The art of making leather products is an intricate process to create beautiful leather accessories with a fresh hide. The process involves dozens of steps, many of them mandatory, with some having a greater influence on the end result than others. However, it’s a natural product and one of man’s oldest and most useful discoveries. For thousands of years, humans have used leather for protection, tools, weapons, and for furniture.
The hide of almost any animal can be used to make leather, including cows, horses, pigs, sheep, goats, and crocodiles. However, cowhide is the most commonly used hide. Leather is made from animal hides that would otherwise be destroyed in the meat and dairy industries. The animal’s hide is turned into beautiful leather, durable and beautiful material that lasts for decades.
Even so, it’s safe to say that the fashion world wouldn’t be complete without leather and products made from it, especially shoes, handbags, and jackets. However, this post is written especially for leather enthusiasts and those who want to know more about how leather is made.
How Is Leather Made?
To use hide or skin as leather, it needs to be processed. This process is known as ‘tanning’. The tanning process changes the chemistry in the leather fiber to make it more difficult for bacteria and fungi to break it down, which increases leather’s durability. However, to make leather soft and supple for use, it must be going through a tanning process. This is the first step needed in making leather after the hides come from the Beamhouse and are cleaned from dirt, blood, salt, and hair. This process has been done in many ways for thousands of years.
How Does the Leather Tanning Process Work
No doubt, the preparation of leather is a complicated process. The easiest way to understand its making is to understand the layer separation process from the hide. The leather is split across its thickness to produce a top layer (hair side) and an underlayer. The top layer is known as full-grain. It refers to the surface exposed to the elements, giving it the durable and malleable properties it needs to be considered fine leather. However, the inner side has much more stiffness and is less durable. Thus, it is ideal for use after a coating treatment has been applied. However, animal hides go through numerous stages in the tanning process before they are ready to use to make leather products. So, the process of tanning involves five distinct stages:
STAGE 1: PRE-TANNING
Once the hide comes from the slaughterhouse, the next step is to cure it with salt. Curing inhibits putrefaction by preventing bacteria from growing between procurement and processing. Then it may be soaked in saltwater brine, which has certain chemicals added to prevent bacterial and fungal growth and squeezes out salts used to preserve hide. The process takes place in drums that can hold up to 200 hides.
After soaking the skins, they go for liming. A lime solution (calcium hydroxide) and sodium sulfide are applied to soften and enhance the hide to become soft and flexible in upholstery leather. This removes the natural grease, fats, keratin, and hair from the skin.
A rotating scarping rolls remove the connective tissues and meat residue from the flesh side. After that, a deliming process is done where acids are added to a drum or pit to reduce the alkalinity of the hides, which takes about 2 hours to complete. After this, the hides can be bated to soften the hides.
There is then pickling, which adds acids to slacken the pelt and strengthen the penetration of the tanning agent.
Before tanning, excess grease is removed with a solvent- or water-based system.
STAGE 2: TANNING
After the process comes which converts pre-tanned leather into leather, comes tanning. Tanning hides can be done in various ways, but the end result is that they will not putrefy and will be able to be dyed and used for manufacturing.
Chromium tanned leather is processed by soaking the hides in baths using a chemical solution called Chromium Sulfate until they are ready for the next step. Chromium tanning replaced the ancient process of tanning leather in 1858 as tanneries looked for ways to make the process more cost-effective and faster. However, this tanning process can be completed much faster, usually within a couple of days.
Vegetable tanning involves the tannins from the bark and leaves of trees and plants. It is popular to use tannins from oak trees, chestnut trees, or mimosa trees, but hundreds of different tree types and other plants have also been used. After the preparation phase, tanning begins with the placement of hides in tanning pits, where drums are filled with tanning solutions of different strengths. Hides moved between drums for two to three months, and the solution got progressively stronger. The tanning agents penetrate the skins. The fermentation and deposition process leaves a distinctive appearance and color on the hides. However, this process is slow, and it can take weeks or even months for the hides to be fully tanned. Consequently, this method is rarely used to produce upholstery leather.
STAGE 3: SELECTING
In the third stage, excess water is removed from the hide after tanning. Then, the hides are graded by the quantity and location of natural features and flaws.
STAGE 4: DRESSING
Afterward, dressing the hides involves the following process:
- Shaving – Gives a uniform thickness to hides.
- Dyeing – A dye is added to leather to color it.
- Re-tanning – Additional tanning substances may be added to leather before use to modify its physical properties.
- Setting – Using a mechanical process to remove excess moisture and creases.
- Drying – The hides are stretched out on large frames or are vacuum-dried.
- Trimming- Removal of rough or ragged edges.
STAGE 5: FINISHING
Finally, the leather is tanned. The finishing process is applied to remove the remaining oils in the skin. Finishing minimizes blemishes on grain without sacrificing the natural beauty of leather. Additionally, it ensures its softness, providing the desired degree of gloss and an antique appearance. This is the final stage of the leather processing before it is used for various garments, shoes, or other applications.
Creating leather is a seemingly complicated one, but one that yields many excellent materials we use regularly.
Leather is a wonderful material that only gets better with age. However, the production of leather is a complex process that involves the skill and experience of many very talented workers. The steps involved in making leather may seem simple, but there is a lot more to it than meets the eye. This makes leather furniture the perfect addition to any room in your house, especially the living space. However, leather is vulnerable to wear and tear from dust, heat, sharp objects, and more. To keep your leather furniture looking and feeling its best, it needs to be cared for regularly and get the most out of it! If you are interested in knowing more about how this fascinating material was discovered, please check out the blog at d-ten.store.