Book binding

An easy way to identify veg tan leather

I love making handmade leather bound journals. There’s nothing really that beats the look of a leather journal – it has such a timeless classic beauty to it.

At the same time, I’m conscious of using leather – both how it’s made and how its manufacturing can further impact the environment negatively.

To address the first point, I source all my leather from leftovers from a furniture manufacturer. By using reclaimed leather, I try and ensure that I’m reusing what would have otherwise gone to waste, instead of ordering new / fresh leather.

To address the second point, I try to use veg tan leather as much as possible. Vegetable tanned leather, or veg tan leather, uses natural tannins in the tanning process (such as tree bark), instead of chemicals (that’s what is referred to as chrome tanned leather). Vegetable tanning removes the toxic element from the tanning process, so it’s better from an environmental standpoint (however – please note that leather production has other components beyond just the tanning process, so veg tan leather is not a 100% solution). Even so, it’s better than using chrome tanned leather.

Since I source leather scraps for my journals, I have no way to tell whether a particular piece of leather is chrome tanned or veg tanned. I’m not a leather expert, but if the leather is high quality, full grain leather, it’s not super easy to tell one from the other, just by looking at it.

I did some research, and found out that if you put veg tan leather in boiling water, it curls up. Chrome tanned leather on the other had does not curl up, and instead just floats around in the boiling water.

I decided to give this method a go. And….it does work! Here’s a photo of what it looks like. Do you see how 2 leather pieces are curled up and the other two are not? The curled up pieces are veg tan leather!

Veg tan leather curls up in boiling water

I also shot a quick video showing how it curls up pretty quickly. Kinda neat!

How to identify vegetable tanned leather

Hope this little trick helps you identify veg tan leather, as you embark on your diy projects!

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