Leather Worker

Leather workers use leather, imitation leather, plastics and other materials to make products such as clothes, handbags and shoes. There are four sections within the leather industry. These consist of tanning, shoe manufacturing, general leather goods and handbags.

Tanning: tanners use chemicals to prepare animal hides. The hides are soaked to remove the salt and treated with chromium salt or vegetable products to remove hair and flesh.

Stakers, stretchers and togglers work on the hide to produce a satisfactory shape
Splitters use sharp knives to split the hides
Shavers remove the remaining hair
Sprayers uses special equipment to spray on different colours according to demand
Buffers buff the leather to impart a smooth surface

Footwear Section: employs by far the largest number of both skilled and unskilled labour:
Clickers cut the leather material (the uppers)
Lining cutters cut out the lining
Skivers thin the seam edges
Machinists sew the uppers and lining together
Sole cutters and insole cutters cut out the various parts of the sole
Pull toe lasters fit the uppers to lasts and join them by using lasting machines
Sole attachers apply adhesive and sole stitchers stitch around the soles
Heel attachers fasten on the heels
Sole moulders apply rubber soles where required
Edge trimmers trim the soles and heels and smooth rough edges
Bottom scourers polish the soles
Inkers apply dye to obtain the desired colour

General leather goods section: includes the manufacture of shopping bags, briefcases, saddles, bridles, suitcases and clothes. Their tasks include constructing, decorating or repairing leather products according to specifications, using sewing machines, needles and thread, leather lacing, glue, clamps, hand tools and/or rivets. They dye, soak, polish, paint, stamp, stitch, stain, buff or engrave leather or other materials to obtain the desired effects, decorations or shapes.  They need to check the texture, colour and strength of the leather to ensure that it is adequate for a particular purpose.

Leather tradesmen work mainly indoors in workshops and factories. Depending on the specific trade, working conditions are not excessively noisy or dirty. However, preparing animal hides involves processes with chemicals that produce offensive odours, so tanning factories are usually in isolated areas.

People with a tendency to allergies might encounter difficulties in the tanning industry because of the chemicals used. These factors, as well as the variety of sharp tools used, necessitate strict safety precautions.

Personal Requirements

  • technical aptitude
  • pay attention to detail
  • pride of workmanship
  • work carefully and accurately to avoid waste
  • manual dexterity
  • steady and deft hands
  • good eye-hand coordination

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

Grade 8 Certificate

What to Study

In-service training takes place according to a syllabus prescribed by the Leather Industries Research Institute and employers in the tanning industry.

The duration of the learnership period varies from 2 years for unskilled work to 4 years for skilled work. This period may be shortened for people with higher educational qualifications.

On successful completion of a trade test a recognition certificate is issued. The Industrial Council controls all the trades and must grant permission to employers before anyone may be employed. Such trainees are supervised to ensure that they are trained properly and thoroughly. The Footwear Industry Training Board also offers footwear correspondence courses.


  • factories and workshops where leather and imitation leather goods are manufactured
  • self-employment, as a cobbler or shoe repairer

Further Information

The Director
Leather Industries Research Institute
P O Box 185
Grahamstown, 6140
Tel: (031) 701-4111

Getting Started

  • take up leatherwork as a hobby
  • obtain vacation work at a manufacturing concern
  • consult the Industrial Council of the Leather Industry concerning training programmes available in your area

Programmes by Study Institutions

Related Occupations

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