Leather has been used for many centuries for its strong and durable properties. It’s not only tough and weather resistant, but also soft and good to look at. However, this is not the case for untreated leather. Rawhide needs to undergo certain processes before it can boast these amazing properties to the full extent. Without the tanning process, the leather will begin to deteriorate and not be as strong, flexible and durable as the leather products we know and love.
Two common tanning methods
The most widely used method is known as chrome tanning whereby the leather is soaked in a solution containing metal chromium. All but approximately 20% of leather products undergo this tanning method. This part of the leather tanning process is what gives it its soft feel and water resistant finish. It also takes well to colour dyes and can endure higher temperatures which are ideal where leather would be used for car upholstery, for example. The other tanning method known as vegetable tanning, whereby the hide is soaked in vegetable liquors, has a few advantages over chrome tanning, such as the ability for the leather to breathe better and stretch better. However, this tanning method is not favourable for leather applications where the leather may be exposed to high temperatures as this could cause it to crack and perish. Vegetable tanned leather is also usually thicker than and not as water resistant as the finished product produced from chrome tanning.
End products of tanning
During the tanning process, the hide hair is removed and then split into an inner and outer layer. The outer layer is the smooth, fine and water resistant layer used for upholstery and jackets while the inner layer is where we find suede leather used for making items such as slippers and other non-water resistant applications.