When you are just starting out in the world of leatherworking, learning all the terms and the different types of leather used within the trade it can be difficult and overwhelming. It is our goal at The Leather Guy, to educate and encourage you to learn as much as possible to keep the leather trade thriving for generations to come.
The items covered in The Leather Guy's Leather Dictionary are:
- Antique/distressed – Worn, old, aged, has patina.
- Crackled – Looks as though it has cracks in the finish evenly throughout but isn't really cracked.
- Crunched – Purposely made to have dark veins running throughout the hide.
- Pull-up – Changes to a lighter color when stretched or creased (resembles low lights in hairstyles).
- Rustic – Western or a worn/used look
- Weathered – Similar to antique but also looks like it has spent time out in the elements.
- Grunge - Leather that has lots of scarring, bug bites, brand marks, or/and uneven colors and grain. Once undesirable, it has become quite popular due to the unique look of each piece.
Different Leather Finishes
- Matte – No shine at all.
- Satin – Slight shine.
- Shiny – Has a nice shine to it.
- Semi-Glossy – Shiny with a slight glare.
- Glossy – High shine with a glare.
- Patent – A heavily finished effect that gives it a highly lustrous, backed enamel type appearance. Feels like plastic.
- Natural- Has no finish applied at all.
Grains / Textures
- Smooth – completely smooth no texture at all, such as patent leather.
- Flat Grain – has a visible grain, but is smooth to the touch.
- Grainy – has a visible grain that you can feel.
- Tiny Pebble Grain – looks like very tiny pebbles. The grain is just a little bolder than a grainy texture.
- Medium Pebble Grain – bolder grain that has a very distinct feel when you run your hand across it.
- Large Pebble Grain – A very bold looking grain, that looks like larger sized pebbles.
- Embossed – Mechanically applied texture using heat and pressure.
- Nubuck / Buffed – Not true suede, the top grain has been removed by sanding it down to give it a nappy or velvet feel.
- Hair Cells – hair follicles that can be natural or embossed.
- Baby Hair Cell – very small hair follicles that can be natural or embossed.
- Suede – is a nappy texture caused by the top grain being split off; suede is not as durable as top grain leather.
- Split – basically the same as suede only a little firmer.
For more information, including photos, go here.
How to Measure Leather
Each hide is measured at the tannery with an electronic sensor that sees every inch of leather, giving us the Square Feet of the hide. At The Leather Guy, we provide a service that states the usable square dimension in each hide/side.
Here you can see how we determine the usable square.
Please note the dimensions we provide for the largest square will never add up to the square footage. This is only the measurement of a clean rectangular area of the hide, not the total amount of leather.
For more information on leather measurement and sizing, go here.
Leather thickness is gauged in ounces. It's important to understand the thickness of leather because your projects will depend on it. The easiest way for a person to gauge leather is with a leather gauge. A leather gauge will tell you exactly how many ounces the leather is.
Here is a chart that will help you determine how many ounces you will need for your project if you don't have a gauge and can only use a ruler. You can also use this helpful money hack to estimate thickness. For more information on thickness, go here.
Altered Leather: Leather that has had the original surface of the skin or hides removed, usually due to imperfections in the original grain surface, and a new grain embossed into the leather. This is also called corrected grain. Most top-grain leathers have altered or corrected grain.
Aniline Leather: Leather that has been dyed through with aniline dyes. Pure aniline leathers represent approximately 5 percent of all upholstery leathers produced worldwide. Sometimes it is topped with a protein, resin, or lacquer protective coating; it can also be waxed.
Apron Leather: Any one of several varieties of leather used in connection with textile machinery and blacksmith aprons.
Bleeding: The transfer of materials exuded from leather to other materials that come in contact with it.
Blue: Usually the phrase "in the blue" applies to hides or skins that have been chrome-tanned but not dyed.
Boardy: Adjective applied to stiff, inflexible leather.
Bridle Leather: Bridle is vegetable tanned leather that has been dyed and had oils/wax stuffed into it to create weather resistance. It has a smooth sheen and is not oily/waxy feeling.
