Know Your Leather Before Spending Money On It

There is a plethora of reasons why leather is one of the most desirable materials in use today for making anything from clothes to furniture. It has a luxurious look and feel to it, and it comes in a wide range of colors, textures and designs. However, because there are so many varieties out there, it can become tricky to know what you’re buying and whether you’re actually getting good (or any) value for your money. Therefore, it pays to know your leather well.



Leather 101

Most leather nowadays comes from cowhide, which consists of two main integrated layers: the corium and the grain. The corium is filled with collagen fibers that are thin and flexible; they become thicker and tighter as they move up toward the grain, where they are packed tightly and are very sturdy. As the animal ages, the corium becomes thicker, which explains why calfskins are softer, smoother and thinner than older animals’ hides.

Top Grain Vs. Full Grain: Which Is Better?

Generally, there are four main types of leather: top grain, full grain, split leather and bonded leather. If the leather is corrected (processed) in any way, it is called top grain; if the leather still has the entire grain intact, it is referred to as full grain leather. The thing about full grain leather is it is more sought after and expensive than top grain – even if it has blemishes. This is because of its longevity and durability. That being said, the term grain leather is used to describe both top grain and full grain leathers.

What About Suede?

Split leather is where things become very, very confusing. This is because split leather is also known by many other names, including genuine leather, painted leather, Napa leather, Suede, coated leather, embossed leather, corrected leather and more. Split leather is actually the bottom part of the leather – the part that is split off from the grain at the grain/corium junction.

This type of leather is often used for other purposes after it’s been sliced down even further. One example of such use is suede, which has a napped finish by design. Although suede is widely used in the clothing and furniture industries because of its pliability and softness, it should be said that it is often confused with nubuck. Nubuck is a grain leather textured to have a nap finish similar to that of suede; however, it is much more durable and stronger.

Bonded Leather

Lastly, bonded leather is actually not leather at all – which explains why it is widely considered the lowest grade among the types of leather. In fact, bonded leather is nothing other than bits and scraps of leather reconstituted with a filler and then backed with an embossed polyurethane coating. The downside of it is that it falls apart quickly, but it’s also very cheap, which explains why it perseveres in certain applications. These applications include book binding and low-end accessories and furniture. Sometimes it is even called blended or reconstituted leather.


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