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View Full Version : how to tell vegetable tanned from chrome salt tanned leather



BossDog
07-08-2010, 08:37 AM
If you are making a knife sheath or gun holster -- or anything that will come in contact with metal, you want vegetable tanned leather. Chrome or Chrome salt (same thing) tanned leather, when wet will stain and eventually corrode and leave deep black marks on even stainless. I learned this the hard way.

Always, always make sure you are getting vegetable tanned leather (it's all I will sell) when buying but how do you confirm what you got?

Take a small thin piece and burn it. The ash residue of Chrome tanned leather will turn a distinct green when it cools. Vegetable tanned leather ash will turn grey.


Maybe one of you leather guys has another method?

leatherman
07-08-2010, 08:53 AM
Good thread!

Chrome tanned leather is usually very soft and floppy, while veggie tanned leather tends to be somewhat stiff.

More often than not, chrome tanned leather will be pre colored and finished. Beware some "oil tanned" leathers as quite a few of them are really chrome tanned and oil or wax stuffed at the factory. Best to get those from the source.

Wayne Coe
07-08-2010, 09:25 AM
Thanks, I didn't know that. I guess I've gotten the good stuff because I haven't had a problem.

EdCaffreyMS
07-08-2010, 09:47 AM
Excellent Tracy! I would have never thought about doing that!

Another indicator that your actually getting Veg tanned leather is price. Premium quality Veg tanned is going to be in the $7-$8 per sq. foot for 9-10oz....chrome tanned can be had for about 1/2 that cost.

Something else I've learned is that good quality Veg tanned leather will smell like cow manure when wetted with warm water.....chrome tanned will have a "chemical" odor to it.

Cliff Fendley
07-08-2010, 12:08 PM
I've occasionally run across some "Crappy" pieces of leather but never noticed the manure smell:p

EdCaffreyMS
07-08-2010, 02:27 PM
Can you imagine that Cliff!?? Cow hide...that smells like cow manure...who knew! ;)

Cliff Fendley
07-08-2010, 03:29 PM
Can you imagine that Cliff!?? Cow hide...that smells like cow manure...who knew! ;)

I think my sniffer became immune to livestock smells when I was fairly young.:eek:

EdCaffreyMS
07-08-2010, 04:46 PM
Although some might think I'm nuts, that smell is somewhat comforting to me.....just smells like when I was growing up! :)

leatherman
07-08-2010, 05:41 PM
I grew up in Pampa Texas, right in the middle of cattle country, when the wind was just right, we could tell it was the smell of money. 2thumbs


One particularly interesting feed lot smelled like pop corn, it was near our Boy Scout camp, I never did get to go there to see why. :confused:

Cliff Fendley
07-08-2010, 08:10 PM
Although some might think I'm nuts, that smell is somewhat comforting to me.....just smells like when I was growing up! :)
I have to laugh a little when I'm at the fair and see some folks turn their nose at cow or horse manure. I guess you have to grow up around it to appreciate it. Must be an acquired smell:D

My wife is the same way, she grew up on a dairy.

My mother in law tells a funny one on my wife, when my wife was 5 or 6 years old and they took her to get some new shoes she told the salesman he needed to watch grabbing the bottom of the shoes cause they might have cow $**t on them. Some of the things kids say, my mother in law said she felt like climbing under the table.

stabber
07-09-2010, 07:09 AM
Great tip Tracy2thumbs

Mike Jones
07-09-2010, 06:20 PM
Oh... Wish I had seen this earlier... I have been buying leather from Hobby Lobby farmer's bundle packs as seen here (http://shop.hobbylobby.com/products/farmers-leather-bundle-474155/) so I hope that its mostly/all veg tanned... I just emailed the distributing company to see if they can help me determine.

BossDog
07-09-2010, 06:40 PM
If you can't be sure you are buying chrome or vegetable tanned leather and the seller doesn't know, I'd suggest not buying it. Chrome tanned leather is widely imported and is cheaper than vegetable tanned.

leatherman
07-09-2010, 10:44 PM
Mystery leather is like that mystery meat in the school cafeteria, best just to avoid it altogether.

Mike Jones
07-10-2010, 03:45 PM
If you can't be sure you are buying chrome or vegetable tanned leather and the seller doesn't know, I'd suggest not buying it. Chrome tanned leather is widely imported and is cheaper than vegetable tanned.

I'm still waiting for an email back from the company, but I burned two sample pieces, one that I was pretty sure to be chrome, and the other I wasn't sure about... They both had green ashes. Looks like most of it's chrome. Bummer.

Troop
07-10-2010, 04:36 PM
Thanks for the tip, Trace.

Mike Jones
07-12-2010, 04:58 PM
Here's what the company for the leather scraps said:


Hello Mike,
Rarely is the BDF300 Farmers bundle composed of all veg-tanned leather,
normally there is a small percentage of veg-tanned along with mainly chrome-tanned leather. Unless you are at least a little familiar with the processes of tanning animal hides it would be difficult to explain a simple method to tell the differences.
Silver Creek Leather Co.


