Misc Leatherworking Tips
Vegetable-tanned/oak-tanned - stiff, undyed leather tanned with tanins from tree bark, roots, etc. The only leather suitable for tooling/carving, and only if it's full-grain leather. Comes in a variety of qualities. Mot saddle leathers are veg-tanned.
Chrome-tanned/alum-tanned - softer leathers, for garments, upholstery, etc. This is what you're going to be making costumes out of (not armour though). These leathers include suedes.
Buck-tan - usually refers to cowhide that has been treated with oils to simulate a deerskins softness and colour, but basically an altered chrome-tan hide.
Note: there are a number of other variations; chrome/veg-retan, latigo,
oil-tanned, etc., but you could write a book on the subject.
Full-grain/top-grain leather - sometimes used synonymously, but I think top-grain has had some treatment to the top surface of the hide. It basically refers to a piece of leather that includes the top surface of the skin. The best quality and durability.
Nubuck leather - a top-grain leather that had enough flaws in the surface (blowfly scars, barbed-wire scars, blemishes, etc.) that the surface was "brushed" to give it a fine-velvety finish. Still a pretty good leather.
Split - this is where the tannery has split the hide into two or more layers to get more leather out of a single hide. The top split usually goes into garments, furniture, wallets, handbags, belts, etc., while the bottom split can go into a variety of uses, but frequently seen as suede.
Top-finished split - interesting stuff; the tannery takes a cheap cr*ppy split and applies a urethane "top-grain" to it. Sometimes very well done, and you'd have to know what you're looking for to tell the difference, but the difference in strength and price is extreme.
Suede - any chrome-tanned split. Can come in a vast variety of colours, thicknesses and stiffnesses.
Thanks to Adam for the definitions
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This page was last updated 04/22/08