Leather Glossary

Leather glossary

Glossary of leather industry terms

Many, but not all, of the following terms are taken from the International Glossary of Leather Terms published by the International Council of Tanners in 1968.

Aniline Dyed

Leather that has been dyed by immersion in a dyebath and has not received any coating of pigment finish.

Antique Grain

A surface pattern of markings or creases, usually irregular, in which the hollows are often given a contrasting colour to produce a two-tone or two-colour effect. The creases are produced by embossing, boarding or other similar means.


(1) The main portion of a hide, obtained by cutting off the two bellies.
(2) Leather made from this part.

Bark Tanned

Leather vegetable tanned mainly by means of the tannins contained in the barks of trees, especially oaks, the leather in process coming in contact with the raw bark. (see also Chroming, Tawing).

Bating The process of steeping hides and skins in an alkaline bath, to separate the lime, oil and glutinous matter, and render them soft and pliable, and fit for tanning. Originally the alkaline bath was a mixture of hen and pigeon droppings, it was later carried out using dog dung - called 'puering' (qv). This was often followed by 'scudding' (qv) being the removal of hair roots and other unwanted material. Modern 'Bates' contains manufactured enzymes and stabilising agents.


(1) Part of the hide covering the underside and the upper part of the legs of the animal.
(2) Leather made from this part.

Belly Grain

The tanned outer (hair or grain) layer split from a belly.

Buffed Leather

Leather from which the top surface of the grain has been removed by an abrasive or bladed cylinder or, less generally by hand.


(1) The thin grain of leather removed from a cattle hide by the splitting machine.
(2) The process of more or less removing the grain layer by abrasion.
(3) Removal of the flesh side of the leather by mechanical abrasion to produce a suede effect, or to reduce the substance. Synonymous with "fluffing" and now in more common use.


The part of the hide after the bellies and shoulders have been removed.

Butt Split

The under layers, split from the butt of a cattle hide.

Cattle Hide

The outer covering of a fully grown bovine animal.

Chagrin / Shagreen

A leather with a rough surface.

Chamois Leather

(1) Leather made from the flesh split of sheep or lambskin, or from sheep or lambskin, from which the grain has been removed by frizing, and tanned by processes involving the oxidation of fish or marine animal oils in the skin, using either solely such oils (full oil chamois) or firstly, formaldehyde and then such oils (combination chamois).
(2) Leather made from the skin of a mountain antelope or chamois (such leather is rare).

Chrome Retan

Leather which has been first chrome tanned throughout its thickness and subsequently further treated or tanned with vegetable and/or synthetic tanning agents and/or resin filling materials, these agents penetrating notably, but not necessarily completely, into the interior.

The tanning process whereby the pickled pelt is converted to leather using chromium salts. (See also bark tanning, tawing).

Clout Leather

Leather for shoe mending.

Combination Tanned

Leather tanned by two or more tanning agents, e.g. chrome followed by vegetable (chrome re-tan), vegetable followed by chrome (semi-chrome), formaldehyde followed by oil (combination oil).

Cordwainer Shoemaker. Originally, a leather worker using high quality Cordovan leather from Spain for such things as harness, gloves and riding boots. By the nineteenth century it had reduced to a shoemaker - as distinct from a cobbler, who repaired shoes.

Corrected Grain

Leather from which the grain layer has been partially removed by buffing to a depth governed by the condition of the raw material and upon which a new surface has been built by various finishes.

Cow Hide

(1) The outer covering of a mature female bovine animal.
(2) Leather made from unsplit cow hide or its grain split.

The skins are dried in special stoves after dressing, leaving them 'in the crust' - a harsh, stiff, unworkable state.

Curried Leather

Leather, usually vegetable tanned, which has been subjected to the currying process, i.e. a series of dressing and finishing processes applied to leather after tanning in course of which appropriate amounts of oils and greases are incorporated in the leather to give it increased tensile strength, flexibility and water-resisting properties.

Currier / Curryer A person who dresses and colours leather after it is tanned.

Degreasing The act or process of removing grease from a greasy object; specifically, the removal of fatty matter from raw sheep's wool often by the solvent action of petroleum naphtha.

Deliming follows the liming process (qv), and any residual lime is removed by a thorough washing in rotary paddle machines.

One of three methods of skin preparation, used primarily for thin kid and lamb skins, which were stretched on a slab and a sharp chisel-like tool was used. This operation, like 'paring' (qv) was replaced by wheeling and fluffing in which the skins are reduced to an even thickness by means of a revolving emery wheel.

