Kodiak Leather Buffalo Leather Pilots Bag- $249

A quality and stylish briefcase is a real attention grabber and is a key element to a fashionable men’s and women’s wardrobe. Briefcases can hold the minimal – laptop and a few folders or the carry all – books, tech, folders and even cloths as an indispensable travel companion. 

Kodiak Leather’s Pilot Bag seems to fit the bill for both office and travel in its style, function and durability. 

About Kodiak Leather Co.

Kodiak Leather Co. of Utah is a startup in Lehi, Utah founded by Jared Morse, an outdoorsman who was frustrated by the lack of reasonably priced leather bags that would hold up through all the wear and tear of daily use. This inspired Jared to create Kodiak Leather Co. and our custom leather bags. After finding only the highest quality leather and hardware, he set out to build a bag that would last a lifetime.

Fast Forward 4 Years…
 
After having 4 successful Kickstarter campaigns, the Buffalo Leather Satchel, The Classic Weekender Duffel, the Sitka Leather Messenger, and the most recent Yukon Garment Bag,  they have come full circle on offering a wide variety of travel bags , briefcases (similar to the satchel and the messenger), as well as some smaller, everyday carry items like journals and wallets.
 

Construction

The Pilot Bag is made from a thick top grain buffalo leather and a high grade thread. Premium brass hardware and YKK zippers are used in the bag.

The bag is available in 2 leather finishes: antique brown and dark walnut (pictured). The dimensions of the bag are 5 “deep x 18″ length x 14″ height. The bag has 2 zippered exterior pockets and 2 pouch pockets with a magnetic snap closure. Behind the flap that covers the pouch pockets there is a pocket that has a velcro tab to keep it closed.

There are 2 zippered main compartments with a laptop pocket and dividers. There are also interior side slots for cards, a device pocket and 2 pen holders.

The interior of the bag is lined with a dark brown fabric liner. On the sides of the bag is a strap and buckle system to cinch in the bag.

The removable strap is a combined use of quality nylon and leather. In addition to the removable strap there are two regular top handles with a 2 snap closure.

Function

This bag can easily serve as your carry all office and travel companion to hold a laptop, cords, accessories, books, folders, clothes, and even camera gear. The outside pockets and flaps make ideal spots for wallets, passports, keys, passes, newspapers and other small gear to place in while traveling. Heck, having a newborn son, I would even consider it as a very convenient and classy baby bag that could make many other dads envious.  

Aesthetic

The buffalo leather used for this bag is soft and lightweight and has a very stunning antique distressed finish. The zippers, as stated above, are of high quality making it easy to zip and open when full. Although some many prefer more buckled hardware as opposed to the magnetic snap closures on the front pocket, I appreciate the convenience of getting in and out of the pockets quickly. I’m not a huge fan of the velcro tab in the front pocket but understand why it was put there. I see the velcro wearing out in time but it is a very small detail that does not bother me in the grand beauty and construction of the bag. 

The bag overall has a great feel to it when carried with the snapped handle or the shoulder strap. The weight is evenly distributed and as mentioned before, is not super heavy like a lot of leather bags on the market. I feel confident in saying that my shoulder and back will not suffer if carrying this bag for a longer period of time (unless of course you have very heavy cargo).

Conclusion

Let’s be real- most leather briefcases come with a hefty price tag. Understandably so given the materials and labor that goes into making them. What I am very impressed with about this pilots bag and all of Kodiak Leather Co. products is a very fair price that does not, in my opinion, sacrifice the quality or integrity of the product. The Pilot Bag is a welcome addition to my leather bag collection and one that I look forward to using for many years and handing down to my son. Check it out this bag -here- as use code: ‘ABANACH20’ to receive a generous discount for taking the time to read this review!

How to Care for your Leather Luggage

In this blog post, we speak to Kaehler1920, a family based business from Chicago with a reputation for manufacturing the finest leather bags, cases and luggage. Founded in 1920, the Kaehler tradition combines true craftsmanship with locally sourced materials to produce leather goods of the very highest quality. As a long respected voice within the industry, here they show us how best to care for your valuable leather luggage to ensure it’s ready for the road and will stand the test of time.

Elegant, timeless, and practical – leather has always been a firm favorite of luggage manufacturers. In fact, leather was a key material used within the construction of the archetypal suitcase, a design intended to replace the unwieldy trunks that were popular during the early days of tourism. Chosen for its ability to provide just the right balance between durability and desirability, leather remains as glamorous today as it was in the 19th century, with the years only adding to the glorious patina of this material’s well worn path.

Today, leather luggage is increasingly in demand, particularly as vintage trends persist, and well cared for cases are passed down from generation to generation. And this final point is key: a carefully crafted, lovingly maintained, and regularly cleaned leather bag or suitcase should last, not only your lifetime, but also that of your children and possibly even grandchildren. With this in mind, we look at how best to clean, condition, and care for your beloved leather cases to ensure they provide you with many years of service.

The Three Cs – Clean, Condition, Care

Looking after leather in any setting doesn’t need to be overly difficult, and there’s certainly no need to be intimidated by the process, even if your luggage is expensive. In fact, caring for your leather luggage can be split into three simple stages that should cover everything you need to keep your leather looking great.

Firstly, a word on materials. You will probably find that most pieces of travel luggage are crafted from leather using a vegetable tanning process. Other tanning processes – including chrome tanning and re-tanning – yield different results and are used to give the leather different qualities. However, you will find that caring for your leather bags is much the same whatever type of leather used, with just a few things to be aware of during the lifetime of your product.

Cleaning Your Leather Luggage

Cleaning your leather luggage should done on a regular basis, forming the largest part of your leather care routine. It is also the simplest part of caring for your leather luggage, requiring only the removal of dirt and dust with a cloth, warm water, and a liquid cleaner suitable to the type of leather your bag is made from. This should be complemented by wiping away any dust with a soft cloth once or twice a week, helping to preserve your leather and develop a unique patina.

Additionally, you should take note of these points when cleaning your leather bags and luggage:

  • Always take care of stains as soon as possible. Don’t let them soak further into the leather grain where they may be harder, or even impossible to remove at a later date.
  • Be careful to avoid buckles, straps, buttons and other hardware. It’s possible that these could be tarnished by whatever cleaner you are using.
  • Rub away stains and dirt with light pressure. If you begin to press too much you may remove the finish and damage the underlying leather.

Conditioning Your Leather Luggage

Conditioning your leather luggage should also be done on a regular basis, although not as frequently as cleaning. This will ensure the leather does not dry out over time. There are plenty of off-the-shelf products on the market designed to be used on specific leather types, including mink oil and neatsfoot oil. However, recipes containing natural oils such as orange, cedarwood, and citronella can also be used, plus they have the additional benefit of helping to remove strong leather odors on new bags. It is important to allow these oils to dry thoroughly before you wipe off any excess. After conditioning the leather, it is also a good idea to weatherproof your bags using something like beeswax cream.

Additionally, be aware of these points when conditioning your leather luggage:

  • Olive oil also makes a great conditioner, and plenty of recipes include it as a core ingredient. However, recently the use of natural oils on leather has become controversial, so take some time to do a little research before you commit
  • Always spot-test any DIY recipes – preferably on the inside of the bag – before you commit. That way you can be sure not to damage the leather.
  • Work slowly and methodically with a soft cloth to ensure equal amounts of whatever you are using is worked into the grain of the leather for even coverage.

Caring for Your Leather Luggage

A core component is of the 3 Cs is the general, everyday care of your leather. For instance, while not regular occurrence, any scratches to the leather must be dealt with quickly – otherwise the underlying leather could become damaged and compromise the integrity of the whole bag. Storage is also important, and if your bag is packed away for any length of time then you must make sure is neither too dry or too damp. Remember also that leather is a natural material and, while it might look fantastic, that trip to the arctic circle to experience the Northern Lights might not be the best idea considering the weight and water permeability of your bag.

