Bovine Hides

Leather is a durable and flexible material created by tanning animal rawhide and skin, often cattle hide. It can be produced at manufacturing scales ranging from cottage industry to heavy industry.  People use leather to make various goods—including clothing (e.g., shoes, hats, jackets, skirts, trousers, and belts), bookbinding, leather wallpaper, and as a furniture covering. It is produced in a wide variety of types and styles, decorated by a wide range of techniques.

Several tanning processes transform hides and skins into leather:

Chrome-tanned leather is tanned using chromium sulfate and other chromium salts. It is more supple and pliable than vegetable-tanned leather and does not discolor or lose shape as drastically in water as vegetable-tanned. It is also known as wet-blue for its color derived from the chromium. More exotic colors are possible when using chrome tanning. The chrome tanning method usually only takes a day to finish, and the ease and agility of this method make it a popular choice. It is reported that chrome-tanned leather adds up to 80% of the global leather supply.
Vegetable-tanned leather is tanned using tannins and other ingredients found in different vegetable matter, such as tree bark prepared in bark mills, wood, leaves, fruits, and roots. It is supple and brown in color, with the exact shade depending on the mix of chemicals and the color of the skin. It is the only form of leather suitable for use in leather carving or stamping. Vegetable-tanned leather is not stable in water; it tends to discolor, so if left to soak and then dried it shrinks and becomes harder. In hot water, it shrinks drastically and partly congeals—becoming rigid, and eventually brittle. Boiled leather is an example of this, where the leather has been hardened by being immersed in hot water, or in boiled wax or similar substances. Historically, it was occasionally used as armour after hardening, and it has also been used for book binding.

The leather manufacturing process is divided into three fundamental subprocesses: preparatory stages, tanning, and crusting. All true leathers undergo these subprocesses. A further subprocess, surface coating, can be added into the leather process sequence, but not all leathers receive surface treatment. Since many types of leather exist, it is difficult to create a list of operations that all leathers must undergo.  The preparatory stages are when the hide/skin is prepared for tanning. Preparatory stages may include: preservation, soaking, liming, unhairing, fleshing, splitting, reliming, deliming, bating, degreasing, frizing, bleaching, pickling, and depickling.

Tanning is a process that stabilizes the protein of the raw hide or skin so it does not putrefy, making it suitable for a wide variety of end applications. The principal difference between raw and tanned hides is that raw hides dry out to form a hard, inflexible material that, when rewetted (or wetted-back) putrefy, while tanned material dries to a flexible form that does not become putrid when wetted-back.

Many tanning methods and materials exist. The choice ultimately depends on the end application for the leather. The most common tanning material is chromium, which leaves the tanned leather a pale blue color (due to the chromium). This product is commonly called wet blue.

Several tanning processes transform hides and skins into leather:

Full-grain leather refers to hides that have not been sanded, buffed, or snuffed (as opposed to top-grain or corrected leather) to remove imperfections (or natural marks) on the surface of the hide. The grain remains allowing the fiber strength and durability. The grain also has breathability, resulting in less moisture from prolonged contact. Rather than wearing out, it develops a patina during its expected useful lifetime. High quality leather furniture and footwear are often made from full-grain leather. Full-grain leathers are typically available in two finish types: aniline, semi-aniline.
Top-grain leather (the most common type in high-end leather products) is the second-highest quality. It has had the “split” layer separated away, making it thinner and more pliable than full-grain. Its surface has been sanded and a finish coat added, which produces a colder, plastic feel with less breathability, and it does not develop a natural patina. It is typically less expensive and has greater stain resistance than full-grain leather if the finish remains unbroken.
Corrected-grain leather is any leather that has had an artificial grain applied to its surface. The hides used to create corrected leather do not meet the standards for use in creating vegetable-tanned or aniline leather. The imperfections are corrected or sanded off, and an artificial grain embossed into the surface and dressed with stain or dyes. Most corrected-grain leather is used to make pigmented leather as the solid pigment helps hide the corrections or imperfections. Corrected grain leathers can mainly be bought as two finish types: semi-aniline and pigmented.
Split leather is leather created from the fibrous part of the hide left once the top-grain of the rawhide has been separated from the hide. During the splitting operation, the top-grain and drop split are separated. The drop split can be further split (thickness allowing) into a middle split and a flesh split. In very thick hides, the middle split can be separated into multiple layers until the thickness prevents further splitting. Split leather then has an artificial layer applied to the surface of the split and is embossed with a leather grain (bycast leather). Splits are also used to create suede. The strongest suedes are usually made from grain splits (that have the grain completely removed) or from the flesh split that has been shaved to the correct thickness. Suede is “fuzzy” on both sides. Manufacturers use a variety of techniques to make suede from full-grain. A reversed suede is grained leather that has been designed into the leather article with the grain facing away from the visible surface. It is not considered true suede.

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