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Stuff You Should Know: Leather Grains

To understand the different grains of leather, one must first know how leather is made. A hide, typically from a cow, is taken and then split into multiple thin pieces, which are then turned into leather. During the split, the outer side of the hide that has the skin is taken away to be turned into “full-grain” leather, while the rest of the hide makes up the other grains. The rest of the hide is used to make “top-grain” and “split-grain” leather. There are some unofficial types of leather which were made up for marketing purposes: “Genuine leather” is one of those, and was invented to make low quality leather sound like it is of higher quality.

The term “genuine” typically implies quality; however, in this case it is not true. “Genuine leather” merely means “this product has leather in it,” and not necessarily that the leather is of good quality—most often it isn’t. This doesn’t mean genuine leather is a scam though, as it still looks and feels like leather, and can be a cheaper alternative to the more expensive grains.

“Top-grain” leather is one step up from genuine—it’s from the animal hide, directly below the hair; however, the outer layers of the hide are sanded away to remove imperfections. Removing the outer layer strips away the strong hide that is right under the hair, which causes top-grain to not be very durable. This leather is the most common type used in wallets and handbags, as it’s had imperfections removed, causing it to look the finest.

“Full-grain” leather is taken from right below the hair similarly to “top-grain.” Unlike the “top-grain,” the hide goes immediately into tanning instead of being sanded. Furthermore, this grain is very strong because the strong outer layer is not removed—the leather forms a patina, if kept correctly, full-grain will last you for life. Although this leather is the most expensive, it’s the right grain to trust when searching for a reliable product.

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