Here then, are a few final points to remember when caring for your leather luggage:

  • Avoid temperature extremes at all costs, both heat (including direct sunlight) and cold (below freezing point) can damage the leather of your luggage irreparably.
  • Store in original packaging where possible and include a handful or rice (or the original silica bag) to remove any moisture. Additionally, pack the bag with unprinted paper (not newspaper) to maintain its shape.
  • If your bag becomes wet or waterlogged, always allow it to dry naturally and never use a heat source to speed up the process

Caring for Your Leather Luggage – Final Thoughts

Naturally, there are as many pieces of advice on how best to look after your leather as there are pieces of luggage traversing the globe. However, we hope that these simple rules will help guide you on your journey in the proper care of your bags and cases. And remember, a well cared for piece of leather luggage is a great way to pass down your memories to your kids and grandkids, so make sure you take your time to do it right.

Leather 101: Caring for Leather Furniture

Hello BestLeather readers! I’m Chris Repp, a second-generation leather restoration professional and the creator of LeatherHelp.com. I’ve spent 25 years cleaning, repairing and restoring leather furniture, automotive leather interiors, leather jackets, bags, yacht cabin leather and private aircraft leather seating. More often lately, I’m training others to do the same.

While you are a sophisticated audience here at BestLeather, I am a blue-collar leather guy. I don’t have a degree in leather technology or a comprehensive knowledge of the many types of leather tannage. In fact, I tweeted out the other day that I learn something new every time I visit BestLeather. It’s true.

What I will give you today is insight born out of 1000’s of living-room discussions with my real customers over the decades. The result has been lots of practical advice on:

  1. Choosing the right leather furniture for you,
  2. Caring well for that leather furniture so it lasts a lifetime
  3. Dealing with the inevitable leather problem.

So here’s 25 years of advice in short.

Choosing leather furniture

  • Buying quality leather matters most – For a leather restoration guy, I say no to a lot of leather jobs. Mostly because the people bought cheap, junk leather or faux leather and I can’t fix it for them. So my first piece of advice is buy good leather from a knowledgeable furniture retailer or none of the rest of this advice will matter. It’s only lipstick on a pig.
  • Leather furniture for active families – Lots of my customers ask, “I have small kids and we have pets, should we get leather or not?” I say, “Certainly”, but then I point them back to my first piece of advice. If you buy cheap leather, the family will tear it up in no time. If you buy quality, I can teach you how to care for it and it will last for decades.
  • How much should you spend and why – For most consumers, I recommend mid-grade, mid-priced leather furniture from a good furniture or leather retailer. Spend more than you initially wanted to but not enough to break the bank. Heres why: Cheap leather from a warehouse is obviously going to be a mess in no time. But on the other end of the spectrum, the highest grade aniline (unprotected) leather sofa is beautiful and butter soft but very delicate and may not be appropriate for most buyers. I’d talk to a good salesman about investing in a mid-grade, top-grain finished leather. A mid-grade pull-up or distressed leather can also be a great choice if you like a leather that will distress and patina with age.

NLS_LeatherCouch

 

Caring for your leather furniture

  • Tips for cleaning your leather furniture – Some of these tips may sound elementary, but I’m just telling you the facts. These are tips I give because I get customers learning the hard way all the time!
    • Don’t use Windex, Simple Green or anything not made to clean leather. Only use cleaners made for leather.
    • Apply the cleaner to a soft, t-shirt material type cloth, not directly onto the leather. Clean an entire section at a time from seam-to-seam.
    • A good maintenance routine is:
      • Weekly – Dust off the leather with a dry cloth or soft-brush attachment to a vacuum cleaner.
      • Monthly – Clean the leather with a good leather cleaner
      • Quarterly – Condition the leather
  • Keys to conditioning your leather furniture – Most customers have the best of intentions but aren’t going to follow the rigorous routine above. So I suggest that they at least use a cream conditioner on their leather twice a year. However, if I see a fireplace or lots of direct sunlight in the home, I will urge they do the 4x conditioning a year. Dry heat will dry out leather if not treated. The final common suggestion I offer for conditioning applies to pull-up leather furniture. Pull-up leather has been “stuffed” with wax. After a few years, that wax comes off the seats and arms of the furniture. In that case, I suggest they get a thicker wax-paste conditioner and wax the leather almost like you would wax your car. Then I suggest waving a warm hair dryer over the wax to set it into the leather.
  • Unexpected household items can damage your leather furniture – I get calls each week from customers who just noticed a big discolored spot on their leather sofa. Once we trace it back, we discover it often is caused by a normal household chemical that they never guessed could take the color out of the leather. Here are several culprits I get all the time: Instant hand sanitzer, Dog flea and tick medicine, skin creams, hair gel or ointment, Windex, wood furniture polish, nail polish remover, and hot surfaces such as mugs or hot plates. All these items can easily remove finish from even a good quality leather furniture.

NLS_Touching_up_edges

Dealing with damaged leather furniture

  • What damages can be repaired – If you are planning to keep your new leather furniture for decades, it is inevitable that something may go wrong. No matter the damage, re-upholstery is always a possibility. The challenge with upholstery is to find a color and grain pattern that match. The cost of upholstery can be prohibitive, so it’s important to check if it can be repaired before spending too much money. My expertise is in leather repair, so I’m familiar with type of damages that can be repaired: Scratches, cat scratches, dog scratching, transit scuffs, stains of all types, discoloration, punctures, small tears usually less than 2”, sun fading, normal wear and tear, ink stains and surface cracking. I’ve seen them all, and a good leather pro in your area can repair them so they are almost like new.
  • An easy DIY cut repair video – My claim to fame on YouTube is a video I made late one night that teaches you how to fix a simple straight cut in your leather furniture. Watch the video here.

full size half done

Save money by hiring a leather repair pro

As a leather repair pro I have to make a pitch for our trade. So, here are a few ways you can hire a good leather pro to solve leather problems and save you some money:

        • Restoration is a great, green alternative to replacing 5-10 year old leather furniture. The frame, the cushions and even the leather itself are often in great shape. Only the leather surface needs cleaned and spruced up for a leather set to have decades more use in int. This usually costs 20% of replacement.
        • Restoration is a often a great alternative to reupholstery- For the more minor damages I described above, restoration is a cost effective alternative to reupholstery. I know many upholsters and they do great work, but will readily admit it can cost just as much as replacement. Restoration is less and can often be done in one day in your home.
        • Check around online or in your local classified ads and buy a gently used but quality leather sofa. A good pro can restore it for you for 20% of the cost of new.
        • Color change is an option for those who still like their leather furniture style but could update the color scheme in a room. This usually costs about half the price of a replacement set.

So that’s it, a small slice of my best stuff to help you choose and care for your leather furniture for a lifetime. I’ll admit leather furniture that lasts a lifetime is not the norm these days. I’ve seen some leather 10, 5, heck even 2 years old that is a mess already. I hope my experience and advice will help you be the exception!   There’s nothing like having a still beautiful leather sofa that’s 20 years old and has served you through decades of life memories.


Chris Repp is a second-generation leather restoration professional and the creator of LeatherHelp.com. You can sign up for his newsletter here. Follow him on Twitter and YouTube.

Leather 101: The Different Types of Leather

Leatherworking has been around for as long as man has been eating meat. It’s an old craft with lots of tradition and terminology. This makes learning about the leather craft a whole lot of fun, but it can also make it confusing for consumers. When buying leather products, you want to make sure you know what you’re paying for. This often means wading through the marketing and learning some of the common terminology when it comes to different types of leather.

About Cowhide

A cow, if you’ve never happened to see one, is a pretty big animal, so it has thick skin, and a lot of it. A whole cowhide is quite thick, and generally too thick to be useful for everyday leather products. So it’s usually cut down to be thinner and more useful for different purposes. (You can learn more about this from our last Leather 101 topic: Measuring the Thickness of Leather).

Cowhide is made of two main integrated layers – the corium and the grain. Collagen fibers in the corium are thinner and more flexible, and become tighter and thicker as they move up toward the grain, where the fibers are tightly packed and very sturdy. The corium becomes thicker with age, which is why calfskins are thinner, smoother and softer than the hides of older animals.

Types of Leather Grains

The top part of the grain faces outward toward the hair, and can contain blemishes like insect bites, stretch marks, scars, and brands. This means that the very top part of the grain is often buffed off to make the leather look more uniform.

