How We Do It
Specialty Leather is one of the few remaining tanneries in the United States that specializes in exotic and safari hides. The process of making leather is complex and fascinating and involves a lot of steps to ensure it is done right. We invite you to read about it here. Or, better yet, stop by the tannery and we’ll show you how we do it.
The Process

Tanning is the process of converting raw hides or skins into leather. This process prevents hides from decaying, makes them resistant to water, and renders them supple and durable. Our leather is “chrome-tanned” using trivalent chromium, also referred to as chromium(III). This type of chromium salt is found naturally in rocks, soil, plants, and volcanic emissions. It is a far safer and less toxic version of chromium than originally used in the industry, and is now considered the leading choice by responsible tanneries across the world. It produces leather that is flexible and soft and much more resistant to water damage than vegetable-tanned leather.

Each hide that you send Specialty Leather goes through a series of steps before it is returned to you.

  • 1. Check-In

    When your hide arrives, we inspect it to see if there any initial issues that need to be addressed, take note of holes and skinning marks and confirm the information on the shipping form with you via phone call or e-mail. Each hide is assigned a Specialty Leather number and tagged so that it can be tracked throughout the tanning process.

  • 2. Deposit Invoice

    In most cases we do not require a down payment for our tanning services. However, on the occasion that a deposit is required, we will send you an invoice requesting a deposit of approximately 50% of the cost of tanning and dyeing.

  • 3. Soaking and Fleshing

    Hides must be rehydrated at the beginning of the tanning process, which can be quite time-consuming with heavy hides such as Hippo or Elephant. Once rehydrated, we further flesh each hide to allow it to tan properly. Some hides are fleshed using one of our fleshing machines, but many are still fleshed at the beam by hand.

  • 4. Tanning

    The tanning process is long and involves numerous steps to remove the hair, epidermis, and other skin elements that cannot be preserved in order to create leather that is flexible and durable. Hides are loaded into large wooden drums and then undergo a series of “baths.” These baths raise the pH in the hides to prepare the collagen portion of the hide for tanning, then lower the pH to allow chrome to penetrate a hide to the necessary depth, and lastly activate the chrome to create leather. Naturally, the process is a bit more involved than that, but that’s something best seen in person; Specialty Leather always welcomes visitors!

  • 5. Splitting / Shaving

    Once tanned, the hides turn a pale “wet blue” from their chrome baths. They are pulled from the drums and allowed to dry slightly before being split and/or shaved down to a standard thickness. Unless the customer requests a specific thickness, we generally create leather that is about 4–5 ounces per square foot, which is suitable for most uses. Deer hides are generally shaved to 3-4 ounces.

  • 6. Dyeing

    After the hides have been split and/or shaved to the desired thickness, they are dried to form a stiff material called a “crust.” A crust is perfectly preserved, though not yet dyed or tumbled for softness; crusts can remain in this stage indefinitely. While we know it’s hard to choose among our 18 colors, nearly all our customers go on to have their leather dyed rather than leave their hide at this stage.

  • 7. Toggling

    Dyed leather comes out of one of the dye drums wet. The leather is spread out on a rack and tacked (or “toggled”) into place so that forced air can dry the hide.

  • 8. Milling

    Once dry, the dyed leather is tumbled in another drum to enhance its softness and flexibility.

  • 9. Polishing

    As a final step, we spray on a light polish called Silky Top, which enhances the color and allows the leather develop a “living finish” over time as it is used.

  • 10. Final Invoice

    We calculate the return shipping cost based on the best way to ship your leather back to you, and we send you an invoice for the remaining balance. Once payment has been received, your leather is on its way!

1. Check-In

When your hide arrives, we inspect it to see if there any initial issues that need to be addressed. Each hide is assigned a number and tagged so that it can be tracked throughout the tanning process.

2. Deposit Invoice

In most cases, we will send you an invoice requesting a deposit of approximately 50% of the cost of tanning and dyeing. If you didn’t include a color choice with the hide, we will request one at this point.

3. Soaking and Fleshing

Hides must be rehydrated at the beginning of the tanning process, which can be quite time-consuming with heavy hides such as hippo or elephant. Once rehydrated, if necessary we further flesh each hide to allow it to tan properly. Most hides are fleshed using one of our fleshing machines, but we still flesh certain hides by hand—including the ostrich skin shown here.

4. Tanning

The tanning process is long and involves numerous steps to remove the hair, epidermis, and other skin elements that cannot be preserved in order to create leather that is flexible and durable. Very simply, hides are loaded into large wooden drums and then undergo a series of “baths.” These baths raise the pH in the hides to prepare the collagen portion of the hide for tanning, then lower the pH to allow chrome to penetrate a hide to the necessary depth, and lastly activate the chrome to create leather. Naturally, the process is a bit more involved than that, but that’s something best seen in person; Specialty Leather always welcomes visitors!

5. Splitting/Shaving

Once tanned, the hides turn a pale blue from their chrome baths. They are pulled from the drums and allowed to dry slightly before being split and/or shaved down to a standard thickness. Unless the customer requests a specific thickness, we generally create leather that is about 4–5 ounces per square foot, which is suitable for most uses.

6. Dyeing

As mentioned, hides develop a light blue color after tanning in the chrome baths. After they are split and/or shaved, hides can be allowed to dry out to form a stiff material called “crusts.” Crusts are perfectly preserved, though not yet dyed or tumbled for softness; crust can remain in this stage indefinitely. While we know it’s hard to choose among our 23 standard colors, nearly all our customers go on to have their leather dyed rather than leave their hide at the crust stage.

7. Toggling

Dyed leather comes out of one of the dye drums wet. The leather is spread out on a rack and tacked (or “toggled”) into place so that airflow can dry the hide.

8. Milling

Once dry, the dyed leather is tumbled in another drum to enhance its softness and flexibility.

9. Polishing

As a final step, we spray on a light polish, which helps the leather develop a subtle sheen as it is used. This polish is particularly lovely on ostrich and alligator.

10. Final Invoice

We calculate the return shipping cost based on the final weight of your leather, and we send you an invoice for the remaining balance. Once payment has been received, your leather is on its way!
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Call us for more information
2135 Industrial Park Road Boone, IA 50036
info@specialtyleather.com
(515) 433-0176
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