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Leather Guide

Leather Guide - Rolford Leather - Wholesale Leather Hide Supplier

Our comprehensive leather buying guide is helping leathercraft shoppers around the world to make more confident purchase decisions. If you are new to the leathercraft, this guide might be helpful. Please read it carefully to understand better what type of leather and why you should use for your leathercraft projects.

The development of different production processes has led to a wide range of leather types appearing on the market. We have listed some of the most prominent and essential below.

Vegetable Tanned Leather

Vegetable tanned leather refers to the tannage or method of tanning the cowhide into the leather. The process is called "vegetable" because of the natural materials used in the tanning process like tree bark. Therefore it's also eco-friendly. It is most often used in saddlery, luggage, tooling leather, sheaths and belts.

Vegetable tanning or veg tan as it's sometimes called is one of the oldest methods of tanning known to man. It has been around for centuries. It takes about six weeks to complete the veg tan process.

This process takes place without upsetting the leather and without treating it aggressively. The raw hides used for tanning are recycled material as they derive from cattle and sheep raised not for their skin but the food industry. This aspect means that no animal is killed to benefit the tanning process.

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Chrome Tanned Leather

Chrome tanning is a new approach which uses chromium and harsh chemicals. Chrome tanning, which is currently used for approximately 90% of the leather market, can take as little as two weeks to process. Because of these differences, chrome-tanned leather is almost always cheaper than vegetable-tanned leather.

Chrome tanned leather is water-resistant, making it best for products that may be subjected to heat or humidity. In contrast, vegetable-tanned leather is thicker and holds up to more rugged or daily use.

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Full Grain Leather

Full grain leather is left in its natural state. It refers to the leather it has not been sanded or buffed to remove any imperfections or to alter its grain. Only the hair is removed on full grain leathers. This process results in a surface that is very strong, durable, and can withstand tough use.

A touch of freshness with a natural look, the full grain leathers offer a wide variety of thickness and colours. This leather is equally applicable to handbags, footwear and other leather goods.

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Top Grain Leather

This cut is very similar to full grain, except that it has had the very top layer sanded or buffed to remove imperfections and irregularities in the finish. This process makes the leather softer and more flexible, with various dyes and finishes applied to it.

While this sanding makes it more visually appealing, it also removes a lot of the strength and some water-repellent qualities of full grain leather. Given its softness and flexibility, top grain leather is often used in high-end leather goods, including handbags, wallets, and shoes.

Corrected Grain Leather

Corrected grain leather is leather that has been altered by buffing its surface to remove imperfections such as scars from the surface of the material. An artificial grain can then be embossed on the leather to develop a special effect.

With some sleek design, these leathers come with a variety of finishes. It provides uniform coating and surface area, supple and hard-wearing facilities, and excellent cutting.

From safety shoes and boots to large and small leather goods, these versatile leathers provide excellent cutting and can be used in many products.

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Split Leather

Split leather is made from the 'split' section of a hide. In their natural state, hides are too thick to be made into leather. Therefore hides are split into two or more layers to give top grain leather and split leather, which is the inside pieces of leather.

Splits are often used to create suede. The most robust suede is usually made from 'grain' splits (that have the grain completely removed) or from the 'flesh' split that has been shaved to the desired thickness.

Split leather can also have a vinyl layer applied to the surface and embossed to give it the appearance of a grain. It is slightly stiffer than top-grain leather but has a more consistent texture.

Split leather is not as strong or as durable as full or top grain leather. It can also be challenging to repair. Split leather can be used to produce bags, gloves, belts and other leather goods.

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Pigmented Leather

Pigmented leather is dyed through the hide. The layer of coloured pigment is applied to the surface of the leather. This layer of coloured pigment gives the leather a vibrant, uniform appearance. A protective topcoat is applied over the stain; for this reason, pigmented leather is sometimes called protected leather.

Any blemishes or imperfections are removed through buffing or sanding and then embossed with an artificial grain. Pigmented leather is durable, low maintenance and available in a wide variety of colours and styles. This leather is the least natural grain leather but also the most durable.

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Aniline Leather

Leather that is dyed all the way through with a transparent dye. Because the finish is translucent and shows the natural markings of the leather, only the best quality hides can be used.

Semi Aniline Leather

The process starts the same way as for aniline leathers. Aniline leather is coloured only with dye whereas semi aniline leather is further treated.

Semi aniline leather is more durable than aniline whilst still retaining a natural appearance. The increased durability is provided by the application of a light surface coating which contains a small amount of pigment. This process ensures consistent colour and imparts some stain resistance. It also makes the leather stain repellent and sun resistant. The sheen of this coating can be adjusted to give a matte or glossy finish.

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Nubuck Leather

Nubuck leather is top grain leather that has been treated in such a way as to give it a smooth, velvety feel. This soft finish is created by buffing the side of the leather on which the grain can be found.

Nubuck is a soft and durable luxury leather that's very similar to suede. It has a history of glamour and aristocracy, but these days is most commonly associated with high quality footwear. Nubuck is soft, with a velvety texture, and is very durable.

Nubuck is a type of leather that is wear-resistant and generally resilient against most forms of damage. Nubuck leather does, however, have some downsides; most notably that it can be easily marred by scratches and is susceptible to liquid damage.

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Nappa Leather

Napa leather is full grain, soft, smooth leather from hides of different animals. This leather is mainly characterised by soft tempering and low thickness.

Nappa leather is very soft, and with very light finishes which show the full grain of the leather, these finishes are aniline based, without the presence of covering pigments.

These sumptuous leathers have a delicate touch and appearance. Predominantly these different kinds of leathers are used in the manufacture of garments and handbags. With a firmer tannage, our aniline, burnished and glazed goat skins provide a luxuriant and classy look to footwear and leather goods alike.

