Grades of leather

An Ultimate Guide To Leather & Its Product | 2020

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Leather is the king of all materials and used to make the consumer leather product like furniture, bags, jackets, and other accessories. It has a charm that you can’t resist.

Want to check the value of leather in your life? Okay, let’s test it out.

Open your closet and start counting on the leather product you have right now. There will be at least one handbag, a wallet, a belt, a jacket, boots, a wristwatch, and the list goes on with your living room and even the travel kit.

Did you notice? Leather has effortlessly made its place in your life, only with its elegance and classiness.
There is something special about this irresistible material. It has the magic that seduces you right from the first gaze.

Don’t you want to know what’s unique about leather? Why is it so graceful? What’s its dynasty? How it’s made? How is it shaped into the beautiful products you buy? You might be nodding your head Yes.

So, here I am sharing a complete roundup of everything you need to know about leather. Stick with this article, where you will find a lot of surprising facts and information about leather that you may not know yet.

I can bet that you will love this guide. Read on, and thank me later.

Let’s start with the basics.

Table of Contents

What Is Leather?

Leather is a kind of material that is produced by tanning the rawhide of an animal, commonly from the cattle hide. It can also come from other animals like ostrich, python, and camel. Then the animal skin will be tanned into leather through three procedures to make it durable and flexible.

Classification and Thickness of Leather

Thickness of leather

Leather is the byproduct of animal hides after tanning. These processes can further classify the leather into different categories. 

  • Raw leather: not subjected to any processing, just the still in the salt 
  • Semi-rough leather: the first stage of tanning of animal skin when the natural decay has stopped but not finished.
  • Fully-Finished leather: marketed merchandise is usually made of finished leather. It has great resistance, aesthetics, and touch.

Leather Thickness

To give leather a uniform thickness, hides run through a splitting machine. The process will produce different thicknesses of leather to be used in different consumer goods. 

Leather thickness & its products

The Origins of Leather

During the Bronze Age, the frozen body of a hunter was found wearing shoes made from the skin of bear and deer. This depicted that early humans must have been using animal skins to wrap themselves in the still warm hides. They used to stiff hides at low temperatures and rot them in the heat to make it durable, and flexible. Then they discovered that by drying the animal skin in sun and using salt to dehydrate, the natural rotting process of animal skin stopped. Once the skin is dried, they transformed it into clothing, shelters, and footwear.

Learn more about the origins of leather here.

The Rich History of Leather

Leather History

The discovery of leather is known to be one of the earliest founds of man in history. In foregoing times it was used as a protective armor that was primarily worn on the battlefields or while hunting for the wild animals.

Later its usage has evolved, and the historical artifacts and paintings date back to 5000 B.C. showcase many things made of leather. These included buckets, bottles, sandals, gloves, military equipment, clothes, and shrouds for burring the demised people.

Its durability made it a standard material to be used in transportation and furniture throughout history. When a boom in industrialization began, it created a high demand for leather, and in the 18th and 19th centuries, it was categorized it other kinds like belting leathers to drive machinery.

Now the further development of leather by incorporating chemicals and sophisticated processing methods has made it even better with an expanded aesthetic and feel.

The Global Leather Industry

The leather industry generates a significant amount of revenue from the products people use around the world. It is a $100 billion per year manufacturing sector and a key player in the global commerce market. Leather manufacturing is the second oldest profession in the world. More than half of the world’s supply of leather raw material comes from developing countries like China, the Republic of Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, and Viet Nam.

Watch out for some more interesting information about the leather industry in these infographics.

Global Leather Industry

How Is Leather Produced?

The production of leather involves four fundamental stages which include:

1. Preparatory steps

The first crucial process in the production of leather is salting to cure animal skin of decomposition. Then the cured animal hide goes through some preparatory steps for the tanning process. The preparatory step is done to remove unwanted raw skin components to obtain the desired quality of leather.

