We all love the smell of new leather, whether its your new car seat covers or a new leather wallet or handbag. Most common forms of leather finishes fall into one of 4 categories; full grain, top grain, corrected grain and split leather. In this article well look at the most desirable form of leather.
Full Grain Leather.
Considered the highest quality leather for its durability, this leather type has not undergone significant treatment. Full grain leather has had the epidermis layer or hair removed leaving the hide intact which can then be dyed. The result is a true natural grain leather finish without diminishing the tensile strength of the hide. Animal skins used to produce leather often have many imperfections accrued over the life-span of the animal, such as scare damage from run-ins with other animals, skin diseases or even punctures from mites/ticks and other biting insects. Since any imperfections, defects, abrasions or punctures cannot be corrected or removed to qualify as full grain leather, the highest quality graded skins are normally used to produce full grain leather products.
Of course imperfections or natural irregularities are desirable in some leather goods, adding character and “genuine” appeal to the product. In such cases, imperfections are left “as is” to highlight the natural grain of the animal skin. For example a full grain crocodile leather wallet made from the belly skin of a large croc, will still have obvious pin holes from a sensory hair on each scale called the integumentary sensory organ pore (ISO pore). Incidentally, this is a great way of distinguishing between the lesser quality alligator leather from a high quality croc wallet, alligators lack this ISO pore. If your genuine crocodile leather product has no ISO pore, then it may well be alligator. You can checkout an example of these ISO pores on a croc wallet in the resource links mentioned at the end of this article.
Full grain leather is normally tanned with an aniline or semi-aniline finish. An aniline finish is tanning with a soluble dye (usually without pigment) with no protective coat or sealant, aniline leather is breathable leather that will develop beautiful patina overtime. Semi-aniline has a very thin protective coat added. It should be noted that modern leather finishing techniques have blurred the lines of definition between aniline, semi-aniline and protected aniline (pigmented) finishes. Different parts of an animal hide absorb dyes (and pigments) by varying degrees, thicker parts of the skin or creases in neck lines for example will take on less pigmentation than other parts of the hide. However, most of the leather industry would agree that a “pure aniline” tanning process makes no attempt to correct or even out any color or pattern variations of the leather.
These properties of full grain leather, however desirable, would not be suitable for some leather goods on the market. The type of product is going to determine the type of leather finish used. A leather product that needs a uniform colorfast or protected coating to resist staining for example is not going to be full grain leather. The properties required for each are covered by other finishes such as top grain, corrected grain or split leather with varying degrees of quality. From bullwhips to briefcases, leather armour to leather wallets, these and many other tanning methods have evolved over thousands of years with the need to produce leathers for practical uses in the past, to the desire and demand of the modern day luxury leather market. A market that delivers exquisite ostrich leather, tough croc wallets, shiny stingray leathers, shark skin leather and even lizard leather!
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