When deciding which bison or buffalo leather hide to purchase for a project, there are a number of options to consider. The purpose of the end item is the primary consideration, as it will eliminate a number of hide cuts unsuited to get the intended result. The type of tanning process used is another fundamental question that needs to be addressed early in the project. The season the hide was harvested, the relative age of the hide when it was taken, whether the project dictates the hair on or a hairless hide; all determine how the end item will look and feel, its durability and flexibility. Also of significance – especially with buffalo and bison hides – is the cost. Regardless of any other factor, cost should be the least important; however, there are options which can result in significant cost savings, whether it is an item for personal use or intended for resale.
The application of the completed project requires some thought and planning. Important questions include: Is this for a historical recreation or repair and restoration of a period artifact? Is it for a wardrobe item or accessory piece? Is it for footwear, hand coverings, belt or possibly a pouch? Is it for a current practical application such as a drover duster, motorcycle chaps, or similar modern apparel?
The answer for most of the above questions is to use a brain tanned hide. It is the most supple, resilient and durable of the various tanning methods. It has advantages over vegetable tanned, salt tanned, or chemical tanned hides in the vast majority of cases. Commercial brain tanned hides will be considerably less expensive than hand-worked brain tanned hides. The advantage of commercial brain tanning is consistency and predictable overall quality. Brain tanning is an art; there are almost as many brain tanning recipes as there are tanners. Unless it is possible to directly handle the hide prior to purchase, the best option is to use a reliable commercial source.
In cases where extreme durability is a higher priority to flexibility; Old World tanning – also known as aged vegetable tanning – is the preferred option. This is the best solution for articles of horse tack, moccasin soles, or lamellar-style armor using the cuir bouilli boiled leather hardening methods. It is also the best tanning method for book covers and bindings.
The season and age of the buffalo or bison hide when it was harvested is critical. Ideally, the hide should be from an 18-month old bull, taken in the winter. A year-and-a-half old bull has a mature hide, yet it is still thin and flexible enough to work with easily. A winter hide is most important for hair-on applications, where a soft thick pelt of hair is desired. If there is no requirement for hair, there are significant savings over a hair-on hide.
Many amateur and novice leather workers tend to avoid using buffalo or bison hides because of the expense. Anyone who can successfully work with cowhide can work buffalo or bison. Both hides have superior features which have significant advantages over cowhide. With commercial brain tanned and outstanding Old World aged vegetable tanned options, hides have become more affordable and accessible than ever.
Learn more about buffalo leather and bison leather, including old world tanned hides and commercial brain tanned hides, leather supplies, scraps, and tools.