Leather, Anyone?

5 07 2010

Recently, a question came up at a dinner party about leather furniture and how to know from the description that you are getting quality leather goods.  So, I thought I would give a short rundown on each of the different types of leather that furniture comes in so your next experience in selecting leather goods might be a positive one.

First off, Full-Grain Leather.  Hands down this is the highest quality leather available on the market today.  This refers to the upper  section of the hide that previously contained the epidermis and hair, but were removed from the hide/skin.  These are hides that have not been sanded, buffed, or snuffed (as opposed to top-grain or corrected leather) to remove imperfections (or natural marks) on the surface of the hide. The grain remains completely intact which leads to strength and durability. The grain also has breathability, resulting in less moisture from prolonged contact. Rather than wearing out, it will develop a patina over time.

Next we have Top-Grain Leather, which is a misnomer as it gives the false impression that it is “top” quality.  This is the second-highest quality as it’s surface has been sanded and refinished.  As a result, it has a colder, plastic feel, less breathability and will not develop a natural patina.  However, it does have 2 advantages over full grain leather: it is typically less expensive and has a greater resistance to stains.  This finish also has a more “regulated” feel, so if you demand perfection in the finish (no blemishes, etc.) this would be the way to achieve that look.

Split-Grain Leather is leather created from the fibrous part of the hide.  During the splitting operation, the top grain and drop split are separated.  Split leather then has an artificial layer applied to the surface of the split and is embossed with a leather grain (known as Bycast leather). Splits are also used to create suede.

Bycast Leather, is a split leather with a layer of polyurethane applied to the surface and then embossed. Bycast was originally made for the shoe industry, but recently was adopted by the furniture industry. Most of the bycast used today is very strong and durable product. The result is a slightly stiffer product that is cheaper than top grain leather but has a much more consistent texture and is easier to clean and maintain.

Lastly, Bonded Leather, or “reconstituted Leather”, is composed of 90% to 100% leather fibers (often scrap from leather tanneries or leather workshops) bonded together with latex binders to create a look and feel similar to that of leather at a fraction of the cost.  Bonded leather upholstery is a vinyl upholstery that contains about 17% leather fiber in its backing material thus can be called leather by manufacturers. The vinyl is stamped to give it a leather-like texture. Bonded leather upholstery is durable and its manufacturing process is more environmentally-friendly than leather production so if you are trying to be environmentally friendly this might be an option for you.

Raw Hide International

Just as a point of reference as well, always be aware when you are purchasing leather goods that not all leather is created equally.  Since it is a natural product that has been seen by all elements here are some examples of what flaws to look for.  Hopefully this will provide you some helpful insight during your next shopping trip!

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