Different Types of Animal Leather: Everything You Need to Know

One of the earliest materials in human discoveries is leather. Primitive man has been hunting animals for meat and using their skin to make different items such as clothes, shoes, and even tents for their safety. Nowadays, leather is still being used and considered one of the finest and luxurious materials that humans use.

Knowing where your leather material comes from is vital since each type of leather material offers different features. In this article, I will talk about the different types of animal leather material that a leather worker can use. I will also talk about the most expensive leather material that you can use for your leather goods. 

All the Types of Animal Leather You Should Know

As we all know, leather comes at different prices, and there’s a good reason for this. When it comes to leather, there are three basic differences that you should know. One is how it’s tanned and treated, where it can be done in several ways. The leather materials used for the leather goods come from different types of animals. All of which have their own strong and weak points.

The second is which part of the animal the leather came from, whether it has been split, sanded or stitched together. Before all of this process, you should always consider what animal your leather material came from. Any hide of an animal can be considered to be used as a leather material.

Lastly, any hide of an animal can be considered to be used as a leather material. For example, you can take the features off the hide of a chicken, tan it, and call it genuine leather. The following will discuss the common types of animals used for good quality leather.

The Famous Cowhide Leather

Cowhide leather is a type of material that is tough and coarse. It may not sound appealing, but it is the most commonly used material in leatherworking. When a leatherworker uses cowhide leather, it turns out to be one of the finest leather goods they can make. As long as the cowhide is processed correctly, it can retain its most endearing property, which is durability.

With cowhide leather, you can expect your goods to last for a long time. However, it would be best to consider the leather grade before purchasing any leather goods product when it comes to cowhide leather. Keep in mind that the higher the grade, the better the leather product will be.

A great example is full-grain leather which is considered to be the highest quality of cowhide leather. When choosing your cowhide leather material, you need to consider all the cows. These cows would include dairy cows, beef cows, females, and males. The cowhide leather material can be seen in wallets, belts, and bags.

Calfskin Leather: Less Imperfection

Calfskin is made from the skin of young cows that have not been weaned yet. It has fewer imperfections, such as scars and bites. Unlike full-grain leather, it has natural markings of animal’s skin, and calfskin leather doesn’t go through the sanding process to remove the grain patterns of the skin.

Now, other people may argue that the skin of a young cow is too tender, which means it will not be as durable as cowhide leather. Calfskin requires better quality skin with fewer imperfections. However, wallets and other small leather goods are made from this material which is firm yet soft to touch.

Lambskin Leather From a Young Sheep

Lambskin leather is soft, supple, and has a silky texture, making it an expensive material to use. It is considered to be a luxurious material, only reserved for making premium leather products. Unlike the cowhide leather material, it is not an easy material to work with. You can spot lambskin leather to make fabric-like products like leather jackets and gloves.

When you have lambskin leather products, higher maintenance is needed to make sure your own product is at its best. The reason for the higher maintenance is it scratches easily and needs to be handled with care. The lambskin leather material is a good choice for small purses, driving gloves, and other small fashion types of products. 

Buffalo Hide Leather: Thick But Soft

The buffalo hide leather often has a more pronounced leather pattern. This type of leather has deeper grooves and cuts, which provides a unique look to the leather material. Full-length dusters are often made out of buffalo hide. You can also see this material on rugged items like shoes and rugs. Aside from that, the buffalo hide leather is usually used in garments, belts and armor.

Pigskin Leather: The Cheap Alternative to Cowhide

Pigskin leather is a material that is usually dense and similar to cowhide material. It has a moderately supple feel and good durability. This leather material is known for its resilience and great at holding up against abrasion. It is slightly thinner than cowhide and stays pliable with wear, and doesn’t stiffen when it gets wet.

Due to the low price of pigskin, it is usually used for inner linings for bags and shoes. It has distinctive and visible pores, which is the best way to determine if a product is made from pigskin material. You should be able to distinguish pigskin from cowhide because you want to know what you are paying for. You don’t want to pay more for a lower quality item.

Pigskin is commonly used to make bags, wallets, shoes, welding gloves, and premium welding jackets.

Deerskin: Toughest Leather Out There

Deerskin is one of the toughest leather in the market due to the thorny nature of this animal. The physical structure of deerskin is different from other types of skins. It has elongated interwoven fibres that provide extremely high shear strength and abrasion resistance. 

It also has an ultra-soft, supple, and comfortable spongy feature. It is lightweight but highly durable and one of the only leather that can get wet and still dry soft. You can wet the deerskin leather material and dry it over and over. Each time it dries, it will conform back to its original condition. You can find this type of leather material in footballs and soft garments.

The Most Expensive Type of Leather

Shell cordovan is considered to be the most expensive leather in the world because it is scarce and can be found in few places of the world. Shell cordovan leather comes from horses which is difficult and expensive to make. Also, the tanning process can take up to six months to complete.

Horse Rawhide is Scarce

The shell cordovan leather material is expensive because it has low supply and high demand. Compared to the cow, sheep, and goat, breeding horses for food is only done in a few countries. 

Also, the practice of breeding horses has become controversial in different parts of the world due to meat’s safety concerns and the perception that horses are pets or gods. When it comes to getting leather material from horses, only a small part is needed. The shell cordovan leather only needs the rump or the butt area of the horse. 

Due to the structure of a horse, it can’t be split into layers like how you obtain cowhide. Now, these are just the contributing factors to how rare this hide is, and people would have to pay a high price for this type of leather.

Long, Expensive Tanning Process

As mentioned above, the process of turning a rawhide from a horse can be long and expensive. The vegetable tanning method is usually done in its tanning process and requires using tannins from plant extracts to tan leather. When tanning horsehide, it should be handled with gentleness and patience. It would allow the tannins to penetrate the dense membrane of the horsehide.

Instead of Fibers, It Has Membrane

Now, you would see membrane instead of the regular fibers when it comes to the cordovan shell material. This makes the leather material extremely durable, wrinkle-resistant, and water-resistant. Unlike the standard leather material, this type of material ripples instead of wrinkling.

Having said this, it makes a great difference since wrinkles on the leather can lead to cracks. Also, the shell cordovan has pores that make it dense which is perfect for being water and stretch-resistant material.

 Age Well and Have Wide Range of Colors

This type of leather material ages particularly well since it develops a beautiful patina over time. The more it is used, the more beautiful it becomes, and a well-maintained shell cordovan leather item can last for a lifetime.

Since this material has dense pores, it doesn’t allow it to accept dye well. You can only get shell cordovan in dark shades of brown, black, and the staple dark burgundy. The colors that it comes in are natural shell cordovan, whiskey shell cordovan, brandy shell cordovan, navy shell cordovan, and black shell cordovan.

With the wide range of colors that you can choose from, you can do different leather projects without painting the leather you are using.


Knowing where your leather comes from is important because you want to get a worth paying material. Always be mindful of the leather material you are choosing, and you can do this with the proper knowledge of where the leather comes from. With all of the types of animal leather material discussed above, I hope you will find the best material for your leatherworking projects in the future.

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