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From cowhide to furniture leather

30-08-2017

Like furniture-making, leather production is a craft that has existed for centuries. It starts with the fresh hides, of course, which the tannery purchases directly from the slaughterhouses. These hides must be processed in the tannery within 24 to 48 hours. Exact logistical planning and efficient cooling are therefore vitally important for maintaining the highest quality. Our tanneries try to avoid salting the hides as much as possible because of the negative ecological impact. But how does the process from cowhide to furniture leather actually work?

Cleaning

When the hides arrive, there is no mistaking that they have come from cattle. There is still hair on the so-called grain side, just as there is fat and flesh residue on the flesh side. This is why the hides are immediately immersed in enormous vats, which are like huge washing machines. In the vats, they are washed, steeped and depilated. That takes at least a day, sometimes even longer. After this process, the hides are what we call ‘naked’. After all, they are now completely hairless. Now a separate de-fleshing machine is used to completely remove any remaining flesh and fat.

Splitting

After the cleaning process, the hides are still as thick as they were when the animal was slaughtered. What’s more, they don’t have the same thickness everywhere. And that is an important requirement if you want to create beautiful shapes with leather. To solve this problem, the hide is sliced once or twice horizontally with great precision, leaving three layers: the top, middle and bottom layers. This process is called ‘splitting’. We use only the top layer – called the ‘grain layer’ – for our furniture. That is because this ‘upper hide’ is leather of the highest quality. The other layers are often used for other purposes, such as for technical leather or as lining.

Tanning

In nature, a hide is broken down by bacteria. To make the leather resistant to this process, after being split, the hides are again immersed in the vats together with a tannin mixture. The tannin creates a bond with the hide’s fibre structure and converts the proteins into a sustainable fibre. Now the bacteria no longer recognise the leather as a hide and they stop attacking it. The result is a lovely smooth hide. From now on, the material is called ‘leather’ rather than a ‘hide’.

Selection and planing

After the tanning process, the producer sorts all the leather according to the quality. It is divided into different classes based on its uniformity and the number of scars, natural damage, holes, and so on. The leather is then planed. This results in a consistent thickness, so that the leather can be processed much more easily. On the flesh side, the leather is planed to the nearest tenth of a millimetre. As you can imagine, that is a very intricate process.

Basic colouring and drying

The first step towards achieving the colour that you see on your furniture consists of what we call vat dyeing. Together with high-quality transparent colouring, the leather is again immersed in large vats, and the colouring is fully absorbed into the leather. After the dyeing process, it is time to dry the leather. This is done slowly to prevent the natural hide from suffering a ‘shock effect’ and to achieve the best possible end result.

Milling

The drying process makes the leather harder. This ‘hard’ leather is called a ‘crust’. However, in that condition it is impossible to use the leather on furniture. And it is not yet comfortable to sit on. By kneading the leather with a machine – the technical term is called ‘milling’ – the leather becomes soft and supple again. During this process, the humidity and temperature are checked carefully and proactively.

Finishing

Now the leather slowly starts to acquire its definitive shape. The final processing step in the tannery is the application of the finishing layer. This involves a wide range of options, which are usually divided into three categories: aniline finishing, semi-aniline finishing and pigmented finishing.

Final inspection

After the intensive and predominantly manual tanning, post-tanning, and finishing process, a careful inspection must be performed. The tannery inspectors critically examine aspects such as the grain pattern, the colour, the thickness, the feel and finish of the leather, the technical properties and any unexpected impurities.

The Leolux quality manager also inspects each individual hide at the tannery. This inspection guarantees:

  • a positive incentive for the supplier to supply the best possible product
  • the possibility to implement minor necessary technical adjustments to ensure that the Leolux leather is perfect
  • the delivery time of the leather, and therefore also of the complete item of furniture.

After approval by our leather quality manager, the hides are ready to be transported to Venlo. On arriving in the Leolux factory, the leather is again inspected by our internal inspectors.

Comment

Comments (1)

Dear Sirs:

My name is Anabella Said I work with tanneries in Argentina, Brazil and Colombia.

The products I offer are Cowhides hair on, Patchwork Rugs and Scraps.

Can you be interested in this kind of products??

Is there any chance we can offer prices and make business together?

With all my best,

Anabella Said

Anabella Said | 03-10-2018  22:42