This process is called tanning.
Leather goods have been in fashion since early people discovered the usefulness of animal hides. Furs and skins originally provided people with warmth and protection. Since then, and through the ages, uses for leather have varied and multiplied.
No one knows exactly when humans began using tanning processes to preserve animal hides. The earliest findings in burial sites date to Neanderthal societies. The ancient peoples used smoke, grease, urine, faeces and bark for preserving the hides and creating leather.
Leather craft has been vital to the development of agriculture, industry, commerce and domestic life. Leather has been used to clothe and protect; to build boats that crossed oceans; and to saddle the horses that gave greater mobility.
The ancient Egyptians used leather for their chariots and the Greeks made armour for their soldiers by moulding the wet leather into shaped body armour. The Romans perfected the art by boiling the leather which hardened the surface to weapon penetration. This technology alone gave the Roman army an edge over its adversaries. Leather remained a major and essential part of the soldier's equipment down through the centuries until the end of WWII when leather began to be replaced by plastics.
From the beginning, and continually to the end of the nineteenth century, the most common method of tanning leather was to use tree bark and is called vegetable tanning. The primary barks used in modern times are chestnut, oak, tanoak, hemlock, quebracho, mangrove, wattle, catechu (acacia), myrobalan.
Vegetable tanned leather has countless uses. We use it undyed and unsealed for custom work requiring tooling. The tooled surface may then be stained and sealed.
Finished leathers, leathers that have been dyed and sealed, are used for belts and industrial products. A longer tanning process produces more durable saddlery and harness leathers suitable for rugged use and outdoor wear.
Vegetable tanned leather can also be shaped or moulded into a form and will hold that form, adding to its versatility. This characteristic is required for applications such as holsters moulded to specific shapes.
The chemical industry developed with the industrial revolution and along with this came developments in the tanning industry. One of the new forms of tanning involved the use of minerals such as chromium sulphate. The leather quickly stabilises with a pickling action. This process cuts the tanning period of a hide from weeks to days.
Chrome tanning produces a stretchable leather type which is excellent for use in footwear, handbags and garments and is much cheaper to produce than the traditional methods. This stretchable leather has no ‘memory’ which is ideal for garments and upholstery, but makes it very hard to mould and retain its shape.
Chrome tanned leather was first mass produced in World War I (1914-1918) when the German military discovered the advantage of the new leather in the manufacture of boots. The constant water saturation of the footwear in the trenches of Flanders and France caused the vegetable tanned boots to fall apart very quickly whereas the new chrome leather ones did not.
The leather industry continues to change and develop new methods. Once, vegetable tanned leather used locally sourced hides that had been packed in salt to stop them decaying. Today, most hides are stabilised first by chrome tanning for 24 hours. These hides are then stable enough to be shipped anywhere in the world where they then can be re-tanned by whatever method is desired. Many hides are tanned and sold as vegetable tanned leather, but started as chrome tan. These hides usually have the inherent stretchable nature of chrome tan.
We choose to use the more expensive Italian hides over local products because of the outstanding high quality and finish. That way we ensure that we can consistently produce high quality products that will keep their shape, colour and appearance for years to come.