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Leather Glossary

Zachary Brown

There are so many leather options out there these days, it seemed like it might be useful to write a little about the leathers we use at ZeeBee, as well as some common leather terminology. 

Burnishing - This finishing technique is used to finish the edges of a piece of leather. Friction and moisture are applied to an edge which can turn a rough surface into an appealing edge that's shiny, smooth, and golden brown. Burnishing also refers to the browning effect that stamps can have on tooled leather. When the moisture content of the leather is correct, each strike of the stamp will leave a burnished brown impression. 

Chromexcel -  A full-grain leather with a soft hand, and nice pull up. It starts out pretty stiff, but gets floppy after a little bending. It has very little stretch, quickly softens, and develops a gorgeous shine as it ages. It's hot stuffed with fats and waxes for a rich feeling leather that will endure a lifetime of abuse. Most small scratches can be buffed out of Chromexcel quite easily making it an ideal leather for high-wear items like bags, wallets, and belts. 

Chrome Tanned Leather - A modern process that uses chromium in the tannage, and produces a soft and flexible leather in a fraction of the time it takes to make vegetable tanned leather. 

Essex - Essex is tanned in the same liquor they use to make their famed Shell Cordovan. It's full-grain, super soft, and is in my opinion the ultimate lining leather for the inside of a belt, or a bag. Essex stretches a little, but it's the softest leather I've ever felt, and plenty strong.  A waxed version of Essex is called Dublin. Due to its wax content, Dublin is a little stiff at first, but has a beautiful shine. 

Hand - This is a word used when describing the way leather feels when touched (i.e. "this leather has a smooth hand."). 

Latigo -  Horween's Latigo is full-grain cowhide that's hot liquored, and has been both chrome and vegetable tanned. This leather has an unmistakable toughness and softness.  Latigo is often used where strong and supple leather is needed, and is most often found in saddlery and tack. It has very little stretch and goes from rigid to incredibly soft in a very short time. This leather will age beautifully and develop an outstanding patina. 

Pull-up  -  Hot stuffed and hot liquored leathers that have been aniline dyed instead of being coated with paints or pigments, are sometimes called Pull-up leathers. The oils and waxes darken the dye and when the leather is stretched and pulled, the lighter colors appear when they "pull-up." 

Shell Cordovan - This vegetable tanned leather is from the back side of the horse (the butt), and is prized for its strength, minimal stretching, and glossy appearance. Due to its limited availability and the six months it takes to tan Shell Cordovan, it can be quite expensive. It's so overstuffed with fats and waxes that if left untouched for awhile, it'll begin to "bloom." This "bloom" occurs when the fats and waxes come to the surface of the leather and leave a white residue. It can be brushed off easily with a shoe brush and to some this may be a nuisance, but I find it charming. 

Vegetable Tanned Leather -  A leather that has been tanned using a very old process that uses natural tannins found in tree bark. This process is very slow and takes a lot of skill.  Vegetable tanned leather is often used for tooling as it takes stamping and impressions really well. 

Weights - Many leather crafters use the leather weights in their products descriptions, but what do they really mean? Leather thickness is measured in ounces, which can be a little confusing. There's a simple conversion that can be used however, that'll make understanding these weights a little easier. Each ounce of leather is roughly 1/64". For example, if a piece of leather is 8oz, it'll be about 8/64", or  1/8" thick. Thinner leathers around 3-5oz are generally used for wallets, medium weight leathers around 4-5oz are well suited for bags (when used as both liner and outer) or smaller projects like book covers and small cases, and heavier weights around 9-11oz are generally used for belts, holsters, and some saddlery. 

This list is very short, and not exclusive by any means.  I would be more than happy to answer and discuss any questions, comments, or concerns you may have about leather terminology.