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Tooling Leather

In a consumerist world where people can have all the products they want, fantasy and human inspiration remain the only variable that can make the difference. Whether it is a small key ring or a bag, a product engraved and made with vegetable tanning becomes a unique and special gift.

Once tanned, the leather can last a lifetime, a life spent next to an object that tells others about your personal story, your experiences and your leathercraft. The animal skins are very versatile material. And due to this matter, they lend themselves to an infinite variety of customisations among which we can include the processes of; tooling, carving, engraving, stamping, dying and staining.

The leather tooling requires a type of leather that is usually vegetable tanned, which lends itself to be easily carved. It consists of taking and keeping certain traits once a pointed object is passed over the skin with strength or a tool has engraved with a certain amount of pressure in a drawing.

This tooling leather made from mature cowhide has an overall crisp and substantial feel to it and is not as prone to stretching or warping when worked as the tooling calf.

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Belting Leather

Originally developed during the Industrial Revolution to drive pulley belts and other machinery, belting leather is a heavyweight, full grain or snuffed leather.

Because of its thickness and durability, cowhide leather is one of the best materials for creating stunning belts and small leather goods. Cowhide leather that has been vegetable tanned is well suited for crafting any garment or accessory that experiences lots of wear during daily use.

From 1 mm to 3 mm in thickness, our belting leathers are durable, reliable and expertly finished. In different sizes, these leathers give an efficient and economic yield in the manufacture of fashion or formal belts.

Like most leather, it is versatile and well suited for satchels and saddlebags as well as dog collars, safety products and harness wear.

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Pigskin Leather

Pigskin in either full grain or split provides a soft lining material for footwear, handbags and jackets. However, the skins can also be used for small leather goods in their own right.

Pigskins are a versatile product with both the grain side and reverse side usable for different applications. It can also provide a soft lining material.

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Metallic Leather

Metallic leather is leather finished through unique metallic pigments. This layer creates a metallic, shiny, reflective look to the finished leather. It provides a finishing option that is most often used in clothing, accessories, and handbags.

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Leather Sections

A finished leather hide has a relatively large amount of leather to choose from when deciding where to cut from the used pieces on a project. Based on the area of the hide concerning the animal's body, some parts will be a little higher quality and a little easier to work with.

Our leather hides can be purchased based on cut type. You can purchase the full hide or specific parts within it. These are the most common leather hide parts available in our store:

Whole Hide Leather

A whole leather hide encloses the entire skinned and tanned hide from an animal. Since it includes the areas from all of the other related cuts, the leather available will range from softer areas with various stretch characteristics, to thicker, stiffer areas of the hide. The range of leather thickness and weight will vary across the entire hide.

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Side Leather Cut

It is effectively one half of the cowhide cut lengthwise along the middle. The leather available in this part will range from softer areas with various stretch characteristics, to thicker, stiffer areas of the hide.

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Shoulder Leather Part

The shoulder section of a leather hide comes from the shoulder area of the animals. It is strong, and often thick with excellent durability. Shoulder parts work well for tooling.

Double Shoulder Leather Cut

The double shoulder section of a leather hide comes from the shoulder area of animals. It is predominantly the entire shoulder area from the hide. This area has a firm, soft and flexible feel to it.

Butt Leather Cut

The butt section of a leather hide comes from the hind leg portion of the hide. It is the thickest and firmest area of the hide. Butt cuts make excellent leather for thicker items such as heavy belts.

Double Butt Leather Cut

The double butt section of a leather hide comes from the hind leg portion of the hide. It is running around the butt and up towards the spine, on both sides of the hide.

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Bend Leather Cut

It is one of the most precious parts of the leather. The prime sections generally towards the backside before the butt. It is best used for across many leather product applications.

Belly Leather Cut

These leather hide sections are long and narrow. The belly leather is a little softer and stretchier than from other areas of the hide. While not considered premium leather, belly cut leather can be used for the production of a variety of leather goods.

Leather Thickness

Different leather might have different structure and density, thus an extra weight. That is why we prefer to use thickness rather than weight, as that is more precise.

Traditionally leather is measured in 'ounces', confusingly not a measurement of weight but thickness.

In the UK you may find leather for sale by mm or by the ounce, in the US it will be predominantly by the ounce. The easiest way to convert one to another is multiply by 0.4:

0.30 mm = 3/4 oz.
0.35 mm = 7/8 oz.
0.40 mm = 1 oz.
0.5 mm = 1 1/4 oz.
0.6 mm = 1 1/2 oz.
0.8 mm = 2 oz.
1.0 mm = 2 1/2 oz.
1.2 mm = 3 oz.
1.4 mm = 3 1/2 oz.
1.6 mm = 4 oz.
1.8 mm = 4 1/2 oz.
2.0 mm = 5 oz.

Calculating Your Requirements

Leather is a natural material and does not come with straight edges. Please keep in mind that every leather hide varies in size and shape. Because of this, the area of the leather is measured and sold by the square foot. A typical leather hide size is between 48 - 55 square feet (4.5 - 5.4 square meters).

Leather hides are also measured from top to bottom, side to side. Rough edges are accounted for when making the measurements. Typically, a standard cowhide is going to be somewhere around 90 inch at its longest point and 72 inch at its widest point, however, they can run slightly larger or smaller.

The general rule of thumb is: for every 1 fabric yard, you need 18 square feet of leather. Please remember to include a 30% waste factor due to variation in leather hide shapes and presence of natural markings.

We Are Here To Help

We hope this clears up a little of the mystery when it comes to shopping for leather and measuring leather. If you are unsure whether the leather hide you have chosen is going to be suitable for your project, please contact us for some friendly advice.