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Thread: LEATHER TYPES 101: A primer in selecting leather

  1. #1
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    Default LEATHER TYPES 101: A primer in selecting leather

    It just occurred to me I may not have ever made a post about some leather tips you need to know when you buy leather. Here's a few, and they apply to every maker for the most part:

    Leather Grade: This is a Pricing Grade, not a Quality Grade. Perhaps the most oft confused element when looking at swatches. Its what the furniture maker has to pay for the hides. I'm often asked if a Grade 1 hide is good enough quality to last and the answer is YES, it is. The more expensive Grade 4 or Grade 5 hide is no more durable or longer lasting, its just more expensive. What affects the price? Everything from softness and suppleness of the hide to currency valuations and transport costs. As a rule European hides are the most costly not only because the Euro vs Dollar, but their hides tend to be much finer as they don't use barbed wire or have as biting bug problem. Least expensive hides will come from China and South America.

    Leather Color: Does it vary from the swatch? Heck yes! I'm amused when customers take leather swatches from my handle and take them up to the window to determine color accuracy, because they might see a 5% difference from at the sales counter to the window, and in reality a 20 % color difference between the swatch and actual hide is not unusual. Best way to look at a leather sample is to put it on a piece of furniture and back up about eight to ten feet, not at the window. We have a saying in the trade "If you want a consistent color, buy vinyl." Anilines will vary more than Finished leathers because they are dipped in a dye, whereas the color is sprayed on a Finished hide. Its much easier to control the color when its applied on the top rather than soaked into the leather (remember, cows have different color skins just like people, and vat dying colors what is already there).

    Leather Thickness: Another element that confuses buyers. I'll let you in on a little secret, the thickness of the hide varies from where that sample was taken. A cow does not have the same thickness of hide at all parts of its body. Its not really much of an issue, as I've never seen anyone wear through a leather hide on a piece of upholstery - ever.

    Quality of the Sample: Leather manufacturers will always try to economize. Those samples you see on the rack or ring are cut from the scrap, or waste when they make a piece up. Prime leather goes on the furniture, the scraps become samples for the dealers! So all rough pieces, sections with wrinkly belly or neck leather, become the swatch. Your ordered product will be better than what you see on the samples. So when you look at swatches, average out the appearance and texture among several in the line. H&M Document has 25 colorways for example. On a typical handle at least half of them will be rough or heavily wrinkled. Look at all the colors in a series and average them out in your mind.

    Take the Spill Test: If you have samples of leather from your dealer, take them into the kitchen and spill things on them! See what stains and what doesn't. This will aid you greatly in your selection. You'll probably be amazed at what an 'unprotected' leather can sluff off in a typical kitchen spill. Dealers pay nothing for sample swatches (unless they are very large), so don't be worried about ruining one. Choosing a leather is very much influenced by your lifestyle and what is or is not going to be taken to the sofa.

    Cowhide or Steer Hide?: Cowhide is from the female cow, and it stretches. Its found on the cheaper furniture. Steer hide is what the better companies use, and the best is Grade A. Companies like Hancock and Moore and Leathercraft only use Grade A Steerhide.

    Cutting For Approval: Because of texture and color variances most companies allow you to ask for a CFA (Cutting For Approval) where you can see the actual leather to be used on your furniture. While this may seem like a good idea, it will slow your order down by at least one month. Your order must be submitted by the dealer with the CFA requirement, and a sample cut and mailed to the dealer, who then must mail it to you for approval. Your order is NOT scheduled for production until you approve the sample. And if you don't like it, there is not a second batch of leather to fall back upon, you have to either wait a few months until more comes in, or select another hide. CFA's should always be used when ordering an ottoman to match an older chair, etc., but on all-new orders I don't recommend it because of the lengthy delay.

    Finished Leather: There are several names for Finished leather that is used interchangeably. You will find them referred to as Pigmented, Painted, and Protected as well as the term Finished. When hide "crusts" come into a tannery, they are graded. Those that have too many imperfections to become an Aniline will then be heavily sanded to remove the flaws in preparation for tanning. Sanding will destroy the natural grain pattern as well as all 'marks of the trail' including fat wrinkles, scars, etc. The grain pattern is embossed back into the hide and then a pigmented, or painted, topcoat is applied along with a protective sealer coat. These leathers will look perfect upon first glance but can be 'over-processed' in appearance and most people who like fine leather will not buy in this category. However they are more resistant to sunlight fade and oily/acid spills than the anilines.

