What Is Leather?

what is leather skiving machine

If you are looking to buy a leather product and you are curious to know a bit more about what leather really is. Well, I did some research on it myself, and I hope this article will be able to help you a little bit with your questions about leather.

So, what is leather? Leather is the outer covering of animals that have been processed by tanning to make it easy to use and also not decay. It is commonly obtained from the hide and skins of cattle, goat, pig, sheep and so many others.

The earliest record on the use of leather dates back to 2200BC and over the years, its manufacturing range from artisans to modern industrial scales.

When purchasing or seeking to find out about leather and products, there are only a few things you would have to focus on. You will definitely have to know about how the leather was made, the types of leather there are, and the characteristics of leather that will help you identify it. 

The good news is, I will be giving you a rundown on these areas to equip you with thorough information that will gear you up in your quest for leather goods.

How is Leather Prepared or Made?

Although the preparation of leather is a bit technical and sophisticated, this article is to help you understand the entire process of how leather is made. Leather is made by three processes, namely:

  1. Pre Tanning the leather
  2. Tanning the leather
  3. Post Tanning leather

Before tanning the outer covering of an animal is known as skin, hide, or kip. 

The hide is from larger animals like an ox, bull, or cow. Skin is gotten from smaller animals like sheep, goat, antelope, and kip is leather from undersized animals like lizard and rabbit.

The detail on How Leather is Made

1. Pre-Tanning Process of Leather

There is a specific step by step pre-tanning processes which helps to condition the leather before tanning. As a by-product of the meat industry, raw skins and hides are removed from a slaughtered animal by flaying or skinning. The most common flaying method is the lateral dissection using special skinning knives.

After flaying, unwanted materials like blood is washed off after which the skins and hides then go through the following stages of:

  1. Curing: using a salt solution to reduce the bacterial action on the skin after flaying              
  2. Soaking: cured hide is then soaked in water for not more than seven days to soften the hide             
  3. Dehairing / unhairing: Fur on hides or skins are removed            
  4. Defleshing: Excess flesh on the hide is removed with a fleshing knife

2. Tanning Process of Leather

As you may be familiar at this point, tanning is a process of changing raw skins and hides into leather. There are various tanning methods and the most popular types are vegetable tanning and chrome tanning. The others are:

  • Oil tanning
  • Mineral Tanning
  • Combination Tanning

3. The post Tanning process of Leather

At this point, the hide or skin is just about to be fully transformed into the leather. What finally happens after tanning is a couple of post tanning methods to round up the process.

Neutralizing Leather: Mild alkalis are added to the leather as the first post tanning activity to ready the leather for subsequent activities.

Dyeing leather: The leather is dyed in drums to give it color. Anionic dyes, for example, are very common chrome-tanned leather dye.

Fat liquoring Leather: Here fats and oils are used to lubricate and soften the fiber structure of the leather.

Drying Leather: Leather is dried by hanging with a peg in an airy place or dried by applying heat.

Staking Leather: Staking is done to soften tanned leather. The leather is passed over a series of blunt pins that pummel and flex the leather to soften it up.

Finishing Leather

Finishing leather is the final layer of coatings applied to the surface of leather. Finishing leather has numerous benefits like;

  • Finishing Leather gives it a Protective layer which enhance its durability
  • Finishing leather makes it easy to care and maintain
  • Finishing leather improves water resistance
  • Finishing leather help mask the defects of the leather
  • Finishing leather enhance color and appearance

What are the types of leather (Animal sources) and Uses?

1. Cabretta Leather: it is Leather from South American hair sheep and most appropriate for making gloves, shoe uppers and accessories.

2. Chamois Leather: Chamois leather is an oil-tanned flesh split of sheep or lambskin. Chamois is very absorbent, soft and washable making it suitable in clothing.

3. Doe Skin Leather: Also in the line of Sheep leather is the Doeskin. It is mostly white and commonly used for making gloves and linings.

4. Kid Leather: Sounds funny right! Kid leather is a chrome tanned leather from a young goat. It is used for shoe uppers, linings, and gloves.

5. Basil Leather: It is a workable beginner-friendly leather for sheepskin. It is used for general purposes, and it can be modeled and dyed.

6. Calf Leather: Calf leather is obtained from young animals like a bovine. It is used for handbags and shoe uppers (suede). 

7. Cape Leather: It originates from South Africa and it is a good quality sheepskin mostly for gloves.

8. Skiver Leather: It is used for lining leather articles. It is a Grain split of either lamb, sheepskin, goat, calf or cowhide.  

9. Antelope Skin Leather: Just like the calf leather, the antelope skin leather has a suede finish when finished on the flesh side. It is commonly used for making gloves.

10. Buck side Leather: it can be made from either deerskin or cowhide and it is oil tanned. It has a very soft feel and is commonly used for clothing.

11. Cowhide Leather: With a smooth finish, the cowhide leather is a really thick and heavy type of leather. It is suitable for making large articles. 

12. Morocco Leather: This is absolutely my favorite. Morocco Leather comes in a wide variety of colors. A vegetable tanning method is used to get its glossy finish. It is used for bookbinding and for many fancy goods.

13. Alligator Leather: Obviously from the alligator and crocodiles, It is used for making bags and shoes. Due to the nature of the animal, Alligator leather is long and narrow.

14. Lizard leather: They are cute and is what we will typically call kip. These small skins come in a wide array of beautiful colors and are most suitable for modeling.

15. Nappa Leather: it is a multipurpose leather for clothing, gloves, leather accessories and a whole bunch. It is a full-grained un-split mineral tanned sheep or lambskin.

What are the Characteristics of Leather?

  • Leather has the ability to stretch from either the grain or the flesh side.
  • Leather edges do not fray like fabric.
  • Leather is puncture resistant
  • Leather has the ability to breathe
  • Leather can be molded or formed

Although leather generally shares similar characteristics, various parts of the leather may, however, differ according to the kind of animal, the type of species, age, gender, mode of feeding, climatic conditions, etc. 🙂

Related Questions

What makes Leather a Unique Material?

Leather is a unique and hard to imitate material due to its natural structure that gives it its plasticity, flexibility, low thermal heat conductivity, and porosity.

The unique nature of natural leather enables it to withstand different climatic conditions.

What determines the quality of Leather?

There are numerous channels in leather that allows the passage of air and water vapor between its fiber bundles. The state of the fibrous layers compressed or filled with oils and other substances during the tanning process determines the Quality of the leather.

You can watch this video to watch the complete process of making leather. Enjoy!!!


Hi! I’m Kwabena, the owner and founder of Favored Leather. I’m a huge Leathercraft enthusiast and I’ve been that for almost 13 years now. I'm excited to share my experiences and all the new stuff I learn each day about leather craft, leather cleaning & care, and everything in-between!

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