After using various exotic types of leather, I have been looking for something new and exciting to use for smaller projects or inlays. I discovered a wide exotic section from an online leather supplier, including beaver tail leather. Their scales, mixed with vegetable tanning, made it a dream come true.
Beaver tail leather is processed beaver tails. It’s thick, stiff leather with a scaly texture. Since pieces are generally under 1 square foot, beaver tail leather is best suited for small goods. It offers scratch resistance and is nearly waterproof, costing $20–$60 depending on its size and tannage.
Let’s explore the characteristics of beaver tail leather, including additional insight on how to use this unique, stiff leather.
What Is Beaver Tail Leather?
Beaver tail leather is the animal’s tail that has been harvested and processed to become a working piece of leather. Beaver tail leather has a distinct scaly pattern, similar to fish or a snake. They are small, generally under 1 square foot, and have varying thicknesses throughout the tail.
Unlike most exotic leathers, beaver tails can be vegetable tanned and chrome tanned. The leather is scratch resistant and offers some of the best water resistance of any leather.
What We’ll Explore
- Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
- History of Beaver Tail Leather
- Beaver Tail Leather Characteristics Quick Reference Table
- In-depth Characteristics of Beaver Tail Leather
- Pros of Beaver Tail Leather
- Cons of Beaver Tail Leather
- How Beaver Tail Leather is Made
- Production Stats for Beaver Tail Leather
- Cost of Beaver Tail Leather
- When You Might Leathercraft with Beaver Tail Leather
- Tips for Leathercrafting With Beaver Tail Leather
- Examples of Goods Made from Beaver Tail Leather
- My Personal Research on Beaver Tail Leather
- Beaver Tail Leather Care & Maintenance
- Helpful Insights on Beaver Tail Leather
- Key Takeaways
Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions
Beaver tail leather is commonly seen as an unethical exotic choice. However, the beaver is one of the most ethical leather sources, as beaver meat is used for food, and the tails are a byproduct of that industry.
In addition, trappers must contain the beaver population as they are considered dangerous to the environment. With their population under constant surveillance, there is no current risk to the animal’s conservation, making beaver tail leather an ethical choice for exotic leathers.
History of Beaver Tail Leather
Beavers were initially hunted for their fur. Their pelts were used for clothing, and the tails were a byproduct. Beaver pelts helped establish the 1500s fur trade with the Native Americans. The animal continued to be hunted for their fur until the 1900s, pushing the population near extinction.
After conservative efforts and the fall in fur prices, the beaver population has become healthy again, with the trappers hunting the animal for environmental protection and its meat for consumption. Beaver tail leather is now a byproduct of this process and has become less abundant.
In a published article in the Journal of Swedish Antiquarian Research, Moa Råhlander stated how an antiquity known as “The Långön pouch” was mistakenly thought to be a reptile for many years. Upon further inspection, it was discovered that the pouch was made from a beaver tail, showcasing its use throughout history.
Beaver Tail Leather Characteristics Quick Reference Table
|Natural or Synthetic||Natural|
|Surface Texture||Scaly, yet smooth|
|Available Thickness (oz/mm)||4oz (1.6mm) to 10oz (4mm)|
|Largest Workable Size||5” by 12” (Less than 1 square foot)|
|Ease of Maintenance (1-10)||7|
|How Long it Lasts (Daily Use)||25+ Years|
|Available Colors||Any, as well as natural tannage|
|Cost per Square Foot ($)||$60–$300|
|Ease of Crafting (1–10)||4|
|Rarity (Common or Exotic)||Exotic|
|Annual Production Volume||Estimated 25,000–100,000|
|Biggest Exporting Country||U.S., Europe|
|Biggest Importing Country||Several European Countries|
In-depth Characteristics of Beaver Tail Leather
Natural or Synthetic
Beaver tail leather is a completely natural leather that comes from the animal. Beaver tail can also be vegetable tanned, a more natural tanning method, and does not use correcting top coats.
The pattern on beaver tail leather is its scales. Like reptiles, these scales have a slight ridge and can feel bumpy when passing your hand across. The leather also feels robust and firm, making the texture stand out.
Beaver tail leather will have varying thicknesses throughout the piece. The base of the tail will be the thickest part at up to 10 oz (4mm). As you progress further up the tail, the leather will begin to thin, with the tips of the beaver tail being 4oz (1.6mm). This variation in thickness may require additional planning when using beaver tail leather.
