I'm embarking on my first leatherwork project, a laptop sleeve. I read a few guides online and feeling inspired bought a piece of leather - second hand - off a certain online auction site.

On opening the leather at first I was very pleased with the colour, it was described in the listing as "saddle tan, veg tan". However after making some test cuts to get a feel for it I've noticed that the dark brown colour of the leather is really only on the very top surface, the underside looks like the original lighter colour, as does the cross section of the cut.

"saddle tan veg tan"

Is this the way it should look? On all of the guides I've been reading online the leather appears to be a more consistent colour. My fear is that it has not been tanned correctly and the colour will rub off rather quickly. If this is the case, are there steps I can take to prevent this happening?

  • Hi chib, thank you for accepting my answer, but in general it's considered polite to wait at least 24 hours before accepting an answer so as to give people in different timezones a chance to answer.
    – walrus
    Oct 22, 2018 at 13:21
  • @walrus I've unaccepted the answer, will accept it again tomorrow. Thanks for your prompt and detailed answer, I'll look into applying some finishing products to the leather.
    – chib
    Oct 22, 2018 at 13:28
  • That's quite all right; you posted at a convenient time.
    – walrus
    Oct 22, 2018 at 13:29

1 Answer 1


It looks to me like you're conflating the tanning with the dyeing processes:

Tanning vs Dyeing

Tanning is how you turn a piece of rawhide into leather - it does change the colour, but that's not the main purpose.

Dyeing is how you change the colour of an already tanned piece of leather.

Telling Veg-tanned and Chrome-tanned leather apart

There are two main ways to check if a piece of leather is chrome or veg tanned. The first is stiffness - veg tanned leather is normally quite stiff, and can be impressed when dampened.

The second is colour; undyed veg-tanned leather is a salmon-pink fleshy colour (like you have), whereas undyed chrome tanned leather is normally blueish-grey.

Your leather

Looking at your picture, it looks to me like a piece of veg-tanned leather that's been surface dyed rather than through dyed - the dye has been applied to the surface and hasn't had a chance to soak right the way through. This is quite normal for pieces of leather that were bought undyed and dyed at home.

Unless you have other reasons to be concerned, I'd say that the tanning is perfectly fine and you have nothing to be worried about there.

Yes, the dye will fade and rub off more quickly than if it were through-dyed, but you can always apply more dye if you need to. Applying some sort of leather finish such as dubbin should slow the fading.

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