You are holding your leather bag. It's heavy and full of bulky things. The weight does not concern you one bit. You think to yourself “it is made of leather, it's super durable and strong. There is no way it would break”. You may be wondering how did it get that strong and durable? Where does leather come from? What process does it go through? This article will hopefully provide you with answers to those questions.
Where Does Leather Come From?
Leather is a natural fabric. It is typically from raw cowhide. However, it can come from the hide of almost any animal. This includes skin from horses, crocodiles, sheep, goats, and even pigs. According to historians, leather is a byproduct of the meat and dairy industry. Rather than throwing away the precious raw material, they saw its value. Consequently, leather was born.
From Raw Hide to Leather
Turning an animal’s skin into something tough and durable is not a simple task. It goes through a delicate and time-consuming process to create the beautiful and long-enduring fabric we all know and love.
First Stage: Skinning
The first step is of course to prepare the animal hide. In preparing the animal hide both the skin and the animal’s flesh needs to be removed. To make the task easier it is advisable to soak the hide in a bucket of water overnight to make it more flexible. There are two ways of removing them. Removing the flesh from the skin may be done by hand or by a flashing machine. Furthermore one must be quick in removing the animal hide because the material tends to dry easily. Above all, it is important to handle the skin with care. After removing all the flesh from the skin what remains should be a clean, white, and smooth surface.
The next step is to salt or brine the skin in salt. This is an important step in the leather making process. Make sure to add a generous amount of salt. It is important to proceed with this step as soon as possible in order to avoid severe decomposition rendering the hide useless. Moreover, freezing is another method in preventing decomposition of the hide. Leave the skin in this step for 24 hours.
Removing The Hair
The following step is to remove any hair from the hide. This can be done by bathing the hide in a solution of calcium oxide bath. This bath may also be referred to as slaked lime, white whitewash, or calcium hydroxide although it can easily be called a lime bath. Soaking the hide can take up to one or two days. This process allows the hide to soften and makes the hair follicles easier to remove.
At this point, the hide will probably be full of moisture from all the bathing and soaking. It usually swells to a thickness of around 4mm and can be spliced into two. Splicing separates the top layer and the bottom layer of the hide. The top layer has better quality since the fiber structure is much tighter making it more durable. Treating this layer properly will produce high quality and supple fabric. This layer is responsible for producing full-grain leather.
The bottom layer on the other hand has overall low quality. They are cheaper and usually produce genuine leather commonly used for footwear and bags with low quality.
Second Stage: Tanning
After properly preparing the animal hide the second stage of the process is tanning. Consider salting or freezing as the initial step in halting the decomposition process. Now consider tanning as the advance step of stoping the hide from rotting. Basically, it is the process of converting the animal hide into leather through preservation.
How is Tanning Done?
Tanning takes a long time and patience. It is done by taking a large container, usually a large drum, and filing it up with a tanning solution. During this process, the tanning solution will seep through every pore in the hide coating every microscopic fiber with preservatives. After a few months, finish the tanning process by removing the skin from the solution.
Choosing Tanning Solutions
There are two types of tanning solution. One is natural while the other is chemical. The former is a vegetable tanning solution usually from barks of oak or hemlock. Hide soaking in natural tanning agents will likely to produce a flexible leather generally used for furniture or luggage. The latter on the other hand is a chemical tanning agent called chromium salt. Hide soaking in chromium salt will likely produce a more stretchable leather used for clothing and handbags.
The Final Stage
After taking the hide from the solution and cleaning it we are closer to the end of the leather making process.
Currying is the process of dressing, finishing, and coloring to a tanned hide to make it stronger, more flexible, and waterproof. A currier is a specialist in charge of currying the near-finished product. In this stage, the currier will be poking holes along the border of the hide. He will be suspending the hide by fastening it to a frame. Next, the currier will begin to scrape both sides of the hide vigorously with a blunt blade. This is the process of sleaking. It rapidly stretches the leather making it softer, smoother, and more supple. The longer and more vigorous the sleaking, the better the final product. Finish the whole process by rubbing oil into the surface
Although it is not necessary, some methods hang the leather above the smoke. This helps waterproof the leather and give it a darker color.