There are many types of leather to choose from when making a project. From goat to pig, smooth finish to suede, it can be hard to determine what to choose. More often than not, I gravitate towards the most popular option, the tried and true cowhide.
Cowhide leather is a durable and versatile leather that is made from the skin of a cow. It is popular for leather goods due to its strength and resistance. It is used for making clothing, footwear, and upholstery and is one of the most affordable options for us crafters, at $2–$10 per square foot.
Let’s look closer at why cowhide is such a great option for crafters.
What Is Cowhide Leather?
Cowhide leather is made from the skin of a cow and is one of the most common and widely used types of leather. It is a sturdy leather that can withstand a lot of wear and tear, making it ideal for use in products that require toughness and durability, such as shoes, belts, and bags. The leather has a natural grain pattern, which can vary depending on the specific location of the hide where it was taken from.
Cowhide leather can be tanned using various methods, including chrome tanning, vegetable tanning, or combination tanning. Each method produces a slightly different type of leather with unique properties and characteristics. With proper care and conditioning, cowhide leather can last for many years and develop a rich patina over time, adding to its unique character and beauty.
What We’ll Explore
- Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
- History of Cowhide Leather
- Cowhide Leather Characteristics Quick Reference Table
- In-depth Characteristics of Cowhide Leather
- Pros of Cowhide Leather
- Cons of Cowhide Leather
- How Cowhide Leather is Made
- Production Stats for Cowhide Leather
- Cost of Cowhide Leather
- When You Might Leathercraft with Cowhide Leather
- Tips for Leathercrafting With Cowhide Leather
- Examples of Goods Made from Cowhide Leather
- My Personal Research on Cowhide Leather
- Cowhide Leather Care & Maintenance
- Helpful Insights on Cowhide Leather
- Key Takeaways
Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions
A common misconception about cowhide leather is that it’s all created equal. However, this is far from accurate, as cowhide strictly refers to the source of the leather. Cowhide can come in all different cuts, finishes, and qualities, such as:
- Full Grain Cowhide
- Top Grain Cowhide
- Genuine Cowhide
- Suede Cowhide
- Hair on Cowhide
Each of these are examples of the different cuts and finishes of cowhide available. Each distinction typically translates to what layer of the cowhide was used. Full grain is the uppermost layer of the hide, followed by top grain, and ultimately genuine leather, with full grain leather being the highest quality and genuine leather being the lowest quality.
History of Cowhide Leather
Cowhide has been used for centuries all over the world. Ancient civilizations throughout Latin America, such as the Incas and Aztecs, used cowhide to make clothing. In Europe, cowhides were also popular in the Middle Ages and used to make saddles and armor.
Over time, these traditional uses have evolved to suit our modern needs. Today, cowhide is often used to make boots, bags, jackets, and upholstery. Its timeless appearance and durability allow it to outlast the user when properly cared for.
Cowhide Leather Characteristics Quick Reference Table
|Natural or Synthetic||Natural|
|Surface Texture||Can be smooth, hair on, pebbled, or suede|
|Available Thickness (oz/mm)||2oz (.78mm) to 16oz (6.36mm)|
|Largest Workable Size||60 square feet|
|Ease of Maintenance (1–10)||6|
|How Long it Lasts (Daily Use)||With care, it can last decades.|
|Cost per Square Foot ($)||Cowhide will typically cost $2–$10 per square foot|
|Ease of Crafting (1–10)||7|
|Rarity (Common or Exotic)||Common|
|Annual Production Volume||9.1 million tonnes|
|Biggest Exporting Country||Brazil, India, U.S.|
|Biggest Importing Country||India, Italy, Pakistan|
In-depth Characteristics of Cowhide Leather
Natural or Synthetic
Natural. Cowhide is leather is derived from bovine – making it a natural leather. Cowhide leather is highly valued for its natural durability, texture, and appearance.
One of the best things about cowhide is that it is available in nearly any weight, cut, and color, making it a great option for crafters, as the opportunities are endless.
Since cowhide is strictly a reference to the source animal, it can come in various textures and finishes. Cowhide is most noted as having a smooth texture, with the grain intact. However, finishes can include suede, pebbled, or even hair on.
Cowhide leather is available in various thicknesses, usually sold in ounces or millimeters. The thickness of cowhide leather can range from very thin to quite thick, depending on the intended use and application. Commonly, cowhide is available in thicknesses from 2 ounces up to 16 ounces.
Largest Workable Size
The largest workable size for cowhide leather will depend on the size of the original hide and the available equipment for manufacturing. Cowhide leather comes from the hide of a cow, which is a large animal, so the hides themselves can be quite substantial. A large cowhide can be found in a 60-square-foot hide.
