"Leatherspeak" - Understanding Technical Terminology

"Leatherspeak" - Understanding Technical Terminology

Do you ever find yourself struggling to understand terms that tanneries and other leathercrafters use?   Many words that tanners use have no other meaning in the real world, like "crust" or "wet blue" but they are important for leather goods makers to understand.    

We put together a comprehensive glossary of leather terms that might be useful to a new leather worker.    

You can download a PDF Glossary here, or continue reading.

Altered Leather Leather that has had the original surface of the skin removed (usually due to imperfections in the original surface) and a new grain embossed into the leather. This is also called corrected grain. Most top grain leathers have altered or corrected grain surfaces.
Aniline Dye Any dye produced synthetically from coal tar products.
Aniline Finish A process of coloring skins, without a top finish.  Only dyes are used to achieve the coloration. This process can only be used on the finest quality skins as all surface blemishes remain apparent.
Antiqued Leather that is dyed with one color over another (usually darker over lighter) so as to create rich highlights and an artificial aged appearance.
Apron Splits Soft, durable leather that has been split to expose the underneath layer. Without a natural grain, it is then sueded and dyed a pearl gray. Chrome tanned. Ideal for farrier aprons.
Back The main portion of a hide, obtained by cutting off the two bellies.
Bark Tanned Leather that has been vegetable-tanned mainly by means of tannins from the bark of trees.
Base Dyes Common (usually lower grade) dye colors used in custom colored leathers that are quickly made. Hides are dyed in advance awaiting the spray application of custom colors.
Bellies Feature softer, looser fibers than the top part of the hide.
Bi-Cast Leather Bi-cast leather is made from split leather which is then laminated with a polyethylene top layer. It has been made available thanks to modern technology, which lets leather be split into a number of layers, at a reduced cost compared to natural leather. The layers used to make bi-cast leather are of very inferior quality, which, without the coating, may not be of any use at all.
Bison/Buffalo Soft, supple leather.  It has a lot of grain, texture, and character. Ideal for mitts, bags, moccasins, and pouches.
Bonded Leather Also known as reconstituted leather is a term used for partially synthetic leather. It is a synthetic material made of varying types of plastic (generally polyurethane or vinyl) that may be spread over ground-up leather and other substances, mechanically processed to give the appearance of leather, but at reduced cost and with less wastage compared to natural leather.  Examples of products that are most commonly constructed with different varieties of “bonded leather” are: books, diaries, art books, desk accessories, bags, belts, chairs, and sofas.
Bovine An animal belonging to the cattle or ox family.
Breathability An important characteristic of a full grain leather. Due to its intact grain and pore structure, full grain leather breathes. This means that the leather adjusts to temperature and wicks away moisture and body heat, making it very comfortable to sit on.
Bridle Firm, rich-coloured leather with enough oils to withstand weather. Great feeling leather, which can be oiled for darker hues. Vegetable tanned. Ideal for tack items and fine pet products.
Brush Coloring The process of applying dyestuff to the leather by means of a brush. In this cosmetic process dyes are not saturated into the hide.
Buffed Leather Leather from which the grain is removed by an abrasive or bladed cylinder. Often known as nubuck. This process is used in altered or
corrected grain leather.
Butt The part of the hide after the bellies and shoulders have been removed.
Chrome Oil Tanned Beautiful, durable leather that has just the right amount of oil for a soft, supple feel. Idea of work chaps, saddle bags, and linings.
Chrome Tannage Leather tanned with chromium salts resulting in soft, mellow hides receptive to excellent color variety.
Combination Tannage Leather that receives chrome and vegetable tannage producing suppleness and body in the hide.
Combination Tannage Leathers tanned with more than one tanning agent, such as chrome and vegetable together, resulting in both softness and body in skins.
Corrected Grain Leather that has been buffed to remove blemishes, then embossed with a new, artificial grain created using pigments and other finishes.
Crocking Removing the crock, or excess coloring, that rubs off of a newly-dyed hide.
Crust Leather which has been tanned (treated to become nonperishable) but not colored or otherwise finished.
Degrained Leather Leather from which the grain has been removed after tanning, by splitting, abrading or other processes.
Distressed Another term for antiqued leather.  Distressed leather is coated with a wax finish and then milled in order to create a worn, natural