And today, I just found a really cool leather shop downtown in Indy, called Landwerlen Leather Co. If any of you guys are near Indy and want to check out an old-fashioned leather shop, go there. They're really friendly, and their scrap pieces are $5 a pound. (Tandy has their scrap pieces at $10 a pound). I also bought some dye from them. Their dye was $3.85 for the same stuff Tandy sells for $6. I can't wait to use up the leather I bought so I can go back! 2thumbs

leatherman
07-12-2010, 05:41 PM
Good to see you finally heard from that supplier! I'm glad they at least they know what they're selling, most do not.

The reviews I have seen for Landwerlen were good, too bad they're so far away, I'd love to browse an old fashioned store like that. :)

The prices you saw at Tandy are full retail, most of us leathercrafters don't have to pay that, if you have a tax certificate the savings are phenomenal. Getting to know your retailer can be very good, they have all kinds of insider knowledge if they know your in the craft, not just a crafter.

Dennis Paish
07-21-2010, 12:06 AM
I purchased 4 double shoulders on sales and had them stored in a dark dry place 6 months ago. I started using it yesterday and the leather seemed very soft and 'floppy'. I had no idea that there was a difference. GREAT POST! To bad in the morning I am going to find out I have 4 8/9 oz double shoulders of leather I do not know what to do with.

Dennis

ChuckBurrows
07-21-2010, 04:26 PM
I purchased 4 double shoulders on sales and had them stored in a dark dry place 6 months ago. I started using it yesterday and the leather seemed very soft and 'floppy'. I had no idea that there was a difference. GREAT POST! To bad in the morning I am going to find out I have 4 8/9 oz double shoulders of leather I do not know what to do with. Dennis
Who did you buy it from? You should be OK since double shoulders are generally veg/bark tan and not chrome tanned. Not all Veg tan is as hard as a rock or should it be.

Now for a couple of notes:

Chrome tanned leather is widely imported and is cheaper than vegetable tanned.

Another indicator that your actually getting Veg tanned leather is price. Premium quality Veg tanned is going to be in the $7-$8 per sq. foot for 9-10oz....chrome tanned can be had for about 1/2 that cost.


Generally speaking chrome tanned is cheaper but far from always, there is a lot of higher end that can cost as much or more than even premium veg tan.
As to paying $7-8.00 a sq/ft IMO you're paying too much. Wickett and Craig sells for around $5.50 a foot or you can buy it on sale every month for between $90.00 and $120.00 a side (approximate 24 sq ft) dependent on type. This is the leather Paul Long, Sandy Morrisey, myself and many others use. Yes you can pay more but there is no need to. You can also buy pre-dyed veg tan from W & C in black, brown, and cherry - Paul L uses it and it saves dying for those who can use pre-dyed leather.
Another source I've recently come across is RJF Sales out of Elmira, NY 607-742-8969. This is old fashioned pit tanned leather from Portugal and based on the sample is VER nice. Roger sells sides and double shoulders (the latter usually the most economical for many builders) and prices range from $4.50 to $6.50 a square foot.

As to salts (CT) vs acids (VT): Yes chrome tanned (actually more often today they use other metallic salts or aldehydes to tan with) will stain and rust a blade especially if the leather is wet, but even the best veg tan will do the same since it is naturally acidic (about 4.5 on the PH scale - 7 is neutral- while one might have the bright idea to neutralize veg tan to lesson the acid content it is NOT recommended - it will ruin it - trust me!). So despite the type of leather, IMO one should NEVER store their knives or guns in leather of any type for any length of time. Sealing the inside of the sheath or holster will help, but not stop rust. And yes I know there are exceptions - to experiment I have stored knives and guns in dry leather for long periods of time without problem, but do not recommend it.

As to how to tell the difference? IMO once you've handled both types it's easy to tell the difference, although another test is to dampen/case the leather and try stamping it - generally on CT the water will just bead up on the surface at first and then soak in and a stamp will not leave a good impression at all, where as on veg tan, natural or drum dyed, the water will soak in immediately and the stamp will make a good clean impression.

Also for what it's worth - the various grades of veg tan such as premium, regulkar, etc. or #1, 2, 3, or A, B, C, refers to how clean and free of range marks and brands the face of the leather is. A #3 for instance, even though cheaper can be just as good a leather as #1 or A grade, but will have more marks and possibly brands on it - for my aged look I like #3's but for those preferring the least amount of surface dings then get #1 grade by whatever name used. Backs are the premium cuts as well with no belly leather anywhere, but the price will run $1.00 to $2.00 more per sq foot, and generally it isn't necessary for sheaths and holsters.

Dennis Paish
07-24-2010, 07:54 PM
Thanks Chuck for your reply to my post!

I did the burn test and it looks to me that it is Veg tanned Leather. Just completely different then what I've used to data. Thank goodness, I would of been upset to discard that much leather. I usally get all my leather at Tandy when it is on sale.

Regards, Dennis

leatherman
07-25-2010, 02:11 PM
Good to hear that its veggie tanned! The odd thing is that it seems to be different, I wonder whats up? What is the grade mark? ie #1 - #3 That could help identify the leather.