Learning About Leather

When leather comes into the factory, it is fairly thick so they usually cut it down into 3 layers. The top layer is called a top grain, the second layer is called a split hide, and the third is usually scrapped.

The top grain is the best cut of leather. It is the toughest and most durable. Within the top grains is usually a grading system. The highest grade leathers come in the most pure with the fewest imperfections which means they did not have to be touched up. Therefore they feel the nicest or they have the best hand. This is not to say that you will not find any markings. High grade leather will still have markings like stretch marks small bug bites or barbed wire fence scratches because this is considered the beauty of leather. Some markings are just too big to deal with and may compromise the leather so in this case the leather will need to be fixed. The more imperfections the leather has, the more correcting it will need. The more correcting required, the lower the grade. To correct the leather, the imperfections are shaved out, smoothed, stamped with a gaining pattern, and then a protective coating is applied. The lower grades of the top grain leathers could be corrected up to as much as 80%. When you get into the lower grades the leather will begin to feel more like plastic because of all the correcting they have had to do.

Split hides are the second layer of leather. So in the beginning they will have no graining and appear to be suede. As in the lower grades of the top grain the leather will have to be ironed flat and stamped with a grain. After stamping a protective coating is also applied. These will be easy to pick out because the graining will be very uniform.

In addition to top grain and split hides there are leathers that will sometimes be called Newbuck leather or Bycast leather. Newbuck leather is simply a top grain leather that has been brushed or abraded with a steel brush to pull up a nap or a soft fuzzy texture. Bycast can be a top grain or split hide but in either case it is ironed very smooth to remove most of the natural graining and a large amount of protective coating is then applied. This leather is usually used on more contemporary frames. Newbuck leathers will be very difficult to clean. Bycast leathers will be very easily cleaned.

There is one more thing to know about leathers. Some leathers will be called waxed leathers. This is just a wax finish that is applied to the top or the leather to give it a more rustic or weathered look. This finish is easy to test for. Just scratch the surface of the leather with your nail and the leather will change to a lighter color. These marking will go away by rubbing the leather with your hands the natural oils in your hand will rub the scratch out again. If the scratch does not come out, don't worry, a little waxed leather conditioner will restore the leather to the original color.

Now comes the difficult part. What leather is right for me? If your household has children, I recommend leather with a little protection. Anything that is not a Newbuck or the highest of the top grains  will absorb stains and be difficult to remove. If your household can handle something a little nicer will be great. They feel so nice and the extra money will be worth it in the long run.

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