Leather Types and Care
BOOT LEATHERS AND THEIR CHARACTERISTICS
STEER OR COWHIDE
Steer or cowhide comes in various tannages, the most popular being crazy horse—a lightly sanded pull-up leather with a hot stuffed wax treatment. Our steer hides are aniline tanned so the color is consistent through and through. Because of these two processes, the leather lightens in color as the hand lasting process highlights the character of the hide.
ROUGH-OUT STEER OR COWHIDE
This is the same leather as full grain steer but reversed with the flesh side out. Rough-out steer absorbs water especially through its larger pores. For longer wear select the rough-out that has a soft and pliable feel, with a smoother nap, not too loose-fibered and shaggy looking. Rough-out must be kept clean of mud and other drying ingredients or it will crack. A brass suede brush cleans it, though it spots easily and looks dirty because of its absorbancy. Some rough-out leathers are silicone treated as part of its tanning treatment, making them water resistent.
Retan contains a lot of oils and feels waxy, so it will not polish to a high shine. It is tanned to resist barnyard acids and moisture. Its extra flexibility is due to double tanning (hence the term “re-tan”)—first with an inert chrome solution and then re-tanned with vegetable materials. Retan is thick and heavier than most cowhides therefore some folks do not favor the extra weight but will value the durability of the boot.
Pigskin is a soft leather with a dominant grain. The grain usually forms a triangle and is easily recognized. It has a very long life, is moderately priced, is soft and supple and conforms to the foot. Even though it may be used for dress, this boot will not take a high shine due to its full grain.
LEATHERS FOR BOTH WORK AND DRESS BOOT
One of the toughest leathers of them all, it is very easily recognized for its distinct grain. It is practically scuff-proof and has a long life for work and dress. Recent improvements in tannage make shark more pliable than in the past. Colors in sharkskin are rich and unique. Although shark is scuff-resistant and tough, it needs care like any leather. It must be cleaned of dirt, mud, manure – any material that would tend to deteriorate it – and conditioned from time to time. Shark has a water-shedding quality but just because it is a fish does not mean the leather is waterproof.
Elephant is tanned in pieces with each piece having it own distinct grain, some heavy and some smooth. It is a very popular leather and is fairly available due to the governments in south of Africa not wasting the meat or hides of those animals taken for population control. Elephant is scuff resistant for work and is nice for casual wear. Since it is fairly dry, it should be regularly cleaned and conditioned.
AMERICAN BUFFALO OR BISON
One of the most popular of present-day boot leathers. A full grain leather that is both soft and supple. Many customers report that it feels like it is already broken in when brand new. It takes a beating and will also shine up easily. It is a very comfortable leather for its softness. Suitable for work or dress.
The world's largest rodent, also known as capybara. It is found in South America by fresh water dams and lakes. A unique looking leather which serves as a work boot for serious horsemen and ranchers. Long lasting if regularlly cleaned and conditioned.
Giraffe is a long-wearing leather for hard use, but it is fairly stiff. Keep clean and regularly condition and it will serve you well.
Stingray is the hardest leather of all. Be certain to not fit these boots too snug. THEY DO NOT STRETCH, although they do look unique and appeal to many customers. The “shaved” Stingray is more forgiving in getting a good fit.
Horsehide comes in both light-weight and heavy leathers. The Italian tanned light leather is called remuda while the heavy-weight leather is called chromexcel. Remuda makes a great casual or semi- dress boot because it is very light-weight. Chromexcel is more for work boots.
Kidskin has been popular for boot tops for many years. Kidskin comes in a wide range of colors from basic black to bluebonnet blue to celery and red and back to basic chocolate. Kidskin is great to use in tops but should not be used in vamps for work boots.
BRUSH OFF GOATSKIN
Brush-off Goat is colored twice. The most common color is Black Cherry which has a base color of cherry red over-colored with black. Special brushes are used to partially remove the black top coat and reveal the underlying cherry. This creates an antiqued look which many find attractive. However, this is a harsh tanning process and the wearer MUST clean and keep conditioned or risk cracking the ball area of the foot.
MAD DOG GOATSKIN
A fairly new kid or goatskin tannage. Hot stuffed with a waxy feel and two distinct layers of color, the contrast is achieved during the lasting process when the leather is pulled down on the last and the stretching of the leather allows the lower layer of color to show through. The wax process keeps the leather from its naturally dry state. Tanned in England and well worth its price.
North American dairy hides come from very young animals that have tight, fine pores. European calf hide is larger (twice as big) but sill milk fed or what is called Veal. These skins are very smooth in appearance and when folded in the hand demonstrate hundreds of fine uniform wrinkles (the break). It takes a high polish and holds it. Very soft and pliable, it conforms to the foot even to the point that it will sometimes shrink down a width or half a size if they are a little loose. The leather will scuff but proper polishing will fill in the scratches well. Calf has durability in that it stays intact without splitting. This is proven by people who continue to use the calf boot for work after it looks too bad for dress wear. There is a good demand for true calfskin and a scarcity of skins, making it fairly expensive material for boots.
LEATHERS FOR DRESS BOOT ONLY
ALLIGATOR, CAIMAN AND CROCODILE
These are luxury leathers for dress only. How they wear depends on how they are cared for. You can recognize these leathers by the more squared-off regular checks. The smaller checks the more flexible the boot and the less likely to crack. These boots can be made up in lots of ways, with the pieced foot, or the full vamp one-piece design that is more costly. Smaller checks should go on the fore part of the foot. Larger checks go on the heel counters. These leathers are unpredictable as to whether or not they will crack. The problem occurs when the leather dries or is deteriorated between the scales. This more flexible portion of the leather gives way as the more rigid scales “work against” each other. Many recommend using a small bit of Lexol on the finger, rubbing a very thin film of conditioner into the leather, especially between the scales after wearing and removing any dust or dirt. This is good practice for all reptile leathers. Alligator and crocodile take a high shine, and their hard finish holds a shine very well.
