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Different types of leather and their characteristics!

bumphrey hogart

One of the Regulars
Messages
159
Location
cornwall,England
The reason I have brought this up is I looked on the schott forum last night and came across a lot of stuff about different types of leather and what you can and can't do in/with it,and I've got to say it didn't really agree with my own experience or what I've read here,(the fount of all wisdom on leather). Firstly I came across 'naked cowhide',supposedly you're not supposed to get it wet or treat it with any leather treatment,I've had a naked cowhide jacket for twenty years and treated it with all kinds of quality leather potions,I thought that's what you did with leather,looked after it.
Then 'steerhide',this is coated and so is a bit better in rain but you're still not meant to get it wet and you can use treatments,what's the point in using a treatment if there is a coating covering the leather?Surely it's going to stop anything actually getting through.
Next H/H,still not supposed to get it wet but it the most water resistant of all leathers and it's not coated.
I won,t even get into splits(c**p anyway),or lamb,pig,etc,but there seems to be a lot of contradictory information out there,so I thought I'd ask the esteemed members of this august body for the real skinny! Cheers B.
 

Silver Dollar

Practically Family
Messages
613
Location
Louisville, Kentucky
I'm sure you'll get a lot of responses here, B. My experience has bee pretty much with cow, steer and horsehides. I've worn them in the rain and have had no problems with them. Then again, they were all A2 jackets rather than fine leather garments. I know the grade of leather has something to do with how well the hide resists the weather.
 

eClairvaux

One of the Regulars
Messages
257
Location
Monaco di Baviera
From what I have read and also experienced with my leather jackets and footwear, I feel the tanning and even more so the finishing of the leather might be more important than the type of hide. plus it does make a difference between one hide and another, different parts of the animal (Stay away from the belly!) and your cows and their cows/sheep/kangaroo/horse/mice/aliens
There must be a myriad of ways to treat the surface of leather, to oil, wax, or spray paint it and those make such a difference to how the material behaves. Imagine that one Prada "spazzolato" garment can't be told from very hard plastic, while the same basic cow leather can be something totally soft. btw. I still don't know if there is really a difference between cow and steer hide. I would be very surprised if steer was only from male animals.

In other words, great question, but the ultimate answer would be one big spread sheet spawning all the tanning and finishing techniques in the world.
 

scotrace

Head Bartender
Staff member
Messages
14,329
Location
Small Town Ohio, USA
Horse does seem water repellant up to a point but will eventually soak up moisture (and shrink). Goat is also pretty resistant and is quite tough, but will also shrink if soaked.* Goat is also not very warm to wear.
Bison hide will soak through like a sponge but I'm not sure about shrinkage - it is, however, pretty much indestructible.
That's the extent of my hide knowledge. And tanning/processing will of course have a lot to do with it. Also, how many pieces have gone into making up a garment will have an impact.

*warning: The leather in a jacket will shrink. The lining may not. You can end up with sleeve linings that drooop out of the cuffs. A lesson learned the hard way.
 

Seb Lucas

I'll Lock Up
Messages
7,575
Location
Australia
From what I have read and also experienced with my leather jackets and footwear, I feel the tanning and even more so the finishing of the leather might be more important than the type of hide. plus it does make a difference between one hide and another, different parts of the animal (Stay away from the belly!) and your cows and their cows/sheep/kangaroo/horse/mice/aliens
There must be a myriad of ways to treat the surface of leather, to oil, wax, or spray paint it and those make such a difference to how the material behaves. Imagine that one Prada "spazzolato" garment can't be told from very hard plastic, while the same basic cow leather can be something totally soft. btw. I still don't know if there is really a difference between cow and steer hide. I would be very surprised if steer was only from male animals.

In other words, great question, but the ultimate answer would be one big spread sheet spawning all the tanning and finishing techniques in the world.

Bingo. That's your answer. It's not simply the leather but how it has been processed and cut (thickness and from what part of the animal).