    Aniline Leather: Only 2% of hides worldwide are fine enough to become pure aniline leathers. They require little or no sanding, and are vat-dipped in color rather than sprayed. All natural markings are left intact including healed scars, fat wrinkles, bug bites, manure stains, and whatever else that cow encountered during its life. They are very soft and supple, but will fade rapidly in direct sunlight. Some stains will soak in with potential to ruin the leather, including heavy oils, acids like vinegar and ammonia, and the like. They will be more costly than Finished leathers, and often develop a wonderful patina over time.

    Semi-Aniline Leather: A hybrid that uses the dipping of the Aniline dye with the protective topcoat of the Finished leather. Will perform like a Protected leather, but lacks the feel and plushness of the pure aniline.

    By-Cast or Bi-Cast Leather: This is not real leather, and in most countries outside the USA it cannot be sold as 'leather'. This is a product made of the leather splits, and is applied over a polypropylene sheet then embossed and painted like finished leather. When a hide is taken off a cow, the epidermis is split into upper and lower sections. The upper part is called TOP GRAIN and the lower is called the SPLITS. Splits lack strength and a cellulose bond, and no reputable leather house covers in splits because they are not durable like top grain. To get some strength back and minimize stretching its bonded to the poly sheet. Not recommended, it lacks the strength of real leather. I throw out all Bi-Cast leather samples from suppliers and will not sell it.

    "Pull-Up" Leather: A hide with a waxy topcoat surface that is designed to lighten up where its pulled tight to the piece. Makes for some very interesting effects on furniture. The tightened area will appear lighter than the loose areas of the chair. With use, the piece develops into several pleasing shade variations of a color. Recommended for those that like 'real' leather.

    Which leather should I choose for maximum lifespan? The answer here is one you might not expect! It's not the type or cost of hide that determines the lifespan, its YOU and how often you are willing to clean your leather. There are two main elements in leather care. 1) Do not have the piece in direct sunlight. There is nothing that can stand up to the direct rays of the sun over time. If the piece has to be in the sun part of the day, look into applying a solar film to your windows in the house, or get a sunblock spray from Leather Magic (SPF 80). 2) Establish a cleaning regimen and adhere to it. I do the leather in my home when the clocks change back and forth to daylight savings time. Its every 6 months, a constant reminder, and always on a Sunday. If you fail to keep your leather clean, the accumulation of body and hair oils, and dirt, will build up on the piece. The first sign that you are behind on your cleaning is a darkening of the hide usually where the head contacts the back cushion and tops of the arms. If you fail to clean it, the dirt and oils will attack the tannins and the leather will crack, then split. Leather that is never cleaned can crack in as little as six to seven years. With cleaning and conditioning it will last a lifetime. My oldest leather piece in my home is a Hancock and Moore Recliner purchased in 1987 and its still in great shape and perfectly presentable.

    How do I clean the leather? You don't need anything exotic. A clean rag with club soda will do. Wipe it down! Or a bar of plain Ivory soap on a clean rag, then come back with a rinse rag and get the soap off. Not too much water, and not too much soap. You can also use recommended cleaning and conditioning kits that are approved by the furniture maker. If you choose to use leather products not recommended by the maker you run the risk of damaging your leather! Some leather cleaning products will be incompatible with the coating on the leather and attack it. But you will not see this right away, it manifests in about 9 to 12 months later in the form of a 'peeling' of the leather like the skin from an onion. If your leather delaminates like this, no maker will replace the hide if you used unapproved cleaning products and methods.
    Last edited by drcollie; 10-25-2016 at 12:17 PM.
    Duane Collie
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    Default Re: A primer in selecting leather

    Part 2

    My dealer wants to sell me a protection plan for my leather, and special treatment chemicals, should I buy it? No! In my opinion, this is the biggest rip-offs out there. Most these 'treatment chemicals' are not approved by the furniture maker. If these 'special products' cause harm to your leather, its between you and your selling dealer to resolve it, the factory will not participate. Most of these 'protection' companies will not replace your furniture should it be ruined for any reason. What they will do is allow you an 'allowance' on a pro-rated basis towards the purchase of a new piece from your selling dealer. So, your $ 4,000 leather sofa that has a warranty claim under these protection sofa and is 5 years old may only qualify for a $ 1,500 credit towards the price of a new piece. Follow the cleaning regimen listed before and you don't need protection plans!

