Drying leather

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The drying of leather in the tannery

In the tannery, the leather is dried a maximum of two times between the many process stages. Drying is achieved by various methods: by hanging, drying tunnels, drying machines, high-frequency drying, drying in the sun and many more.

During the drying process, various parameters need to be considered, which determine the choice of the drying method. The factor "time" plays a significant role. Shorter drying times are associated with higher energy costs. Drying also influences the quality parameters of the leather and can have negative effects if the drying method, drying temperature, and drying time are incorrect. This applies to both water squeezing and the final drying methods. Depending on the drying technique, the softness, total surface area of the skin, and intensity of the grain structure are also affected, as well as the binding of tannins within the leather fiber structure. Therefore, the tanner must precisely determine which drying methods and parameters should be chosen in the leather manufacturing process to achieve the desired end result.

Mechanical dewatering - samming

To flush water out of dripping, freshly tanned hides, the hides are squeezed through two metal cylinders (felted rollers) to dewater them. It is comparable to wringing out washing before hanging it out to dry. In this step, the water content is reduced by about 35 to 50%. Special roll-presses are used for this purpose. The rolls are covered with felt in order to prevent the formation of folds during the passage of the leather. This step saves time and energy before complete drying. The leather must not be pressed too hard when samming, in order to avoid damage to the grain.


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Air-dried hides or skins - ground drying - frame drying

Drying hides by exposing the flesh side to mild rays of the sun is a cheaper method but one that takes substantially longer to dry. The hides can just be put on the floor or they can be tensioned by lacing them into a square wooden frame. Stretched hides maintain more surface and shrink less during the drying process when placed in drying frames.

This method has been implemented for centuries by ancient cultures, for example the indigenous people of North America stretched leather for drying and processing. During this process, holes were punched in the outer edge of the leather and ropes were woven through.



Leather stretched in drying frames.

Suspension drying - Drying by hanging

The leather is dried as smoothly as possible by hanging on hooks or over bars at normal room temperature and increased air movement, if possible. Depending on the type of leather, this can take up to several weeks. It is a suitable method for thin and soft leathers. The deformation of the leather is higher, because it is not hindered.



Drying by hanging in the tannery (1st photo by LEATHER NATURALLY).

Hot air drying - Drying tunnels

To dry hides, the wet leather is streched on a toggle frame using toggle clips. These frames move through drying tunnels with hot-air circulating. The leather dries in 8 to 10 hours at 50 - 60°C in the drying tunnel. The drying of the leather skins on a toggle frame makes the grain smoother due to the tension, the leather becomes thinner and somewhat firmer and the surface is stretched larger.



Stretching the hides with toggle clips on perforated metal before drying the leather.

Vacuum drying

Vacuum drying is based on the physical principle that water evaporates at low pressure at low temperature. In the vacuum dryers, leather is placed with the grain side on heated polished metal surfaces and then the water vapour is sucked out of the vacuum chamber. The laying of the leather on the metal surfaces is done by hand to prevent wrinkles in the leather. The leather must be smoothed out until no more wrinkles are visible.

This process has the advantage that the liquid flow goes through the flesh side and draws possible greases from the grain side into the inner zone. The manual work involved is not excessive, as the hides are placed onto the metal plate without clamps or adhesives and the drying time is very short.






Vacuum dryer in the tannery.

Compared to drying in frames in the drying tunnel, the leather remains very smooth and flat during vacuum drying with the grain side on the metal plates. Another method of smoothing the grain side is by ironing leather. When leather is left to dry by stretching it in frames, the grain is stretched and the pores are more open. Therefore, frame-dried leather will never be as smooth as vacuum-dried leather. Frame drying is the right choice if the natural grain optic needs to be strengthened.

Glass drying

The glass drying process offers the advantage of a smooth leather surface. Grain side of moist leather is glued to glass plates. This ensures that the leather cannot warp or shrink during drying. These glass panels, with wet leathers on both sides, are introduced into the drying tunnel under controlled temperature and air circulation, and are almost completely dry in a few hours. The importance of this method lies in the short drying time and the smooth leather surface it gives. The drying method is only suitable for certain types of leather.

High frequency drying

One method of reducing the water content of the leather to a desired level is provided by high-frequency drying. After dewatering by pressing, humid leather is brought into an electric field of high frequencies by a belt conveyor system. The energy density in the humid, conductive areas ensures internal heating and evaporation of the water. This type of drying is only used to a limited extent in the leather industry.

Video about leather production

The leather production in a modern tannery.

Process steps in the leather production
Storage - soaking - liming - fleshing - splitting - pickling - tanning - neutralising - withering - sorting - shaving - dyeing - fatliquoring - retanning - drying - finish - softening - final check

Tanning methods
Chrome tanning - Vegetable-tanned leather - Synthetic tanning - Tanning with fats and oils