Having said that, goat is generally considered to be the most abrasion and water resistant and is fairly light. Kangaroo is almost indestructable and light but in my experience remains stiff and uncomfortable. I have 2 kanga jackets that are around 16 years old and they are like new but stiff as a board.

Shrinkage? I have never experienced this after 20 years of washing leather jackets and standing in the rain. I keep hearing about shrinkage but it's never happened to me.
 
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Peacoat

Bartender
Bartender
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5,654
Location
South of Nashville
Scott gives a good summary.

Leather will shrink. I had a Schott naked cowhide Cafe Racer get wet (and it wasn't soaked, just a little wet) on a ride. It shrank some, mostly in the sleeves. Fortunately, it is still long enough to not cause a serious problem. As it was only a couple of years old, I hadn't yet treated it to make it more water resistant. In retrospect, I probably should have. Also, I had an older motto jacket that was a bit too big. I soaked it good and dried it in a warm bathroom. Now it is a good fit.

Steer is the same as cowhide; it just has a tougher sound to it.

Pecard Leather Conditioner will do a good job of making the leather water resistant. On my motorcycle jackets I have treated, the water rolls off.
 
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bumphrey hogart

One of the Regulars
Messages
159
Location
cornwall,England
Thanks chaps,but if you read the advice from schott 'YOU MUST NOT TREAT NAKED COWHIDE',the blurb goes,naked cowhide is an untreated/uncoated leather that comes straight out of the dyer and as such is softer and more pliable than alternatives.That's why it has the matt surface as opposed to the shinier coated 'steerhide',(there was a big thread recently where a guy had got his new schott and put it in the washer and tumble dryer and rubbed the coating off because he didn't like shiny leather,could have just bought a naked cowhide in the first place).
I suppose this is the risk we all take when buying any leather,we don't know where on the animal it's come from,how it's been tanned, unless it's stipulated when we buy it,as I said in my first post I've had this jacket 20 years and there was no warning not to do anything with it when I bought it.
I've just won the exact same jacket on the bay but in brown,and I know the style was only manufactured between 88 and 94 so it's going to be interesting to see what if any differences there are.Saying that probably the first thing I will do will be to saddle soap it and it will take all my self restraint not to put it through a cold wash in the machine.
I mean are we just fed a load of bull about leather ,manufacturers covering themselves,etc,or is there any definitive truths out there?
 

bumphrey hogart

One of the Regulars
Messages
159
Location
cornwall,England
Just received the brown jacket off the bay,(it's a leather MA1 copy like the one I mentioned in the MA1 thread,I now have one in black and brown),obviously I have no idea what if anything the new jacket has been treated with but it is slightly shinier than the black and possibly/maybe a little softer,but for a jacket that is minimally 16 years old it's in great nick,really nice colour.Problem is the ribbing looks a little grubby,if you're not supposed to get the leather wet how the hell do I wash the ribbing?Before being confused by this new information I wouldn't have thought twice about throwing the thing in on a cold wash,now I have my doubts.It's a shame we don't have a tanner in the FL,though he'd probably get bored answering all our nonsense!
 

Justhandguns

Practically Family
Messages
764
Location
London
I have no idea about shrinkage though. I believe most high quality motorcycle jackets have kind of waterproof treatment to a certain degree. I just wore my Vanson (heavy weight cowhide?) under the British rain in the past few days, it may not be totally soaked, but at least I don't see any sign of shrinkages at all. I usually treat my jackets using Vanson's leather balm, but I am sure it is just to keep the leather supple instead of waterproofing it. I also have a silicon base grease (Scarpa HS12 Cream) for weatherproofing leather shoes, this works very well for my hiking shoes but I have yet to try it on my leather jackets. It actually gives a distinctive shine back to some old leathers.

I am not sure if I am the only one here who rejects the idea of "washing" leather jackets. I always think that will shorten the life of your jackets in a long run, especially if you are living in a humid country. I am not sure if any of you here have encountered moulds (or molds) on your jackets, my experience is that, if the soaked leather jackets are only allowed to dry slowly, moulds can start to grow and may eventually ruin the whole jacket.
 

