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Stingray Leather – When to Use This Flexible, Durable Leather

After trying various exotic skins throughout years of leather crafting, there was one type of skin I never felt ready for — stingray. I had heard about the difficulty of using it and how many saw it as a knife’s worst nightmare. After finding a piece on sale, however, I knew this would be the best time to test it out. 

Stingray leather is a material created from the upper portion of a stingray. It has distinct hard, round bumps, making it challenging to work with. The ridges also create a highly durable and scratch-resistant surface. These skins start at $30 for a small hide and go up to $150 for larger sizes.

Let’s uncover the mysteries of this exotic leather by going in-depth about where it came from and how to work with it.

What Is Stingray Leather?

Stingray leather is the hide of the upper back of a stingray. It is an exotic leather known for having bumps or calcium nodules all across the hide. The calcium nodules are extremely hard, often compared to human teeth, and were used as armor for the samurai.

However, once a project is completed, the leather offers a unique pattern with high durability and scratch-resistant properties. Since the leather is made from a sea creature, stingray leather is naturally water resistant.

What We’ll Explore

  • Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
  • History of Stingray Leather
  • Stingray Leather Characteristics Quick Reference Table
  • In-depth Characteristics of Stingray Leather
  • Pros of Stingray Leather
  • Cons of Stingray Leather
  • How Stingray Leather is Made
  • Production Stats for Stingray Leather
  • Cost of Stingray Leather
  • When You Might Leathercraft with Stingray Leather
  • Tips for Leathercrafting With Stingray Leather
  • Examples of Goods Made from Stingray Leather
  • My Personal Research on Stingray Leather
  • Stingray Leather Care & Maintenance
  • Helpful Insights on Stingray Leather
  • Key Takeaways
A Stingray Leather Hide Close Up - Stingray Leather - Liberty Leather Goods
A Stingray Leather Hide Close Up

Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions

Stingray leather is often avoided as an exotic leather due to its hard skin, as many see it as unapproachable without special tools. However, using everyday tools, there are various ways to work with this leather. This can be done by using a replaceable blade instead of a forged knife, taking multiple passes to cut, not pressing down harder when cutting, and cutting from the flesh side of the leather. 

History of Stingray Leather

Stingray leather has been used for hundreds of years as both a luxurious leather and durable armor. Early Japanese samurai are well documented to have used the leather to strengthen their armor. Stingray leather is lightweight, durable, and provides puncture resistance, making it a perfect choice for armor.

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As time passed, the practical use of stingray fell off, and it has now become a luxury leather that very few fashion houses take advantage of. While stingray leather hides can be easily purchased, stingray leather goods remain elusive to the larger market. 

Stingray Leather Characteristics Quick Reference Table

CharacteristicRating
Natural or SyntheticNatural
Surface TextureBumpy, and hard
Available Thickness (oz/mm)2oz (0.8mm)–4oz (1.6mm)
Largest Workable Size15 inches at the widest point, 30 inches long, 3.125 square feet
Flexibility (1–10)7
Softness (1–10)3
Sewability (1–10)2
Durability (1–10)10
Ease of Maintenance (1–10)8
How Long it Lasts (Daily Use)30+ Years
Available ColorsCan be dyed in any color or pattern
Waterproofness (1–10)8
Cost per Square Foot ($)$16–$50 per square foot
Ease of Crafting (1–10)2
Rarity (Common or Exotic)Exotic
Annual Production VolumeLess than 18 million square feet
Biggest Exporting CountryIndia, Indonesia 
Biggest Importing CountryPakistan 
Stingray Leather Characteristics

In-depth Characteristics of Stingray Leather

Natural or Synthetic

Stingray leather is a natural leather made from the top part of stingrays. However, there are two ways they can be purchased: sanded or unsanded. Sanding the top of the stingray produces shinier, smoother skin.

Surface Texture

Stingray has a very hard bumpy surface due to calcium nodules distinct to the fish. Even when ordering sanded stingray hides, these nodules will remain. The bumps on the skin are small and tightly packed like shrunken leather.

Available Thickness

Most thicknesses available for stingray will be on the thinner size, 2oz (0.8mm)–4oz (1.6mm). These more delicate skins, along with their smaller size, keep the leather goods that are made from them to smaller sizes. Sanded stingray skins typically do not lose much, if any, thickness in the process.

Largest Workable Size 

The size of stingrays is measured very similarly to crocodiles at the widest point. The larger stingrays will be around 15 inches wide, while the length will vary. Only 5% of stingray hides will be this large. Making most stingrays under 3 square feet of total workable area.

Flexibility

Despite its rough surface, stingray leather is fairly flexible. This is partly due to the leather’s thin skin. The calcium nodules that make up the surface of the leather do not go through the entire hide, so they do not restrict the leather’s flexibility. Sanding stingray leather also helps break down the fibers in the leather to create a more flexible piece to work with. 

Softness

Stingray leather is not soft. While the flesh surface of the leather may provide a soft surface, the grain side is distinctively hard. Even after the leather is sanded to give it a softer feel, it has hard bumps throughout the piece. In history, stingray leather was used for armor, and it is very clear why when feeling its rough surface. 

