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Leather Quality and Properties

Discussion in 'Classic Menswear' started by VegTan, Jul 8, 2013.

  1. dibadiba

    dibadiba Senior member

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    [​IMG] posted some pages back would seem to indicate that it has poor tensile strength. Some shoe/bootmakers I've talked to have complained of it tearing while lasting, which would corroborate that post.

    Personally, as a leatherworker I find cordovan quite over-rated. I think it's a wonderful example of a combination of marketing and tradition coming together beautifully. It's terribly inconsistent in thickness both piece-to-piece as well as on each individual shell itself. I find that black shell tends to look pretty awful as it ages. Some of the other colours can look very nice over time, though, and I do like some of its properties.

    If you want 'tough as nails', I'd say look elsewhere in terms of leather choice.
     
  2. JermynStreet

    JermynStreet Senior member

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    Thank you for this answer and this is the type of answer I was looking for. How does tensile strength affect the integrity of leather over time? Would one turn to Kangaroo or vegetable-tanned steerhide for longevity? Is there any shoe that will truly last 30 years with regular wear? (50+ times per year?).
     
  3. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    My experience as well.
     
  4. dibadiba

    dibadiba Senior member

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    I'll let someone more experienced answer the first part of your question. While kangaroo does have incredibly high tensile strength, you have to keep in mind that it's also very thin, so the benefit may be to use a thicker leather with a slightly lower tensile strength . I use it for wallets and it's wonderful to work with as it's strong, thin, and doesn't stretch much.
     
  5. chogall

    chogall Senior member

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    That sounds like a reasonable useful life, not some exaggerated rarities like princely 30+ years patchwork, Marcos shoedrobe rotation, or 50+ years of shop wear museum piece. A two week rotation with 15 pairs of shoes and regular maintenance should last 20 years.
     
  6. SHS

    SHS Senior member

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    Speaking of leather thickness, what is the best thickness for calf upper leather? (and other leathers?) I can see that Vass uses 1,5 mm thick leather:

    http://www.vass-cipo.hu/Eng/Bemutatkozas.html (Scroll down)

    Of course there is a natural limit to how thick the leather can be, but is the thickness chosen as a balance of durability and flexibility?
     
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2013
  7. patrickBOOTH

    patrickBOOTH Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    We have discussed this, DWF says it has more to do with length of fibers, not thickness.
     
  8. patrickBOOTH

    patrickBOOTH Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    Also, the thing with cordovan is it doesn't crease like calf does. It doesn't crease sharply and as we know from was DWF has said dust, dirt, volcanic ash, sulphuric acid and such gets in there and it acts as sandpaper. Cordovan could be last longer because any of this that gets into highly stressed areas isn't bent in on itself with every crease. Just a thought.
     
  9. SHS

    SHS Senior member

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    Sorry, now I noticed the answer to glenjay. So the 4 ounce is equivalent to 1,60 mm. I thought that some of the Vass shoes I have seen have looked a little thin in the leather, but apparently it is probably average?
     
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2013
  10. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    Cordovan isn't really a hide/skin. It is a sheath that lies over the muscle group of the hip/butt. I am not fond of it. I think it tears much more easily than many other leathers and I also have never seen the percentage of stretch that is indicated in the chart (from the 1940's) above.

    I don't find the chart entirely credible, frankly. There are several assertions that are suspect...that aren't consistent with what I've experienced.


    Strictly speaking that's true...tensile strength is related to fiber length more than thickness. And a coarser fiber mat will break down faster than a finer, denser structure.

    That said, each leather and each tannage brings it's own characteristics that affect suitability for the making of a shoe. I would prefer to calfskins in the neighborhood of 3 ounce (3/64") for men's dress shoes although I have used leathers as light as 2+ounce and as heavy as 4 ounce. Some of this has to do with weight, with flexibility, some just has to do with the finesse with which a seam can be implemented.

    Very little of this is going to affect durability. For instance, a thinner leather will crease smaller than a thicker leather. Which in turn, may decrease the damage that dirt, grit, etc., can have on the leather.

    The theory is that the thicker the leather the looser the fit must be, as well, simply because thicker means that larger pipes and wrinkles develop during creasing and these will exert greater pressure on the foot...I'm not entirely sure I agree, given the leathers I choose, but the logic makes sense. By the time you line even a 6 ounce vamp with a decent 3 ounce, and then start factoring in seam overlaps, creasing, etc., you can have nearly 1/4" of leather over the foot trying to bend and move with the shoe. Not always comfortable. Such thickness are actually better on a pull-on boot.

