Several tanning processes transform hides and skins into leather:

Vegetable-tanned leather is tanned using tannin and other ingredients found in vegetable matter, tree bark, and other such sources. It is supple and brown in color, with the exact shade depending on the mix of chemicals and the color of the skin. It is the only form of leather suitable for use in leather carving or stamping. Vegetable-tanned leather is not stable in water; it tends to discolor, and if left to soak and then dry it will shrink and become less supple and harder. In hot water, it will shrink drastically and partly gelatinize, becoming rigid and eventually brittle. Boiled leather is an example of this where the leather has been hardened by being immersed in hot water, or in boiled wax or similar substances. Historically, it was occasionally used as armor after hardening, and it has also been used for book binding.

Chrome-tanned leather, invented in 1858, is tanned using chromium sulfate and other salts of chromium. It is more supple and pliable than vegetable-tanned leather, and does not discolor or lose shape as drastically in water as vegetable-tanned. It is also known as wet-blue for its color derived from the chromium. More esoteric colors are possible using chrome tanning.

Aldehyde-tanned leather is tanned using glutaraldehyde or oxazolidine compounds. This is the leather that most tanners refer to as wet-white leather due to its pale cream or white color. It is the main type of "chrome-free" leather, often seen in automobiles and shoes for infants.

Synthetic-tanned leather is tanned using aromatic polymers such as the Novolac or Neradol types. This leather is white in color and was invented when vegetable tannins were in short supply during the Second World War. Melamine and other amino-functional resins fall into this category as well and they provide the filling that modern leathers often require. Urea-formaldehyde resins were also used in this tanning method until dissatisfaction about the formation of free formaldehyde was realized.

Alum-tawed leather is transformed using aluminium salts mixed with a variety of binders and protein sources, such as flour and egg yolk. Purists argue that alum-tawed leather is technically not tanned, as the resulting material will rot in water. Very light shades of leather are possible using this process, but the resulting material is not as supple as vegetable-tanned leather.[1]

Rawhide is made by scraping the skin thin, soaking it in lime, and then stretching it while it dries. Like alum-tawing, rawhide is not technically "leather", but is usually lumped in with the other forms. Rawhide is stiffer and more brittle than other forms of leather, and is primarily found in uses such as drum heads where it does not need to flex significantly; it is also cut up into cords for use in lacing or stitching, or for making many varieties of dog chews.

Leather—usually vegetable-tanned leather—can be oiled to improve its water resistance. This supplements the natural oils remaining in the leather itself, which can be washed out through repeated exposure to water. Frequent oiling of leather, with mink oil, neatsfoot oil or a similar material, keeps it supple and improves its lifespan dramatically.
Leather with the hair still attached is called hair-on.
Leather types
In general, leather is sold in four forms:

Full-grain leather refers to the leather which has not had the upper "top grain" and "split" layers separated. The upper section of a hide that previously contained the epidermis and hair, but were removed from the hide/skin. Full-grain refers to hides that have not been sanded, buffed, or snuffed (as opposed to top-grain or corrected leather) to remove imperfections (or natural marks) on the surface of the hide. The grain remains allowing the fiber strength and durability. The grain also has breathability, resulting in less moisture from prolonged contact. Rather than wearing out, it will develop a patina over time. Leather furniture and footwear are made from full-grain leather. Full-grain leathers are typically available in two finish types: aniline and semi-aniline.

Top-grain leather is the second-highest quality and has had the "split" layer separated away, making it thinner and more pliable than full grain. Its surface has been sanded and a finish coat added to the surface which results in a colder, plastic feel with less breathability, and will not develop a natural patina. It is typically less expensive, and has greater resistance to stains than full-grain leather, so long as the finish remains unbroken.

Corrected-grain leather is any leather that has had an artificial grain applied to its surface. The hides used to create corrected leather do not meet the standards for use in creating vegetable-tanned or aniline leather. The imperfections are corrected or sanded off and an artificial grain impressed into the surface and dressed with stain or dyes. Most corrected-grain leather is used to make pigmented leather as the solid pigment helps hide the corrections or imperfections. Corrected grain leathers can mainly be bought as two finish types: semi-aniline and pigmented.

