My Life in Leather. ~ John Barton, JB Cases

For all of human recorded history and even well before we were able to make records of our activities, humans have used the skins of animals to assist them in life.

Leather is simply an animal skin that has been processed so that it does not decompose. This process is called tanning and there are several methods of tanning. For the most part, leather is tanned today the same way it was done hundreds of years ago.

Leather can be seen as one of the cornerstones of civilization. No matter what the culture and what period of mankind, leather is used in all aspects of life. Its use for case making is almost incomparable when the ease of making a container and versatility is considered. Leather can be tanned using naturally found chemicals and it can be worked using rudimentary tools. Once tanned, it is incredibly durable and long lasting.

And as long as there are animals, there is an endless supply of raw material.

One of my fondest memories as a young man was the first time I went to a leather factory in the mountains of France. Walking into a cavernous warehouse filled to the ceilings with stacks of leather, mostly goat, was intoxicating. The smell, the textures and colors were overwhelming. I spent $2000 on leather I couldn’t even really use, that’s how green I was to the business at the time.

Several years later and much wiser, I went to a leather broker’s warehouse in Germany and spent all day and $10,000 climbing racks of leather to find the hides which would become our Limited series of cases. To me, there is almost nothing better than being in such a place and hunting down the choicest pieces of well-tanned leather. I think that most cue makers probably feel the same when buying wood.

For the purpose of this article, we aren’t going to get into the very technical descriptions of each tanning method. In general the main two methods are chrome tanning and vegetable tanning. Chrome tanning uses the chemical Chromium as an additive. This produces a soft and supple leather. Vegetable tanning uses the bark of trees, primarily oak, and this produces a stiffer leather.

Vegetable tanned leather is known as veg tan and while it does come in several varieties, the most common type is simply called veg tan. And the most commonly known term for non-leather working consumers is saddle leather. When the average person thinks of saddle leather, they think of cowboys and harsh conditions and something tough and durable. In reality, saddles are made of many kinds of leather and the saddle maker will adjust his methods to account for the various types. But for the most part, veg tan leather is the most durable of the many types.

When you see a cue case that has been hand-tooled, meaning that it’s decorated with cuts and sculpting and stamps, then it’s almost certainly veg tan leather. Other types of leather don’t take this type of manipulation well, if at all. Let’s just run down the main types of leather you might see in a typical description of a case:

Veg Tan/Saddle—This type is easy to carve on and is preferred for hand-toolers. This leather is easy to dye and shape. Oil Tan—This type has a high oil conte