An infusion of bran, meal and flour in which the skins were placed and left to ferment. This, by reason of its acid nature, swells the skins prior to tanning.

Dub To rub grease into leather.

Dyeing has always been a part of the leather dressing process but today's dyes are more permanent.

Embossed Leather

Leather embossed or printed with a raised pattern either imitating or resembling the grain pattern of some animal, or quite unrelated to a natural grain pattern.

Fell Animal hide or skin with hair; thick or matted hair or wool, fleece.

Fellmonger Dealer or worker in hides, skins and furs. Also recycled inedible animal parts for glue, fertiliser, offal, horn, bone, gut etc. Basically, he ran the "knacker's yard".


(1) The final process or processes in the manufacture of dressed leather.
(2) The surface coating applied to a leather.

Fisher A tanner's implement.

The removal of the flesh adhering to a skin or hide. Originally carried out by hand with a special sharp knife, the process today is carried out by machines with fast-revolving blades.

Fleshmonger (1) Tannery worker  
(2) Butcher

Flesh Split

 (1) The inner or under layer of a hide or skin separated from it by the splitting machine.
(2) Leather made from (1).

Fluff To buff leather.

Frizz To rub leather to smooth and soften.

Frot To soften leather by rubbing.

Forrel / Fozzel A kind of parchment used for covering books.


(1) Leather made from the unsplit, or full thickness, of hide or skin, e.g. full sheep.
(2) Leather tanned solely with one agent, e.g. full chrome in contrast to semi-chrome, and full oil in contrast to combination oil.

Full Chrome

Leather tanned solely with one agent, e.g. full chrome in contrast to semi-chrome, and full oil in contrast to combination oil.

Full Grain

Leather bearing the original grain surface as exposed by removal of the epidermis and with none of the surface removed by buffing, snuffing or splitting. In contrast see "corrected grain".


(1) The pattern characterised by the pores and peculiar to the animal concerned, visible on the outer surface of a hide or skin after the hair or wool and epidermal tissue have been removed.
(2) An abbreviation for "grain split".

Grainer A tool to impart a grain in leather.

Grain Layer

The portion of a hide or skin extending from the surface exposed by removal of the hair or wool and epidermis down to about the level of the hair or wool roots.

Grain Leather

Leather which has the grain layer substantially intact and which is finished on the grain side.

Grain Split

The outer (wool or hair) layer of a hide or skin that has been split into two or more layers.

Grindery The tools and materials of leather workers.


(1) The outer covering of a mature or fully grown large mammal, e.g. cattle, horse, camel, elephant and whale.
(2) Leather made from (1) which has not been split, or from the grain split of such hide; when used in this way the name of the animal e.g. cowhide or oxhide or the type of leather, e.g. bag hide or case hide, may be added.

Hidebound Edged with leather.

Hided Made of twisted leather.


Hide or skin which still retains its original fibrous structure more or less intact, and which has been treated so as to be imputrescible even after exposure to water. The hair or wool may or may not have been removed. Certain skins, similarly treated or dressed, and without the hair removed, are termed "fur".
NOTE: No product is described correctly as "leather" if its manufacture involves breaking down the original skin structure into fibres, powder or other fragments by chemical or mechanical methods and reconstituting these fragments into sheets or other forms.

Leathern Made of leather.

Liming is one of the main steps carried out during leather production in the tannery. The main purpose of liming is to separate the hair from the hides. Originally the skins were placed in large pits containing slaked lime and water and left for several weeks - probably the origin of 'Pit Lane', one of the early names of Middle Street. Today, the process is carried out in a drum over twenty-four hours.

Mace A mallet to beat leather.

Moellon A wax for leather.

Mineral Tanned

Leather that has been tanned with mineral salts such as aluminium, chromium or zirconium salts.


(1) Vegetable tanned goat skin leather with characteristic grain pattern developed naturally or by hand boarding or graining only. The commonest and most characteristic grain is hard grain.
(2) By long usage, especially in the fancy goods trade, goatskin of any vegetable tannage that has been hand boarded in the damp condition, but in the strict sense it should be limited to goatskin tanned exclusively with sumac.
Mulled Treated to make softer.


Soft full grain gloving or clothing leather made from unsplit sheep or lambskin or kid-skin. It is usually tanned with alum and chromium salts and dyed throughout its substance.


Cattle hide leather buffed on the grain side to give a velvety surface, white or coloured.