Types of Leather

  • Top grain
  • Full grain
  • Split leather
  • Bonded leather

When the leather is corrected in any way, it is called top grain. Leather with the entire grain intact is called full grain. Full grain leather, even though it may have blemishes, is more expensive and more sought-after than top grain leather because of its durability and longevity. Both full grain and top grain leathers are referred to as grain leather.

Among grain leathers there are three general categories: aniline, semi-aniline, and protected. Analine leathers (like Horween’s Chromexcel) are processed using soluble dyes to maintain their natural markings and texture, and do not have a surface pigment or coating. This makes them the most natural-looking leathers, but also more susceptible to scratching, fading and staining.  Semi-analine leathers (like most bridle leathers) are treated with pigments and thus conceal more blemishes and have a more uniform coating, as well as staying more protected. Protected leathers have a non-leather coating sprayed or attached to the leather as a protectant.

The bottom part of the leather, the part that is split off from the grain at the grain/corium junction, goes by many different names, and it can get really, really confusing. Many people refer to this bottom layer of leather as “genuine leather”, however, the term isn’t used consistently and is also used to mean real leather as opposed to manmade faux leathers. More terms you may see: split leather, corrected leather, embossed leather, coated leather, Suede, Napa leather (again, not a consistently used term), painted leather, and more. For our purposes, we’re going to refer to it as split leather.

Split leather can then be sliced down even thinner and used for other purposes. Often a polymer coating is applied and embossed to mimic a grain leather; however these leathers are not nearly as strong or durable. This is sometimes referred to as a finished split.

Another use for split leather is suede, which has been textured to have a napped finish. Suede is often confused with nubuck, which is a grain leather that is textured to have a similar nap finish. The difference is that nubuck is much stronger and more durable than suede, though suede’s softness and pliability make it useful for certain applications.

Bonded leather is the lowest grade of leather, because it is not really leather – just shredded leather scraps and bits reconstituted with a filler and backed with an embossed polyurethane coating. It’s very cheap, but falls apart quickly. Bonded leather is found in low-end furniture and accessories, and sometimes book binding. You may also see this referred to as reconstituted or blended leather.

An old Bible with a bonded leather cover

How to Spot Fake Leather

There are several ways to spot a grain leather mimic, where split or bonded leather is embossed to look like more durable grain leather. If the leather in question has a very uniform or monotonous pattern, it may be evidence of embossing. Artificial leather also doesn’t have a pullup effect, which is a slight color variation when grain leather is bent or folded. Painted or polyurethane layers are non porous and thus do not effectively absorb leather conditioners.

Again, a word of warning to consumers: many of these terms are not used consistently, and you can get confused easily. The most common mistake I’ve run into is the use of the term “genuine leather”. Genuine leather is most frequently used to describe low quality split leather, but to be honest, it’s a dumb word, because many people (including myself) have made the very easy mistake of assuming that the word “genuine” means the opposite of “fake.” So I’ve seen lots of leather shops use the term “genuine” in their product descriptions, in an attempt to convey the fact that they are not using faux leather. But that term just ends up scaring people off, even if they have a solid product made with decent leather.

Go out there with your newfound knowledge, but be aware that sneaky marketing terms, old-fashioned lingo, and honest mix-ups can make things difficult. So don’t be afraid to ask questions!

A Comprehensive List of American-Made Footwear

There are many reasons to buy American-made – from creating jobs to reducing your carbon footprint to enjoying safer, higher-quality products. We’ve compiled a list of footwear brands that are manufactured right here in the US of A. Several of the companies below do not manufacture their entire product lines in the U.S., but we’ve linked to their American-made lines.

Made in America Cover

Alden – Men’s dress and casual shoes made in Middleborough, Massachusetts.

Allen Edmonds – Men’s dress and casual shoes made in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

Anbu Safety  – one professional leather safety shoes manufacturer and supplier, mainly produce leather work shoes and work boots.

Aurora Shoe Company – Men’s and women’s casual shoes made in Aurora, New York.

Bates Footwear – Men’s and women’s military and uniform shoes and boots. Select styles made in Big Rapids, Michigan.

Beck – Men’s and women’s cowboy and work boots. Made in Amarillo, Texas.

Belleville Boot – Men’s and women’s military and law enforcement boots and shoes. Made in Arkansas.

Broken Homme – Men’s casual boots and shoes, made in Los Angeles, California.

Brooklyn Boot Company – Men’s casual boots and shoes, made in Martinsburg, Pennsylvania.

Chippewa – Men’s and women’s casual and work boots, made in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.

Cobra Rock – Men’s and women’s casual boots, made in Marfa, Texas.

Cord Boots & Shoes – Men’s and women’s shoes and boots made in Atlanta, Georgia.

Cordoba – Men’s and women’s sandals handmade in Lebanon, Ohio.

Crary Shoes – Men’s and women’s boots and shoes, custom made in Portland. Oregon.

Danner – Men’s and women’s work and outdoor boots, made in Portland, Oregon.

Double H Boots – Men’s and women’s western boots. Select styles made in Martinsburg, PA.

Eastland – Men’s and women’s casual boots and shoe, made in Freeport, Maine.

Frye – Men’s and women’s casual boots and shoes, made in Marlboro, Massachusetts.

G.H. Bass – Men’s and women’s casual and dress shoes, made in Wilton, Maine.

Helm – Men’s and women’s casual boots, made in Maine and Arkansas.

Johansen – Men’s and women’s casual and dress shoes made in Gretna, Virginia.

Johnston & Murphy – Men’s and women’s dress and casual shoes. Select models made in Nashville, Tennessee.

Justin Boots – Men’s and women’s western boots. Select styles made in Spanish Fort, Texas.

Julian Boots – Men’s casual boots, made in Los Angeles, California.

Keen – Men’s and women’s work, casual, and outdoor shoes. Select styles made in Portland, Oregon.

LL Bean – Men’s and women’s casual and outdoor boots and shoes. Select boot models made in Freeport, Maine.

Luchesse – Men’s and women’s western boots, made in El Paso, Texas.

Hoffman’s – Men’s work boots made in Kellogg, Idaho.

Mara and Mine – Men’s and women’s casual shoes, made in California.

Munro – Women’s casual shoes and sandals made in Clarksville, Arkansas.

New England Outerwear Company – Men’s and women’s casual boots and shoes made in Rockport, Massachusetts.

Nicks Boots – Men’s work and casual boots manufactured and custom made in Spokane, Washington.

Oakstreet Bootmakers – Men’s casual boots and shoes made in Chicago, Illinois.

Onex Shoes – Women’s casual shoes made in Southern California.

PS Kaufman – Men’s and women’s casual boots and shoes, made in Los Angeles, California.

Ranch Road – Men’s and women’s western and casual boots. Select styles made in Texas.

Rancourt & Co. – Men’s and women’s casual boots and shoes made in Lewiston, Maine.

Red Wing – Men’s work and casual boots and shoes, made in Red Wing, Minnesota.

Rider Boots – Men’s casual and dress shoes and boots, made in Richmond, Virginia.

Rios of Mercedes – Western boots made in Mercedes, Texas.

Russell Moccasin – Men’s casual and outdoor boots and shoes, made in Berlin, Wisconsin.

San Antonio Shoes – Men’s and women’s work and casual shoes made in San Antonio, Texas.

Sbicca – Women’s casual boots and shoes, made in Los Angeles, California.

Schnee’s – Men’s outdoor boots made in Bozeman, Montana.

Sofft – Women’s casual boots and shoes, made in Pennsylvania.

The Brothers Crisp – Men’s casual boots and shoes, made in Hartford, Connecticut.

Thorogood – Also known as Weinbrenner Shoe Company. Men’s work and casual boots. Made in Merill, Wisconsin

Tony Lama – Men’s and women’s western boots. Select styles made in Texas.

Truman Boot Co. – Men’s casual boots made in Northeast Pennsylvania.

Walkover – Men’s and women’s casual boots and shoes, made in Pennsylvania.

Wesco – Men’s and women’s work and casual boots, manufactured and custom made in Scappoose, Oregon.

White’s Boots – Men’s work and casual boots, made in Spokane, Washington.

Wolverine – Men’s and women’s work and casual boots, made in Big Rapids, Michigan.