  • Soaking 
  • Un-haring 
  • Pickling
  • De-Pickling 
  • Liming 
  • De-Liming 
  • Bating 
  • De-Greasing 
  • Bleaching

2. Tanning

The main purpose of this process is to a non-decomposable and durable leather from the rawhide. Tanning transforms the protein of the rawhide into a sturdy material. The most common tanning processes include:

  • Chrome Tanning
  • Vegetable Tanning
  • Oil Tanning
Type of leather tanning

3. Re-tanning

Re-tanning is the process that converts the tanned leather into valuable merchandise. To give the leather desired colors and texture, different chemicals are used. The process involves the following steps:

  • Drying 
  • Shaving 
  • Splitting 
  • Dyeing
  • Fat Liquoring

4. Finishing

To give the leather a glossy, sleek, refined look, the finishing process is done to the tanned leather. To obtain the desired leather texture, leather thickness, color, and surface patterns, the following steps are being performed:

• Polishing
• Embossing
• Surface Coating
• Final grading

Learn more about the process of leather craftsmanship by looking at our workshop snapshots and the process of leatherwork carried out by our skilled artisans.

The supply chain of leather

Leather Supply Chain

The Sustainable Manufacturing of Leather

The conventional methods of tanning were riskier for the environment. But now, technology has evolved and brought a sustainable process to leather manufacturing worldwide. In the traditional chrome tanning process, less than 50% of the chrome is utilized in leather and the rest is disposed of in waste streams. Now the utilization ratio has increased to around 60% to 80% to reduce environmental pollution.

Sustainable Leather

For more details on sustainable leather manufacturing, read this research report

The Different Grades of Leather

The leather material is graded differently according to the durability and texture of the fabric. The necessary grades of leather are classified into four categories.

Different grades of leather
  1. First Grade, Best value leather – Contains 13% of the hide, solid close fibred, and water-resisting.
  2. Second Grade, Good value leather – Contains 30% of the hide
  3. Third Grade, Fair value leather – Contains 32% of the hide, swells, and sponges in water and loose in fiber.
  4. Fourth Grade, Poor quality leather – Contains 25% of the hide, only good for the sole of the shoes.

What Are The Different Types Of Leather?

Do you know the different types of leather used to make your favorite leather goods? Probably not. Many of us don’t even think of the type of leather before buying a specific product. We just go for the style, functionality, and elegance of the product and overlook the type and durability of leather. You must need to know the leather quality and the best type used in a particular product.

Let’s explore the different types used in the manufacturing of various leather commodities you use every day.

• Buffalo Leather

Buffalo Leather

This is the type of leather, also known as English Saddle Leather. It is derived from the domestic buffalos and is tanned hide. It is used in similar products as the Cowhide leather, but it is considered more durable, attractive, and robust.

Buffalo leather is more distinctly grained and comes in a variety of ranges. You can have a wide range of colors available in this leather type, typically classified by rich and deep tones.

Moreover, this leather is usually used to produce jackets and other wearables because it is lightweight and sturdy. Many manufacturers use buffalo leather to make convertible briefcases, duffel bags, and messenger bags.

• Nubuck Leather

Nubuck Leather

If you are wondering what is nubuck leather? Then you should know that it is among the most durable leather types as it is a top-grain cattle leather. The calfskin layer or cowhide is utilized to make this leather, and it is sanded and buffed to remove all the visible markings.

This leather is used in various products and is a dyed post giving it a velvet-like finish to refine its appurtenance. Nubuck has a rich history of being associated with fashion and aristocracy; therefore, it is more suitable for luxury products.

Nubuck leather is used for making wallets, handbags, travel bags, briefcases, furniture, shoes, and many other items.

• Suede leather

Suede leather

The Suede leather the one that comes in a softer form. It is a delicate leather that is usually loved by the people. If you want a better understanding of what is suede? Then you can say that it is the underside of the hide where the fuzzy and soft part is faced up to be used as a raw material.

When the leather is turned upside down, the soft area that comes along, which is the innermost part of the hide, is used to make the different kinds of products. The animals used in making the merchandise of Suede leather are sheep, deer, calves, and goats.