Dav

One Too Many
Messages
1,708
Location
Somerset, England
Do different breeds of bovine provide different qualities of leather or are all cow/steer hides of similar quality before tanning? Also I assume when a tannery receives a fresh hide for treatment the animal has already been butchered so would they know if it was male or female?
 

bumphrey hogart

One of the Regulars
Messages
159
Location
cornwall,England
I have no idea about shrinkage though. I believe most high quality motorcycle jackets have kind of waterproof treatment to a certain degree. I just wore my Vanson (heavy weight cowhide?) under the British rain in the past few days, it may not be totally soaked, but at least I don't see any sign of shrinkages at all. I usually treat my jackets using Vanson's leather balm, but I am sure it is just to keep the leather supple instead of waterproofing it. I also have a silicon base grease (Scarpa HS12 Cream) for weatherproofing leather shoes, this works very well for my hiking shoes but I have yet to try it on my leather jackets. It actually gives a distinctive shine back to some old leathers.

I am not sure if I am the only one here who rejects the idea of "washing" leather jackets. I always think that will shorten the life of your jackets in a long run, especially if you are living in a humid country. I am not sure if any of you here have encountered moulds (or molds) on your jackets, my experience is that, if the soaked leather jackets are only allowed to dry slowly, moulds can start to grow and may eventually ruin the whole jacket.

Mainly for my hiking boots but also occasionally on my jackets I've always used 'nikwax',this is a water based waterproofing and conditioner that's designed to be applied to wet leather,strange how one of the most highly regarded waterproofing treatments in the outdoor industry would design a product to be used on wet leather if leather wasn't supposed to get wet.
I suppose this thread is coming down to how wet can a leather jacket get before it's damaged,and it seems like so many other areas of contention on the FL,there is a range of opinions,from the 'I wash my leathers on a 40 degree cycle and chuck them in the tumble dryer',to'if there's a chance of a shower I leave my leather at home'.
My experience is I've washed leather on a cold cycle with very little pure soap detergent with no shrinkage and 'apparently' no damage,leaving the jacket to dry in a well ventilated,warm room out of the sun.The problem of course is the 'apparently',which is why I've brought up this subject,and why I value you chaps opinions so much.So keep them coming and lets see if we get an answer or if we end up disappearing up our own backsides!
 

bumphrey hogart

One of the Regulars
Messages
159
Location
cornwall,England
do different breeds of bovine provide different qualities of leather or are all cow/steer hides of similar quality before tanning? Also i assume when a tannery receives a fresh hide for treatment the animal has already been butchered so would they know if it was male or female?

great point!!!
 

bbshriver

One of the Regulars
Messages
180
Location
Lexington, NC
Do different breeds of bovine provide different qualities of leather or are all cow/steer hides of similar quality before tanning? Also I assume when a tannery receives a fresh hide for treatment the animal has already been butchered so would they know if it was male or female?

I'm not a leather expert, but it would seem to me that with all the science that goes into getting the perfect beef cattle (including "steering"), that similar aspects would apply to leather.

According to one of my friends who was... a hobby rancher, for lack of a better term, there's a huge quality difference in meat between a steer and a bull, or between a Charlois or Holstein.

I know many of the finest leathers come from Sweden due to the lack of a significant mosquito/parasite population meaning less blemishes in the leather.

Regarding what the tannery receives.... I would expect that a quality tannery would specify what kind of hides they want, and the supplier would send that hide. In some cases the difference may be obvious, and the tannery may be able to tell straight away.