Largest Workable Size
One of the largest drawbacks of working with beaver tail leather is its small size. Pieces will often be well under 1 square foot, limiting the uses for the leather. Small sizes are 3” by 8”, while larger sizes go up to 5” by 12”. In most cases, this is only large enough for inlays, watch straps, and other small leather goods.
The flexibility of beaver tail leather is limited and varies throughout the pieces. The leather will be thick and rigid at the base, the stiffest point. Closer to the tip of the tail, the leather will be more flexible as the leather will be much thinner. However, even at its thinnest points, beaver tail leather is a firm leather.
Despite what the scales on the leather would lead you to believe, beaver tail leather is somewhat soft. The rigidity and texture limit the softness of the leather. However, the leather does not feel scratchy or grainy, unlike similar patterns like snakes or fish.
Sewing beaver tail leather can be tricky as there are multiple things to consider. The slightly bumpy texture will require planning to keep the stitching straight, while the various thickness and flexibility may make some areas more difficult to stitch than others.
The thickness of the leather alone makes the beaver tail very durable. In addition, the rigidity of the leather helps items keep their structure after years of use. Beaver tail leather is also highly water resistant, able to be exposed to rain and other elements without damaging the leather.
Ease of Maintenance
Due to its durability and water resistance, beaver tail leather will not require as much maintenance as other leathers. Cleaning and conditioning will need to occur periodically, the only issue being the scales on the leather trapping dust and debris. However, this can be removed with a horsehair brush.
Lifespan with Daily Use
Beaver tail leather should last a lifetime when properly maintained, and 25 years is the expected lifespan with excessive use. The leather is thick, durable, easy to maintain, and water-resistant; all the key elements of long-lasting leather. The leather should be properly stored when not in use and have limited exposure to damaging elements, such as water, to ensure the longest life of beaver tail leather.
Like most other exotic leathers, beaver tail leather is mainly chromium tanned. This tanning process allows a wide variety of colors and patterns to be applied to the leather. In addition, beaver tail is one of the few exotic types of leather offered in natural vegetable tannage, allowing the use of dyes for coloring the leather yourself.
Beaver tail leather is one of the most water-resistant leathers. While not entirely waterproof, the leather can be submerged in water without becoming saturated. Water will hit the surface in the rain and bead off the leather. Vegetable tanned beaver tails will be less water resistant, as they may experience color changes when wet.
The upfront cost of beaver tail leather may be small, ranging from $20–$80. However, when breaking down the cost, this leather is much more expensive than others. Beaver tail leather pieces are small, under 1 square foot, meaning the leather costs $60–$300 per square foot.
Ease of Crafting
Working with beaver tail leather can be difficult and may not be suited for newer crafters. From the stiffness to the varying thickness throughout the piece, many elements need to be considered when crafting with beaver tail leather. The scaly texture can also provide difficulty as any blade will slip into the cracks between the scales. Patience is key to working with this leather.
Rarity (Common or Exotic)
Beaver tail leather is exotic but produced in healthy amounts. Historically, beavers were hunted for their furs to the point of near extinction. At that time, beaver tail leather was much more abundant. After conservative efforts, alongside the drop in prices for beaver pelts, the leather is harder to find. Although annual hunting from trappers keeps beaver tail leather in supply.
Pros of Beaver Tail Leather
Beaver tail leather is a unique choice for leather that suits a niche role. It has a reptile-like pattern that many crafters enjoy. The leather can be vegetable tanned, allowing the use of dyes to color the leather. Additionally, beaver tail leather is durable, wear-resistant, and nearly waterproof. This makes it a great choice as a durable inlay for products that will experience heavy wear.
However, the beaver is one of the most ethical leather sources, as beaver meat is used for food, and the tails are a byproduct of that industry.
Cons of Beaver Tail Leather
Working with beaver tail leather can be difficult. Beaver tail leather will take patience to get right due to the ridges of the scales and the stiff, varying thicknesses. Pieces of beaver tail will be small, under 1 square foot, and only suitable for smaller projects. Beaver tail is also expensive compared to its size, costing up to $300 per square foot, much more than many other types of leather.
How Beaver Tail Leather is Made
Beaver tail leather starts by harvesting the tail from a beaver. The beaver tail is split into two pieces and cleaned before being salted to dry the leather completely. The leather is then cleaned again before the tanning process begins.
Depending on the tanning method, chemicals will be added to preserve and stiffen the leather. From this point, the leather may be finished, left undyed, or placed back into a tanning drum with dyes added to give the leather its color.
To learn more about tanning beaver tail leather at home, check out this interesting step-by-step video on how it’s done.