• Sheep leather

Sheep Leather

Sheep leather is also known as Cabretta leather, which is known to be highly-priced. The only reason for its expensiveness is that it is made from the hide of sheep that grow hair instead of wool. It is rare and also makes this leather a precious raw material.

The sheep leather is supple, soft, and strong, that is why it is frequently used in fashionable products. Different brands use them in making durable accessories and items. Plus, this leather type is worth trying and if you are stuck in thoughts of Sheep vs. lamb leather, then snap yourself out of it because,

They Both Are the Same!

So good luck in finding out the best leather product that can complement your style and taste.

• Full-grain leather

Full-grain is a type where the natural hide of an animal is sanded, buffed, and snuffed to bring out the most durable material. The quality of this full-grain leather is that it is the most natural material that stays like that even when processed and only gets better with time.

Whether you are looking to buy a good leather bag or different accessories is available in a subtle finish, this type can be perfect for you.

• Vegan leather

Vegan Leather

Vegan leather is different from any other leather material because it is not made of animal hide. It only mimics the feel and texture of leather. It is typically made from natural fibers like polyurethane, Polyvinylchloride, and other synthetic materials.

Vegan leather has made popular the earth-friendly fashion choices but its manufacturing process emits harmful chemicals that are not so ecological.

You will see two types of vegan leather in the market.

  • Natural Vegan Leather

It includes different types including paper leather, cork leather, pinatas, waxed cotton, recycled rubber, mushroom leather, and ligne.

  • Non-Natural Vegan Leather

It includes PVC leather, PU (polyurethane) leather, and microfiber leather.

• Faux or Synthetic Leather

Are you wondering what faux leather is just like every other person? Well, in simple words, it is a human-made material that seems to look and feels like leather. It is also known as Pu leather, and the Pu leather meaning is also similar to what you call a synthetic leather.

If you are not sure what synthetic leather is, then let us clear the air that all these terms represent the same meaning. This means a leather that is not authentic, but it does feel like genuine leather.

Although PU leather can never compete with the original leather and you can just give it a try if you want. But if you are seeking out for a quality material then go for original animal hide leather.

• Top grain leather

Top grain leather

The leather that is formed with the outermost part of the cowhide is known as top-grain leather. This leather material is the closest material to be called a natural item as it shows all the grains of the hide.

This material is not processed as the other forms of leather, yet it is soft and durable. Some of this top-grain might be buffed and sanded, but it makes them look presentable and reduce blemishes. This top-grain leather is also known as Corrected leather.

• Italian Leather

This special type is known as one of the hallmarks of high quality and durable leather. It is formed using the full-grain hide and is made softer and pliable to be used on the luxury products.

It has gained a reputation over time, and its result is the perfect representation of what Italian leather can be. It is used to make products that require softer leather material. You can uncover the most durable and fascination range of bags, wallets, and other accessories made of such high-quality leather.

• Bonded Leather

Do you know that bonded leather is an imitation leather? Most of the people don’t know that bonded leather is the “Leather look-a-like” which is made with a polyurethane coating on a fabric core. The fabric is composed of fibers obtained from shredded leather scrap and bonded with adhesive. It is a man-made byproduct with the look and feel of genuine leather.

It is way cheaper than real leather because it only contains 20% of the natural leather. However, brands and marketers have the authority to call it authentic leather, but it is unlike any other genuine leather.

Image source: crookhorndavis.com

Uses of leather

The use of leather dates back to prehistoric times but categorically Egyptians have been using the leather from around 1300 BC. The technique of creating leather and using it to make different products has also been found across Asia, North America, and Europe around the same era.

The decorative use of leather started in 1200 BC to make clothes and armors.

Today, leather is used excessively in many products like footwear, furniture, jackets, automobiles, accessories, handbags, wallets, backpacks, belts, watches, saddles, gloves, luggage, etc.

Use of Leather in DIY Home Projects

Leather can also be used at home to make different DIY projects. You can buy leather scraps, some tracing papers, stitching thread, leather glue, and a few leather carving tools to make some great DIY home leather projects.