The flexibility of cowhide is mainly dependent on the tanning process and thickness. Veg tan cowhide will be thicker and more rigid, whereas chrome tanned cowhide will be thinner, softer, suppler, and more pliable.
The softness largely depends on the cut of the leather and the tanning process. Full grain, veg tanned leather will be soft to the touch but very ridged. In contrast, suede or chrome tanned leather will be buttery and soft.
Cowhide comes in various weights and finishes, so sewing cowhide can vary slightly depending on the project. However, cowhide is very approachable when it comes to sewing. Thicker veg tan leather will require you to pre-punch your holes, but lighter weight chrome tanned leather can be sewn with a medium-weight sewing machine.
Cowhide is an extremely durable leather. It is used to make everything from footwear to automotive upholstery. It is hard-wearing and resists wear, making it an ideal choice for crafting durable goods.
Ease of Maintenance
The maintenance largely comes down to the way the hide was finished. Natural cowhide can be easily cleaned using a gentle leather soap and conditioned using leather cream. Suede will require a suede-specific shampoo, and hair on cowhide is perhaps the simplest, requiring a brush and shampoo for heavy stains.
Lifespan With Daily Use
Depending on the cut, finish, and care, it is not uncommon for goods made from cowhide to outlast their users. There are still plenty of jackets made from full grain cowhide from the 1940s being worn today. It is more likely that the stitching will fail before the leather will if properly cared for. If the leather is not cleaned and conditioned regularly, items crafted from cowhide can easily last for decades.
Cowhide leather is available in nearly any color. It can be left with the hair on, pre-dyed, chrome tanned, or natural veg-tanned — allowing the crafter to dye it themselves.
Cowhide is natural leather; therefore, it is not waterproof but is water resistant. Properly conditioned full grain cowhide will be extremely weather resistant. On the other hand, suede will be more susceptible to water damage if exposed to the elements.
The cost for cowhide leather can vary greatly, depending on the cut and finish. However, it is one of the most affordable leathers available for crafters, usually costing between $2–$10 per square foot.
Ease of Crafting
One of the best things about cowhide is that it is available in nearly any weight, cut, and color, making it a great option for crafters, as the opportunities are endless. It can be purchased pre-dyed in lighter weights or thick natural veg-tan. This makes it approachable and practical for nearly any project.
Rarity (Common or Exotic)
Cowhide is a common leather. In fact, it is one of the most widely used leathers available. Since it is a byproduct of the meat industry, plenty of cowhide is available.
Pros of Cowhide Leather
Cowhide is one of the most readily available leathers to us crafters, making it an extremely accessible option for crafters. It comes in a wide variety of finishes, colors, and thicknesses, making it ideal for nearly any project. Benefits of cowhide leather can include:
- Ease of maintenance
- Smooth texture
Cons of Cowhide Leather
The biggest downside when it comes to cowhide is the quality of the hide. Manufacturers often use words to describe the product, such as authentic or genuine cowhide. This can be confusing and often be a marketing tool to sell an inferior cut of leather at a higher price. It is important to remember that top grain and full grain leather are the highest quality — and genuine leather is often inferior.
How Cowhide Leather is Made
Cowhide strictly refers to the animal source of the leather rather than a specific finish, but it is tanned the same way most leathers are tanned.
The hide is brought to a tannery, where it is treated to remove the hair, or the hair is left on — for hair on cowhide. From there, the hide is prepared for the tanning process.
The tanning processes — either veg-tan or chrome tanned – are slightly different. With vegetable tanned leather, the hide is put into a bath high in tannins, mostly made of tree bark. It is left to sit for anywhere from a month to a year, depending on the application. Once the hide has sat in the tanning solution, it is removed and is now preserved.
Chrome tanned leather is slightly different, as the hide is put into a drum in a bath with chrome salts and other chemicals that preserve and soften the leather. Once the tanning process is complete, the hide is usually drum dyed to give it a deep finish. The entire process only takes a couple of days to complete.
Production Statistics of Cowhide Leather
- Volume per year: 9.1 million tonnes
- Key country or countries where it is produced: Brazil, India, U.S.
- Biggest exporting country: Brazil, U.S.
- Biggest importing country: India, Italy, Pakistan
Cost of Cowhide Leather
- Square Foot: $2–$10
- ½ Hide: $60–$300
- Full Hide: $120–$400
When You Might Leathercraft With Cowhide Leather
- If you are looking for a tried and true durable leather.
- If you are looking for a tried and true durable leather
- If you are looking for an affordable leather option.
Tips for Leathercrafting With Cowhide Leather
- If possible, opt for full grain leather.
- Try using hair-on cowhide to make for a truly unique project.
- Avoid split leather or grain-corrected leather.
