Like any natural product, leather quality can vary greatly from hide to hide. This can pose some interesting challenges for leathercrafters, as any two hides from the same tannery may carve and dye very differently! Fortunately for me, I haven’t had any major problems with dying. Sure, there may be slight differences in colour shade, but I’ve never been surprised with anything crazy, for example, a dye coming on purple when I was expecting blue. I’ve also heard stories of bizarre mottled patterns emerging during the dying process.
When I started out with leathercraft, I ordered most of my supplies online from Tandy Leather Factory, which, at the time, was the easiest and most cost-effective way to build a repertoire of supplies that I knew of. This post is to illustrate an example of why ordering leather online can be challenging.
Usually, when you go to the store to see the hides or strips, you gauge the leather quality by sight and pick the ones with the most even grain side and a tight flesh side. The photo shows a “normal” strip of leather on top, where the flesh side (as you might guess, the opposite of the skin side, for those of you not familiar with the lingo) is tight and smooth-looking. The lower strip is what I ordered online, and it has developed terrible cracking. The photo was taken even after I tried to doctor it up with a liberal application of saddle soap and plenty of rubbing. The cracks reappeared as soon as the leather was bent. Unacceptable! The cracks appear to run 1/3 into the depth of the strip, which I would imagine compromises its integrity.
Lesson learned? Buy leather in person. Always. Don’t ignore the flesh side just because it’s not prominent on a finished product. Those cracks could compromise a strips integrity… Imagine a leash that has seen a little wear, not enough conditioner, and a powerful, pulling dog. Not every dog has perfect recall 100% of the time, so this could be a recipe for disaster!
tl;dr (too long; didn’t read): buy your leather in person so you can assure its quality. Don’t ignore the back (flesh) side of the leather.