Before I even started working with leather, I had relatively limited knowledge of the different qualities and what to look for to ensure that the product is made of high quality leather. Now I am far more aware of what is really good leather, and what is basically just compound residue with imitated print.
Part of the reason I started working with leather was that I didn’t find belts in the store that kept the quality I wanted. One of my leather belts in so-called genuine leather I could literally tear apart. You should not be able to do that with a good quality leather belt.
When the animal is skinned and the skin is supplied for tanning on a tannery, it is first cleaned of hair on the grain side and flesh on the underside. Tanning is a laborious process in which the leather goes through a number of different processes so that it will not rot and smell. But not least it gets the treatment required to be able to make products with.
Leather containing the top layers of fibers (top grain) is of the highest quality. If the leather is not split, it is called full grain leather. This type of leather is used by saddlers, luxury brands and craftsmen who have the highest quality requirements. Leather from the lower part of the split is used either for suede or nappa leather, but is far from as durable as top or full grain leather.
Full grain leather
The very best quality leather. Contains the upper fibers of the animal and is therefore extremely durable. Full grain leather is not split or sanded down, so any marks in the skin from the animal will be visible. This leather quality is the most expensive to produce and buy.
Products in full grain leather become finer the more they are used, as they absorb patina. The leather shapes and colors over time, but does not lose quality or durability.
I only use full grain leather.
Top grain leahter
Second best quality. The outer layer files down to get a uniform finish, but the leather also loses some of the durability. This leather type is often embossed with patterns to imitate the fibers in full grain leather.
If full grain leather is solid wood, genuine leather is like chipboard. True, it is genuine leather, but far cheaper and less durable than both full and top grain. Surface treated to imitate “the real deal” and most often used in mass production.
Should you buy a leather belt labeled “Genuine leather” in the clothing store, it is probably this quality you get.
Cut-off and residue are painted and mixed with polyurethane and placed on a plate and glued together to form one leather piece. Very poor quality and you can easily tear it up with your hands.
Best materials – no machines
I use leather from reputable tanneries in Norway, UK, USA, Italy and France. I mainly use vegetable or chromium tanned full grain leather. The lesson I purchase from, among others,Wickett & Craig, Horween, A & A Crack & Sons, Metropolitan Leather, Granberg tannery, to name a few. These are tanneries that deliver the highest quality leather to saddlers, luxury brands and craftsmen like me.
I work without machines, and all seams are hand-sewn either with linen or braided nylon. This results in a hand-sewn seam is much stronger than a machine seam. If a stitch should tear, the enclosing stitches will still hold the thread in place.
Leather gets a natural wear over time, often called patina. As normal skin, leather will also absorb color if exposed to sunlight. For many, this is a desired effect. I also recommend that the products be treated with leather care products as a leather balm. It will restore the natural glow of the color and prevent the leather from drying out and cracking.