Yuketen – Men’s dress and casual boots and shoes. Select styles made in Los Angeles, California.

Zuriick – Men’s casual boots made in Spokane, Washington.

*Did we miss someone? Please contact us or leave a comment below and let us know. 

Measuring the Thickness of Leather

In our reviews, we often talk about the thickness of leather. The thickness of a piece of leather affects its durability and flexibility, meaning it’s important for the informed consumer to have a general idea of leather thickness is and what types of products each range is used for. There are several ways to measure the thickness of leather, which we will explain below.

The Ounce
We most frequently refer to the thickness of leather in terms of “ounces.” This can be confusing because the term actually refers to a linear measurement as opposed to weight. In the leather industry, an ounce is 1/64 of an inch. So, if you have a piece of leather that is 8 ounces, it’s 8/64 of an inch. An easy reference point is to remember that a U.S. quarter is 4 ounces in thickness.

Hides can be through a splitting machine that can skive a piece of leather down to the desired measurement. But each animal is different and a hide can vary in thickness, so most of the time you’ll see each measurement presented as a range, such as 6-7 oz. The image below, from the Tandy Leather Buying Guide, shows a conversion chart between ounces, irons, inches, and millimeters, as well as a visual representation of the measurement.

The Iron
The Iron is an old, but still occasionally used standard for measuring the thickness of leather. It is most often seen in shoe manufacturing, especially in the UK, although the millimeter is a much more common measurement now. There are 48 irons in an inch, so each iron is a little larger than an ounce.

 

 

What are different thicknesses used for?

Shoes
An average leather outsole on a shoe is around 12oz (9 irons) thick. A leather insole is typically around 14oz in thickness to accommodate the welt. A shoe upper is around 5oz on a typical dress/business shoe, and the lining is about 1oz.

Of course, these thicknesses often vary with the type of shoe, type of welt, and type of leather used. Italian dress shoes are usually sleeker and thus use thinner leather in the soles and uppers. Blake stitched or bonded soles don’t require a thick insole like Goodyear welted shoes.

Bags
Bags are generally crafted from medium weight leather, and can be anywhere from 3-7 ounces, depending the desired weight and durability. Many bags are lined with pigskin or another thin layer of leather, which usually measures in at around 2 ounces.

Belts 
The standard weight for a sturdy men’s belt is 7-8 ounces.

Wallets and Accessories
Most wallets, notebook covers, and billfolds are made with leather that is 2-4 oz. Heavy accessories like knife sheaths, hard sided cases, and holsters are in the 7-9 oz range.

All About Saddle Stitching

We love to talk about the superiority of hand-stitched leather products, but why exactly is this the case? Often times, machines can run circles around humans when it comes to speed and precision. But with many aspects of leather crafting, this just isn’t the case.

Illustration by Waskerd

Machine Stitching

When a sewing machine is used to stitch two pieces of leather together,  that line of stitching uses two separate pieces of thread that twist around each other in what is known as a “locking stitch.” If any piece of the thread snaps on a locked stitch, the entire thread can unravel, ruining the seam and compromising the strength of the product.

Saddle Stitching

A hand-sewn saddle-stitched line uses a single thread with needles on each end. The thread is pulled back and forth on either side of the leather in what is called a “running stitch.” This gives the seam extra strength and longevity. Often, the two pieces of leather are placed together then grooved or punched through in order to keep the stitch aligned and embedded in the leather for more durability.

Check out the video below for a visual example of saddle stitching.

If the thread breaks on a saddle-stitched piece, the thread won’t unravel because the other side holds the seam together. This technique has been around for centuries, and takes a lot of time and practice to perfect. The saddle-stitch is most commonly used on edges and can only be done by hand due to the complex nature of the stitch. Yet another reason it makes sense to pay a premium for hand-crafted products made by artisans who care deeply about their work.

 

Hermann Oak Leather Company – About the Harness Line of Leather

The Hermann Oak Leather Company provided BestLeather.org with the opportunity of reviewing a few different lines of their leather.  We’ve reported on their Latigo line of leather as well as their English Bridle line of leather in previous articles.  The purpose in reviewing some of their different leathers was to showcase and highlight the advantages and uses of each line and where their greatest strengths lie.

As with all of Hermann Oak’s leather, their Harness line is top notch for its category.  It is tanned used decades old methods by one of the oldest tanneries in the United States.  It is used by leather shops throughout the United States and beyond.  Possibly the greatest attribute of Hermann Oak’s Harness leather is its weather resistance.  More on that below.

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About Hermann Oak

The Hermann Oak Leather Company was established in 1881 in order to handle the local harness trade and to supply the wagon trains of settlers traveling west along the Lewis and Clark trails.  As the company grew, they began to supply the US military with various leather needs for both World Wars, and also began to establish a reputation for producing some of the finest vegetable tanned leathers available.  Hermann Oak has become renowned for supplying world class vegetable tanned leather for not just the equine industry, but for consumer goods as well.  Their experience has resulted in the creating of a line of leathers that is prized by craftsman the world over.

A visit to my local Tandy Leather store testifies to this.  A conversation with one of their employees led to her describing how Hermann Oak’s leather was far superior to the other brands they carried.  Her particular skill was leather carving and she described how carving with Hermann Oak leather was like carving into butter.  She was a raving fan. Gfeller Casemakers in Meridian, Idaho uses only Hermann Oak leather for different purposes, but for the same reasons: it’s the best.

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Benefits of Vegetable Tanned Leather

Vegetable tanned leather is the age old process of tanning leather using tree bark and other organic materials.  Vegetable tanning takes significantly longer (months versus days) to fully tan leather than the much more common Chrome tanning.  The result is a product that is stiffer, arguably more durable, acts more as an insulator, has the ability to be molded, has the ability to be burnished, and develops a patina.  To be sure, chrome tanned leather has its place in the leather world and has some advantages (lower cost, more pliable, faster tanning times), but vegetable tanned leather is the veritable cream that rises to the top.

Oil Content

In discussing the differences of Hermann Oak’s Latigo, English Bridle, and Harness leathers, the main difference between the three is oil content.  English Bridle has the least amount of oil.  This is evident when working with the leather as it has a slightly drier feel.  It also needs treatment to make it more weather resistant.  Their Latigo line has slightly more oil, which once again is evident in the working of the leather.  The reason for the differing oil content is simply purpose.  Latigo was traditionally used as strap leather (i.e. strapping the saddle to the horse) and therefore needed to be slightly more weather resistant than English Bridle, which is obviously traditionally used in bridle making.

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Harness leather is unique in that it is meant to be the most weather resistant because traditionally Harness came into closer proximity to horse sweat.  As such, it is stuffed with additional waxes and tallows that imbue the leather with its weather resistant property.  The result is a leather that is a little heavier, but which also has a slightly softer feel on the exterior.  Of the three types of leather that Hermann Oak provided BestLeather, Harness was my favorite to work with.  I loved the sturdiness of the leather and the more supple feel.  I also found the Harness leather was also easier to cut than the other two.

I used the Harness leather in combination with Hermann Oak’s English Bridle leather to make a briefcase.  The harness leather in particular was used for the two side panels and for the handle strap.  The contrasting colors provided some visual appeal to the bag, but the contrasting leathers also added a different feel.  The Harness leather is very stiff, especially at the twelve to fourteen ounce weight of the leather, but it was workable and the finish looked great.  The handle was made by sewing two strips of leather together, which resulted in a rock hard handle.

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BestLeather Conclusion

The simple fact that Hermann Oak has been tanning leather since 1881 and has a very loyal following among leather craftsman across the United States and beyond is a testament to the high quality of their leather.  Our personal experience with their leather was one of enjoyment and appreciation for a high quality product.  The items we made were admired by family and friends who loved the stout nature, but soft feel of the leather.  The Harness leather in particular was a joy to cut, bend and piece together.  Hermann Oak’s Harness leather is an excellent choice for a wide range of leather projects.