Oak Bark Tanned

A light-weighing, unbleached, bark tanned leather, which has been pit tanned, at ambient temperature for not less than five to six months by a process embodying layering for not less than three months, oak bark being employed as a basis of tannage.

Paring is the final process before the leather is ready for use. The skin is secured along one edge and then scraping the rough side with a special paring knife until the skin becomes stretched and soft.


Translucent or opaque material with a smooth surface, suitable for writing, bookbinding and other purposes. It is made from the flesh split of sheep, ass or goatskin, by drying out the limed material without applying any tannage, the material being thoroughly cleansed and degreased and smoothed during the process. Generally the flesh split of a sheepskin.

Patent Leather

Leather, one surface of which is covered with an integral, flexible, waterproof film which has a lustrous mirror-like surface. This coating was formerly built up by the application of various daubs, varnishes and lacquers, pigmented or non-pigmented, based on linseed oil.


Using a roller to make an indented surface on leather.

After bating (qv), the skins are brought to an acidic condition by soaking in brine in a rotating drum for a couple of hours. This is in preparation for chrome tanning or for storage.

Pigment Finished

Leather to whose surface a finish containing fine pigment particles in suspension has been applied.


A tool to put spaced holes, as for sewing.

Protected Leather

Leather in which certain special chemicals have been incorporated to render it less liable to deterioration through exposure to polluted atmospheres. The treatment is often applied to vegetable tanned upholstery and bookbinding leathers.

Pronounced 'purring', the origin is from the French puer, to stink. The process of steeping hides and skins in an alkaline bath, primarily of dog faeces, to separate the lime, oil and glutinous matter, and render them soft and pliable, and fit for tanning. (See also 'bating'). Following puerring, the skins are 'drenched' (qv).

Raw Hide

(1) A hide which has only been treated to preserve it prior to tanning.
(2) Translucent material made from the whole substance (for industrial applications, principally in the textile industry) or the grain split (for luggage) of bovine hide freed from the hair and epidermal and flesh layers and dried out in the limed state, usually without any tanning process being applied.

Rough Tanned

Leather which after tanning has not been further processed but has been merely dried out. The term "rough tanned" is used chiefly in connection with vegetable tanned hide leathers. e.g. "rough tanned strap".


To work grease into leather.

Shrunk(en) Grain

Leather specially tanned so as to shrink the grain layer and having a grain surface of uneven folds and valleys. Sometimes called "drawn grain".


(1) General. The outer covering of an animal.
(2) In the strict sense. The outer covering of small mammals and other vertebrates, e.g. sheep and goats; or of the immature animals of the larger species, e.g. calves and colts. Used in relation to pigs, reptiles, birds and fish.
(3) Leather, made from (1) and (2) which has not been split.
(4) The outer covering of a fur-bearing animal dressed and finished with the hair on.


(1)The tanned outer or grain split of a sheep or lambskin. Sometimes applied to goatskin.
(2) The worker who splits leather.


Thinning the leather at the edges to avoid a double layer at a seam.


A tool to smooth leather.


An iron used to smooth leather.


To curry or smooth leather.


A tool to beat leather with.


(1) A single layer from a hide or skin that has been separated over its whole area into two or more layers. The layers thus obtained are termed: (a) grain split (outer split); (b) flesh split (inner split); (c) in heavy hides there can also be a middle split.
(2) Leather made from the flesh split or middle split.

Split Hide

(1) The outer (hair or grain) layer of a hide from which the under or flesh side has been split to give it a reasonably uniform thickness.
(2) Leather made from (1).


A tool to dress leather.

Stitch Wheel

A tool to put spaced holes (pricker).


(1) Velvet-like nap finish produced on leather by abrasive action.
(2) Leather whose wearing surface has been finished to have a velvet-like nap.

Suede Split

Leather made from the flesh split of hide or skin and finished with a velvet-like nap normally on the split surface.

Tawer A dresser of white leather without the use of tannin, especially by soaking it in a solution of alum and salt.


Processing whereby putrescible raw hides and skins are converted into leather.


Using a variety of methods / tools to impress designs into a piece of leather for decoration .

Vegetable Tanned

Leather tanned exclusively with vegetable tanning agents, or with such materials together with small amount of other agents used merely to assist the tanning process or to improve or modify the leather, and not in sufficient amounts to alter notably the essential vegetable tanned character of the leather.

Two plates on leather dressing, from a book of 1751, showing some tools of the trade.