Leather Info


Tanning is the process of turning hide into leather by permanently altering the protein (collagen) structure of the skin.  Anders Ojgaard – Managing Director of  Waremakers.com describes the process succinctly “the hides are soaked in a tanning solution. The tannin molecules will enter the hide and displace the water that is bound in the collagen. The water is drawn out, but as the tannins take the place of the removed water, the leather does not grow inflexible as fully dehydrated leather otherwise would.”


Tanning can be performed with either vegetable or mineral methods. Before tanning, the skins are unhaired, degreased, desalted and soaked in water over a period of 6 hours to 2 days.


Among the various tanning methods, vegetable tanning is the most traditional and environmentally friendly.  It uses natural tannins found in barks, wood and other parts of plants to convert animal skin into leather.   It is however a lengthy process, therefore expensive, but widely recognised as the most desirable for high quality.


In 1958 a quicker and therefore cheaper solution to the tanning process was developed.  The principles remain the same excepting the natural tannins which are replaced by mineral tanning agents.  This enables the process to be largely completed within a day.  The chrome molecules are much smaller than those used for vegetable tanning and so the leather will generally end up much thinner and softer. 

The process is less friendly than vegetable tanning and requires the use of acids and other chemicals as well as the chromium sulphates themselves.

Today the majority of the worlds leathers are chrome tanned about 90%, and very few tanneries have the capability or expertise to produce veg tanned leathers



Colours are limited to rich earthy tones.

Larger variety of colours.

It has great strength and durability, and will last decades if well cared for.

Softer and suppler.

The leather will change over time growing softer and darker.

Will not develop the same patina over time as veg tanned leather (or as quickly).

Can be prone to scratches, but shallow ones are easily buffed out

Fibres are not able to show through as they will in veg tanned leather

Not water resistant, but water marks eventually add to the overall patina

Relatively resistant to water stains and heat

Leather Types and Layers

There are basically three or four different types of leather depending on how you look at it, as they overlap each other;  Full Grain, Top Grain, Split (from which you get suede), and Bonded Leather.


Full Grain leather comes form the top part of the skin and is the best quality and most durable leather on the market.  It will have all the natural marks and scars of the animal still visible but it is the strongest part of the hide.  This is due to the positioning and density of the fibers of the grain.  Full Grain leather will develop a patina over its lifetime because the hair follicles of the animal remain which absorb waxes, polishes and the natural oils from our hands.


Top Grain leather also comes from the grain, the difference being that it is sanded to minimise any blemishes and scars on the animal.  As the top layer has been removed it needs a thin finish coat added.  This finish produces a more even pigmentation, is more stain resistant and will generally keep its original colour (not change its hue with age).  It does however have a more artificial feel and is less breathable.  Top Grain leathers also tend to be thinner and more pliable than full grain. Nubuck also comes from the grain and is created by brushing the surface of the leather(not to be confused with suede).


Split leather comes form the bottom part of the hide, the corium.  The split can be separated into further layers depending on the thickness of the hide.  The surface will then have to be treated and strengthened, most often a layer of polyurethane is added to it’s surface to produce and even or a textured finish.  It is much cheaper and has its place in this disposable world, however is does have a much shorter lifespan.


Bonded Leather is made from all the shavings glued together then pressed and rolled with a surface layer added.  I’m sure it has a place in manufacture, depending on the adhesive used, but not in bag making.  The only bonded leather I have experienced just rips along the seams like perforated pages in a book.