What is Chrome Tanning?
Chromium Tanning, or chrome tanning, is the most popular form of leather tanning worldwide. The tanning agent that is used in it, and for which it is named, is chromium sulfate. Chrome tanning is a more recent invention. It was invented a mere 157 years ago in 1858, but has since become incredibly widespread.
Benefits of Chrome Tanning
The primary reasons that chrome tanning has risen in the ranks of tanning methods so rapidly is because it is fast and it is cheap.
Just like everything else in the world of business, people are always looking for ways to save time and cut costs. The entire chromium tanning process can be completed withing about a day, whereas the vegetable tanning process can take several. Chrome tanned leather is usually more flexible and supple than veg tanned leather, and comes in a larger variety of colors.
Downsides of Chrome Tanning
Chrome tanning is frowned on by a lot of people in the environmentalist part of society due to the chromium waste it produces. Chrome leather also has some give and take when it comes to customization options. You can get way more exotic colors in chrome tanned leather when compared to veg tanned leather, but you give up the ability to do any kind of tooling with it. You can’t stamp a pattern or someone’s name into chrome tanned leather very well.
What is the Process?
Most the time, the chromium tanning process starts right there when the animal is slaughtered. Unlike vegetable tanning, chrome tanners don’t get raw hides. After the animal is slaughtered, the hide is removed, usually by machine. It is then taken to a tannery that is part of the slaughterhouse, where the hair and flesh are removed. It is then put through an initial tanning process where the hides come out with a distinct bluish tinge.
The chrome tanners receive them this way, but they are usually cut in half. The cut hides are referred to as hides, and when they are in this semi-tanned state they are called “wet blue” or “in the blue”. Hide dealers, the middle men of the industry, are crucial at this stage of the process. They are the people who help the chrome tanners get the hides that they are looking for. This is especially important when you consider the global scale of the hide market. Most of the hides from the U.S are exported for tanning elsewhere, so these dealers play an essential role in keeping the industry moving.
When the tanners receive the hides, they go through a grading process. Not all hides are created equal, and if you have a giant truckload full of them, there are going to be some duds. From there, the hides are run through a band-knife splitter to cut the leather to the desired thickness. Some projects require thicker leather than others, so this will change depending on the client for whom the tanner is currently working. The top part of the leather, or the grain, is put in one pile and the bottom half in another. After the tanning process is finished, the bottom half which is referred to as “splits”, is frequently bought up by other tanneries to be made into suede.
Not really. There is actually a lot more than that. I covered the speed version, which a lot of cheaper tanneries do. For the full details, with visuals included, watch this rather entertaining video with Dave from Saddleback Leather. Be sure to click here to visit SaddleBack and see what they are about if you found the video interesting.