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Differences in leather

May 6, 2008
Leather is a byproduct manufacturered by tanning hides and skins of cows and other animals. The tanning process converts the leather into a durable material. Leather is a large industry with a very long history dating back to pre-history. Its used in the accessories industry, for example to produce leather portfolios. In the leather industry the materials are byproducts of the beef industry. Taxidermy also uses hides, but only the head and part of the back are used. Hides are used in glue and gelatin as well as forming the foundation for many leather products. There are many processes to transform the skin of an animal into a supple leather and then further into leather journals or other leather gifts. Chrome tanned leather is tanned using chromium. It is more durable, does not discolor or lose shape like vegetable tanned leather. More colors are possible using chrome tanning. Vegetable-tanned leather is tanned using tannin and other vegetable matter.

It is brown, with shades depending on the chemicals and the color of the hide. Vegetable-tanned leather tends to discolor when wet, and can shrink if wet and permitted to dry. Boiled leather is an application where the leather was hardened in hot water.. Boiled leather was used for armor and book bindings. Aldehyde tanned leather is tanned using various compounds. This is the leather tanners refer to as "wet white" leather due to its white color. Formaldehyde tanning is another method of aldehyde tanning which includes brain-tanned leathers, These leathers are water absorbent. Brain tanned leathers are made with oils. They are exceptionally soft and can be washed. Chamois leather is also tanned with aldehydes and, like brain tanning, is water absorbent leather. Chamois leather is made by using cod oil that oxidizes well to make the aldehydes which tan the leather. Synthetically tanned leather is tanned using polymers. This leather is white and was invented when tannins were in short supply. Alum-tanned leather is tanned using salts mixed with a variety of binders and proteins like flour and egg yolk. Light shades of leather are possible; but it produces a leather that is not as supple as vegetable-tanned leather.

Rawhide is made by scraping the skin thin, soaking it in lime, and then stretching it while it dries. Rawhide is stiff and brittle, and is primarily found in uses such as drums. Oil can be applied to vegetable tanned leather to provide water resistance which adds to the natural resistance to the oils found in the leather itself. Frequent oiling or a similar material keeps leather supple and lengthens lifespan. In general, leather is sold three ways, including, full grain leather, made from the finest materials, are clean natural hides which have not been corrected. The grain is in its natural state which permits fiber strength, and enhanced durability. The natural grain also has breathes better, making the leather more comfortable. It will develop a patina and actually acquire character over time.

The finest leather accessories and bifold wallets are made from Full-Grain leather. Full grain leathers are further divided into aniline and semi-aniline. Top grain leather, which has a corrected grain, is smooth on one side and fuzzy on the other. The natural grain needs to be corrected with an artificial grain. Top grain leather must be painted to cover up the sanding and stamping. Corrected grain leathers can be sold as semi-aniline and pigmented. Suede is leather where the natural grain is completely removed by splitting. During splitting the grain and split are separated. The drop split can be further split into a middle split or flesh split. In thick hides the middle split can be split multiple times until the split is no longer thick enough for splitting. The best suedes are usually made from grain splits. Suede is fuzzy on both sides but is less durable than top grain leather. Suede is also cheaper because from the same material used to make top grain leather, multiple pieces of suede can be produced. A reversed suede is grained leather designed into the leather product with the grain away from the surface. Patent leather is leather that with a high gloss finish.

Patent leather is typically coated in some type of plastic. Vachetta leather is used in the trimmings of briefcases and wallets. The leather is untreated and is easily stained. Sunlight will also darken the leather. Nubuck is top grain cattle hide which has been sanded on the grain side to leave a feel of short protein fibers which produces a velvet type surface. Specialty leather products, such as briefcases, wallets, and luggage all tend to utilize this type of leather. Belting leather is a full grain leather used in industrial machinery. It is often found in briefcases, portfolios, and wallets, is thick and firm with a smooth finish. Belting leather retains shape without a separate frame. Napa leather is soft and supple and is found in quality wallets, toiletry kits, and other personal leather goods. Bonded Leather is a man-made material made of scrap leather material. Bonded leather is not durable and is used for low-use applications.
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