Production Statistics of Beaver Tail Leather
- Volume per year: Estimated 25,000–100,000
- Key country or countries where it is produced: Canada, U.S.
- Biggest exporting country: U.S., Europe
- Biggest importing country: Several European Countries
Cost of Beaver Tail Leather
- Square Foot: $60–$300
- ½ Hide: $10–$30
- Full Hide: $20–$60
When You Might Leathercraft With Beaver Tail Leather
- When exploring unique and exotic leathers.
- When needing a stiff, hard-wearing material to be used as an inlay or for small goods.
- When crafting durable leather goods that need the most water resistance possible.
Tips for Leathercrafting With Beaver Tail Leather
- Skive down the thicker area to create a more even work surface
- Cut the leather from the flesh side to ensure a straight cut
- Apply leather conditioner, or mink oil, to the leather to make it more flexible
Some Examples of Items Made From Beaver Tail Leather
- Watch Straps
- Small Knife Sheaths
My Personal Research on Beaver Tail Leather
With beaver tail being a seemingly difficult leather to work with, I decided to check with various leather workers for their personal experiences and tips. I’ve combined this helpful information to guide those looking to work with beaver tail leather.
One of the most common tips I came across was creating an even thickness to work with. Crafters suggest skiving down the tail’s base, careful not to thin the leather too much. They noted an easy way to tell was if you can see the pattern from the flesh side, it is too deep.
Additionally, when cutting beaver tail leather, leather workers suggest starting from the flesh side to avoid the knife’s tip from falling into the scales. Before cutting the leather, some workers recommend oiling it to soften the material.
Common uses for beaver tail leather online were sheaths, inlays, wallets, and watch straps. Forum members discussed using beaver tail leather as an accent piece to contrast another leather they were using. When making hard knife sheaths, they noted vegetable tanned beaver leather could be wet molded easily. This may help those looking to make various leather goods with stiffer leather.
Beaver tail leather is a different leather to use that may provide some challenges. However, with these helpful tips from fellow leather workers, beaver tail leather can be used more traditionally. Workarounds like skiving, molding, and oiling the leather open up the possibility of using beaver tail leather in more unique ways.
Beaver Tail Leather Care and Maintenance
How to Clean Beaver Tail Leather
Beaver tail leather can be cleaned with a damp rag to wipe away the surface. The scales may trap additional dirt that will require a horsehair brush to wipe away. Leather soap can be used on beaver tails, treating the leather with a clean cloth and wiping it in a circular motion.
How to Condition Beaver Tail Leather
Like all other leathers, beaver tail leather will need to be conditioned periodically. Leather conditioner, neatsfoot oil, or mink oil can be applied to the surface in small amounts with a clean cloth. Due to the water resistance of beaver tails, the leather may need time to soak in the conditioner added to the surface.
How to Store Beaver Tail Leather
Beaver tail leather must be stored away from direct sunlight and excessive heat. These will cause the leather to dry out, potentially damaging the surface of the leather. Beaver tails should also be stored in a dry environment, as moisture can cause changes to the structure of the leather.
Helpful Insights on Beaver Tail Leather
Are beaver tails leather?
Yes, beaver tails are tanned the same as other leathers and offer the same characteristics as most leathers. Beaver leather is comparable to reptile leather due to its scales but has a flesh side similar to a horse.
Is beaver tail leather durable?
Yes, beaver tail is extremely durable leather. It’s thick and offers good wear and water resistance. The thick skin makes it less prone to tearing. Beaver leather is also stiff, being a good choice for small sheaths.
Is beaver tail leather waterproof?
No, while beaver tail leather is highly water resistant, it is not waterproof. Vegetable tanned beaver tail leather may darken and cause changes in the structure when exposed to water for long periods. Although water will bead off of beaver tail leather, it is important to keep the leather dry when possible.
Are beaver tails good for anything?
Beaver tail leather is good for many things. The most common are wallets, inlays, watch bands, and sheaths. However, with creativity, beaver leather can be used in various ways, offering durable, stiff, and water-resistant leather wherever it is used.
- Beaver tail leather is small yet thick, requiring planning for projects.
- Working with beaver tail leather may require patience as the leather has varying thicknesses and scales.
- Beaver tail leather is highly durable and one of the most water-resistant leathers.
While beaver tail leather may not be the first choice when looking for an exotic leather, its unique qualities make it a great choice for those looking to experiment. Beaver tail is a high-quality, water-resistant leather, making it perfect for smaller projects.
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