What are the common methods of tanning leather?
The art of tanning is a long and complicated process that leather products tanners have been using for thousands of years. Transforming animal skin into leather can take a few weeks or several months. Before the skin can be tanned, it must first be cured in order to prevent deterioration. Then it goes through a process where the hide’s pH levels are altered with alkali solutions and the skin is softened using enzymes to prepare it for tanning.
The two most common methods of tanning are chromium tanning and vegetable tanning. Chrome tanning uses chromium sulfates to create a very flexible material that can be used to make leather handbags and leather goods. Vegetable uses tannin, a naturally occurring chemical in the bark and leaves of plants, which makes the hide flexible and water resistant. Tannins create leather that is used for furniture, luggage, and footwear.
After the tanning process is complete, the finished leather can be dyed using aniline or semi-aniline dye. When aniline dyes are absorbed, the skin’s natural features are brought out to create a very authentic and natural look. Aniline dyes lack pigment, allowing the natural look of the hide to show through, while semi-aniline has a small amount of pigment added to get a more consistent coloring.
Finally, the surface of the leather can be finished to create the desired textural effects. Buffing and brushing techniques are used to even out the grain in the hide, while the milling process can be used to render the leather softer to the touch. This is where leather is determined to be full-grain, top-grain, corrected-grain, or split, depending on the work that is done to the hide.
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