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Latigo Leather – When to Use This Flexible, Durable Leather

As I work with leather more and more, I’ve come across different kinds of leather. One kind of leather that has caught my eye recently is latigo leather, so I decided to do a deep dive on what latigo is and what it can be used for. 

Latigo leather is an extremely versatile leather as a result of being first chrome tanned, then veg tanned. It is more rigid than chromexcel, more flexible than veg tan, and water-resistant, making it a great choice for a variety of projects. Latigo leather generally costs $8-12 per square foot.

Latigo leather has an interesting history, and knowing how the leather is processed will explain its characteristics. Let’s take a look at how latigo leather got its start and the ways that it can be used for your next leather project.

History of Latigo Leather

Early on in leather history, a leather tannery called Poetsch & Peterson (founded in 1883 in San Francisco, California) was famous for producing a golden latigo. In the 1970s, the leather that Horween Leather Co. produced the most of was latigo leather, which G. H. Bass bought in large quantities for use in their sandals. Nowadays, latigo can be found at a variety of tanneries, such as Maverick Leather Company and The Hide & Leather House, to name a few. 

Latigo leather started out as an alum tanned leather, which means that it is tanned using aluminum salts mixed with some binders and protein sources, like flour or egg yolks. It would eventually become chrome-tanned, meaning the hides are dyed in acid, salt, chromium sulfate and other chemicals.

This was largely because alum tanning was reversible whereas chrome tanning is not. The modern iteration of latigo leather is first chrome-tanned, then vegetable tanned afterwards – this change in tannage allows it to become a more durable leather fit for use in a variety of applications.

Latigo leather started out as an alum tanned leather, which means that it is tanned using aluminum salts mixed with some binders and protein sources, like flour or egg yolks.

In terms of how it was historically used, latigo turns out to be the Spanish word for ‘whip’, which was what the leather was used for initially. The leather was also used for horse cinches, with the cinch itself being named the ‘latigo’ in saddlery. In the 1970s, latigo leather was popular among cowboy-focused leathermakers as a leather used for boots; they would often crumple the leather before staining it so that every pair of boots would take on a unique pattern. 

Characteristics of Latigo Leather

Surface Texture 

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Latigo leather is generally smooth to touch, taking on a somewhat waxy nature owing to latigo leather being fatliquored and/or hot stuffed (depending on the tannery) after tanning. Some tanneries, such as Horween Leather Co., will produce latigo leather in matte or glazed finishes, which will affect the surface texture. 

Flexibility

In terms of flexibility, latigo is less flexible than chromexcel but more flexible than veg tan, which makes latigo leather a kind of “middle ground” leather to work with between chromexcel and veg tan. 

Softness

Since latigo leather is both smooth and relatively flexible, the leather does have a softness to it. Thanks to the chrome-tanning, it is easier to cut than veg tan leather, but it also has a firmness to it. 

Sewability

Latigo leather is frequently used in strips with metal hardware, like buckles, but it is also fairly easy to sew with. Latigo leather can be used in bags, which will ideally feature some saddle stitching. 

Durability

Despite being flexible and soft to touch, latigo leather is very durable. It takes on a patina over time, and it is able to last for years. Its water-resistant nature further contributes to how durable the leather is. 

Latigo was originally made in a golden-yellow color, but today, it is often found in a range of burgundy, brown, and black.

Ease of Maintenance

Latigo leather is fairly simple to maintain. When it gets wet, it is recommended to wait until it is dry before it comes in contact with other materials, as it may stain. However, a simple conditioning every six months will suffice for regular maintenance. To clean it, some saddle soap, warm water, and a soft cloth should get rid of any of the dirt and grime of daily usage.

Colors

Latigo was originally made in a golden-yellow color, but today, it is often found in a range of burgundy, brown, and black. A few other options like red and navy latigo exist as well, but the most common colors of latigo are burgundy, shades of brown, and black. 

Waterproofness

Modern latigo leather is water-resistant, but if the latigo is alum-tanned, it may have some problems with the dye staining when exposed to water. To add to the water-resistance of latigo leather pieces, some beeswax can be applied as an extra layer of protection.

Cost

Latigo is fairly expensive, often costing between $8-12 per square foot, or about $180 to $250 per hide. Because it is both chrome tanned and veg tanned, it ends up being one of the more expensive kinds of leather.

