• Red Nichols, Holstorian

Post 59: Is it latigo, or actually rawhide?

Updated: Jun 18

Writers often mention that a leg thong, for example, is rawhide but instead it is latigo, a special tannage that is strong in narrow strips. Because rawhide is not even leather; that is, it has not been tanned yet. Instead it is the hide after bark enzymes have been used to remove the hair and flesh from both sides of the hide. THEN it will be tanned.

A member here queried how he could revive his Frazier holster and this is my reply (with his permission):

"Being an original, I would not ever wet it again.  Known to then disintegrate over the coming week.  Regardless, the current patina gives it the air of authenticity it needs as a collectible.  I'd not even apply any so-called restoratives to the leather, either.  Gorgeous as-is.

"The lacing will surprise you:  it is rawhide.  Now rawhide is special:  it is not leather.  Yet.  When a hide arrives at a tannery it is a disgusting rotting 'thing' on a pallet of more of the same.  Hair one side that will become the 'grain' of the tanned leather, flesh of the animal on the other that will be called the 'flesh' side after tanning.  At a sole leather tanner, which is what veg leather is used for, all will go into a huge swimming pool sized pit filled with tannins that come from tree bark, hence the terms 'bark tanned' and 'oak tanned' and the reason for the tannery name Hermann Oak.  The enzymes attack the meat and hair and it falls away; the remainder goes into another pool and is bathed; what comes out is rawhide and this is now edible!  And some cultures used to eat it.

"Left to dry it will become rock hard, nearly exactly like a sheet of nylon plastic.  Even a similar, natural color.  But it can be rewetted and is used for things like drum heads, stretched into position, then allowed to dry.  The drying stretches the rawhide into position and it hardens again.   Not dried, of course the hide will rot away.

"So what you'll do to repair that lacing, which likely you shouldn't do anyway, is locate true 'rawhide lacing' which is usually latigo instead.  Don't use latigo which is a tanned leather used in shoe laces for example.  I recall Tandy has sold rawhide in the past, there are other vendors for leather supplies these days, too.  When you receive it, also make sure you're receiving a special needle for lacing; it's a narrow, flat thing of steel with a clip at the one end to grasp the lace.  The latigo is hard; wet it until it is as soft as a cooked lasagne noodle (doesn't take long in hot water) and relace.  To cut it before wetting, use a band saw.  Or simply wet it and cut it."

Oh yes. Why lacing at all? It's not a decoration, or styling. It's because by the turn of the century only about 10% of saddlers -- and these makers then were all saddlers -- had leatherworking machinery. And that includes stitching machines and is why saddles typically didn't have shearling linings under their skirts: too much hand sewing. So lacing supplanted the hand sewing as not only stronger but faster. And the dried rawhide provided a rock-hard protector for the edge of the holster. That changed when more complex lacing patterns, like this Mexican Basketweave pattern on a mid-century Myres, began using goat and calf skin lacing. Makers like Lawrence sewed the seam as well so the lacing then became decorative.


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