Finished, tanned fish skin leather is a material quite similar to tanned cowhide or sheepskin. The fish skin leather is tanned and curried as a durable and wear-resistant leather that can be used like any other leather. Fish scales are removed in tanning. The skin pockets remaining on the skin of, for example, Baltic and Atlantic salmon, form a recognizable pattern on the leather. Burbot skin has a very varied and beautiful texture with very small scales, which do not completely cover the leather.
Fish skin leather is thinner than generally used mammalian leathers, but even stronger in relation to its thickness. The wallets with a surface completely covered with fish skin leather are a good example of durability. It is not at all unusual that these wallets last for more than ten years in use. For example, a 2.5 mm wide ribbon made of burbot skin clearly overcomes a thicker buckskin ribbon in tensile strength.
There are countless tanning materials and ways to tan leather. Vegetable tanning has been used for thousands of years to turn raw skins into durable leather. Aluminum, chrome, and various metal salt tints were developed mainly in the early 20th century and used to provide better thermal resistance and to make easily dyeable skins. Traditional tanning methods also include fat tanning and urine tanning.
We use vegetable tanning, which is an ecological way to utilize the skin of the commonly caught edible fish and turn it into beautiful and durable products. Various extracts from wood bark and wood are used as tanning agents.
Briefly described, the raw skin is first cleaned very carefully by scraping off all traces if meat, removing the scales and washing off the fat. In the actual tanning process, the skin is impregnated with tanning agents that convert raw hides into flexible and durable leather. In the final treatments, the skin is greased, dried, stretched straight, and often the flesh side is once more smoothly sanded, making it easy to glue or sew skins together.
Fish skin leather manufacture with vegetable tanning typically takes 4-5 weeks, from raw skin into finished leather. Faster processing is possible, but it may not be the best option for the results we are aiming at. Some species need more time to be treated, such as Atlantic wolffish or sturgeon skins.
The smell of the fish comes from fish's own fat. That is why the fat is removed from the skins as accurately as possible. There is no longer any fish odor in the tanned leather. Instead, you can recognize the smell of the tanning agent, for example, the smell of willow trees.
Fish skin leather is not just an ornament, it can be used like any other leather in various wear-resistant items. Wallets and bags are good examples of this. Fish skin leather has also been used in shoes and clothing. What restricts the use, is the small size of the leather pieces. Large surfaces require a great number of seams, but sewing and gluing fish skin leather can be done just like with other leather.
Ready-made fish skin leathers are scarcely available in comparison with mammalian leathers and, moreover, manufacturers are few and operators small. Fish skin leather is also more expensive than mammal's leather of the same size. In many products, the small size requires the sewing of multiple leather pieces and good design to minimize the waste of material. Different fish species have very different types of skins and the quality varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. Impressions and prejudices about the smell and fragility are influenced by many decisions not to utilize fish skin leather. If you have seen only hard and wrinkled leather made by a hobbyist, you can easily get wrong ideas of fish skin leather.
The size of the skins being treated is much smaller than that of the general mammalian skins. There are many steps where the skins need to be treated individually. Tanning is mainly done by hand. There are machines suitable for handling mammalian skins, but rarely available for different types of fish skins. Getting suitable, intact, large enough fish skins for processing in sufficiently large batches is not that easy in case of many fish species. As a result, abundantly used salmon skin leather is most commonly used worldwide.
Fish skin leather has a beautiful and attractive, three-dimensional surface. Especially burbot has a unique pattern that gives each product its own, recognizable touch.
The fish skin leather is durable in use and the products are a real, long-lasting pleasure.
In addition to durability, vegetable-tanned fish skin is an ecological alternative to other types of leather and its manufacturing and raw materials are also sustainable. The meat of the fish is used as food, so the fish are not caught only because of their skin.
Thin fish skin leather is also light.
Fish skin leather fits especially well for fishermen and everybody working with fish.
You can also give or receive a gift made of a fish you caught yourself and which is bound to last for a long time. Fish skin products are also a good alternative to stuffed fish as memorabilia.