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Let's talk about Leather

Let’s talk about leather. This is a topic I have steered away from for years because of the amount of education and understanding needed to discuss it. Even as many years as I spent as a hide tanner and still teach classes, there are endless ways to tan a hide. And to speak on the subject really well, you basically need to be a chemist.

So I am going to try and share what I know and just scratch the surface, because there is a lot of misinformation out there.

I saw a Tiktok video awhile back saying the leather product they were selling was chemical free…this is what got me thinking. First there are no leather products on the market where some type of chemical hasn’t been used, in other words all leather in the main stream market is tanned using chemicals. Even home tanned hides almost 100% of them, some chemical has been used. The only time a chemical is not used is when you are tanning hair off, and use a rot method or scalding, the only people I know doing that are rawhide braiders.

I think what is confusing people the most is what is referred to as “veg” tanned leather, or Vegetable tanned leather. This is where in the final stages of the tanning product a bark extract typically mimosa bark for the mimosa tree or quebracho, also a tree is used to “tan” the leather. However the raw animal skin has gone through a significant process before this step, including the use of chemicals to de-hair it.

On a home tanning scale, veg tanned is often called bark tanned. And raw bark material can be boiled down to create a tea where then the hide (after a long process of dehairing) is submerged for different amounts of time depending on type of skin, thickness and size.

There is so much really bad info online about tanning hides. And the subject has always overwhelmed me. The topic is a focus of a lifetime with a very long history. But for some reason this morning I want to chip away at it.

Here is what you need to know-

All hides (99%) are tanned using a chemical. Even deer hides that are de-haired using wood ash, which is considered one of the most natural ways, that is a chemical. Be wary of purists in any industry. I used to be one of them and all it did was make me miserable. Here are a few ways hides are tanned, if you want to go down the Google rabbit hole.

vegetable tanned

bark tanned

brain tanned or smoke tanned

oil tanned

Alum tanned can also be referred to as mineral tanned

Chrome tanned

I will be writing a series on this. As I begin to work with leathers that a few years ago I wouldn't touch, I am beginning to realize I want to share my story and experience.

Shele, Hollow Bone

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