GLOSSARY OF LEATHER TERMS
Hide - This usually refers to the skin of a large animal. For example: cow hide, steer hide or horse hide.
Skin - This usually refers to the skin of a smaller or younger animal. For example: kip skin, calf skin, sheep skin, pig skin and goat skin.
Kip skin - This refers to a large calf that has not reached maturity.
Grain - The outer layer of the skin or hide. The hair side.
Flesh - The inside of the skin or hide. The side which was attached to the muscle and fat of the animal.
Full Grain - Leather in which the grain side has been unaltered.
Top Grain - Leather that has had the grain side altered or dressed to hide imperfections. Lightly sanded and treated with oils or waxes.
Split - This is a leather that has been run through a mechanical device such as a "splitter". The grain side of the leather has been removed leaving a rough surface or nap. Suede is an example of a split leather. Split leather is not an inferior leather but it is a by product or salvage process. Split leather resist scratches well but does not tolerate rain and wear. With hard use it will develop unsightly "slick" spots.
The thickness of leather is referred to as the weight and is measured in ounces. One ounce equals 1/64 inch thick. For example: A 6/7 oz. piece of leather would be 3/32 to 7/64 inch thick.
When a hide is going through the tanning process, it will be cut straight down the backbone into two pieces called sides. A side of leather naturally varies in thickness. The shoulders and the butt are the thickest parts with the rib area being thinner and the belly being the thinnest area. The area near the backbone is thick and firm and the belly is thin and stretchy. A side can vary as much as 2 - 3 ounces from the shoulder to the butt. This is why leather is labeled with two numbers. For example: 6/7 oz. ranges from 6 oz. to 7 oz. and 14/16 oz. varies from 14 oz. to 16 oz.
Saddle skirting is a vegetable tanned leather and is often sold as 13/15 oz. or 14/16 oz.
Strap leather is a vegetable tanned leather that has been passed through a mechanical device which cuts the side of leather into a more uniform thickness. It can range in thickness from a 2/3 oz. all the way up to a 10/11 0z.
Tanned - This means that the hide or skin has gone trough a chemical process whereby it has changed from the hide of the animal into leather.
Vegetable Tanned - In this process, hides are placed in vats of water containing extracts from tree bark. The bark from the oak tree is commonly used and has been claimed to be the best for producing saddle skirting. Some tanneries use the word oak in their name or in the name of some of their leathers. This is to imply that oak was used in the tanning process. The vegetable tanning process can take as long as 100 days to complete.
Chrome Tanned - This process uses chromium salts as the tanning agent. The process takes a lot less time and is less expensive than vegetable tanning. this leather is often used for boots, upholstery, garments and chaps.
Alum Tanned - A tanning process which uses aluminum salts as the tanning agent. This process is cheap and in my opinion produces a very poor quality leather. Alum tanned leather is often used on leather products that are imported from other countries into the United States.
Oil Tanned - This leather has been chrome tanned. During the tanning process oils have been forced into the leather. This leather is ideal for items which are going to be exposed to the elements. This leather has a lot of life to it. It is soft and has some stretch to it, but is strong. Often used for chaps and lace.
Harness Leather - This is a vegetable tanned leather which has had natural waxes forced or "stuffed" into it. This leather stands up to harsh conditions ands withstands exposure to horse sweat. It is produced predominantly for the harness industry, but is also used as reins for saddle horses.
Latigo - This is a very versatile leather. It can be vegetable tanned, chrome tanned or alum tanned. This leather is "stuffed" with a combination of oils and waxes. It is firm yet has some stretch to it. It is somewhere between oil tanned and harness leather in nature. It tolerates horse sweat, has great strength and yet remains soft to the touch. This makes it ideal for cinch straps, lining leather and saddle strings.
Bridle Leather - Vegetable tanned and treated with oils and waxes to produce a firm leather with a soft finish that is resistant to horse sweat and the elements. When cared for properly, it will retain it's soft finish. This makes it ideal for bridles as it will not become stiff from sweat and cause a sore spot on your horse.
Mule hide - This is a chrome tanned split leather which is gray in color. It is a very durable leather which withstands abuse. It is used for farrier aprons and as a horn wrap by cowboys to protect their saddle horns while roping.
Rawhide - This refers to the hide or skin as it came off of the animal, without any chemical process being done to it. Just as it name implies: raw hide. After the hide is removed from the animal, it is stretched out in a frame and allowed to dry. After it has completely dried, it has become rawhide. The hair is removed then the hide will be cut into