Split leather is leather created from the fibrous part of the hide left once the top-grain of the rawhide has been separated from the hide. During the splitting operation, the top grain and drop split are separated. The drop split can be further split (thickness allowing) into a middle split and a flesh split. In very thick hides, the middle split can be separated into multiple layers until the thickness prevents further splitting. Split leather then has an artificial layer applied to the surface of the split and is embossed with a leather grain (bycast leather). Splits are also used to create suede. The strongest suedes are usually made from grain splits (that have the grain completely removed) or from the flesh split that has been shaved to the correct thickness. Suede is "fuzzy" on both sides. Manufacturers use a variety of techniques to make suede from full-grain. A reversed suede is a grained leather that has been designed into the leather article with the grain facing away from the visible surface. It is not considered to be a true form of suede.[2]

Less-common leathers include:

Buckskin or brained leather is a tanning process that uses animal brains or other fatty materials to alter the leather. The resulting supple, suede-like hide is usually smoked heavily to prevent it from rotting.

Patent leather is leather that has been given a high-gloss finish. The original process was developed in Newark, New Jersey, by inventor Seth Boyden in 1818. Patent leather usually has a plastic coating.

Shagreen is also known as stingray skin/leather. Applications used in furniture production date as far back as the art deco period. The word "shagreen" originates from France.

Vachetta leather is used in the trimmings of luggage and handbags. The leather is left untreated and is therefore susceptible to water and stains. Sunlight will cause the natural leather to darken in shade, called a patina.

Slink is leather made from the skin of unborn calves. It is particularly soft, and is valued for use in making gloves.

Deerskin is a tough leather, possibly due to the animal's adaptations to the its thorny and thicket-filled habitats.[citation needed] Deerskin has been used by many societies including indigenous Americans. Most modern deer skin is no longer procured from the wild, with deer farms breeding the animals specifically for the purpose of their skins. Large quantities are still tanned from wild deer hides in historic tanning towns such as Gloversville and Johnstown in upstate New York. Deerskin is used in jackets and overcoats, martial arts equipment such as kendo and bogu, as well as personal accessories like handbags and wallets.

Nubuck is top-grain cattle hide leather that has been sanded or buffed on the grain side, or outside, to give a slight nap of short protein fibers, producing a velvet-like surface.

There are two other types of leather commonly used in specialty products, such as briefcases, wallets, and luggage:

Belting leather is a full-grain leather that was originally used in driving pulley belts and other machinery. It is found on the surface of briefcases, portfolios, and wallets, and can be identified by its thick, firm feel and smooth finish. Belting leather is generally a heavy-weight of full-grain, vegetable-tanned leather.

Nappa leather, or Napa leather, is chrome-tanned and is soft and supple. It is commonly found in wallets, toiletry kits, and other personal leather goods.

The following are not "true" leathers, but contain leather material. Depending on jurisdiction, they may still be labeled as "Genuine Leather":

Bonded leather , or "reconstituted Leather", is composed of 90% to 100% leather fibers (often scrap from leather tanneries or leather workshops) bonded together with latex binders to create a look and feel similar to that of leather at a fraction of the cost. This bonded leather is not as durable as other leathers, and is recommended for use only if the product will be used infrequently (for example, as a bible cover). Bonded leather upholstery is a vinyl upholstery that contains about 17% leather fiber in its backing material. The vinyl is stamped to give it a leather-like texture. Bonded leather upholstery is durable and its manufacturing process is more environmentally-friendly than leather production.

Bycast leather is a split leather with a layer of polyurethane applied to the surface and then embossed. Bycast was originally made for the shoe industry and recently was adopted by the furniture industry. The original formula created by Bayer was strong but expensive. Most of the bycast used today is very strong and durable product. The result is a slightly stiffer product that is cheaper than top grain leather but has a much more consistent texture and is easier to clean and maintain.

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