Buckskin: Leather from deer and elk skins, used for shoes, gloves, and clothing. Only the outer cut of the skin from which the surface grain has been removed may be correctly defined as "genuine buckskin". Leather from the split or under-cut must be described as "split buckskin".
Buffing: (1) Removing minor blemishes from the grain with a knife or abrasive (2) Producing a velvet surface on leather, usually with an emery wheel.
Burnished Leather: A process where the leather edge or surface is buffed to achieve a smooth, antiqued effect of the leather.
Bullhide: Hides from bulls are characterized by thick and rough head, neck, and shoulders. They are often poor in quality and heavy.
Calf Leather: Leather made from the skins of young cattle from a few days up to a few months old. It is finer-grained, lighter in mass and suppler than cowhide or kip leathers.
Chrome Re-tan: Term applied to leather tanned first with chromium salts, then re-tanned with vegetable extracts.
Cordovan: Leather made from the tight firm portion of horse butts. It has very fine pores and characteristic waxy finish and is very durable.
Corrected Grain: Portions of the grain surface lightly abraded with an emery wheel or sandpaper, so as to lessen the effect of grain damage.
Cowhide: Term specifically applied to leather made from hides of cows, although it is sometimes loosely used to designate any leather tanned from hides of animals of the bovine species.
Crust: Used as an adjective or in the phrase "in the crust", refers to vegetable-tanned leather that has been tanned but not finished.
Currying: A process of treating tanned hides with oils and greases to prepare them for belting, sole, and harness leathers, etc.
Deerskin: In glove leather, a deerskin is tanned and finished with the grain surface intact.
Deer-tanned cow: Cowhide that is tanned to resemble deer hides in every way.
Defects: Defects of leather include fiber quality, soft spots, brands, scratches, wrinkles, insect bites, grain damages, cuts, skiving defects, and fleshiness.
Drum Dyeing: The application of dyestuffs to leather by immersion of the leather in a revolving drum containing to dyestuff solutions.
Elk Leather: Leather produced from elk, very similar to the look and feel of deerskin.
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 different leather, such as embossing an alligator pattern into cowhide.
Fat Wrinkle: Wrinkles on the grain of leather caused by fat deposits in the live animal, also known as neck wrinkles. Fat wrinkles are not visible in imitation grain leather.
Finish: This is a surface application on the leather to color, protect, or mask imperfections. More specifically, all processes administered to the leather after it has been tanned.
Flesh: The inner side of the hide or skin. Also used as an adjective referring to that side.
Full Grain: Having the original grain surface of the skin.
Gauntlet: The part of a glove covering the wrist.
Glazed Finish: The finish is produced by polishing the grain surface under the intense pressure of a roller of agate, glass or steel. It is infrequently made by a varnish or shellac coating.
Glove Leather: Term covering two distinct classes; (1) The leather used for dress gloves, including those for street riding and sportswear. (2) The leather used for utilitarian or work gloves and made of a variety of hides and skins.
Glove Splits: Split chrome-tanned cowhide leather used for work gloves.
Grain: The outer or hair side of a hide or skin. Also used as an adjective referring to that side.
Gusset Leather: soft flexible leather used for gussets in shoes, nags, and cases.
Hair-on Leather: Leather tanned without removing the hair from the skin or hide.
Harness Leather: A self-explanatory term sometimes so defined as to include collar and saddlery leathers. Harness leather including the related items mentioned is practically all made of cowhides that are vegetable tanned.
Heavy Leather: A somewhat indefinite term, generally understood to include vegetable tanned sole, belting, strap and mechanical leathers made from un-split cowhides.
Hide: The pelt of a large animal such as a cow, or horse, etc. Also used interchangeably with skin.
Imitation: A variety of materials that have been made to resemble genuine leather. The great bulk of these is rubber or plastic-coated fabrics. It is unlawful to use terms connoting leather to describe imitations.
Iron: A term used for measuring the thickness of sole leather. One Iron equals 1/48th of an inch. (0.53mm).
Kip: Skin from a bovine animal in size between a calf and a cow.
Lambskin Leather: Term applied to leather from either lambskins or sheepskins, which are practically indistinguishable after tanning.
