Welcome back leather lovers, to the second installment of our revamped Rebel’s Guide to Leather!
While Part One focused on the history of leather – following its use through the centuries – Part Two will take us through the leather manufacturing process, showing us how modern leather is created and specifically designed for the modern worker.
Preparing the Hide
Modern leather tanning is a multi-step process, involving the work of many people performing many different tasks – but it all starts with the hide. Use a poor hide or prepare it haphazardly and the quality of the final product will suffer as a result. By using a strong hide and closely following the manufacturing process, success can be much easier to come by.
In any leather manufacturing process, the first step is removing the skin from the animal. Once this is done, any remaining flesh then needs to be separated, either by hand or with a fleshing machine.
Regardless of what method is chosen, the hide needs to be preserved immediately to prevent decomposition, as the decomposition process can set in within a matter of hours. This requires that the hide be salted, frozen or placed in a salt brine as it is transported to a tannery.
Once the hide arrives at the tannery, if it was salted, it will be soaked in water to remove the preservation salt and any other possible contaminates. This process will last about 24 hours before the hide is placed in a “lime bath” – a solution which scrapes away any remaining oils, grease or hair, while also making the hide softer during the bating stage, in which those chemicals are removed.
The final step of the preparatory stage is the pickling, where the hides are mixed with sulfuric acid and magnesium, making it easier for chromium sulphate, the chemical used in most tanning, to be used on the hide once the tanning process begins.
Tanning and Dyeing
For centuries, vegetable tanning was the method of choice for those looking to tan leather but chrome tanning leather became the preferred option in the wake of industrialization as it is more effective, easier on the worker, and able to speed up the process.
Unlike vegetable tanning, which can take much longer, chromium leather tanning can be fully automated and completed in as little as 24 to 48 hours. And as a bonus, chrome-tanned leather will not discolor or deform in water.
Dyeing will then take place, where the hides will be placed in a drum alongside the chosen dye, allowing color to be added. After this, the finishing, the final stage of the process, begins.
The hide may also be split, allowing it to be broken up into different layers which will then be used in variety of different leather-based products. Curious about that? Don’t worry! We’ll talk more about these different types of leather in Part Three.
Even though the actual tanning is now done, the final step of the process involves the drying and finishing of the newly created leather, including one last inspection before it is shipped out. The leather is dried and then a finishing spray is added, giving the hide its intended final look, such as an acrylic shine or an imprinted pattern.
Finally, the leather is given one last look over, which ensures that everything is to standard. Is it the correct color, size and shape? Some companies, like Saddleback Leather Co., may keep the scuff marks or blemishes for a more “natural” look but most companies will make sure that the leather is free of any removable imperfections before it is shipped off for sale.
This was Part Two of our revamped Rebel’s Guide to Leather! In Part Three, our final installment, we’ll take a look at the different types of leather and how the gloves we chose can be impacted as a result.