Veg tan VS. Oil Tan:

One of the biggest questions I get asked is what is better: Veg tan or Oil Tan leather. To answer that I need to explain what each one is first. Both types of leather are useful for different things; where one would be better suited for a certain project over the other the reverse might be true for a different kind of project. Let’s look first at Veg tan Leather:


Veg tan or Vegetable tanned leather refers to the process in which the leather was tanned. In this case it is called “vegetable” due to the natural materials used in the process, mainly tree barks and other plant materials. It is one of the oldest methods of tanning and has been around for centuries. It is one of the most durable types of leather; it has a great initial stiffness which makes it ideal for products like belts, saddles and holsters but it is not typically used in items that require a lot of initial give such as bags, purses, jackets and shoes. Due to is initial sturdy nature it is the only type of leather that can be carved.

Over time a veg tan product will patina as it is used and absorbs the oils from your skin and its environment. It will become darker and richer in color as well as softer and less stiff making it more comfortable to use the more you use it.

The disadvantage of the Vegetable tanning method is its heavy use of water. Despite that the discharge created is not harmful due to the natural products used, the process itself takes about two months. The process starts when the animal is slaughtered, the hides are quickly salted to preserve them and prevent rotting. The hides are then sent to a tannery where they are put into a beam house which is the storage facility for the green hides. From there they are put into the liming pits which in the olden days were just that, pits, however in modern times we use drums filled with lime. Lime is a very potent chemical and it is used to burn off the hair on the hides. After wards the hides are put into another drum of tannins (think potent tree bark tea) to be tanned, they are then pressed, sorted and dyed a variety of colors but usually in earthy tones.

Essentially, veg tan leather is a beautiful product that will age as you use it. It is ideal for products that require structural stiffness such as holsters, wallets and belt however would generally not be used for item such as soft bags, purses or clothing.


Oil tan or Chrome tanning is the most popular kind of tanning in the global industry. Chrome tanning refers to the chemical used in the process called chromium salts. It creates a very soft leather that does not have much if any structural stiffness making it ideal for items like chaps, jackets, soft bags and purses. It has a greater stain and water resistance and is available in a wider variety of colors.

Over time the look and feel of oil tan leather will not change much. If you are looking for a product that will look the same as when you bought it ten years down the line, consider oil tanned leather. It is widely used in the upholstery industry specifically because of it more uniform color and the fact that it will not patina as noticeably as veg tanned leather.

The disadvantage of oil tanned leather is that the process by which chrome tanning is carried out has a negative environmental impact. Done incorrectly the toxic wastewater can seep into the ground and affect both the soil and ground water. The process as which veg tan starts when the animal is slaughtered. Unlike veg tanning the tanner don’t receive raw hides but rather the hides are taken to a tannery that is part of the slaughter house where the hair and flesh is removed and the hides are then put through an initial tanning process where the hides come out with a distinctly blueish tinge thus the term wet blue. The chrome tanners will receive the halved hides this way. When the tanners receive the hides, they go through a grading process, from there they are run through a band-knife splitter to cut the hides to the desired thickness. The top halves (grain) are then separated from the bottom halves (splits) which are frequently bought up to be made into suedes the rest of the process remains largely the same as with veg tan, the key difference being that instead of using tannins it uses chemicals such as chromium salts. The process is faster and more cost effective. Unlike the veg tan it will not age and patina but rather will wear making it not as durable as a veg tan product.

As you can see, both veg tan and oil tan leather have their own pros and cons. When asking which one is better, one should consider which project it will be used for. Something that needs to hold its shape should be made with veg tanned leather however if you need a soft and flexible leather right off the bat then I would suggest an oil tanned leather. Properly cared for both types of leather can and will last you for many years.