Dave Munson from Saddleback Leather on How to Tan Leather Correctly

Dave Munson from Saddleback Leather recently put out a new video on leather tanning and how to avoid purchasing bad leather. The 13 minute video is informative and sports the same “tongue in cheek” spirit of Saddleback’s “How to Knock Off a Bag” video. This new video shows how some people cut corners and use cheaper quality leather (while at the same time conveying Saddleback’s dedication to using high quality leather).

Be forewarned, it is a little gross in a few spots. But, it is truly informative and education. It contains some similar information to the video we discussed a couple of weeks ago from the United States Hide, Skin, and Leather Association.

Here’s some details from the video description itself:

“Education is the best defense against low quality and that’s why I want to show you how high quality leather is made. This is a behind the scenes, step by step, explanation of how the professionals tan leather, and how they tan it right. There are a lot of steps, that if not correctly followed, will produce low quality and even dangerous carcinogenic leather. Hope you enjoy. Note: the tannery just let me know that it is not accurate to infer that hot dogs are made from this meat, but rather dog type foods after a great refining process. And the fats are not used in the raw for a chaffing lubricant between the legs or for a healing balm. And, they mentioned that there are a number of reasons why Chromium III could turn into cancerous Chromium VI and that it is a culmination of things rather than just that process. This is very rare and not a concern.”

So, without further words on this page…”here’s Dave”! (Yes, that’s my lame attempt at referencing Ed McMahon’s intro to the old Johnny Carson Show and dangit, I just really made myself feel old there).

Now that you’ve watched the video, be sure to visit the Saddleback Leather Company website and check out all of the great leather products they have there. We’re sure you’ll find something you like there!

About the Hermann Oak English Bridle Line of Leather

The Hermann Oak Leather Company is one of the premier commercial tanneries remaining in the United States.  Established in 1881 by Louis Charles Hermann to provide harness leather to wagon trains and settlers traveling west, Hermann Oak has maintained a tradition of producing high quality vegetable tanned leather.  Businesses tend to flourish when a high quality product is provided at a fair price and Hermann Oak is no exception.  As the company grew, Fred Hermann Sr. contracted with the US military to provide leather for our soldiers in both world wars.  The company segued into more consumer based products after World War II with the help of Fred Jr. and Hermann Oak today is captained by Shep Hermann, who is one of the most gracious business men I have had the opportunity of speaking to.

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Shep gladly provided several hides for Best Leather to review and work with.  We posted our first review on their Sierra Latigo line of leather several months ago, and in this review, we’ll look at their English Bridle line of leather.  We will also be looking at their Harness leather in a future review.

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VEGETABLE TANNED PERFECTION

Hermann Oak specializes in vegetable tanned leather.  With the vast majority of leather being chrome tanned, vegetable tanning is almost becoming a lost art form.  Hermann Oak is keeping this tradition of tanning leather using tree barks and other natural ingredients alive and well.  The benefits of a vegetable tanned hide are many and varied.  Vegetable tanned leather takes a patina, whereas chrome tanned leather does not.  Patina is what gives high quality leather its distinctive look and what makes a bag or wallet look better with age.

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Another significant benefit in our more environmentally conscious world is that vegetable tanning is significantly more eco friendly than chrome tanning, and it also results in a product that is moldable, than you can carve and make beautiful patterns in, and that has a slightly stiffer hand.  Vegetable tanned leather also absorbs moisture better which allows the dye color to more fully saturate the leather and form a tighter chemical bond.  Chrome tanned leather is essentially painted or pigmented with color, resulting in a product that has less color saturation.

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For this review, we took the English Bridle hide that Hermann Oak sent us and crafted a large bag (approximately 16″ Wide by 12″ High by 8″ Deep) to show some of the properties and beauties of this leather.  The leather provided was thick, approximately 9 ounces so, and was a pleasure to work with.  Vegetable tanned leather is stiffer than chrome tanned leather, but I found this a benefit when working on this bag.  Adding a slight burnish to some of the edges was a breeze and punching holes by hand and weaving the waxed polyester thread through them was a snap with the firm leather.

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The chestnut color that Hermann Oak uses is beautiful as well.  It has an earthy tone and marries well with the natural brown color on exposed edges of the leather.  You can also get Hermann Oak’s English Bridle leather in black, British brown or havana.  Most of Hermann Oak’s leathers are not struck through, meaning that the dyes are not impregnated to the middle of the leather.  This can be an issue to some consumer good producers, but many bag makers will hand dye or hand paint the edges of the leather to give it a more finished look.  This is a small tradeoff for using a thicker, finer, and more substantial leather that is bound to outlast most people.  I found that this step was unnecessary with the chestnut color for our project, especially when you burnish the edges, with the finished product looking handsome.

ENGLISH BRIDLE

English Bridle leather has a characteristic smooth finish with a hint of a waxy feel.  As the name implies, the leather was originally made for horse bridles and as a result, did not need to contain a significant amount of wax to perform effectively.  Unlike harness leather, which is impregnated with more wax to better withstand the elements, English Bridle has slightly less wax, which still helps it to be weather resistant, but is a little drier.  Their Latigo line is slightly drier still, which is characteristic of Latigo in general.

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The underside of the English Bridle hide is also quite smooth, not nearly as much as the finished outer side of course, but smooth enough that I felt adding a liner to the bag was not necessary.  Unlike certain leathers that fray or have a lot of loose fibers on the underside, this is not the case with Hermann Oaks English Bridle, which made for a nice finish on the interior of this bag.

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SUPPLY

You can order directly through Hermann Oak if you have a large enough order (typically five sides or more), or for smaller orders you can order through one of their distributors, such as Weaver Leather or Tandy.  Their customer service is excellent and they have a high knowledge of their leather and the leather industry in general.  Shep Hermann himself leads the effort of being leathercated, and takes pride in knowing and understanding the history of leather, being current on new technologies and practices, but still maintaining the art and craft of days gone by.

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BESTLEATHER CONCLUSTION

The Hermann Oak Leather Company produces some of the finest vegetable tanned leather in the world.  Period.  Their English Bridle line of leather is smooth, has a slight waxy finish to it, is substantial in feel and is excellent to work with.  And it is beautiful to boot.  A bag was produced from their English Bridle leather that will outlast the bag’s craftsman, but that hopefully his sons will use on many adventures of their own.  If you are in the market for some exceptional veg tanned leather, look no further than Hermann Oak.

United States Hide, Skin, and Leather Association

At BestLeather we’re always researching and attempting to learn more about leather, leather crafting, and everything associated with the industry. Recently we stumbled upon the website for the United States Hide, Skin, and Leather Association.

The USHSLA is an interesting entity combined of a variety of companies. The video below is a little long (about 15 minutes), but it’s full of interesting, relevant information. It contains a lot of great information about the entire process of creating high quality leather.

*Warning – there are a few clips in the video showing beef carcasses being processed. While we all understand where leather comes from, some may be uncomfortable viewing those clips.

It’s a helpful video to better understand just what is involved in the leather hides that you select from Horween, Wickett & Craig, Seidel, Hermann Oak, S.B. Foot, etc. It’s quite a process and an important part of the process that yields the beautiful leather bags, footwear, jackets, and other products that all of us find beneficial and enjoy.

Hermann Oak Leather Company – About The Sierra Latigo Line of Leather

The Hermann Oak Leather Company was established in 1881 in order to handle the local harness trade and to supply the wagon trains of settlers traveling west along the Lewis and Clark trails.  As the company grew, they began to supply the US military with various leather needs for both World Wars, and also began to establish a reputation for producing some of the finest vegetable tanned leathers available.  Hermann Oak has become renowned for supplying world class vegetable tanned leather for not just the equine industry, but for consumer goods as well.  To read more about Hermann Oak, you can read our previous article on them here.  Hermann Oak agreed to send BestLeather.org four of their premium hides for us to do articles on.  They sent us their Sierra Latigo, Harness and two English Bridle hides.  We decided that the best way to showcase and learn of their leather was to make something from each hide.  For this article, we will discuss what we made from their Sierra Latigo leather.

