Leather Types and Terminology

If you’ve ever shopped for leather, it doesn’t take long to become overwhelmed by the various leather types and terminology listed at the various retailer and distributor websites. To be honest, I’m still baffled by the sheer number of options to choose from.

Grades

Grading is generally broken down into the three different classes. Those classes are typically referred to as something akin to one of the follow:

  • “First, Second, Third”
  • “A, B, C”
  • “Standard, Utility, Special”
There is also a “Tannery Run (TR)” classification. This is normally what is left over after the tannery has pulled out the very best and worst of a batch of hides. TR allows for some imperfections in the leather, such as scars and bug bites. If you order TR hides, expect to get a totally random grade on your doorstep. Often times, you can call your distributor and let them know your intended use or expectations and they can hand-pick a hide for you, though this sometimes seems to make little difference. If you’re ordering over the internet, you’ll probably receive whatever hide was laying on top of the stack.

Leather Types

There are quite a few tanning methods used to convert animal hides and skins into leather, but I’m only going to discuss a few of them. For more information on additional types of tanning processes.

Aniline Leather has been dyed through and has been given a finish to make it more resistant to dirt. The hide can still breath and maintains natural leather characteristics, with a natural feel. Over time, it will develop a unique character and patina with use.

Tanning Methods

There are quite a few tanning methods used to convert animal hides and skins into leather, but I’m only going to discuss a few of them. For more information on additional types of tanning processes.

Vegetable-tanned leather has been tanned using tannin and vegetable matter. It is the only tanning method suitable for tooling, carving and forming leather. This is the type of leather used in holsters, and can also be used for journal covers, bags, purses, etc.

Leather Sources

Leather can be made from pretty much anything with a skin. Cow, deer, chicken, fish, pig, kangaroo, shark, elephant, ostrich, etc. and nearly anything else with a pulse can be made into leather.

Hide Diagram

A,C = Cheek
B = Face
A+B+C = Head
D,G = Fore Shank
D,H,L or G,K,M = Belly
H,K = Middle
L,M = Hind Shank
E+F = Double Shoulder
E+I or F+J = Back
E+F+I+J = Double Back
I or J = Single Bend
I+J = Double Bend
H+I+J+K+L+M = Double Butt
A+D+E+H+I+L or C+F+J+G+K+M = Side

Now, you’re probably wondering what the pro’s and con’s are of the various cuts? Each hide is a little different and the way each hide takes to the tanning process varies a bit too. For example, some hides may be easy to cut, while others have you banging your head against the wall wondering how your knife got so dull so quickly!

  • A,B,C – This area typically has a lot of wrinkles and scratches. This is a durable cut with a lot of ability to stretch without tearing.

  • D,H,L and G,K,M – This “belly” area is generally referred to as the “waste” section. Depending on the supplier, you can ask to have the belly removed prior to purchase. They usually charge a fee to remove it, though this results in an overall smaller amount of billed square footage. Depending on your intended uses, this cut may or may not be of any value to you. Personally, I like to mock-up new holster designs with it to test my stitch lines and patterns.

  • E,F,I,J – This area is typically the premium area of the hide with the least amount of waste. It’s the thickest and firmest part, and is best suited to items that require minimum stretch and maximum firmness. The closer you get to the spine, the more firm the leather gets, which can also make it more prone to cracking.