The reason for tanning leather is to change the skin or hide’s protein structure, make leather soft and pliable for use. Once tanning is complete, the leather can be used to create a wide variety of leather goods. This is a process that has been in use in one form or another for thousands of years. The first step in tanning is to cure the skin by smoking, drying or salting it. Following this, excess flesh and hair are removed. After this, the skin must be washed and/or limed before it can be tanned. Leather is usually tanned in one of two ways. One is chrome tanning, and the other is vegetable tanning. In this article, we will compare and contrast these two methods.
Vegetable tanning has been around for thousands of years. Unlike chrome tanning, it uses a naturally occurring polyphenol astringent chemical called tannin. This is usually found in bark, leaves, and branches of trees such as oak, chestnut, or mimosa. As it produces shades of deep brown, beige, yellow, and red, tannin lends a unique color and texture to the leather.
However, the process is time-consuming, laborious, and expensive. There are two types of vegetable tanning processes. The slow process takes about 30 days, while the rapid tanning process only lasts about 36 to 48 hours. Sometimes, however, the slow process can take several months, as it may require multiple treatments.
This process produces highly durable leather. So, the vegetable tanned leather is often used to make products such as saddles or holsters. The unmatched durability and distinct appearance makes this leather suitable for imprinting and intricate leatherwork such as tooling.
Chrome tanning is the most popular tanning process because it’s much quicker, affordable, and less labor intensive than the others. In 1858, it was introduced as an alternative to the expensive and time-consuming vegetable tanning process. The process can be automated and lasts a day at most. Usually, the time for chromium tanning is around 2 or 3 hours for small and thin skins. However, it can go up to 24 hours for thicker ones obtained from cattle.
The size of chrome molecules is small compared to vegetable tannin ions. As a result, chrome ions can penetrate the collagen and remove water molecules effectively. That’s why chrome tanned leather is thinner and softer than vegetable tanned leather. Chromium (III) sulfate is the most efficient and effective tanning agent. Chrome tanned leather is also called wet blue leather due to its bluish color.
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