Pros and Cons of Latigo Leather

Pros of Latigo Leather

  1. Versatility for Projects – It comes in weights ranging from 3 to 12 ounces, which makes it a viable option for smaller pieces like wallets to heavier-duty items like saddle cinches.
  2. Water-Resistance – Because of its water-resistance, it is fairly easy to maintain
  3. Overall Durability – allows it to develop that coveted leather patina. It starts out more rigid, but quickly becomes pliable with use

Cons of Latigo Leather

  1. Cost – Since it undergoes both tanning processes, it makes it a bit more costly per square foot than other kinds of leather
  2. Potential Color Transfer – Some tannages of latigo leather (especially alum-tanned latigo leather) can cause dye to bleed into other materials. 

Production Notes

Quite a few tanneries in the United States produce latigo leather, but it can also be found from Italian tanneries as well as Mexican tanneries (notably ChahinLeather). 

How Latigo Leather is Made

To produce latigo leather, a cow’s hide is chrome tanned and then vegetable tanned. Chrome tanning involves tanning the leather with chromium sulfate and chromium salts while vegetable tanning involves plant-based ingredients and products. The chrome tanning gives the leather strength while the veg tanning increases its firmness and durability, making latigo leather a good option for bags and cases.

After the tanning process, a variety of oils and waxes are introduced to the leather, and different tanneries differ in what they use. Doing this increases the durability of the leather as well as giving it some flexibility.

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In a helpful discussion with Skip Horween of Horween Leather Co. (video below), there’s a difference between latigo leather and chromexcel despite both of them being chrome tanned. With chromexcel leather, a much darker, naturally colored pre-tannage is used, resulting in darker, earthier colors of chromexcel. Another difference is that chromexcel is hot-stuffed while (at least at Horween Leather Co.) they use a fatliquor for their latigo leather.

In this video, learn more about Horween Latigo Leather from Skip Horween of Horween Leather Co.

Popular Uses for Latigo Leather 

Though the leather was initially used to make whips, it has evolved to be more versatile, finding its way into the following uses:

  1. Cinches
  2. Braiding
  3. Saddle strings
  4. Laces
  5. Dog collars and leashes
  6. Bags
  7. Cases  

Tips for working with Latigo Leather

Latigo leather isn’t really able to be tooled or stamped (the leather has a “bounce” to it that makes stamping difficult), so no casing (soaking of the leather) needs to happen prior to working with it. However, it is a good idea to have some beeswax on hand to finish the leather for an extra layer of water-resistance.  

Original Research 

I asked some leathercrafters on the Leatherworker.net forum about their firsthand experience with using latigo leather, and one member (aptly named LatigoAmigo) mentioned working with latigo for many years.

He recommended purchasing hides from The Hide House in Napa, CA or Maverick Leather Company in Bend, OR. According to him, latigo from The Hide House has a firm temper (which is unusual for most latigo hides), and the flesh side requires no finishing, which meant that he didn’t need to line the leather before finishing his bags.

Latigo Leather Care and Maintenance

How to Clean Latigo Leather

Cleaning latigo leather is a fairly simple affair. Just take some warm water with a mild saddle soap like Fiebing’s, apply it to a soft cloth, wiping the leather gently in small circular motions. Once clean, it’ll be ready for use or for conditioning.

How to Condition Latigo Leather

Latigo leather usually looks better as time passes, and conditioning is not something that needs to be done frequently. Using a leather conditioner once every six to twelve months is sufficient for keeping the leather well hydrated. If the leather is exposed to a drier climate, more frequent conditioning may be required.

How to Store Latigo Leather

There’s really no special way to store latigo leather. However, the bare minimum would be to store it indoors, away from a humid environment. If latigo leather gets moist for too long, it can potentially rot. 

Related insights

Is latigo leather good?

Yes! Latigo leather is definitely a “legitimate” leather to work with (i.e., it’s not the same quality as the “genuine leather” you see on retail store wallets – it’s better!). Its water-resistance, medium to soft temper, and ability to patina make it worth your while to craft with.

Is Latigo full grain?

Yes, latigo is a full grain leather, which means that it is the part of the hide that is just under the hair; it is untouched by sanding or any kind of processing.

How thick is latigo leather?

Latigo leather is fairly thick, ranging from 3 oz up to 12 oz (though, of course, many leather suppliers are able and willing to split it down to the weight you need).

Is latigo leather Veg tanned?

Partially! Veg tanning is the second half of the tanning process that latigo leather goes through after being chrome tanned.

Can Latigo leather be tooled?

No, latigo leather is not able to be tooled – the surface is too springy, and it doesn’t take to stamping well at all.

Can you burnish Latigo leather?

According to Rocky Mountain Leather Supply, latigo leather can be burnished (though perhaps with less success than a veg tanned leather).

Perhaps due to its cost or a lack of information about it, latigo leather is not as well-known or commonly used as veg tanned leather or chromexcel. However, it possesses a mix of qualities that make it a must-try at some point in your leathercrafting journey! 

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