Types of Leather

Unraveling the Intricacies of Leather Grades for Furniture

The language of leather can often be puzzling, especially when it's filled with various terms that might seem interchangeable. For anyone investing in leather furniture, discerning the grade and quality of the leather is paramount. This piece delves into the specifics of “full grain,” “top grain,” and “corrected” leather in the context of furniture.

“Full Grain” – The Pinnacle of Leather Elegance

The Tanners’ Council of America’s Dictionary of Leather Terminology describes full grain leather as “the outer cut taken from the hair side of the hide from which only the hair and its epidermis have been removed.” Simplified: it’s leather in its most organic state. Originating from cattle that might have skin imperfections like sun damage or scars, only about 10% of these hides remain pristine enough to avoid any mechanical correction. These unaltered hides are termed “full grain.” They are the most sought-after and the pinnacle of leather quality, making them ideal for luxury furniture.

Full grain leather stands tall as the highest quality leather available. As the name suggests, it retains the full grain of the hide, boasting all the natural textures and imperfections. These "imperfections" are, in fact, marks of authenticity and tales of the hide's history - from insect bites to unique stretch marks. We, at American Leather, resonate with the ethos of preserving this raw beauty. Thus, our custom furniture showcases the leather in its purest, untouched form, allowing our discerning clientele to experience luxury that's both genuine and unparalleled.

If you closely inspect full grain leather, it displays a unique topography. Peaks, valleys, and the tiny holes where hair once grew are all visible, contributing to its natural beauty.

“Corrected” Leather – Refinement in Every Sense

As a general rule of thumb, the more treatments leather undergoes, the further it strays from its inherent splendor. A staggering 85% of hides globally require some form of correction due to surface irregularities. This "correction" typically involves buffing the leather's surface with an abrasive to produce a smooth finish, thereby eliminating visible hair follicles.

There's a middle ground between full grain and corrected leather: "snuffed" leather. Lightly buffed to just trim the highest peaks, snuffed leather (or “mezzo fiore” in Italian) is ideal for upholstery. It harmoniously combines the natural allure of leather with the resilience required for everyday furniture use.

If correction is excessive, it levels the distinct topography of the leather. To compensate, tanneries might emboss a synthetic "leather" pattern onto it, leading to a more rigid texture.

Top Grain and the Ambiguity of “Full Top Grain”

"Top grain" can be a misleading term. It doesn’t necessarily signify if the leather is full grain. Sometimes, it's merely an euphemism for “not full grain.” The term “full top grain” further muddles this distinction. If you encounter this term while furniture shopping, it's best to clarify its meaning with the seller.

Split Leather and Bonded Leather: Practical Choices

At the bottom of the grade hierarchy, we find split leather and bonded leather. Split leather is derived from the fibrous part of the hide left once the top grain has been separated. It lacks the durability and appearance of higher-grade leathers but finds use in products where these aren't primary concerns. Bonded leather, on the other hand, is made by bonding leather scraps together, fortified with a binding material. It's the least pure form of leather but is cost-effective.

The Essence of “Genuine” Leather

"Genuine leather" is a broad categorization. Although some online sources might place it at a lower grade, it simply distinguishes real leather from synthetic alternatives. It's a testament to the leather's authenticity, not necessarily its quality.

Synergy Between Full Grain and Aniline Leather

Independent of its grade, leather's primary coloring comes from aniline dyes. Post-dyeing, the subsequent treatment determines if it's aniline or semi-aniline. Premium leather, like full grain, might not need any further treatment, leading to "naked" varieties such as suede. Alternatively, it might be sprayed with aniline dyes, culminating in "pure" aniline leather.

However, such leather might not be ideal for upholstery due to its delicate nature. Leather that’s buffed post-dyeing often receives a semi-aniline coat, making it more consistent in appearance – a trait preferred by upholsterers.

Spotting Your Furniture's Leather Quality

Curious about your sofa's leather grade? A magnifying glass might help, but your senses are the best judge. If it exudes a rich, natural aura, feels soft, and has that unmistakable leathery scent, you're likely lounging on top-tier leather.