Leather crafts - the importance of picking your materials

Because leather is an organic material, every piece of leather is unique. Due to this, picking the right leather to use for your leatherwork is extremely important. Some leathers come from different animals, and the process that the tannery makes the leather undergo is also extremely important. Usually, you’ll find that high-quality tanneries will specialize in only a couple of kinds of leather. As a beginner leatherworker, you might find these options to be underwhelming, which is why today we’ll be looking at how you should pick out your materials for your newest project.

Vegetable Tanned Leather & Chrome Tanned Leather

A lot of work goes into every tanning process. However, vegetable-tanned leather was submerged in vegetal oils, while chrome tanned leather is instead put into chemicals such as chromium. If you’re looking for quality over cost, then you’ll want to go for vegetable tanned leather, as the result is much better. With that being said, producing vegetable tanned leather takes quite a bit longer than chrome tanned leather does.

Now, while you might think “how much of a difference could a small process make?” Well, it turns out it makes quite a bit of a difference. The outcomes of the two processes are practically night and day. Vegetable tanned leather is thicker, more durable, and it’s the kind of leather you’ll find on a high-end belt, or a fancy pair of shoes. On the other hand, chrome tanned leather is thin and stretchy, it’s nowhere near as durable. This is what is often used to cover car seats.

Animal Choice

There’s a lot of different leathers that you can use for your projects. You’ll find that by far the most popular kind of leather is made from cow skins. It will work for practically all leatherworking projects, and especially so for beginners. On the other hand, when you’re a bit more acquainted with the art of leatherworking, you might want to branch out to other leathers.

Thick Or Thin

The thickness of the leather used in your project can heavily affect the outcome. The first thing you’ll want to know is that instead of measuring thickness in mm or cm, leather is measured in oz instead, despite it being a unit of measuring weight.  Every project you do will require you to use the leather of a specific thickness. For example, let’s say you’re making a high-end watch and a high-end leather belt.

You wouldn’t want to use a 12oz leather for the watch strap, because then it would be more of a grandfather clock. In the same way, you wouldn’t want to use a 2oz leather for a belt, or it would get mangled sooner than you could say “Done.”

The thing you need to keep in mind the most is that the thinner your leather is, the more pliable it will be. Now, figuring out the exact thickness you need is not a science, but is more of an art form. The easiest way to learn what works and what doesn’t is by trying.

Rigid VS Supple

Now, whether your leather is rigid or supple is partly determined by how thick it is. Another thing that plays into this is the tanning process itself, as well as where the leather was cut from. A lot of companies will use a drum and tumble the leather in it while tanning. This in turn leads to supple leather. Now, this is one of the hardest things to gauge from simple descriptions and imagery.

Looking at reviews and checking out leather in person is a good idea because of this. Making a rigid backpack would be uncomfortable, as would a supple belt(which would become formless sooner rather than later.)

Body Part Differences

The skin of an animal has different properties in different places. Let’s take for example, the leather off a cow’s shoulder. That’s a durable, thick leather. On the other hand, its belly will be made into much looser, less thick leather. When you can, always inform yourself about the cut of the leather before purchasing.