Sewability

There are many issues when it comes to sewing stingray leather. The tough skin makes it difficult and potentially dangerous to punch through. The bumps on the leather make it hard to keep a straight line. Also, even if these two issues are avoided, passing the leather through the hide can cause it to tear from the broken calcium nodules that become sharp after penetration.   

Durability

Stingray leather is easily one of the most durable leathers for crafting. The coat of nodules on the material makes it scratch and tear-resistant. Japanese samurai used stingray leather as armor to prevent slashes and stabs. Along with its durability, stingray leather is naturally water resistant, unlike most leathers.

Ease of Maintenance

The natural durability and resistance of stingray leather means it will not need to be treated as often as other leathers. Its unique surface can also be cleaned more easily. Using a damp clean rag to wipe the leather is recommended. It can then be lightly conditioned to keep it healthy. 

A Stingray Leather Wallet - Stingray Leather - Liberty Leather Goods
A Stingray Leather Wallet

Lifespan With Daily Use

With daily use, stingray leather can be expected to last decades, 30 years, or more. This is due to its high durability. Stingray leather is extremely wear-resistant, and unlike most leathers, it is also scratch resistant. Not only will your stingray leather last a long time, but it will also stay looking good. Regular maintenance work is required to ensure the most out of this leather.  

Available Colors

Stingray leather is chromium tanned, opening it up to various colors and patterns. Black is a common color for stingray leather as it highlights the main part of the hide. However, there are endless possibilities for colors. Some more interesting patterns mimic tigers, zebras, or other animals. 

Waterproofness

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While not waterproof, stingray leather is very water resistant. When exposed to water, it will bead off quickly, leaving little to no marks on the leather. Prolonged exposure to water may still cause damage to the material, so it must be dried as soon as possible when cleaning or caught in poor weather. 

Cost

Stingray leather is a more costly leather per square foot, but the smaller hides keep the prices much lower than other exotic leathers. A hide of stingray leather can range from $40–$150 depending on size, color, and quality. However, since the average size of a stingray hide is 3 square feet, prices are $13–$50 per square foot. Similar to that of many luxury leather types. 

Ease of Crafting

Working with stingray leather is one of the more difficult tasks when leathercrafting. Calcium nodules are notorious for damaging tools due to their firmness, making them difficult to penetrate and harder than most steel blades.

Once cut and punched for sewing, the problems persist. The nodules remain hard and can create micro serrations where the thread passes through. A thinner thread could also be torn when sewing stingray leather.

Rarity (Common or Exotic)

Although many online and brick-and-mortar leather stores carry stingray leather, it remains exotic. In general, fish leather only makes up 1% of the entire leather industry. Stingray leather is an even smaller part of an already underproduced leather, partly due to the limited amount of tanneries designed to process stingray hides.

Pros of Stingray Leather

Stingray leather is a great choice when looking for durable, long-lasting exotic leather. It has outstanding durability due to the nodules on the leather, making it one of the few scratch-resistant types of leather. The pattern of the bumps on the leather is also appealing and unique.

Stingray leather is water resistant, allowing the hide to experience harder wear. Maintaining the leather is fairly simple, as it can be dusted with a damp cloth without fear of discoloring the leather.

R. Karthikeyan, N. K. Chandra Babu, A. B. Mandal, and P. K. Sehgal, from the Central Leather Research Institute, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, in  Adyar, Chennai, India, have also developed methods to soften stingray leather for more usage. They discovered the leather fibers could be split during production to produce a more flexible, softer leather.

Cons of Stingray Leather

The cons of stingray leather are entirely due to its difficulty to work with. The hard calcium nodules on the skin of the leather can quickly damage tools. Every aspect of leather crafting will be challenged when working with stingray leather.

Cutting, punching, and sewing are more difficult with this leather. Even those who use sewing machines instead of hand tools may find stingray leather damages needles or tears up thread. 

The calcium nodules are extremely hard, oftentimes compared to human teeth, and were used as armor for the samurai.

How Stingray Leather is Made

Stingray leather starts by sending the top skin of the fish to a tannery for production, where the leather is cleaned and placed into a drum for the first part of tanning. Stingray leather is chromium-based leather that often softens as the hide is processed.

After this step, the leather is dyed or taken to be sanded for a smoother finish. Both types of leather will then be added back into a drum, where the dye will be added to color the leather. Some stingray leather is left unfinished and sold to specialty makers who create dye patterns themselves.

A former leather goods producer, Tom Barrington, quickly discusses how stingray leather is colored in this helpful video. Highlighting the unique iconic mark of the white diamond on the leather.