After unrolling the nearly nine foot long by three foot wide cowhide, we decided that Hermann Oak’s Latigo would be perfect for a messenger style bag.  Hermann Oak’s leather is known for it’s stiffness, which is a hallmark of quality vegetable tanned leather.  Another hallmark of vegetable tanned leather is durability.  I have seen a number of bags and consumer goods that are decades old, still look great, and that still have plenty of life in them.  Hermann Oak’s Latigo leather, and the bag we made from it, will surely outlast me and perhaps even my children.  The style of messenger bag that we chose is well suited for stiff and durable leather, as it holds its shape well.  The bag we made is approximately 16″ wide, by 12″ tall, by 6″ deep.  For this bag, we also decided to add front pockets, two exterior side pockets, one for each side, and two interior side pockets, again one for each side.

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WEIGHT

The Latigo that we were sent weighs in at seven to nine ounces.  This is thick leather, especially for a consumer good, but everybody that has felt and hefted the bag has loved it.  There is something strangely satisfying with a good that is slightly overbuilt.  You can also get Hermann Oak’s Latigo in five to seven ounces, or nine to eleven ounces. As mentioned, Hermann Oak is known for its vegetable tanning process.  Vegetable tanning is an age old process of tanning leather using natural tree barks and extracts, which involves multiple procedures, over a number of months.  The end product is typically a stiffer leather, that is significantly more durable than the more common chrome tanned leather.  Vegetable tanned leather will also patina over time, which simply means that the leather will absorb the oils from your skin and will darken and change color a bit as a result.  Vegetable tanned leather also tends to look even better when worn.  It is an excellent choice for consumer goods.

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COLOR

The Latigo’s color is a deep burgundy, which is a beautiful darker color.  Hermann Oak also sells their Latigo in a red, black, brown or yellow.  The yellow Latigo is a drier product, while the other colors are waxed and hot stuffed, which allows for a cleaner, smoother edge when cut.  The Latigo has a beautiful, lustrous appearance, without being “shiny”.  It looks good and feels very smooth to the touch.  We decided not to line the bag with any material because the “unfinished” side was smooth enough to not warrant a lining, but also because we like the look of the raw leather.

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DRUM DYING

The majority of Hermann Oak’s leathers are not “struck through”, where the leather is kept in dye drum’s long enough for the dyes to penetrate to the center of the leather.  This is a cost saving measure which Hermann Oak uses to keep its leather more affordable.  This does not affect the durability or performance of the leather, just the appearance.  The result is that the color on the exposed edges of the leather (a light brown) is different than the dyed color.  Many of the consumer goods companies that use this leather will either hand paint or hand dye the edges to produce a more uniform look.  For this particular bag, I did not mind the light brown appearance of the edges.  It seemed to give the bag a bit more character and contrast to the dark burgundy color.  In speaking with Shep Hermann, he indicated that they will do special orders where clients can specify that the dyes be struck through the leather with some additional cost.  If that is a requisite that you have for your leather goods, it certainly is something that Hermann Oak can do.

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BESTLEATHER CONCLUSION

Hermann Oak’s Sierra Latigo leather is a beautiful result of traditional tanning and craftsmanship.  It has a gorgeous finish, yet is stiff and extremely durable.  Although we are not expert leather craftsman at BestLeather.org, the bag that was made from Hermann Oak’s Latigo is handsome, mostly due to high quality vegetable tanned leather.  If you are a leather craftsman and have a need for high quality vegetable tanned leather for a variety of purposes, you will be extremely pleased with Hermann Oak leather.

See below for a quick snapshot from hide to bag.

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About The Hermann Oak Leather Company

The Hermann Oak Leather Company was founded in 1881 by Louis Charles Hermann to supply the settlers and wagon trains headed west.  The company grew over the years and became a supplier of leather for US soldiers in both World Wars, and countless artisans and craftsman since.

Since its inception, the company has been committed to producing the highest quality vegetable tanned leathers for a variety of purposes.  Today, the company is actively managed by Shep Hermann, one of the nicest guys you could talk to, who is committed to continuing the company’s traditional methods of tanning, but implementing new technologies and systems where appropriate.  When speaking to Shep about his company, it quickly became obvious that he has a passion for quality leather and continuing Hermann Oak’s storied traditions.  He is extremely knowledgeable and is happy to share that knowledge.

HIGH QUALITY FURNITURE

In my conversation with Shep, he likened vegetable tanned leather to high quality furniture.  When building furniture out of high quality wood, like mahogany or walnut, you do not paint the wood after building the furniture; you stain it.  Stain is comprised of smaller molecules that actually adhere to the wood.  The stain allows you to see and appreciate the fine grains and beautiful natural appearance of the underlying wood.

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Similarly, with vegetable tanned leather, the leather is tanned using an age old tanning process with organic tree barks.  The underlying tone of the leather is a rich natural brown, like wood, and this tanning process allows you to appreciate the underlying beauty of the leather.  This is especially true when using full grain leather, which Hermann Oak supplies.  Most leathers were vegetable tanned like this prior to 1900.  Hermann Oak’s vegetable tanned leather is then finished in the old fashioned way using analine dyes, oils, and waxes.  Like staining wood, this does not cover up the underlying color of the leather.

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Chrome tanned leather, on the other hand, has an underlying blue/gray appearance and is finished with pigments (which is basically paint).  These pigments are comprised of larger molecules that are basically glued to the leather.  This covers the leather, so that you cannot see what is underneath.  This process is similar to painting a pine cabinet. What is underneath is different than what you see on the outside.  Chrome tanned leather certainly has its place, like painted pine furniture does, but that place is not with high quality leather products.  Hermann Oak leather is more like a beautiful mahogany sideboard.  Even though the wood is highly finished, you still can see and appreciate the beautiful underlying wood grains.  Many of the leather goods we have reviewed in past articles are made from Hermann Oak leather, a testament to a high quality product.

ADVANTAGES OF VEGETABLE TANNED LEATHER

Shep pointed out a few other things that were interesting about their vegetable tanned leather:

1. Vegetable tanned leather has more body (firmness).  It is more rich and more rigid.  This is a result of the process of tanning leather with natural tree barks.  Chrome tanned leather is softer and much more pliable.

2. Hermann Oak’s vegetable tanned leather is always cool to the touch, because vegetable tanned leather is actually an insulator.  Conversely, chrome tanned leather is a conductor, and the leather is either hot or cold to the touch, depending on the environment.  Have you ever sat on your car’s leather seats on a summer day?  Ouch!

3. Vegetable tanned leather can also be rubbed smooth or burnished, whereas chrome tanned leather cannot.

4. Vegetable tanned leather is also mold-able and can be shaped to meet various needs, whereas chrome tanned leather cannot.

5. Hermann Oak’s vegetable tanned leather will accept oils from your hands and the result is that vegetable tanned leather patinas over time, giving the leather a beautiful, aged look.  Chrome tanned leather does not patina.

Hermann Oak sent BestLeather.org four of their premium hides, two of their English Bridle, one Sierra Latigo, and one Harness side.  These leathers are all similar in respects, but they also have a few differences that give them their distinguishing characteristics.

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OIL CONTENT

Possibly the biggest difference is the oil content in the different leathers.  English Bridle has the least amount of oil.  The Latigo has a middle amount of oil and is meant to secure a saddle onto a horse.  It is meant to be more sweat resistant than English Bridle.  The Harness Leather has the highest amount of beef tallows or oils.  This is meant for working harnesses for horses.  It is meant to be very resistant to horse sweat, rain, sun, snow, and the elements in general.  The English Bridle is the firmest, but Harness is pretty similar in firmness.  Latigo is the softest leather of the three.  The Latigo is most similar to what was produced 100 years ago by Hermann Oak.  English Bridle also has a higher degree of finish.  The Latigo and Harness are more of the working leathers and the English Bridle is meant to have a finer appearance.  The English Bridle has special waxes to give it a shine and finer appearance.

FUTURE BESTLEATHER ARTICLES

Best Leather will be posting separate articles on each of these four hides and will highlight some of these differences.  Stay tuned to learn more about Hermann Oak’s premium leathers.  In the meantime, take a video tour of their process and tannery.

Horween Leather Company – The Essex Line of Leather

Feature Image Horween Leather Essex1

The Horween Leather Company was established in 1905 in Chicago, Illinois by Master Tanner and founder Isadore Horween.  At the time, there were thousands of tanneries in the United States and at its peak, dozens in Chicago.  Isadore Horween felt that he could produce a better tanned hide based on his tanning experience, and soon the Horween name was known for its high quality leather.  Today, Horween is the only tannery in the Chicago area, and one of just a handful of commercial tanneries in the United States.