Some great leather crafts you can try are as follows:

  • Woven leather wood mini crate
  • Leather bookmarks
  • Leather jewelry dish
  • Leather key rings
  • Leather bracelets
  • Leather sunglasses case
  • Leather envelopes
  • Leather tags
  • Leather flap wallet

How to Carve Leather?

Carving leather and put designs on it is an art and the leather product with beautiful aesthetics available in the market is an example of mature leather carving. Preferably a tanned leather is used for trimming because it is easier to get cuts and impressions. Initially, the leather piece is made moist with a sponge’s help until its damp, wiped out of the excessive water, and dried just enough that its original color is visible.

Then a waterproof tracing paper is used, which contains a pattern on it. The paper template is firmly taped on the leather to impress the design, and once it’s done, the tracing paper is removed. The carving process is started right after the paper is removed, and later it is placed in a resealable plastic bag for more than 9 hours to help it retain moisture.

The procedure continues as the leather dry is moisture again and again. A swivel knife is used to cut and shape the leather. Plus, other beveled tools are used to add shading and detail, and the cuts start deep and gradually get shallower through the design to give it a finished, professional look.

Leather Properties

Leather Properties

Leather is a sustainable material if properly sourced and made.  It is a unique blend of beauty, functionality, style, and comfort. With the varied range of raw materials and manufacturing processes leather has now become a highly versatile material with wide-ranging properties and looks.

Here are some intriguing leather properties that make it notable in the competition.

  • Leather is the byproduct of the food industry. It makes a sustainable contribution to society with its usage in different products rather than being thrown into waste streams.
  • Good leather lasts longer and gets better with age.
  • It’s easy to repair and maintain.
  • It has wide-ranging end uses.
  • Leather is breathable, soft, and comfortable.
  • It’s naturally beautiful and luxurious.

How to Identify Fake Leather?

Real leather vs fake leather

There are a few instant and simple way to see if the leather is fake or real.

  • Read the label; if it says 100% real leather, then it is accurate.
  • The real leather will contain blemishes and imperfections; look closely; if it’s smooth and uniform, it’s not real.
  • The smell gives it away; the real leather will always have that organic, skin scent that never is found in the synthetic leather.

The Changing Appearance Of Leather

Leather changing appearance

Leather is a natural material that ages over the years but its appearance changes with time and usage. The quality hallmark that makes leather desirable and appealing is the patina which is one of the most sought-after changes in appearance.

But some less appealing changes in leather can be a problem for leather buyers.

Here are some of the most asked issues regarding changing the appearance of leather.

When Leather Ages?

You will know the leather is aging when it gets darker in color, develops natural markings, and becomes softer. It has been observed that the aged leather is slightly more robust than the new leather, and it also smells different.

When and why does leather peel?

The leather starts to peel after decades of use; if it is not appropriately conditioned, it will begin to scratch.

Why leather cracks?

When leather is dried out and not properly cared for, the cracks will develop over time. Leather has many small pores that absorb and release moisture. It’s a good practice to condition your leather commodities to keep it supple and moisturized. It will never crack.

Why leather turns white or green?

If the humidity levels are too high, the surface of leather starts to mold in green or white color with a dusty, freckled appearance. 

Why leather gets sticky?

Leather buyers also face the problem of stickiness on the leather which is common among bi-cast and patent leather goods. The heavy finishes, high humidity levels, improper tanning, and the build-up of dirt and oil on the surface can cause leather to go sticky. It is advisable to use high-quality cleaning products, and keep a good level of maintenance.

Will Leather Fade In The Sun?

If any sort of product made of leather is exposed to the sun for a longer duration, it can damage it. The sunlight can fade away the leather texture and add discoloration, plus it will crack and dry parts of the leather after a particular time. It’s definitely not a good practice to leave leather in the sun for an extended period because leather is a natural material and like other natural substances, it will experience adverse effects from an extended exposure to sunlight.

It doesn’t mean that you can’t carry your leather backpack or wear leather jacket on a on a sunny day? It just mean to pay attention to the storage of your leather goods (should be stored away from direct sunlight).