    Do I buy the inexpensive leather I can afford or get the costlier higher end leather I really want? I am asked this quite often. That answer is YOU have to decide after considering your budget in contrast to the overall lifespan of the piece. Lets say the sofa model you like is $ 2,500 in the manufacture's promotional leather, and $ 3,500 in the one you really like. Yes, you have to pay the extra $ 1,000 up front, but when you consider that the average lifespan before replacement is 25 years on the piece (if you keep it clean and out of the sunlight), then the leather you really want is costing you an additional $ 3 a month over the lifespan of the piece. I've had dozens of customers say to me a year or two later "I wish I had got the leather I really wanted but at the time it seemed like too much to spend". I have never had the first customer tell me "I wish I had gone with the cheaper leather and saved the money" when they ordered a more luxurious hide. So my recommendation is to buy what you can comfortably afford, but keep in mind it will be in your home for a long time given reasonable care.

    Will my dog or cat destroy leather furniture? Probably not. Cats that have their front claws can rip a leather piece to shreds if they set their mind to it, but in 25 years of selling leather furniture there has only been one cat/one customer that this happened to. Dogs generally will not bother leather furniture but if you have a protected leather they can scratch the topcoat if they 'dig' in the seat, and if you have non-protected leather they can stain it with their body oils if over time if they are on it a lot. One thing nice about leather furniture and pets is it cleans up so easily. Pet hairs do not stick in the weave like they do with fabric pieces, and can simply be vacuumed away on leather pieces.

    Do more expensive leathers last longer? No. When you buy higher end hides you are paying for the luxury of the feel of a particular hide, or the appearance. You are not buying a longer lasting leather.

    Do you recommend protected or unprotected leathers? It depends on usage and lifestyle. On barstools, office chairs, and recliners I most often recommend a protected hide or if an unprotected leather try them out using the 'spill test'. If you have a small army of kids that will be on the piece, then protected leather works best for most. But if there is limited food and drink brought to the furniture, then the luxury and tactile feel of the unprotected hides is hard to beat. I personally buy only unprotected hides in our house as I like the look and feel of "real leather" and we have had no staining or usage issues over the years, even with two kids and a dog.

    Are Chinese leathers safe? Good question. It appears every time you open the paper there is something new about how Chinese-made materials for export have something discovered that wasn't supposed to be there. There is a a lot of Chinese leather on the market, and in use by all the major companies. So far, so good. But there currently is a huge consumer backlash against products from China and the furniture makers are aware of that and working hard to source non-Chinese leathers. South American leathers are up and coming, and either the same price as hides from China or just slightly more expensive. Expect to see more hides coming from Argentina and Brazil.

    I want a leather from the USA. You're not going to get it. OSHA and the EPA forced closure of virtually all American tanneries in 2008. Leather tanning is a dirty business, for the workers and the environment. There is one small tannery left in Chicago that I know of, and they do sports equipment leathers for the most part. All leather for furniture is now imported, though quite often the 'crusts' or the raw hides, originate from the USA (China has no cattle industry for example) are shipped over for the tanning process and return as hides ready to upholster.

    I'm concerned about sticking to the leather in the summer and that its cold in the winter: Good leathers don't feel that way, but heavily top-coated ones on cheap furniture (like the ones at Costco) will. When you buy better leathers, they adapt to your body rapidly and are cozy in the winter, and comfortable in the summer.

    Leather or Fabric? On average, leather lasts four times longer than fabric, is more hypo-allergenic, and easier to clean. It will cost more than most fabric-covered pieces by about 30 %.

    What is "Married Cover"? We already know that all hides are imported, so "Married Cover" is simply a term the industry uses when they have a cover for a particular frame cut and sewn in the same country as where the leather tannery is located, then applied to a frame made in the USA. Labor savings is significant, and that savings is passed onto the customer via a reduced sales price. Most often this is done with Chinese leathers and product. The leather is marked, cut, and sewn then put in a box for shipment as a 'kit' to the USA. The imported 'kit' is married to the USA-built frame on the production line. There is no difference in the frames and components, only in the hide. I'm frequently asked my opinion on married cover, if I think it measures up to leather that is cut and sewn in the USA? The answer is mostly that it does, but it really depends on the maker. In Hancock and Moore's married cover program I can see no difference whatsoever. In Bradington Young's program I will notice hideflaws on some pieces that would have been trimmed out had the piece been done totally in the USA. Nonetheless, "Married Cover" can offer some incredible values and savings over the fully-USA-made items. Downsides? Only a few colorways to choose from per piece, and you cannot match a set (sofa/chair/ottoman) exactly as the kits could have been made from different tannery runs at different times. And obviously there are no CFA's on married cover as its already cut and sewn.