I also frequent a guitar forum, and one of the established luthiers there was saying that he gets his wood from a supplier... there's three primary varieties of spruce wood used for guitar tops, and said luthier said he cannot personally tell the difference by looking at them and must trust that the supplier has labeled them correctly. I expect some of the same happens in leather.
 

eClairvaux

One of the Regulars
Messages
257
Location
Monaco di Baviera
From what I know, the difference in leather in wild animals might be a helpful yardstick. Here, especially in deerskin, which is a very important material for traditional clothing where I come from, the finishing has zero variety. So all the variety one can encounter must lie with the origin (which is mostly domestic or from New Zealand, where they have less parasites), the individual animal and the tanning process. Not that the tanning process varies so much, it is always a special process that is a vegetabile one, but the practical difference from batch to batch does come into play.

What it amounts to is, that I have been flipping through hides from two tanneries, the batches mixed regarding their origin (domestic and NZ alike) and the expert next to me could seemingly tell within minutes which hides would be worthwhile and which weren't.

This all goes to say that I believe no matter how much energy we put into collecting information, it will still be imperfect meta-knowledge compiled by laymen. The real expert will base his judgement on too many and too many intangible factors, to put them into some simple form.

PS: I don't think steerhides are really only male animals, I think this is a description they use, but it's more marketing than biology to describe the sturdier hides.
 

JLStorm

Practically Family
Messages
608
Location
Pennsylvania
Schott's steer and cow hide are the same exact hide, but the finishing is different. I have never needed to treat my naked cowhide jacket and I doubt any harm will come in doing so. You have to remember that Schott is just protecting themselves from customers who treat the leather and it changes in appearance or feel. This way, they can say...hey, we told you so. I wouldnt sweat it, but in reality, I think people treat leather much more often than required with today's tanning processes.
 

bumphrey hogart

One of the Regulars
Messages
159
Location
cornwall,England
The science of perfecting beef cattle,I don't think has any bearing on the hide,hides are just a byproduct the vast majority of which get binned,we eat way more cattle than we make leather clothes and I'm not aware of any breed,bred only for it's hide.Sweden is absolutely terrible for mosquitoe,midges and the like,if you've ever tried canoeing in Scandinavia in summer you would learn this the hard way.
About the tanning process and the ability to spot which hides are superior,I totally understand that we will never have the knowledge of the experts,but we should be able to work out how wet a leather jacket can become before it does damage,if any,and whether one type of leather is more suitable for certain applications than another.
What I really don't get is that leather spends the whole of the tanning process pretty much soaking,and then when the process is finished,suddenly you can't get it damp,huh?
 

442RCT

One of the Regulars
Messages
261
Location
California, USA
:eek:fftopic: There's an Abbey of New Clairvaux near me in Vina, California.

Getting back on topic to leather jackets. I've posted about my experiment to shrink an oversized leather jacket because the sleeves were too long. I started by soaking the sleeves in hot water, after drying, there was no change. Since it was a cheap Banana Republic A-2 lookalike, I decided to toss the jacket into the washer. I washed it in cold water then let it air dry on a hanger. No change in sleeve size at all. I decided to go all out, and hot water wash it and tumble dry the jacket. No change in size again. I hot water washed and dried it twice without any change to the leather or finish. The jacket may have been cheap but it was bulletproof.

Since this was an inexpensive jacket, I'm guessing it was cowhide. It'd been given a pre-distressed finish, I don't know if this contributed to the pre-shrunk nature of the leather.
The other thing about this jacket was the leather 'creaked' and 'squeaked' with movement, which didn't change with the washings. I ended up giving the jacket away.

For those who do the HWT (Hot Water Treatment) on their leather jackets...more power to you, but I've read where owners of newly purchased jackets pretty much wiped out any return possibility or decreased the resale value of their jackets.
 
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Bonneville

One of the Regulars
Messages
173
Location
Canada
Not sure but I understood "cows" were those female bovines used in the dairy industry whereas "steers" are a range and feedlot animal grown for beef. I don't know if all male steer are "snipped" or even if this has any bearing or not or if there is any difference in the hides between cow and steer. Interesting question though.
The connotation that seems to accompany the term "steerhide" is one suggesting greater thickness than cow hide to me. Whether there is any justification for this or not I don't know.
 
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