The tradition of excellence that Isadore established is still very palpable today for Horween’s current owners and management.  The commitment to quality craftsmanship and superior leather is still very much alive.  BestLeather has had the fortune of working with Horween on a number of past articles and we are fortunate to work with Horween on a series of upcoming articles.  Horween agreed to send to us three of their top selling leather hides for us to post articles on.  We were sent one hide each of their Essex, Chromexcel, and Latigo leathers.  These leathers are all somewhat different in application, appearance, and feel, but one common thread is that they are all beautiful leathers that are in high demand.  In fact, many of the goods we review at BestLeather are made with these and other types of leather from Horween.

For this article, we will take a look at the Essex leather that Horween sells.  The creation of Horween’s Essex leather was the brainchild of wanting to tan cowhide in the same manner as tanning Genuine Shell Cordovan (Cordovan being horsehide).  When Horween constructed this idea, they knew that the result would be extraordinary.  Extraordinary results normally take extraordinary work to accomplish, and this was the case for Essex.  It took Horween two to three years of trials and production runs, and according to their own works, they eventually “nailed it”.  Nailed it, they have.

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TANNING

Like Genuine Shell Cordovan, Essex is straight 100% vegetable tanned.  It similarly uses the same blend of liquors and extracts as the Cordovan.  The result is a leather that is smooth to the touch, that feels durable and strong, yet is supple enough for the most sophisticated bags and leather goods. The leather is also full grain, which means that it has not been altered in a way that weakens it’s fibers or structure.  It is the outermost leather of the hide, which is the strongest and most durable.  Another characteristic of Essex is its high oil content.  In making their Essex leather, Horween puts the hide through a fat liquoring process that enriches the leather with high quality oils, which, in turn, help give the leather not only long life, but the ability to age well, and look better and better over time.  The leather is also hand glazed and then given an aniline finish.

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ONE WORD – SUPPLE

For this project, we decided to make a simple messenger bag from the hide that Horween sent to us.  As amateur leather crafters, we knew that what we would make would not be to the high standards of goods we normally review, but we wanted to get a feel for the Essex leather and learn about it from the experience of working with it.  What we learned is that the leather is very supple, is gorgeous, and is easy to work with.  The hide we were sent weighs four to five ounces.  For some vegetable tanned leathers, that thickness would result in a leather that is fairly stiff and not very flexible.  The Essex, on the other hand, is very supple, even at that weight.  The process for creating the Essex leather is the reason for this result, with the oils and liquors used and the process for finishing each hide.

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If you desire stiffness in a thinner leather, the Essex would not be the best choice.  If you desire a leather that is a little thicker, but still very malleable and fine, then Essex is an excellent choice.  The messenger bag that we made for an example turned out beautifully, but in hindsight, we probably would have made a bag that does not require as much rigidity.  The design of this bag was fairly deep and needed to have some rigidity to hold up appropriately. The leather is supple enough that when you lay the bag on its bottom, it sags a bit.  We decided to put the handle on the very top of the flap, and when lifting the bag up, the flap sagged as well and the result was that the bag did not hold up very well with that type of handle.  It would have been better to put handles on the back of the bag.  Since the rivet holes were already punched, we ended up adding a thick piece of leather on the underside of the flap, then lined the underside of the flap with pigskin.  As a result, lifting the bag with the handle is now very secure.

LESSON LEARNED

The lesson learned is that Horween’s Essex leather is very supple, and the product design needs to take that into consideration.  This particular messenger bag could be made with Essex with excellent result, but in a thicker weight, probably eight or nine ounces, as opposed to the four to five.  We also could have lined the whole bag with a stiff pigskin lining, and that would have given it sufficient structure.  Better yet would have been to choose a design that marries well with supple leather and that accentuates it.  One company that does this well is Libero Ferrero.  They use the Essex Leather from Horween and the bags they craft are beautiful and designed extremely well.  We will be doing a follow-up article on the Essex leather and looking at one of Libero Ferrero’s bags in greater detail.

As discussed, Horween’s Essex leather is very supple, but that does not mean that it is not durable.  To the contrary, this leather is made to last for generations.  Vegetable tanned leather by nature is made more beautiful over time as it ages and patinas.  It stands up better to the elements than straight chrome tanned leather, and the thickness of this leather will stand up to years of use.

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COLOR AND FINISH

The Essex hide sent to us is what Horween calls their Dark Cognac color.  I tend to love slightly darker brown colors on leather and it was not a surprise that I loved this color.  It is a dark brown and in the right light has a small hint of red.  The Essex has a high oil content which yields a finish that has a little bit of sheen to it, but not too much.  The underside of the hide is a light brown color, but it is also finished beautifully, so we felt it not necessary initially to line the messenger bag.  Another thing you get with Horween leathers are hides where the color is struck through.  This is not very common with most tanneries because it takes longer in the large drum dyers and requires more dye to accomplish, which makes it more expensive.  The result though is that the center of the hide is not blue or a really light tan.  It is the same color as the entire hide, through and through.

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BESTLEATHER CONCLUSION

The Horween Leather Company produces some of the finest leathers in the world, that are renowned for their quality, beauty, and durability.  Their Essex line of leather is a very beautiful, supple leather that has a wide range of uses.  Whether you are making wallets, duffel bags, purses, handbags, or any other consumer good made from Essex or buying said goods, Horween’s Essex is a fantastic choice.

Below is a sequence of pictures from the hide we received from Horween to completion of a simple messenger bag.

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All About The Types Of Leather Use In Shoes – Type, Thickness, And Grains

Unlike other objects made of leather, like furniture, coats, purses and so on, the majority of shoe leather is stretched over a last (a wooden or plastic form in the general shape of a foot) to create the shoe upper. To do this the leather has to be within a certain range of thickness. And, certain types of leather define the type and quality of the shoe. Lets dig into what leathers are ideal for shoes.

Types of Leather Used in Shoes

One of the most preferred leathers for dress/business shoes is calfskin. Because calfskin comes from a calf it has a tighter grain and fiber, and is thinner and lighter than cow hide; this makes for better shoe leather. Other types of animal leather include:

  • Kidskin (from goat)
  • Pigskin/Peccary (from pig)
  • Cordovan Shell (from horse)
  • Bovine leather (cow hide / calfskin)

Those are the most common types of animal leather used in shoes.

Types of Animal Leather Used in Shoes

but you also have more exotics leathers such as the following:

  • Buffalo
  • Elephant
  • Kangaroo
  • Ostrich
  • Alligator
  • Crocodile
  • Lizard
  • Snake

Reptile skins tend to last longer and need less care than animal leathers, but they are also more expensive.

Where is Leather Used in Shoes?

A high quality, all leather, shoe uses leather in the following places:

  • The outsole of the shoe (the part that touches the ground)
  • The insole of the shoe (the part your foot rests on)
  • The lining of the shoe (between your foot and the upper)
  • The heel of the shoe (as in stacked layers of leather to create the heel)
  • The shoe upper (the rest of the shoe, excluding the items above)

Wolverine 1000 mile courtland boots1

Leather Thickness

Shoes that are not all leather may have rubber soles, insoles made of various materials, and heels made of wood, rubber or plastic. I would suggest going with all leather if you can, with the exception of perhaps rubber soles – if you need to stand in cold wet environments. Leather thicknesses is measured in ounces of weight to thickness in fractions of an inch:

  • 1oz = 1/64
  • 2oz = 1/32
  • 3oz = 3/62
  • 4oz = 1/16
  • 5oz = 5/64
  • 6oz = 3/32
  • 7oz = 7/64
  • 8oz = 1/8
  • 9oz = 9/64
  • 10oz = 5/32
  • 11oz = 11/64
  • 12oz = 3/16
  • 13oz = 13/64
  • 14oz = 7/32

wicket & Craig Leather1

A leather outsole on a man’s shoe is around 12oz in thickness on average. A leather insole is typically around 14oz in thickness to accommodate the welt. A shoe upper is around 5oz on a typical dress/business shoe, The lining is about 1oz.

