What is the Difference Between Hide and Skin?

Having to be confused about hide and skin in or outside the leatherwork fraternity is quite normal. The words tend to be used interchangeably most of the time. I did some research to clearly differentiate between them and bring clarity to this subject.

So, what is the difference between hide and skin? Hide is the outer covering of large animals from the bovine group or any other large animals and skin is the outer covering of small animals like deer, goat, sheep, etc. Hide and skins are jointly referred to as Pelt.

There are other seaming differences beyond size and I know you’d like to find out more on the differences between hide and skin.

There is a clear distinction between skin and hide among English-speaking countries. Most experts know exactly when to use either word but to the layman, it is not always clear when which of the two terms should be used.

Although experts call animals with small bodies as “skin” they do the same for hide of hoofed animals. Also, the hide of young animals is also referred to as skin.

This makes the conversation about hide and skin primarily about the size of the animal in question and that’s the most simple way to look at it.

Another clear yardstick for the differentiation is the height. Animals with a shoulder height over a meter can have their pelts called “hides”. This, however, sparks confusion with certain animals that frequently stand on two feet like the kangaroo.

In an upright walk, the shoulders appear high but in terms of the physique, its hide as not as large as other animals like the bovine.

Difference Between Skin and Hide

Skin Hide
1. Sourced from small animals 1. Sourced form larger animals
2. Used for small leatherwork
products like wallets
2. Used to make larger leather used
for bigger projects like furniture
3. Skin is more expensive 3. Less expensive due to abundance
in the raring of bovine for meat
4. Lightweight and thinner 4. Heavy and tougher


A typical definition of skin is the outer covering of either humans or animals. The skin has a lot of functions such as it serves as a protective layer from injuries, sun, bacteria, and a sense organ for heat, cold, touch and pain.

The skin is primarily from smaller animals like sheep, goats, and birds. Skins are thinner than heavy leather from hides. Because of these characteristics, light leather from animal skin is often ideal for small products such as wallets, purses, bags, etc.

The skin of animals may vary greatly due to several factors. The skin of the same kind of animal of a different geographical area, gender, nutrition, age, and climate can vary tremendously.

But the overall constituent is the same. The skin animals consist of 98% protein, water, fat, and minerals.

The skin is divided into layers of 3:

  • The epidermis (about 1% of the thickness)
  • Dermis (about 85%)
  • Hypodermis (about 15%)

Just for clarity, the skin or hide (pelt) after it has been obtained is treated into the leather by a process called tanning.

You will always find that all leathers are manufactured from the dermis layer of the skin. Also, the fiber structures here are different, so during the production of leather, it is taken into consideration so as to get leathers in their specific range of quality.

So what about smaller or undersize animals like rabbits, lizards, etc. Are those also skins? No, the pelt from undersize animals are classified and called kip and is also different from skin although small as well.


This type of pelt when treated into leather by tanning is known as heavy leather. The hide is often heavier and larger in size due to its source.

Leather that has also been tanned but hasn’t been cut to size yet may also be referred to as hides.

Hide has the same constitute as skin and may also have huge differences due to climate, geography, age, nutrition, and treatment. It also shares the same constituency in protein, fats, water, and other minerals and skin structure.

The hide is much thicker, heavy, rough, and tougher.

With its enormous size and toughness, it is particularly ideal for large products such as bags, couches, etc. Compared to the skins, hides are cheaper due to the massive raring of bovine animals for beef, unlike other animals.

Similarities Between Hide and Skin

  1. Both hide and skin can be tanned using the various tanning methods such as chrome tanning and vegetable tanning
  2. Both can be used for all kinds of leather products.
  3. Decorative techniques like stamping and tooling can be done on them after it has been tanned into leather.
  4. Hide and skins are from animal sources.
  5. Hide and skins are flexible making it easily workable.
  6. Both hide and skin is durable.

List of Tools and Equipment for Processing Hide and Skin

Here are a few of the tools and equipment you will find in a tanner industry. Most of the equipment for hide and skin processing is large scale and so will be found in big leather manufacturing companies.

Most industries may have a select few of the under-listed equipment and tools. The equipments may be used together or in isolation to process the hide and skin into leather.

The equipment of choice is subject to the preference of the industry and how long or short they may want their processing to be. Another factor is the budget of the company.

  1. Hide clamp
  2. Hydraulic fleshing pump
  3. Drums
  4. Fleshing Machines
  5. Splitting Machines
  6. Shaving Machines
  7. Setting out Machines
  8. Pole and Vacuum Dryers
  9. Staking Machines
  10. Milling Drums
  11. Roller Coating Machines
  12. Spray Cabinets
  13. Embossing Machines
  14. Polishing Machines
  15. Buffing Machines
  16. Measuring Machines

Processing Of Hide and Skin

How is hide and skin processed? Hide and skin is processed by flaying, pre-tanning, tanning, post tanning, and dying (optional) and these processes turn the raw skin and hide into the leather.

There are various tanning methods such as chrome tanning, vegetable tanning, oil tanning, mineral tanning, combination tanning but the most popular is chrome tanning while the best tanning method is vegetable tanning.

Vegetable Tanning

Vegetable tanning is one of the several ways of turning hides and skins into leather. It is the oldest method for turning hides and skins into leather.

Vegetable tanning is done using plant extracts such as seeds, pods, fruits, roots, and tree backs to treat animal skins and hides into a material that will not decay or decompose.

Its usage dates back to prehistoric times and has been around ever since till today. It is considered the most environmentally friendly method of tanning as only materials from plants is used.

The only downside to vegetable tanning is that it takes a longer period, which is 60 – 90 days for the tanning process to be complete.

Chrome Tanning

Chrome tanning is another tanning method for tanning leather. It is the most common method. It employs chemicals such as chromium salts to turn hides and skins into the leather over a very short period.

Contrary to vegetable tanning chrome tanning is less environmentally friendly due to the chemicals used for the process. Most tanneries used this method because it’s business viability is great as chemicals are used to catalyst the tanning process over a very short process.

The chrome tanning process in addition to its rapidity is also very economical thus profit for tanneries is high.

Study shows that about 80% of all hides and skins are tanned using chrome tanning.

Related Questions

How do you preserve hide or skin? To preserve hide and skin, remove fats, blood, and flesh substances from the flesh side of the hide or skin with a fleshing knife. The hide or skin is then processed by the tanning process.

The hide or skin can also be prevented from decay using a generous layer of non-iodized salt called curing. Curred hides can be air-dried and soaked in water in a container until it softens.

How long does it take to tan a hide? The duration of tanning is dependant on the type of tanning method chosen by the leather tanner. Vegetable tanning can take between 2 -3 months for the tanning to complete while chrome tanning can take a few hours to a day to complete.


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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