Different Types of Leather

Published: 16th October 2009
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Leather is a term used for any material made from tanned animal hide. Leather is one of human's oldest inventions, used heavily by pre-historic hunters and gatherers to keep them protected against the biting cold and intense heat. The significance of leather in human history rivals other natural materials like wood and raw metal tools. Although leather was first used primarily for clothing and tents, modern leather is manufactured for additional purposes like shoes, bags, book covers, musical instruments, and furniture. Clothing accessories such as leather wristbands are popular today. Hides and skins are also used to make products like gelatin and glue.

The leather-making process starts with skinning dead animals and drying them out to make durable, long lasting leather that we know today. The different types of leather are classified depending on the type of animal skin used and the tanning methods employed. Cattle hide or cowhide is the most common source of leather, but leather from other animal skins such as kangaroos, ostriches, and snake are popular in certain regions.

The price of leather material depends on the processes that make the grains of leather. In addition, there are leathers that are more expensive because they come from a less common animal, like lamb and deer leather. The price of leather also depends on the specific part of the animal's body that the leather was skinned from.

Full-grain leather or top-grain leather comes from the upper section of the hide, which is the part that contained the top skin (epidermis) and hair. Full-grain leather maintains the natural marks of the animal hide, producing the strongest fiber strength and durability. Full-grain leather also has natural ventilation or breathability, which makes the final material softer and more comfortable. Some of the most expensive furniture and footwear are made from full-grain leather. Since there is minimal human maintenance done to full-grain leather, the source material should be of the best quality and skinned carefully to get the most pristine natural material possible.

Corrected-grain leather is a type of top-grain leather that has been sanded, buffed, or snuffed to remove imperfections. Most of the imperfections in the surface of animal skin are from insect bites and scars from wounds. The hides used in corrected-grain leather have inferior quality compared to full-grain leather. The final finish of corrected-grain leather can be bought as semi-aniline or pigment leather.

Split leather is created from parts of the hide left after extracting the top-grain hide. The fibrous parts of the hide are bonded with artificial layers to create the final material. Split materials are used to create the popular suede suits.

Aside from full-grain, corrected grain, and split leather, less common leathers are made from other animal for specific uses. These types of leather are a product of materials and chemical engineering and are usually patented for propriety reasons.

Buckskin leather, for example, uses animal brains or other fatty material to modify leather. This produces a suede-like layer that is glossy and smooth. Plastic leather uses plastic coating for a high-gloss finish. Shagreen is leather from stingray skin used in furniture.

Vachetta is luxurious leather used in luggage and handbag trimmings popularized by Louis Vuitton. Slink is leather made from the skin of unborn calves. Slink's very soft material is specially made for producing gloves.

Deerskin is one of the most expensive leathers. Valued for its toughness, deerskin is used as prizes in hunting societies like Native Americans. Deerskin is used for high-quality leather handbags and wallets.

Personal accessories such as leather wristbands use a combination of different types of leather. High-class leather in a leather wristband adds value to accessories like watches and jewelry.

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