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Leather Glossary

How can On The Fly sell a leather wallet for $70 when there are "genuine leather wallets" for as little as $5 elsewhere? Like most things in life, you get what you pay for.

When you buy a leather good, you're paying for the piece goods, the construction, and the design. This glossary focuses specifically on the "piece goods"~the leather~so that you'll know a bit more about what you're paying for the next time you buy a bag, belt, or wallet.

Aniline ~ an adjective to describe leather that has been treated with (transparent) dyes only, resulting in a clear finish with little or no artificial pigmentation. Aniline leathers show their natural markings, so only the finest quality hides are used.

Antiqued (Distressed)  ~ describes leather that is dyed with one color over another (usually darker over lighter) so as to create rich highlights and an artificial aged appearance.

Bark (Vegetable) Tanning ~ So-called because tannin extracted from the bark of various trees is usually used.

Break ~ A description of how the grain of leather reacts when it is folded back against itself. A fine break may show up to 20 wrinkles per inch, and indicates high quality, while a coarse break may show as few as 6 wrinkles per inch, and would be considered poor quality.

Buffing (Correcting) ~ The act of sanding the grain to remove surface imperfections. This is also called improving a leather's selection. Buffed/corrected leathers often are, after sanding, covered with new dyes, finishes, and other pigments to further improve surface appearance. These leathers are considered of a lower quality.

Burnished ~ Leather that has been polished in such a way that heat is generated, resulting in a surface shine.

Capeskin ~ A type of leather derived from sheepskin, often used for gloves.

Carpincho ~ A hard-waring yet soft and supple leather made from a type of wild pig that lives in South America. Carpincho is typically used for gloving and is generally quite expensive.

Combination Tanned ~ Leather that has been treated with two or more agents. For example, a combination tanned hide may be initially ~chrome~ tanned (meaning treated with chromium-based solutions), then re-tanned using vegetable extracts.

Currying ~ The process of treating tanned hides with natural oils to prepare them to be worked.

Deerskin ~ Ok, the name makes the definition obvious, but what's special about Bambi's hide? It's incredibly supple yet very hard-wearing, will seldom scratch, and gets softer with age. And yes, you pay for all these desirable quantities.

Embossing ~ The process of permanently pressing a texture or pattern into a piece of leather. This is the same as plating, except a textured plate is used.

Fat Liquored ~ A term for a re-tanned hide that has been treated with a blend of emulsified fats and/or oils.

Full (Top) Grain ~ A term for leather that's undergone hair-removal and nothing else. Such hides have their original grain character and have not been subject to buffing, sanding, or snuffing. Full/top grain leather is even closer to its natural state than aniline leather.

Glazed ~ A word for leather that has been burnished with a fixed glass or steel (sometimes agate) rod. This process gives the hide a smooth finish with a degree of surface shine.

Kid ~ The name for goat-skin leather.

Lambskin ~ As you've probably guessed, it's the softer version of sheepskin (lambs being baby sheep, after all).

Milled (Tumbled) ~ An adjective to describe leather that has been softened by tumbling it in a drum.

Nubuck ~ Grain-side (i.e. outer-facing) leather that's been buffed to give it a velvety, suede-like appearance. It's more durable, and considered more refined, than suede.

Patent ~ For all it's associations with black-tie footwear~patent pumps being the classic partner for dinner jackets~patent is actually relatively low-quality leather that's been given an artificial, chemically-based glossy surface (often plastic).

Peccary ~ Grain leather, usually used for gloving, that comes from a wild boar native to parts of Central and South America.

Plated ~ A leather that has had heat and pressure applied by a large, mechanical press.

Pull-up ~ A temporary lightening in color achieved by bending leather. This is caused by the temporary displacement of oils, greases, and/or waxes.

Re-tanning ~ The process where products are introduced that are largely responsible for the ultimate character of the leather.

Shagreen ~ The name for leather that comes from a stingray. It has been used for a variety of items, including shoes, cufflinks, and wallets.

Semi-Aniline ~ A leather that is finished with some percentage of pigmented dyes to achieve a more uniform surface appearance.

Shell (Cordovan/Crup) ~ The subcutaneous, highly dense fiber structure found in the backside of a horse or mule. One of the least-porous of all leathers, cordovan is highly water-repellent. It's also rare, expensive, and difficult to work with.

Suede ~ In the most general sense, suede is leather from the flesh-side (not the outside) of the skin that's undergone an abrasive treatment to give the surface a velvet-like nap.

Temper ~ The term used to refer to how soft or stiff a leather is.

Weight ~ The thickness of leather, measured in either ounces or millimeters