around 5,000 BC in ancient Sumer (modern-day Iraq). Evidence points to possible tanning practices dating to over 400,000 years ago. There is also evidence of leather tools from around 84,000 years ago in South Africa.

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