Leather is a durable and flexible material created by the tanning of animal rawhide and skin, often cattle hide. It can be produced through manufacturing processes ranging from cottage industry to heavy industry.
Full-grain leather refers to hides that have not been sanded, buffed, or snuffed (as opposed to top-grain or corrected leather) to remove imperfections (or natural marks) on the surface of the hide. The grain remains allowing the fiber strength and durability. The grain also has breathability, resulting in less moisture from prolonged contact. Rather than wearing out, it will develop a patina over time. High quality leather furniture and footwear are often made from full-grain leather. Full-grain leathers are typically available in two finish types: aniline and semi-aniline.
Full Grain Leather is the best leather money can buy.
It comes from the top layer of the hide which has ALL of the grain, therefore, _full_ grain.
The natural surface of full grain leather burnishes and beautifies with use. Some companies sort of spray paint their inferior leather to try to make it look like full grain leather, but it just ends up looking like someone spray painted some cheap leather. From what I’ve seen, maybe 2% of all bags are made of Full Grain. This leather is expensive for me to buy and very difficult to work.
Marks and scrapes and scars are all natural. Where the cow had been gored scraped by barbed wire, cactus or mesquite thorns ... bitten by a coyote ... or branded, the color sets in deep and stands out a bit. You’ll be able to see the full grain running through the hide in the form of veins too.
Your bag may have a few small scars and imperfections, but those just lend a tremendous amount of character to it. Some bags have parts of the cow’s brand here and there. Ride it hard; it’ll look better.
Top-grain leather (the most common type used in high-end leather products) is the second-highest quality. It has had the “split” layer separated away, making it thinner and more pliable than full-grain. Its surface has been sanded and a finish coat added to the surface which results in a colder, plastic feel with less breathability, and it will not develop a natural patina. It is typically less expensive and has greater resistance to stains than full-grain leather, so long as the finish remains unbroken.
Top Grain Leather is the second highest grade because it is split from the top layer of blemished hide then sanded and refinished. This is how they get rid of scars and scrapes and light cow brands. Top grain leather does not age nicely with use. It is strong and durable, but not good enough for Saddleback. They sanded off the strongest fibers of the hide leaving mainly the horizontal (easily pulled apart) fibers. By the way, did you know that leather shavings are used as filler in cheap dog food? The bigger the pile of shavings in the dog food, the bigger the piles elsewhere.
Top grain leather has often been sanded to remove scars and then sprayed or pasted to “cover up” the work. Top grain is not the same as “Full Grain” leather.
Genuine Leather is the third grade of leather and is produced from the layers of hide that remain after the top is split off for the better grades. The surface is usually refinished (spray painted) to resemble a higher grade. It can be smooth or rough.
Ever heard of suede? Suede is tougher than cloth and is excellent for lining, but it’s not a good idea to use it in areas where it gets stress.
Leather that has been sanded to produce a nap.
Suede is a type of leather with a napped finish, commonly used for jackets, shoes, shirts, purses, furniture and other items. The term comes from the French “gants de Suède”, which literally means “Swedish gloves”.
Suede leather is made from the underside of the skin, primarily lamb, although goat, calf and deer are commonly used. Splits from thick hides of cow and deer are also sueded, but, due to the fibre content, have a shaggy nap.
Because suede does not include the tough exterior skin layer, suede is less durable but softer than standard (“full-grain”) leather. Its softness, thinness, and pliability make it suitable for clothing and delicate uses; suede was originally used for women’s gloves.
Suede leather is also popular in upholstery, shoes, bags, and other accessories, and as a lining for other leather products.
Due to its textured nature and open pores, suede may become dirty and quickly absorb liquids.
Split leather is leather created from the fibrous part of the hide left once the top-grain of the rawhide has been separated from the hide. During the splitting operation, the top-grain and drop split are separated. The drop split can be further split (thickness allowing) into a middle split and a flesh split. In very thick hides, the middle split can be separated into multiple layers until the thickness prevents further splitting. Split leather then has an artificial layer applied to the surface of the split and is embossed with a leather grain (bycast leather). Splits are also used to create suede. The strongest suedes are usually made from grain splits (that have the grain completely removed) or from the flesh split that has been shaved to the correct thickness. Suede is “fuzzy” on both sides. Manufacturers use a variety of techniques to make suede from full-grain. A reversed suede is a grained leather that has been designed into the leather article with the grain facing away from the visible surface. It is not considered to be a true form of suede.
This refers to the undersection of a piece of leather that has been split into two or more thicknesses. Splits are usually embossed with a design and finished or sueded.
Bonded Leather is the most economical type that uses leftovers of organic leather that are bonded together with polyurethane binders on top of a fiber sheet. The varying degree of organic leather in the mix (between 60% to 100%) affect the smell and the texture of such product. Due to its reduced cost it is becoming a popular choice for furniture upholstery, especially for commercial use, where durability is needed.
Bonded Leather is the PT Cruiser of the leather world... pure junk. Leftover scraps are ground together with glue and resurfaced in a process similar to vinyl manufacture. Bonded leather is weak and degrades quickly with use. Most Bibles are covered with this.
Corrected-grain leather is any leather that has had an artificial grain applied to its surface. The hides used to create corrected leather do not meet the standards for use in creating vegetable-tanned or aniline leather. The imperfections are corrected or sanded off, and an artificial grain impressed into the surface and dressed with stain or dyes. Most corrected-grain leather is used to make pigmented leather as the solid pigment helps hide the corrections or imperfections. Corrected grain leathers can mainly be bought as two finish types: semi-aniline and pigmented.
Shell cordovan (or cordovan) is a type of leather commonly used in shoemaking. Cordovan is an equine leather made from the fibrous flat muscle (or shell) beneath the hide on the rump of the horse. The leather derives its name from the city of Cordoba, Spain, where it was originally prepared by the Moors.