Explaining The Unpleasant Smell Of Leather

The difference in the tanning process can make leather items to smell different or have a stronger ‘leather’ smell. It is because of the chemicals used during dyeing soak into the pores of the hide and leaves their own smell.

Some leathers don’t have any unpleasant smell while some give out the strong natural odor of the animal hide especially the products made from goat or camel hide.

Many people take the smell of the leather as its quality trademark. They smell the product before buying to confirm that the leather is real or fake.

However, the smell of leather fades over time and if the smell remains there, then it shows that the leather is cheap or poorly tanned.

What to do when leather gets wet?

Leather has natural water-resistance property but it can get wet or absorb water that can lead to stains. When the leather dries and is exposed to water, the oils in its surface muddle to the water molecules and when the water dries, it takes away the oils with it. When the natural oil of the leather loses, it becomes brittle and less supple.

Wet leather needs to be addressed right away to remove the wet stains and get back the lost shine.

What to Do If the Leather Stinks After Rain?

Leather is considered a natural material that means it tends to attract bacteria and germs. This has nothing to do with your involvement, and due to this, it develops a pungent smell if you take it in a dusty place or rainy weather. There are various effective Leather cleaner and conditioner to remove odors from leather, and you can apply those to get rid of the bad smell.

How to Buy Leather Product?

The innate details of leather texture have a similar composition and style, making it extremely hard to differentiate between synthetic leather and authentic leather. But when it comes to choosing the final piece of your product, you want the quality to be perfect.

Whether it is a leather wallet, leather backpack, or leather travel or work accessories you are looking for, the finishing and durability matter a lot. It significantly affects the customer’s overall experience, and if, as a buyer, you are informed about the details of the material, you can make a wise decision.

When buying a leather product, you must go through the manufacturing and material details to gain the best final product.

  • Check the type of Leather

Firstly, check which type of leather is used in the construction of the leather product. A full-grain leather type is always considered the best choice among all other types.

  • Know the Tanning Processes

Find out the different tanning processes used in the manufacturing of leather goods.  If it is a Vegetable-tanned leather, oil-tanned, or a chrome tanned product.

  • Emphasize on the stitching part

Quality stitching separates durable products from low-quality items. Leather is considered to last for the long-term if it is constructed with high-end stitching, durable design elements, and lining.

  • Look for the hardware

The eye-catching hardware attaches to a leather product such as buckles, zippers, handles, locks, metallic rings, hoops, studs, locks, tags, etc. also add quality to great leather merchandise.

  • Watch out for the interior lining

Leather goods must be designed with simple organization placements and separate linings so that you can keep and retrieve your necessary documentation with ease. The lining should also be made with top-quality leather.

  • Leather closures

Leather closures are the most crucial aspect you must consider for a good leather profile before purchasing one. You don’t want your belongings to fall, so prefer to have a metallic zippered portfolio.

The Best Leather Backpacks for School

A backpack is the most favorite school accessories of kids and teenagers. You will find different styles, shapes, materials, and sizes in backpacks. But what’s more important for students is the functionality and the looks. It is a tedious task for parents to buy a durable backpack for a school that is big enough to carry all necessary school supplies and lunch boxes.

Here are some best leather backpacks that you can buy for your kids.

The Best Leather Backpacks For College

College students concentrate more on the looks than space. Their backpack must be unique, stylish, and slim. It should have adjustable straps, a laptop sleeve, added pockets to carry gadgets, and other accessories. And yes, the most important thing is, it should follow the minimalist trend.

Here are some good backpacks products that you can consider.

The Best Leather Briefcases

Best Leather Briefcases

Gentlemen never compromise on elegance and class. They always prefer a work bag that is stylish, durable, handy and looks graceful. A briefcase and a laptop backpack are the most highlighted choices of modern gentlemen. Here are some good picks.

The Best Leather Bags for Women

A woman’s leather bag should be classy, colorful, and resilient like her strong personality. Most women prefer to buy designer or branded handbags that match perfectly with their outfit.  Bags embellished with beautiful leather hardware, such as straps, adjustable sliders, colorful hanging tassel caps, attractive zipper pulls, over flip lock, metal labels, chains, and bag locks are enough to catch a woman heart.