Some Examples of Items Made From Cowhide Leather
My Personal Research on Cowhide Leather
While doing my own research, one of the things I was most intrigued by was how leather was marketed. As a crafter, it is easy to go into a leather supply store and see and feel the quality of the cowhide. However, when buying commercial products or ordering leather online, it is much more challenging to grasp the quality of the product.
Cowhide comes in all shapes, sizes, and finishes. As a crafter and consumer, I’m always considering the quality of the leather, desiring a durable, long-lasting product. During my research, I found a lot of words, such as “genuine” or “authentic,” being used. I always thought these terms were meant to distinguish real leather or leather that came from a cow.
As I continued my research, I learned that this is primarily a way to market a lesser quality leather at a higher price. There are three primary cuts of leather:
- Full grain
- Top grain
- Genuine leather
Genuine leather is actually one of the lesser qualities of leather available. When the top grain is “split” from the rest of the hide, “genuine leather,” or “split grain leather,” is the byproduct. It is the lower layer of the hide, which is much weaker than the top grain. To counteract this, the leather is treated to replicate the appearance and feel of full grain leather.
If you’re after quality, it is best to do a little investigating. I undoubtedly have purchased wallets and jackets made from genuine leather, not knowing that it is usually grain corrected to mimic the qualities of full grain leather. Usually, these items don’t last as long, and I am left disappointed. I will pay more attention in the future when buying leather goods to ensure I am buying the best quality available.
Cowhide Leather Care and Maintenance
How To Clean Cowhide Leather
Cleaning cowhide is relatively easy but varies depending on the finish. With most veg-tan and chrome tanned leather, use a soft bristle brush to brush away any dust and dirt on the surface. Then use a damp cloth or gentle leather soap to clean the leather.
With hair on cowhide, the process is even easier. Mostly, all that is needed is a soft bristle brush to knock off any dirt that may accumulate on the surface. If there are any stains or heavy soiling, a gentle leather shampoo can be used without damaging the hair.
Suede requires the most care, as water can damage the nap of the leather. For suede, use a suede-specific shampoo and soft bristle brush when cleaning. When cleaned and dry, always use a suede-specific spray-on sealer, as this will help waterproof the suede and reduce the need for cleaning in the future.
How To Condition Cowhide Leather
For conditioning veg-tan and chrome tanned leather, use a leather-specific conditioner, such as a leather cream. This will rehydrate the leather without changing its color. Generally, hair-on cowhide requires no conditioner, but if it feels dry, apply conditioner only to the flesh side of the hide.
How To Store Cowhide Leather
Like all leather goods, it is best practice to keep cowhide out of direct sunlight and away from hot or damp environments. If possible, put your cowhide away clean, and store it in a dry, cool environment. Putting your item in a soft, lint-free bag is always best to keep the dust off.
Since cowhide and calfskin are two common types of leather, check out this helpful video comparing the two.
Helpful Insights on Cowhide Leather
Is cowhide leather real leather?
Yes, cowhide is real leather that comes from the hide or skin of cows. It is one of the most common and widely used types of leather. Cowhide is obtained through a tanning process, where the animal skin is treated to make it durable, flexible, and suitable for various applications.
Is cowhide a good leather?
Cowhide comes in all different qualities. Although it is best to consider buying full grain or top grain leather, cowhide is a natural product that is durable and long-lasting.
What is cowhide leather made out of?
Cowhide is made from the skin of a cow. It comes in various finishes and can be chrome tanned, veg tanned, pebbled, smooth, suede, or even with the hair still on.
Is cowhide leather soft or hard?
Cowhide is typically soft, although depending on the tanning process used and the thickness of the leather, it can be stiff. Veg tanned leather will be stiffer than chrome tanned leather, but both usually offer a soft hand.
Does cowhide leather peel off?
Full grain and top grain leather should never peel. However, genuine cowhide leather can peel, as a finish is usually applied to the suede surface to make the leather appear like top grain leather.
Can cowhide leather get wet?
Although regularly exposing cowhide to water is not best, it can get wet. Cowhide is a natural leather that is water resistant. Just be sure to keep it properly conditioned to keep the leather from drying out after it is exposed to water.
How do you take care of cowhide leather?
Cowhide requires little maintenance. It is best to keep cowhide leather clean without using harsh ingredients. A leather-specific shampoo and a leather conditioner can safely help keep the leather soft and hydrated. Different cowhide leather products may have specific care recommendations, so it’s best to refer to the manufacturer’s care instructions for the best practices for your particular item.
- Cowhide leather comes in a variety of finishes.
- All cowhide leather comes from bovine.
- Cowhide is a versatile leather that has been used for centuries.
It is amazing how many options there are when it comes to cowhide, a leather that has been used for centuries. Although its uses have changed, it is still a popular and practical leather option for crafters.
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