All of these thicknesses can vary due to leather type, welt method, and shoe style. For example Italian shoes tend to be sleeker and therefore use thinner leather in the soles and uppers to achieve the look. Soles that are Blake stitched or bond welted don’t require as thick an insole as Goodyear welted shoes.

The quality of the leather used in a given line of shoes is determined by the grade of leather the shoe manufacturer purchased to make the shoes. The leather on a shoe upper is typically grain side out leather, but shell cordovan has no grain, waxed leather is used inside out (flesh side out), and suede leather has had the grain removed entirely. Leather that has blemishes in the grain are often buffed (sanded) of the grain side to remove the blemishes, which then requires the grain to be corrected.

About Corrected Grain Leather

Corrected grain leather is sometimes referred to as bookbinder leather. If the grain has not been corrected it is referred to as full grain. One of the final stages of tanning leather is applying the color and finish (although chromium tanned leather can be bought in the “wet blue” state” it comes out of the tanning process in). The high quality leather is typically aniline dyed, which saturates the color completely through the leather. The leather won’t have a coated feel to it. The leather is also pressed under high pressure to give it some shine, and a very thin coat of clear or colored acrylic is applied as a final finish, in most cases.

Some shoe manufacturers may also add an additional clear or colored finish coat. In the case of corrected grain, the pressing and acrylic finish is also where the corrected grain is applied. Because of this, corrected grain leather will have a thicker finish than non-corrected grain, and may also be a little shinier. Corrected grain finishes can range from a simple smooth surface to faux animal skin and pebble grain. Corrected grain leather is typically lower grade leather, simply because the grain and aniline dye would be covered up if done to a higher quality leather. And, the thicker the finish the poorer the leather quality can be. There are exceptions to this rule of course; for example: some pebble grain shoes/boots can be made of good quality leather, but it is hard to tell because of what the finish covers up.

The best way to tell if a shoe is made of corrected grain leather (actually, leather that has a corrected finish on the grain) is to flex the shoe. The finer the creases the more finish on the shoe (the greater the correction). Shoes come in all types and qualities of leather, so it helps to have an idea of what you are really buying. Another of the biggest indicators you can use for determining if a shoe uses corrected grain is price. Quality costs good money. Yet another way is to look at the shininess since corrected grain leather has a much thicker layer of acrylic.

Hopefully this article will give you some things to consider when you are you are looking to buy a shoe.

This is a guest post from Glen Tippets, the owner of the shoe care company, GlenKaren Care Products. You can learn more about his naturally made products at glenkarencare.com.

Ashland Leather’s Chromexcel Scratch Removal Guide

Chromexcel leather will scratch, scuff, and dent easily, which leads to a beautiful refined ruggedness. It’s all part of the life of leather. These scratches quickly develop a wallet into one that might be a lot like your grandfather’s– loved and used for many years. Scuffs will eventually smooth out through normal use, but we can definitely speed up the process with this method.

To make our point, we took a used Natural Chromexcel Tony the Ant, and gouged it with a fingernail. The result is a pretty obvious surface scratch. Continue reading “Ashland Leather’s Chromexcel Scratch Removal Guide”

Buying Cheap: How It Costs You More When You Could Have High Quality And Durability

There is a famous quote by Mahatma Ghandi

“Its a tragedy of the first magnitude that millions of people have ceased to use their hands as hands. Nature has bestowed upon us this great gift which is our hands. If the craze for machinery methods continues, it is highly likely that a time will come when we shall be so incapacitated and weak that we shall begin to curse ourselves for having forgotten the use of the living machines given to us by God.”

– Mahatma Ghandi

Continue reading “Buying Cheap: How It Costs You More When You Could Have High Quality And Durability”

Buy It For Life – Part Seven: 6 Rational Reasons to Buy An Expensive Leather Bag Instead Of An Inexpensive Bag

The thought of putting hundreds of dollars into a simple bag that will carry your goods is often understandably troubling. After all, why spend hundreds of dollars when you can just spend fifty to do the same thing? However, you should know these facts as you go about making a decision on how much to spend.

Personally, I have not seen another industry that more truly reflects the cliche “you get what you pay for” than the leather industry. Competition is so fierce that any attempts to raise prices dramatically over market rates will quickly result in bankruptcy.

longevity through durability

Because of the high quality components on a good bag you won’t have to buy another one again, until you want to.

There are leather organ bellows that are 40-60 years old that still work perfectly because they have been well maintained. The Swiss Army used leather bags in their pack trains and examples can be found in excellent condition over 100 years old. Is someone going to be carrying your bag in 100 years?

CLC-BC-MD-DCB-PS-SLC01Br1C-1900
Saddleback Leather

classiness

For example; take a close look at a Basader bag vs a Cole Hann bag. Is there any comparison?

That Basader bag’s leather is thicker, the thread is better, the hardware is far superiour, the engineering is more robust, and you get to work with a small personal company. Philip & Elin are great. Their bag is going to last MUCH longer.

handmade-classic-messenger-bag-with-gusset
Basader

patina

Time and use will destroy a cheap bag but a quality leather bag will keep on trucking. It is only going to look better with time.

dsc_0080_edit_grande
Kenton Sorenson

Pass your lifetime bag on to your children.

Instead of a garbage pit.

IMG_9523
Thrux Lawrence

Why have a bunch of cheap bags over your lifetime when you can have one far superior bag that you will greatly enjoy?

Use your leather bag every day and you will develop a working relationship with your leather bag that you would never have with a cheap bag. You trust it. It serves you well through the decades. It is your trusty leather bag.

colorado-pullman-1
Skytop Trading

It makes strong financial sense.

How many cheap bags and backpacks have you purchased so far in life? How many will you purchase in the remainder of your life? What does the value of all those bags add up to? What’s the cost of a quality bag again? Doesn’t sound so crazy now does it?

vintage-messenger
Whipping Post

For example:

7 nylon landfill bags X $50 each = $350 = one quality leather bag

So, what are you waiting for?

read more in the “Buy It for Life” series

Buy It For Life – Part One: Durability

Buy It For Life – Part Two: Aesthetics

Buy It For Life – Part Three: Design

Buy It For Life – Part Four: Cost

Buy It For Life – Part Five: Cachet

Buy It For Life – Part Six: Buy For Life Every Time?

Buy It For Life – Part Seven: 6 Rational Reason to Buy An Expensive Leather Bag Instead Of An Inexpensive Bag

Buy It For Life – Part Eight: What You Should Find In A Long Lasting Leather Bag

Buy It For Life – Part Six: Buy For Life Every Time?

Should we demand high quality in every product we purchase or is it OK to be content with low quality from time to time and in some circumstances?

The most appropriate answer would be similar to the answer that my psychology professors in college would often give: it depends. If obtaining quality is within reach, even with some sacrifice or patience, it is worth it to forgo a cheap product in lieu of saving up to purchase a higher quality one. The return on investment is simply greater than the higher cost. The amount of enjoyment that you get from it, the durability that you will experience, the cachet that it brings to you, how well it works, are all benefits of that quality.

VLUU L100, M100 / Samsung L100, M100

In conversations with craftsman of high quality goods, we agree that America is going through a small renaissance; a return to its roots. America is tired of junk. We are okay having less, if that less is something of quality. It is better to have a single, high quality belt that you can wear everyday, that improves with age, than five belts that unravel after a year or two. It is simply better to have fewer, high quality goods, than closets full of junk.

As a society, we need to go back to our roots of craftsman designing and building products that endure, and run away from high quantity, high turnover goods. The time has come for us to fully embrace quality, and the hallmarks that represent it.

read more in the Buy It for Life series

Buy It For Life – Part One: Durability

Buy It For Life – Part Two: Aesthetics

Buy It For Life – Part Three: Design

Buy It For Life – Part Four: Cost

Buy It For Life – Part Five: Cachet

Buy It For Life – Part Six: Buy For Life Every Time?

Buy It For Life – Part Seven: 6 Rational Reason to Buy An Expensive Leather Bag Instead Of An Inexpensive Bag

Buy It For Life – Part Eight: What You Should Find In A Long Lasting Leather Bag