Some ideal options for women bags are as follows.

The Best Leather Wallets for Men

Here are some fantastic articles of wallet that you must explore and think of buying.

The Best Leather Bags for Travel

Among the many excellent leather travel bags, here are some outstanding ones that are worth trying.

The Best Leather Accessories for Travel

When it comes to keeping your travel accessories, leather seems to be the best option. In leather products, you can have the following items to make it classier.

Leather Care and Maintenance

Protecting leather is not rocket science, and the easiest way to do it is that first, you must wipe them down weekly, and lastly, don’t put it under the sun or any extreme heat.

Here are some common questions that buyers ask regarding leather cleaning and maintenance.

How to store leather products?

Storing your leather goods correctly can make them last longer. Always keep your goods in an airy space and allow the ventilation to retain mildew from growing. Let your leather breathe and avoid wrapping your pieces in plastic when storing them. You can’t revert the mold damage, it will make your leather manufactured goods unusable.

How to Water Proof Your Leather?

There are two basic ways with which you can make your leather waterproof.

  1. You can use spray protectants available in the market.
  2. You can try a natural waterproofing solution where you create a waxed canvas by applying Beeswax.

How to Clean Leather Bags?

The steps to clean the leather bags are as follows.

  1. Remove the dust by quick dusting or vacuum it.
  2. Apply a cleaner or a cream to repair for any scratch repair
  3. Use a slightly damp cloth to clear out the cleaner.
  4. Must go for the best leather conditioner to apply at the end.

What Are The Products Used For Leather Cleaning?

The process of cleaning the leather is pretty simple. You just need good leather care products, a few steps to follow, and you are good to go!

  1. Vacuum cleaner
  2. Leather repair cream
  3. Cleaner
  4. Damp Cloth
  5. Conditioner

How To Condition Your Leather Bags?

Leather conditioner is equivalent to a moisturizer for your leather bag. You just have to put it on a soft cloth and rub it gently all over your leather, and it will do the magic.

How To Repair Leather Scratch?

Leather is a durable material, but if you see any scratches appear, address it as soon as possible to make your product brand new again.  

Here are some helpful tips for leather scratch repair.

  • For light scratches, use a small portion of leather oil or conditioner to the area and rub in a circular motion. It will lessen the scratch. Applying Vaseline will also be helpful to encounter light scratches.
  • For deep scratches, clean the leather using a high-quality leather cleaner with a soft cloth. Dab the scratched area with refined white vinegar and use some colorless shoe polish and blend properly once the vinegar dries. You can also rub some olive oil on the area if the scratch doesn’t drive away with cleaner.

How to Stretch Leather Straps?

Leather satchel or straps are not one to expand with time. So you can use the following ways to stretch them.

  1. Put them in warm water and leave them there for up to ten minutes.
  2. Take rubbing alcohol and water and fill them in the spray bottle with equal parts. Put the solution on to the straps, and it’s done!

Can I Wash Leather Bags?

Not exactly, but you can clean it using a microfiber cloth to remove its dust and or can use moisturizing soap and buff it to give it a perfect shine. You have to make sure you don’t put too much water because a wet leather becomes hard and losses its supple texture.

How to Give a Glossy Finish to Leather?

The best way to give a glossy look to your leather is that you can apply a thin layer of paint of the lather through either sprung or spray and let it dry for about 10 minutes. If you want more shine and gloss, then you can repeat the same process.

Which Leather Dye Is The Best?

According to the user statistics, the Fiebings Leather Dye is considered to be most adored as 87.5% of users select it. Moreover, the other 12.5% selected Liquid Fabric Dye as the best leather dye, the second-best among all the dye present.

Which Leather Is Best For Wallets?

It is said that the best leather for wallets, either split or bonded material, should come from the lower level of the cowhide and must be top-grained and bounded together for the final result.

Which Leather Is Best For Daily Use?

The full-grain leather is considered to be the best one to use for daily purpose as it is durable and has a soft touch but lasts long. It only gets better and better with time.

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