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December 06, 2022 4 min read

by April Quibido

A wife, a mom, and a definite homebody who loves writing about all sorts of interesting things online. She loves fashion, interior design, and other creative pursuits—writing included. She also has entrepreneurial endeavors and, like everyone else, wants to thrive and grow in all aspects of life.


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Have you ever thought about how the leather jacket you bought was made? There are steps and agents involved in producing all kinds of leather. Continue reading to better understand what leather tanning is and its process.

What is Leather Tanning?

Leather tanning is the process where animal skin or hide is treated to produce leather. A leather tannery is where this process often takes place. It’s large and has many drums that can tan a lot of animal skin simultaneously. You’ll be surprised to know that tanning is an ancient form of art. The process has been practiced for thousands of years in ancient civilizations such as India and Sumer.

Since the animal skin absorbs the tanning solution, it goes through a physical and chemical change that results in leather. But, not all leather has the same quality because there are various techniques or solutions used. This makes leather tanning more interesting to discover.

Why is Leather Tanning Necessary?

That’s because the rawhide will rot and decompose when it becomes wet if not done. Protein in the raw hide or skin is stabilized thanks to the tanning processing, so decomposition is prevented and the material can be prepared for various applications. It also has to be done to be able to alter the appearance of the hide.

Leather Tanning Types

  • Vegetable Tanning

This leather tanning type is ancient and can be dated back to Egypt. Much information isn’t known about this and only centuries-old tanneries practice this. Compared to other leather tanning methods, this is more expensive and it can take weeks or months to be completed. The extracted leather retains its natural color and has a stiff feel.

  • Chrome Tanning

Chrome tanning came about in 1858. Not only is it faster compared to vegetable tanning but also more affordable and efficient. This tanning process makes it possible to tan a batch of hides simultaneously. So, tanning, dyeing, and applying finishing to the leather can be done within a day. This became a known method because of how quick it was. The leather extracted is rich and soft. Bright and vivid dyes can be applied to it.

  • Oil Tanning

One of the most known uses for this is full-grain leather. It has the same process as chrome tanning. After going through chrome tanning, oil and wax are applied to the leather to get a unique texture and touch.

  • Brain Tanning

This is an ancient and traditional false leather tanning method. From the name itself, the hide of the animal is tanned using brain matter. After that, the material is exposed to fire and dried and smoked later on. For the next step, chemicals produced by men are used. Because the leather is smoked, it has a distinctive odor and color.

  • Rawhide Tanning

What happens in rawhide tanning is that after the leather absorbs water to make it more malleable, hair is taken out. This helps shape and mold the leather.

  • Combination Tanning

Combination tanning is a process where hides use vegetable and chrome tanning to have leather that has the qualities of these tanning types. The leather produced depends on how much of every type is used. Chrome tanning is often done first and then, vegetable tanning. But, it can also be the other way around.

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Standard Leather Tanning Steps

Step 1: Removing Hair and Fat

The first step involves curing the animal hide with salt so that it won't decay. One way to do this is by wet salting. The animal hide is salted heavily and pressed for up to 30 days. Soaking the animal hide in a saltwater brine for around 16 hours can also be done to cure it.

After the animal hides are cured, it goes through a lime bath. A lime bath chemically removes the hair from the animal hide. Then, the hide is toppled to take out renaming or excess hair and fatty layers from the flesh left.

Step 2: Pickling

There’s an increase in the pH of the collagen when the hide has a lime bath. So, the hidden lime has to be removed to decrease the pH. This will help in better absorption of tanning in the hide. For this step, tanners use common salts and acids such as sulfuric acid.

Step 3: Tanning

This step is varied because the leather produced can be different. Vegetable tanning and chrome tanning are the most common types used.

Step 4: Finishing

The last step can be done by using oil, wax, or dye. Some tanners do leather tanning more than once to get a more even and unique finish.

All of the above steps are critical to the final quality of a leather product. If you want to buy a leather product, make sure the seller understands what kind of tanning processes an item went through, just like the staff at The Independence Brothers.

Leather Tanning

Conclusion

Finally, you have a better understanding of why tanning is crucial in manufacturing leather. Though there are many processes, these are what make the finish and other qualities of leather more attractive. Because there are many processes such as chrome tanning and brain tanning, the leather will have different thicknesses, qualities, colors, and prices.


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