Latigo Leather: A type of lace leather, alum, and vegetable tanned, used in saddlery.
Leather: A general term for hide or skin that still retains its original fibrous structure more or less intact, and that has been treated so as to be imputrescible even after treatment with water. The hair or wool may or may not have been removed.
* No product may be described as leather if its manufacture involves breaking down the original skin structure into fibers, powder or other fragments by chemical or mechanical methods, or both, and reconstituting these fragments into sheets or other forms.
Leatherette: A manufactured product that imitates leather.
Lining Leather: Any leather used for lining purposes. For applications such as shoes, wallets, bags, and holsters, etc. These leathers include sheep, lamb, cow, kid, goat, calf, kip, or suede.
Lock Stitch: This term is for sewing purposes. It is a double-thread stitch that locks the threads together within the material. It is distinguished in service by the fact that breaking one stitch does not permit the seam to be raveled out.
Milling: A natural softening process in which leather is tumbled in a drum
Mineral Tanned: Tanned with chemical compounds of mineral origin, without the use of vegetable tanning materials. Tannage with chromium compounds is the principal type of mineral tannage.
Naked Leather: Leather with no surface, impregnated treatment of finish other than dye matter which might mask or alter the natural state of the leather.
Nap Finish: A woolly and fuzzy finish, such as suede.
Natural Grain: Leather which retains the full original grain
Natural Markings: The subtle markings on leather are analogous to fingerprints. They distinguish genuine leather from man-made materials. Other marks that can appear on the surface of leather are healed scratches and scars, barbed wire marks, stretch marks, vein marks, wrinkles, brands, and insect bites.
Neck Wrinkles: Natural creases from the neck and shoulder areas of the hide.
Nubuck: This is full aniline that has been sanded or buffed in order to create a nap. This is a top grain leather; therefore it is not considered a split or suede.
Nude Finish: Leather that is usually vat dyed, but has little or no protective coat.
Oak Tannage: Originally the tannage of leather was entirely, or almost entirely, done with oak bark; later the tannage with a blend containing oak tannin. Now loosely related to any tannage of heavy leather with vegetable extracts.
Oil Tannage: Tannage with cod oil or other oxidizable oil, usually of marine origin.
Orthopedic Leathers: A general term for the types of leather used in the manufacture of artificial limbs, braces, etc., for orthopedic purposes. The leathers may range from chamois and horsehide to case and strap leather.
Ounces: A term to indicate weight or substance of certain kinds of leather, such as upholstery and bag leathers. In theory, it is based on the assumption that 1 sq. ft. of leather will weigh a certain number of ounces and will uniformly be of a certain thickness; hence 3-ounce leather theoretically would be 1 sq. ft. of leather that would be 3oz. In practice, this varies because of the specific gravity of tanning materials used, and for that reason a splitter's gauge has been adopted which controls the commercial thickness of leather when sold by the square foot. An ounce is equivalent in thickness to 1/64" of an inch (0.4mm).
Patina: A surface appearance of something grown beautiful, especially with age or use; an appearance or aura that is derived from association, habit, or established character.
Pelt: A raw skin with the hair. Usually refers to fur animals.
Perforated: In leather, the process of die cutting small holes to form a pattern. The holes can vary in size, density, and pattern.
Pigmented: A process of coloring and coating in the leather surface with colored pigments dispersed in film-forming chemicals called binders which can be tailor-made to produce surfaces that are highly resistant to wear, fading, etc. Leather that has been sprayed with a pigmented, opaque finish. This is usually done to cover imperfections in the leather.
Pigskin: Leather made from the skins of pigs or hogs. (Note: the popular name "pigskin" for a football is a misnomer, as footballs are generally made from cowhide leather.)
Pit: Tiny depression or holes on the grain surface of leather, due to natural causes or manufacturing.
Plating: Pressing leather with a heated metal plate, usually smooth, under high pressure.
Production Run: Cheaper, ungraded leather sold to manufacturers.
Rawhide: Leathers that has been de-haired, limed, often stuffed with oil or grease, and has sometimes undergone other preparation, but has not been tanned.