    Why shell creases more finely than calf, I can't really say. I think it has something to do with the fact that it is a muscle sheath rather than a skin. Again, I'm not real fond of cordovan.

    DW...
     
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2013
    2 people like this.
  11. MoneyWellSpent

    MoneyWellSpent Senior member

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  12. JermynStreet

    JermynStreet Senior member

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    Well I guess the truth sets you free. Thanks for your knowledge and information, DWF and Dibadiba.
     
  13. MoneyWellSpent

    MoneyWellSpent Senior member

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    Did it set you free in a positive or negative way? No longer going to purchase shell, or sticking with it?
     
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2013
  14. patrickBOOTH

    patrickBOOTH Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    DWF said a lot of things in that post, both about cordovan, the charts, regular leather and his opinions of all of all three. I stand by my personal experience with shell. I think the not so fine creasing, or rather "bending" makes it last longer due to dirt and dust and such not rubbing on itself. I see nothing wrong with having both calf and shell in rotation.

    I have heard other shoemakers express a sort of hatred toward working with it. I know Philp Carr of St. Crispins was trying to talk me out of it saying it was, "unnecessary". I really had to pull his leg. Also Tony Gaziano said he doesn't like it either, however he tries pushing stingray on people, which is odd...
     
  15. clee1982

    clee1982 Senior member

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    I imagine sting ray is probably most durable out of the lot, at least scratch resistant wise.
     
  16. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    FTFY

    I agree with you that shoemakers as a whole probably aren't any too fond of cordovan...but I wouldn't term it hatred. It's more frustration and dislike than hatred--when you have to deal with uneven inconsistent thicknesses even in the same shell; the propensity to tear; the odd way in which cordovan reflects light; even the difficulty of trying to skive an edge down to a feather (there is no grain to speak of); it's hard to like it especially when your reputation and often your profit margin (slim as it may be for a bespoke maker) is at issue. I don't hate cordovan, I just don't like to work with it and I don't see any real benefits over good calf.

    As far as stingray is concerned if you could see the back side of a sting ray skin you would have your doubts about it. It is a very loose network of fibers...almost like a hair net...and when it first came on the market the only way you could use it was to "back it" with a thin piece of kangaroo to give it the integrity and tensile strength that it lacks on its own.

    The other thing is that a good shoemaker takes a certain pride in the fineness/finesse of his work--the closeness of the stitches; the straightness of the stitch line; the precision and cleanness of the cut edges. None of that is possible with stingray (barring some technique that I am not familiar with)...the 'tiles"/beads will break all but the thickest needles (and deflect even those) and cutting through the beads is more a process of breaking them than cutting them. So, I don't like working with it...in fact, I'd rather work with cordovan.

    Parenthetically, I don't like working with deerskin or moose, either. Or shark or eel or frog. Or unnaturally textured leathers. It's the responsibility of a good shoemaker to try to steer a customer away from leathers that will not yield the results or the longevity that the customer may be envisioning. The customer has hopes, the shoemaker has experience. The best bespoke is a sharing and a merging of both.

    DW...

    --
     
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2013
    2 people like this.
  17. patrickBOOTH

    patrickBOOTH Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    Interesting on stingray...

    With cordovan I have seen some very odd shoes, where each pattern piece reflected light in such a different way that each piece looked literally like a different color. Then turning the shoe you could see how it really was just the light. Very strange. I have also seen some shell that is very rough, some that is like glass, and as you said varying thickness. It does seem that the RTW shoes at the $1K+ price point finishes it a bit better and for some reason uses thinner shell, possibly to get the similarly refined look of calf on a dress shoe.
     
  18. cbfn

    cbfn Senior member

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    My RL Marlows are like that regarding lighting. In some angels they look like tan/brown specs. The shell on them is also insanely thick.
     
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2013
  19. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    Most, if not all, of that's on the tanner. Unfortunately, there aren't all that many tanners who make shell. Horween is notorious for being indifferent to the concerns of all but the biggest of their customers. Another case of "What's Job One?"

    That said, the way cordovan reflects light can be controlled...to some extent...by how each component is aligned on the shell when it is cut. Shoes that appear as if they were made out of different colours, may reflect more on the haste/expediency of the shoemaker than on the quality of the leather.

    Tioraidh...DW
     
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2013
  20. clee1982

    clee1982 Senior member

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    And then it became the "charm" of shell cordovan :p

    So which exotic leather is actually nice to work with then, crocodile/alligator?
     

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