Double Backs A hard-to-find cut, double backs offer maximum yield with virtually no waste. Available in vegetable tanned natural strap or alum tanned lace leather. Ideal for belts, cases, holsters, lace, and linings.
Drum A large vessel or vat used in the processing of the skins.
Drum Dyeing The application of dyestuffs to leather by the immersion of the leather in a drum that is tumbled. This process allows full dye penetration into the fiber.
Embossed Leather Usually corrected grain, in which a pattern is applied by extreme pressure in a press to give a unique design or imitation of full grain characteristics. Sometimes leathers are embossed to make them appear to be another leather, such as embossing an alligator pattern
into cowhide.
English Bridle Strong, waxy, weather-resistant “English” bridle leather, which is the closest to bridle leather made in England. The best U.S. native steer hides are slowly vegetable tanned. These are not to be confused with authentic English bridle leather that’s tanned in England. Ideal for English and western tack, belts, harness parts, stirrup leathers, and pet pouches.
Enhanced Full Grain Full grain leather, which has received minor surface alteration to improve grain appearance.
Exotics Refers to a number of unusual animal/reptile skins that are tanned primarily for the small leather good/accessory/shoe business (i.e.
lizard, snake, crocodile skins, etc.)
Fat Wrinkle Wrinkles in the grain of leather caused by fat deposits in the animal that create beauty in the leather.  Fat wrinkles are not visible in imitation grain
Finish Generally defines a surface application on the leather to color, protect or mask imperfections. More specifically, it refers to all processes
administered to leather after it has been tanned.
Flank The loose, thin side portion of the skins (the underbelly of the animal).
Flesh The interfacing side of the skin as opposed to the outer portion of the skin.
Full Hand This defines leather that is full bodied and robust. Also called round hand or full round hand.
Full-Grain Leather Leather which has not been altered beyond hair removal. Full grain leather is the most genuine type of leather, as it retains all of the original texture and markings of the original hide.
Garment Beautiful leather is soft and supple and available in consistent colors.
Gaufrage A unique embossing process that creates upholstery leather of exceptional softness and beauty.  The design impression is transferred to the leather by an engraved roller under high heat and low pressure.
Glazed Leather Aniline-dyed leather which has been polished to a high luster by passing through glass or steel rollers under great pressure.
Grain (leather) The outside of the hide or skin consisting of the pores, cells, wrinkles and other characteristics which constitute the natural texture of the leather.
Grain Character The natural markings on the surface of the leather.
Grain Sueded A buffing process to raise the fibers on the grain side of a hide or skin to produce a velvet-like effect. This is also known as 'Nubuck' leather.
Gum Tragacanth Gum Tragacanth is a water based, low volatile organic compound (V.O.C.), natural gum based edge slicking and burnishing compound for use on natural or colored veg-tanned leather. Produces a professional looking, smooth, shiny, burnished edge.
Hand A leather industry term used to describe the feel, i.e. suppleness or fullness of upholstery leather.
Handiwork / Hand Antique Leather that is finished with one color over another so as to create rich highlights and an artificial aged appearance.  This is done by hand, either wiping a darker color on over a lighter base color or wiping the dark color off.
Hide The pelt of a large animal.
Kip The hide from a grass-fed, immature bovine.
Leather An animal hide that has been preserved and dressed for use.
Leatherette A manufactured product that imitates leather.
Liming This process includes removal of the hair, preparing the hides for the tanning process.
Matte Finish A flat or dull finish.
Mill Tumbling the skins in a large vessel to induce softness and other grain characteristics.
Naked Leather A dyed leather that has received no topical application that may mask or alter the natural state of the leather.
Nap Describes the soft, "fuzzy" effect achieved in leather by buffing or brushing.
Natural Grain A leather that displays its original grain.
Nubuck A leather whose surface has been buffed and brushed to create a soft, velvety effect. Differs from suede in that while suede is created from the flesh (inner) side of a hide, nubuck is created using the grain (outer) side, giving it velvety texture.
Oil Tanned Leather that is tanned using oils to create a very soft, pliable finish.
Patent Leather Leather with a glossy impermeable finish produced by successive coats of drying oils, varnish, or synthetic resins.
Patina A natural characteristic that develops on full grain leather through normal use over a period of time.