Ostrich is the softest and most comfortable of the “exotic” leathers. It wears well and resists scratching and scuffing – a combination of softness and toughness. Ostrich is naturally resistant to barnyard acid. The quill pattern determines the price of genuine ostrich boots. Where you get a full quill pattern all over the foot, you are buying a much more expensive boot. The size of quill bumps depends on the age of animal and the portion of the hide from which the leather is cut. Ostrich is that ideal combination of durability and wearability which makes it the perfect leather for boots. Always wipe the dust and dirt off ostrich boots after wearing.
Lizard skins will not wear any better than alligator, crocodile or caiman. Scales on lizard are smaller and run diagonally across the vamp. Lizard is often double-lined for shape-holding insurance and for added strength. Apply Lexol conditioner to lizard for conditioning after proper cleaning. Lizard is a very fine-looking dress boot that is much less costly than most other reptile skins.
This light-weight leather has a very fine-grained appearance. It is one of the most comfortable leathers of all. Kangaroo fibers interlock whereas bovine leathers come in horizontal layers. Kangaroo has greater strength, weight for weight. You can often detect this leather by the presence of healed tick bites on the surface. Kangaroo is somewhat “springy” or elastic in the way it fits to the movements of the foot and adjusts to the greater and lesser pressures of normal wear. Kangaroo seems to hug the foot. Even though kangaroo is not recommended for work, some customers demand the comfort of kangaroo in their work boots. Kangaroo resists the effects of repeated wetting and drying better than most leathers, but it is damaged by barnyard acids like other dress-type leathers. Kangaroo is the best leather for those with foot problems.
Camel is scarce since you only get a hide of leather only when the animal dies of natural causes. Its hard finish resists scuffing but is very stiff. With hard wear camel may lose its color. Frequent conditioning is required to maximize wear.
Hippo leather is somewhat of a novelty in that it was not commonly seen until a few years ago. In its original state this leather is very thick and heavily scarred. The outmost grain is removed by sanding until some of the scars are removed. The bottom layer is split off to leave the top grain to be used in boots. Hippo wears very well under hard use but needs to be occasionally cleaned and conditioned to maximize wear. A brass bristle brush is ideal to remove loose dirt and dust from its suede like finish.
LEATHER TYPE AFFECTS FIT
Certain leathers will stretch to fit the customer’s foot better than others. Calfskin, kangaroo, ostrich and elephant generally will conform better to the foot than the reptiles. Reptiles, shark and stingray won’t give much to the pressure of the foot. The reason for this is the softer leathers may “shrink” down slightly when the last is removed since they have a tendency to be more springy and stretchable. However, when they are worn, they will ease back out conforming to the foot. If a soft leather boot fits a bit tight to begin with, it will gradually become less tight. This is a good thing to remember when you fit customers with foot problems. The harder-finish leathers must be fitted more exactly. A tight boot over the instep or across the ball in one of these hard leathers will remain tight and may be painful. Boot makers insist whatever kind of leather is used in a boot, it has to be kept clean. Dirt, dust, grime and dryness deteriorate all leather. Rough-out boots should be cleaned with a brass suede brush. If any boot gets wet, it should never be dried quickly close to a heat source. Wet boots should dry gradually and slowly - preferably while being worn. Then the oils should be restored with Lexol conditioner. After conditioning, apply lanoline based colored polish to restore deep color to the leather. Spray polish or liquid polish tend to dry out the leather and should be avoided. Rough-out leathers can be sprayed with aerosol silicone material to help them become more water-repellent if desired. Silicone spray on smooth leathers tends to leave a gummy residue that prevents good shine. There is no footwear like an ALL LEATHER boot. The leather components not only allow the foot to breathe but also conform to the foot with wearing.
OUTSOLE AND INSOLE LEATHER
Leather for outsoles and insoles are tanned by soaking in tanning from tree bark and wood-soaked water, which stops the decomposition process of the hide and allow the pores of the skin to relax. At the end of 90 days of soaking, when the leather is removed, it is put into a tanning drum and solids (starch etc.) are stuffed into the hide making it quite heavy and thick when it dries. The leather is then dried and rolled under pressure to increase its stiffness. The sole bends are taken from the center of the hide, and the insoles are taken from the shoulders and bellies. The sole leather is rolled longer and with much more pressure making it firmer than the insole leather.
These two parts of the cow are very different in structure. The sole bends are made of short, compact fibers and give long wear. The insole shoulders and bellies are of long, stringy fibers and hold the channel better on the bottom of the insole to which the sole welt is sewn. The softer insole leather also quickly conforms to the footprint, making the boots truly belong to the wearer.
CONDITIONING AND POLISHING
Conditioning all footwear made of leather benefits from proper cleaning and conditioning. Many boot manufacturers recommend cleaning with Lexol PH Balanced Cleaner followed by a light application of Lexol Conditioner while the leather is stil wet. When the leather is totally dry apply another light coat, allow to dry thoroughly and apply polish if desired. We DO NOT recommend one step cleaners and conditioners. Some contain petroluem cleaners while others do not clean the leather, thereby trapping dirt and dust in the leather. Foreign particles in the leather work like little saws to destroy the fibers of the skin causing premature failure.