Determining Leather Quality

Two factors ultimately determine the quality (and price) of a piece of leather: the hide selection and the tanning process.

The hide selection refers to how clean the leather is with regards to the amount of natural marks on the hide. Leathers are typically graded (and priced) based on the cleanliness of the hide, and the overall health conditions of the animal’s skin.

Tanning is the process of treating the skins of animals to produce leather, making it more durable and less susceptible to decomposition. Traditionally, tanning used “tannin”, an acidic chemical compound derived from the bark of oak or fir trees. Tanning can be performed with either vegetable or mineral methods. Before tanning, the skins are unhaired, degreased, desalted and soaked in water over a period of 6 hours to 2 days. Coloring may also occur during the tanning process.

Ultimately, a quality leather should have a soft, supple touch that is naturally appealing and inviting. It should not resemble vinyl or any synthetic material. Avoid anything plastic-y or rubber-y, these “leathers” will not have the same strength or aging benefits.

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