Leather Terminology

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Commonly Used Words & Phrases

If you are new to the leather industry, you may have heard or read certain words or phrases that have left you thinking “what does that mean?!”. We have compiled a list of commonly used terminology accompanied with a brief description to hopefully clear up any confusion you might have.

 



A

 

ALDEHYDE-TANNED – a method of tanning using glutaraldehyde or oxazolidine compounds, often referred to as wet-white leather. It is free of chromium. Find out more.

ANILINE – leather that has been dyed or stained, leaving the leather “naked” and allowing the natural grain to show through.

AXILLAE – like humans, these are found on the underside of the body and around the inside leg. They move a lot therefore are quite stretchy by nature.



B

 

BACK – an entire cut of the hide incorporating the shoulder and butt areas, but not the belly. Find out more.

BELLY – the underside of the cow which, due to its loose fibre structure, is relatively stretchy by nature.
Find out more.

BEND – also known as a ‘half butt’. A bend can also incorporate a small part of the shoulder on longer pieces. Find out more.

BLOOM – a white wax-like surface finish that occurs after applying oils and waxes to leather – English Bridle specifically. It is a sign of excellent quality and produces a superior shine when buffed. Find out more.

BOARDED – leather that is firstly softened, then the surface of which is creased by folding it. Achieved by the process of hand boarding or with a boarding machine.

BRIDLE – also known as English Bridle leather. Produced using top-grain leather to create a uniform finish, and then treated with waxes and oils to produce a world class shine.

BUFFED – leather whereby the surface grain has been removed by an abrasive or bladed machine. Commonly referred to as top-grain or correct-grain leather.

BUTT – the rear end of the cow hide which is often thick and very strong. Find out more.

BYCAST – a split leather with a layer of plastic laminated to the surface, then embossed. Commonly used in the shoe and furniture industry due to its consistent texture and easy to clean properties.



C


CALFSKIN – the leather produced from a young bovine animal not exceeding around 14kg in weight or one year in age.

CHROME-TANNED – leather that is treated at the tannery with chromium sulphate and other salts. Find out more.

COLLAGEN – the majority of the proteins that make up leather hides. The compounds that form leather are: water (~60%), protein (~30%) and fats (~10%).

COMBINATION-TANNED – leather that is tanned by two or more agents (e.g. chromium sulphate and vegetable tannins).

CORRECTED-GRAIN – leather whereby the grain has been buffed, effectively enabling a new surface to be built upon it through the application of various finishes. Find out more.

CULATTA – the rear section of a bovine animal hide featuring the; butt, belly and hindshanks.

CURRIED – leather that has undergone the currying process. This involves a range of dressing and finishing methods that are applied to the hide after tanning to create the desired; colour, feel and texture.



E


EMBOSSED – leather with a printed pattern pressed upon it to either imitate or resemble the grain pattern of another animal. E.g. crocodile print.

ENGLISH BRIDLE – also known as Bridle leather. Produced using top-grain leather to create a uniform finished, and then treated with waxes and oils to produce a world class shine. Find out more.

EPIDERMIS – the outer layer of cells/tissue covering a living organism. This is the scientific word for the industry used term ‘grain’.



F


FULL-GRAIN – leather hides which feature the naturally occurring grain of the animal including all of its natural features. Only the hair is removed, leaving the epidermis intact. Find out more.



G


GRAIN – the epidermis of an animal skin. This is the resulting pattern found on the surface of the skin after the hair, wool or feathers have been removed.

GREASE / GREASING – the application of wax, oils and/or tallows to the surface of leather hides. This is the final stage of the currying process which increases the suitability of the leather for its intended purpose(s). For the best results, this is done by hand.



H


HIDE – also known as skin. This is the general term used to describe the outer covering of an animal.



I


INSOLE – a type of leather used for the inner soles of footwear. Includes; splits, combination-tanned leather, sides and bellies.



M


MATTE – a coloured finish with minimal shine or shimmer. This is the opposite to Bridle finished leather.



N


NAPA/NAPPA – a soft, dyed-through leather sometimes made from sheep or goat skins. It can be either full-grain or, more commonly, corrected-grain.


NUBUCK – also known as top-grain leather, whereby the grain has been sanded or buffed ready for the application of an alternative finished surface. The surface texture can be described as being velvet-like due to the slight nap of protein fibres protruding from the surface.

 


O

OILS – these are the constituents of grease mixes that are applied to finished leather. These are usually vegetable oils and fish oils.
 


P

PATINA – the colour change that occurs to leather over time. This occurs faster on untreated pieces and is considered, by many, as a highly desirable characteristic of leather.

PIGMENT(ED) – leather whereby a fine application of coloured pigment is applied to the surface to create a more prominently coloured finish. The pigment also provides considerable protection against scuffing and fading.

PRINTED – a leather whereby any type of non-3D pattern or design is embossed upon the surface. This process and finish does not affect the structure of the hide.


R

RAWHIDE – an untanned leather that is created by scraping the skin, soaking in lime and then stretching during the drying process. Although not technically a leather, it is usually categorised as one. It is stiff and brittle with minimal flex. Find out more.

RETANNED – an already tanned hide that is subject to additional tanning of the same type.


S

SEMI-ANILINE – a type of finished leather that has been aniline treated with the inclusion of pigment. Only a small amount of pigment is used in order to limit the concealment of the natural grain.
 

SHANK – the skin originating from the upper parts of the legs, found at the ends of sides. A cow hide features two foreshanks and two hindshanks. Find out more.
 

SHOULDER – the front part of the hide that can also include the neck. Find out more.

SIDE – the entire side section of a hide from the centre of the back down to the belly. Find out more.

SKIN – also known as hide, this is the general term used to describe the outer covering of an animal.

SPLITS/ SPLITTING – the process in which a hide is split horizontally through the flesh. The result is a multiple number of layers, or ‘splits’. These are commonly used to produce suede.

SUBSTANCE – another term used to describe the thickness or “weight” of the leather. It can be measured in ounces, grams, inches or millimetres. Nowadays, the metric unit of millimetres is most commonly used.

SUEDE – a soft type of leather whereby the surface features a napped finish resulting in a velvet-like feel to the touch. Although usually sourced from young animals (lamb, kid and calf), cow and deer can be used but due to the thicker fibre content a more shaggy nap is achieved.


T

TANNING – the process of treating natural, raw animal hides to create a preserved product ready for finishing and production. Find out more.

TOOLING – a method of “working” leather to become a decorative or functional item. This can range from carving and engraving, to creating leather goods.

TOP-GRAIN – a type of leather featuring a sanded surface with a finish coat applied to it. Find out more.


V

VEGETABLE (VEG)-TANNED – a treated leather from a tannery that has been subject to tannins and other organic material. Find out more.


W

 

WAX / WAXING – the process of applying a protection substance to the leather surface in order to improve durability and protection against the elements. E.g. beeswax.
 

WEIGHT – a term often used to describe the thickness of leather. Leather can be measured in ounces, grams, inches or millimetres. Nowadays, the metric unit of millimetres is most commonly used.



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