Production Statistics of Stingray Leather

  • Volume per Year: Less than 18 million square feet 
  • Key country or countries where it is produced: Indonesia and India
  • Biggest exporting country: India
  • Biggest importing country: Pakistan

Cost of Stingray Leather

  • Square Foot: $16–$50 per square foot
  • ½ Hide: $24–$70
  • Full Hide: $40–$150

When You Might Leathercraft With Stingray Leather

  1. When creating a durable, scratch-resistant project 
  2. To challenge yourself as a crafter by using more difficult leather 
  3. When wanting a leather item with a distinct stingray pattern
  4. When crafting a project that will see both water and heavy wear

Tips for Leathercrafting With Stingray Leather

  1. Use disposable blades instead of a fixed knife 
  2. Cut from the flesh side of the leather 
  3. Plan to use limited sewing for the project
  4. Make many passes when cutting, avoiding excess pressure with the knife 

Some Examples of Items Made From Stingray Leather

  1. Wallets
  2. Watch straps
  3. Small bags
  4. Shoes
  5. Belts

My Personal Research on Stingray Leather

After watching online videos of crafters working with stingray leather, the pattern drew me in. I purchased some scrap pieces of a sanded stingray to get a feel for the leather and test cutting, punching, and sewing it. With my scraps, I tried various techniques to see what helped when working with stingray leather.

Cutting

When I first got the leather piece and felt the surface, I quickly understood why working with it was an issue for many people. The bumps on top of the leather reminded me of plastic beads. I changed the blade of my box cutter and tried to cut from the grain side. Quickly I realized this was a bad idea as my knife would jump around and slip off the surface.

I flipped the piece over and cut the flesh side. Initially, I thought this had solved all the issues, as the cuts went smoothly, but after I cut through the flesh to the nodules, I had the same problem. I persisted and could get through the entire leather after many passes. 

Punching

After the experience I had cutting the leather, I decided to try punching from the flesh side. This worked reasonably well as I would push through the flesh quickly, and the extra hits to go all the way through stayed accurate. It is important to note I used thick budget stitching chisels instead of thinner irons. I was worried using more delicate irons would cause them to break.

Sewing

When sewing the stingray leather, I used .8 tiger thread. It is a thicker, heavily waxed thread often touted as highly durable. I had no issues when I first stitched a small portion of the leather. However, since I heard there was a possibility of tearing the thread when using stingray leather, I decided to put it to the test.

I made it a point to put a lot of thread tension in each stitch, and by the fifth one, I could see some fraying. Excessively tightening the stitches is never a good idea, but with stingray leather, it would completely ruin a sewing session. 

Conclusion

Stingray leather wasn’t like anything I had ever used before. The challenges it presented at all times were unique and took some workarounds. A sharp blade was required, and every task needed to start from the flesh side of the leather.

I say without a doubt this is one of the most challenging leathers to work with, and I would not suggest it for crafters wanting to make a more refined project. Small hole spacing may result in more torn threads, and thinner stitching irons have a higher risk of breaking.

Various Colors of Exotic Stingray Leathers - Stingray Leather - Liberty Leather Goods
Various Colors of Exotic Stingray Leathers

Stingray Leather Care and Maintenance

How to Clean Stingray Leather

Stingray leather can be cleaned with a damp cloth as the leather is water-resistant. This will help pick up or scrub stuck-on messes. Leather soap can also be used for stingray leather. Regardless of the method used to clean the leather, it must be dried once finished to prevent any damage. 

How to Condition Stingray Leather

Various leather conditioners can be used with stingray leather but should be tested to ensure no unwanted effects. To best hydrate stingray leather, apply the conditioner to the flesh side rather than the grain side, as the grain side is not porous. However, with patience, you can use a leather conditioner on the grain side by leaving it on to soak through the surface. 

How to Store Stingray Leather

Despite its durability, it is still important to store stingray leather in a cool, dry environment, away from sunlight. Prolonged exposure to water could cause the leather to discolor or become dry. The UV rays will also have this effect. If possible, stingray leather should be stored in a breathable dust bag to protect the leather completely.

Helpful Insights on Stingray Leather

Is stingray a good leather?

Stingray leather is a beautiful, durable exotic leather. It makes a great choice for leather goods that will see a lot of heavy use. Overall it is a good leather to use, though it may be difficult to craft with. 

What is stingray leather called?

Stingray leather is often referred to as “shagreen.” Shagreen is an untanned leather with a granulated surface. The calcium nodules of the stingray leather give it this title, as the rough bumps cover the skin’s entire surface.

Are stingray skins tough?

Yes, stingray is one of the toughest leathers in the world. The calcium nodules are durable and scratch resistant. The leather is also water resistant. What is also unique to stingray leather is that the hides are flame resistant. This makes stingray skins tough and able to take years of heavy wear.

Why is shagreen so expensive?

Shagreen, or stingray leather, is costly due to its scarcity. Shagreen makes up less than 1% of the total leather produced annually. It also needs to be tanned at special tanneries, as the calcium nodules can cause issues for some machinery. 

Is stingray leather waterproof?

Stingray leather is not waterproof but is water resistant. Liquids will bead off the leather when spilled on the surface, only slightly soaking in. However, with prolonged exposure, water will penetrate the surface, potentially damaging the leather. 

Key Takeaways

  1. Stingray is an exotic leather used for smaller leather goods.
  2. The leather is highly durable, water resistant, and can last decades.
  3. Crafting with stingray leather will require different techniques and may be difficult.

In Closing

Stingray leather offers a unique experience for leather crafters looking to challenge their skills or just try something new. A project made from stingrays will provide a beautiful, distinct pattern and a durable surface that can be enjoyed for decades.

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