Perforated In leather, this is the process of die-cutting small holes to form a pattern. The holes can vary in size, density and pattern.
Pigmented Leather Leather that has been coated with a flat surface color on top of or instead of the usual dye finish. Leather is usually pigmented to add durability and hide natural blemishes.
Plating The process of pressing leather under a heated plate.
Pull-up Describes the behavior of leather that has been treated with oils, waxes, and dyes in such a way that when the leather is pulled or stretched (i.e. on upholstery), the finish becomes lighter in the
stretched areas.
Rawhide Untanned or partially tanned hide.
Reconstructed Leather Material composed of collagen fibers, obtained from macerated hide pieces, which have been reconstructed into a fibrous material.
Retannage A modifying secondary tannage applied after intermediate operations following the primary tannage to further enrich and enhance the quality of the leather.
Round Hand A full-handed leather, usually slightly swelled through tannage and fat liquoring.
Saddle Skirting Molds and forms to seat, and readily accepts tooling or embossing. Oils and dyes evenly for a nice, beautiful, uniform appearance. Vegetable tanned. Ideal for saddles, tooled and embossed products.
Saturation A most important aspect in producing high quality leathers. Full saturation of tanning, fat liquors and dyes are essential in the production of fine leathers.
Semi-Aniline Aniline leather to which a matching pigment layer is added to even out the color and add protection.
Shave Hides are shaved to a particular thickness after tannage by a large shaving machine. The excess is removed from the bottom of the hide.
Shoulders This cut effectively utilizes the head and neck area for minimal waste and optimum use. Great cut for belt manufacturers. Vegetable tanned. Ideal for belts and craft items.
Shrunken Grain Leather A full, natural grain leather that is shrunken to enlarge and enhance the grain character of the leather.
Side Leather Hides that have been cut in half, forming two 'sides' in order to better accommodate small tannery equipment.
Skive To slice or split into a thin layer, or to reduce leather to a specific thickness.
Snuffed The grain surface is abraded with brushes, emery wheel or sandpaper. Leather is snuffed for the purpose of removing defective grain or sueding the surface of the leather.
Sole Bends Taken from the best portion of the hide, this extra thick leather features a firm (hard) tannage, designed especially for shoe soles. Vegetable tanned. Ideal for shoe soles and weight lifting belts.
Split Leather Leather made from the lower (inner or flesh side) layers of a hide that have been split away from the upper, or grain, layers. Split leather is more fragile than side leather or full-grain leather, and is typically used in the form of suede.
Splitting Cutting leather into two or more layers preparatory to tanning.
Strap Leather Heavyweight, vegetable-tanned leather used for industrial purposes or to support seats and backs on certain types of seating.
Suede A fibrous leather, typically made from the reticular part of the hide.
Sueding The process of raising fibers on the grain side of a hide to give a velvet nap effect. This is generally called 'Nubuck' or 'grain sueded.'
Table Dyeing The application of dyestuff to leather with a brush; the leather being laid on a table. Also called brush coloring.
Table Run Leathers that are not graded.
Tannage/Tanning The means of stabilizing the skin structure by chemical means.
Tannin Any various solvent, astringent substances of plant origin used in tanning leather.
Toggle / Toggling The process of tacking leather flat to dry.  Can be done on a toggling machine / drying cabinet or boards.  
Top Grain Leather whose top (outermost) layers have been left intact, in contrast to split leather.
Trim The removal of the outer edges of the hide not suitable for making leather.
Two-tone / Tone-On-Tone An effect created by applying layers of similar or contrasting dyes to a piece of leather in order to create a mottled or aged effect.
Unfinished Leather Normally defines aniline dyed, naked leathers with no additional application intended to finish, color or treat in any way that would alter the natural characteristics of the leather.
Upholstery Leather Leather created from a whole hide and intended for use in furniture, automobiles, airplanes, and other upholstery applications.
Vegetable Tanning The conversion of rawhide into leather by use of vegetable tannins. This process produces leather with greater body and firmness than
the more general method of chromium tanning.
Wet-Blue The state of hides that have been tanned once using chromium salts. These hides are light blue in color.
Whole Hide Refers to leather created using a full hide, as opposed to a side, and typically intended for use as upholstery leather.







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