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Leather - Really?

May 12, 2020
Leather - Really?

There are thousands of articles that have been written about leather.

Many of those articles are completely contradictory.

If this is confusing to the general public, it can be equally confusing to professionals within the furniture industry.

Common leather terms often have multiple definitions.

  • For example the same leather may be considered aniline by one professional, and semi-aniline by another."
    • There are official definitions that distinguish between the two, but these are widely ignored.
  • Full grain and top grain have multiple definitions.
  • Top grain leathers with artificially embossed grain patterns are commonly referred to by multiple different terms including:
    • Protected leather
      Corrected leather
      Pigmented leather
      Finished leather

Listing all of the leather terminology with multiple meanings or contradictory definitions would require hundreds of pages.

In this article I am going to go into detail on only a couple of the most commonly confused leather terms - Full grain and top grain leathers.

  • The most common definition for "full grain leather" refers to the fact that the hide has not been "split" into two different parts: the top grain layer and a second layer (most commonly used to produce suede.)
    • A second definition refers to "natural grain patterns."
      • Most full grain (non-split) leather is very high quality, showing the natural grain of the hide.
    • High quality leather made from the top grain layer may also feature unaltered natural grain patterns. Sometimes this is also referred to as "full grain leather."
      • Adding additional confusion is the fact that the top grain layer can be different thicknesses.
      • Full grain leathers are very thick and very difficult to work with. The extra cost partially reflects the specialized equipment and additional labor time needed to work with thick hides.
      • Top grain leathers are available in many different thicknesses.
      • Leather thickness is usually measured in ounces. One ounce equals 1/64" in thickness. A good thickness for high quality furniture is 2.25-2.5 oz.
    • Leather furniture sold by discount retailers is often thinner and less durable. Sales personnel will not know anything about the thickness of the leather they are selling.
    • Thicker than average top grain leathers with natural grain patterns (not artificially embossed) are often mistaken for (or sold as) "full grain" leathers."
  • Compounding the confusion about full and top grain leather is the fact that many articles about leather are not written by furniture industry professionals.
    • They are written by companies or individuals who work with leather accessory items (handbags, wallets, belts, shoes, etc.)
  • Full and top grain have completely different definitions for leather accessories than they do for furniture.
    • For small leather accessories, the term "full grain leather" may be used to describe any item that is not made from synthetic faux leathers or bonded leathers.
    • The term "top grain leather," when used with accessory items, is equivalent to what the furniture industry calls "protected leather."
      • In the furniture industry, protected leather, is one of many types of top grain leathers.
      • It specifically refers to top grain leathers that have had the natural grain (and all visible blemishes in the hide) sanded down, covered with an opaque dye, embossed with an artificial grain pattern, and then covered with a clear protective coat of polyurethane. This is the cheapest type of top grain leather used for furniture.
      • More expensive types of top grain furniture leathers, including aniline and semi-aniline, are considered "full grain" when used to make accessory items.
  • As an added bonus, the term "genuine leather" also has completely different meanings for furniture and small accessories.
    • For furniture, "genuine leather" is synonymous (in most cases) with "real leather made from hides."
    • For accessories,"genuine leather" has a completely opposite definition. It refers to any faux leather that is not made from hides.
      In most cases the term is used as a substitute for "bonded leather."

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