Re-tannage: A modifying second tannage, applied after intermediate operations following the primary tannage.
Rough: Term applied to cowhide leathers tanned but not finished. Also known as "rough-tanned" and "in the rough" – see also crust.
Russet: A term of varied meaning in the leather trade, since it refers to both color and tannage. (1) Russet is the natural color of unfinished cow leather resulting from tannage by vegetable extracts. (2) Russet is a completely finished leather of bright, clean, uniform color and finish. (3) Russet sheepskin is leather tanned in cold-leached hemlock bark and used for shoe linings, with color resulting from the hemlock. (4) Russet upholstery is leather tanned but not finished.
Saddle Leather: Vegetable tanned cowhide leather for harness and saddlery, usually of a natural tan shade and rather flexible.
Score: A cut made by a flaying knife on the flesh side during the removal of the skin from the carcass.
Shearling: Leather made from sheepskin that has been sheared shortly before slaughter, the short wool being left on the skin when tanned.
Skin: The pelt of a small animal, such as calf, pig, or sheep, etc. Also used interchangeably with hide.
Skive: To shave, slice, or divide, to peel into a thin layer.
Slunk: The skin of an unborn or prematurely born animal, especially calf.
Spew (spue): Any constituent of leather that comes to the surface n the form of a white crystallized or gummy deposit.
Split: A term used to describe the portion of hide or skin, split into two or more thicknesses, other than the grain or hair side. A split is very similar to suede but is a little firmer with a shorter nap.
Splitting: (1) Cutting leather into two or more layers (2) cutting a hide into two sides preparatory to tanning.
Square Feet: Hides are measured by the square foot; 17 sq. ft. of leather is approximately 1 yard of fabric.
Strap Leather: Heavyweight vegetable tanned leather used for industrial purposes, or to support seats and backs on certain types of seating.
Tannery Run: Used to describe leather that has not been sorted and graded before selling by the tanner. Also known as "Table Run."
Temper: The pliability or softness of the leather. We predominantly use four different terms to rate our temper here at The Leather Guy.
- Soft: Leather that is extremely flexible and pliable. Does not tend to hold its shape. Often used on clothing or upholstery.
- Semi-Soft: This type of leather is soft and flexible. Typical of sneakers or handbags.
- Semi-Stiff: Leather is slightly stiff and less rigid. Tends to hold its shape. Often found on boots or motorcycle bags.
- Stiff: Leather that has a hard and rigid feel. Stiff leather is not easily bent or folded. Think heavy duty belts, straps, and so on.
Top Grain: The first cut taken from the grain side of a split hide from which nothing except the hair and associated epidermis has been removed.
Upholstery Leather: A general term for leathers used for furniture, airplanes, buses, and automobiles. Many produced from cowhide.
Vat dyeing: The application of dyestuffs to leather by immersion of the leather in a vat containing the dyestuff solution.
Water Repellency: The ability of a leather surface to resist wetting by liquid water.
Water Resistance: The ability of leather to resist absorption and transmission of liquid water.
Weight: The weight of leather is measured in ounces. An ounce is equivalent in thickness to 1/64" of an inch (0.4mm).
Woolskin: Sheepskin tanned with the wool on.
Wrinkle: A permanent crease or furrow on the grain surface of a hide or leather, incapable of removal by rolling or plating.
Types of Leather Tannages
Chrome Tanned: Tannage of leather with chromium compounds. Chrome-tanned leather is often recognized by its bluish grey center, normally seen from a cut edge. Currently, it is the most widely used tannage in the USA.
Brain Tanned: Brain tanned leathers are made by a labor-intensive process that uses emulsified oils, often those of animal brains such as deer, cows, and buffaloes. They are known for their exceptional softness and their ability to be washed. These hides will smell like smoke.
Vegetable Tanned: The conversion of rawhides into leather by treating with water solutions of tannin extracted from materials of vegetable origins.
Oil Tanned: Oil tanned has a lot of the same properties as chrome tanned leathers, however, it is produced with a slightly different recipe. The leather is finished by having oils sprayed on to the top grain darkening the color and making it softer.