    Suedes and Nubucks: These are made from the splits of the hide, and lack the durability of top grain leather. While very plush and appealing, they are NOT suitable for everyday use and are very difficult to keep clean. I would suggest use only on decorative side panels and pillows, etc. or in very low use situations. Do not cover a family room sofa in Suedes and Nubucks unless you are prepared to replace it within 10 years or less. Suedes and Nubucks are great for the back side of leather pillows, however. Leather on Leather will slide, and the Suedes will 'bite' onto the leather and keep the pillows in place.
    Last edited by drcollie; 11-05-2011 at 12:01 AM.
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    Default Re: A primer in selecting leather

    I'm going to come back to this primer thread with an addendum on PROTECTED leathers vs UNPROTECTED hides. This is a major stumbling block for many and should be addressed in detail. First let's dispel some myth's and assumptions:

    Myth # 1: Protected Leathers will last longer. FALSE

    A protected leather is simply going to repel heavier oil spills and certain household acids (Bleach, Ammonia) better than an unprotected hide. The key to longevity of any leather piece is not what lands on the leather, but taking care of the hide by cleaning and conditioning it twice a year and not letting direct sunlight on the piece every day. Clean and condition - lasts for decades. Ignore the maintenance - expect noticeable deterioration in 10 to 12 years.

    Myth # 2: My Unprotected leather is ruined as the kids spilled a bottle of baby oil on it and it soaked in. FALSE

    You are going to get a soaking stain that will remain even after you blot it up, but you will find that stain will dissipate over time. Many stains such as this will be more than halfway gone in 24 hours as the leather soaks up the oils and 'redistributes' it. Usually in three to four weeks its all gone. Very saturated ones may take up to 6 months to fade away.

    Myth # 3: I want to bring food and drink to the sofa and only a Protected leather will stand up to that. FALSE

    For virtually all anilines there is either a slight waxy topcoat or a light teflon topcoat that will prevent 95% of spills from soaking in.

    Myth # 4: Protected leathers won't wear as quickly. FALSE

    Because finished leathers by their nature are painted, you can wear the painted topcoat away especially on welt trim areas, front seat edges, tops of the arms, etc. Paint wears off - dyed leathers (Unprotected) may lose some color tone over time but there is no topcoat to friction wear.

    Myth # 5: Some Unprotected leathers stain easier than others. TRUE

    Certain leathers that are 'nude' and have no topcoat whatsoever and are more susceptible to absorbing dirt and moisture. Suedes, Deerskin, and Lambskin are poor choices for high-use environments.

    Myth # 6: Finished (Protected) leathers are less likely to sun fade. TRUE

    Because they are painted, not dyed, they will resist damaging UV rays better than the unprotected leathers.

    ********

    Don't deprive yourself of the beauty and natural markings of 'real' unprotected leather. You will see the natural beauty of the leather, fat wrinkles, scars, tick bites, and real graining that is all erased in finished (protected) and painted leathers. I think far too much emphasis is placed on buying 'protected' leather as a primary buying criteria and it limits your leather choices severely. Just for the record, I don't buy Protected leathers for my own home - ever. And we have yet to have a piece ruined or even heavily damaged even after having kids and dogs use those pieces daily.
    Duane Collie
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    Default Re: A primer in selecting leather

    Another addendum to this thread...

    There is an incredible amount of waste on leather when making new upholstery pieces. The manufacturers buy their hides from the leather vendor (supplier) based on a cost per square foot. When the hides come in, between 30% and 40% of the hide will be unusable for the furniture and is considered 'salvage'. It will then be used for either samples, or tossed in a bin and sold for .35 a lb to a service that comes by and once a week collects it - then ships it to Korea where it will soon become your Nike Tennis shoes, etc.

    A typical sofa will use 500 s.f. of prime leather, about 10 hides on average. That will vary with the complexity and size of the sofa and quality of the leather, but if we're looking to do both a sofa and loveseat for a customer, we want to see about 900 s.f. in stock to say it can be right away. Certain companies such as Hancock & Moore or Leathercraft will be 'fussier' than lesser companies and trim to a higher standard with less defects apparent in the hide (higher salvage percentage), lesser companies will allow more leeway on what is usable and you will see flaws in the leather on the secondary surfaces of the pieces (backs, sides, under the decking, etc.).

    Here's why that matters to you: When you go to a dealer and flip through the leather samples - or get some in the mail - almost all those samples are coming from the salvage trim, which means they may be rougher or far more textured than the finished product you will eventually get if you order. So use the samples primarily for color and not texture. If in a store, look at ALL the leathers in a series and average the feel and texture of the hides from all the colorways. Samples are incredibly costly for the manufacturers to provide to dealers and customers, so they are almost always going to be made of salvage.
    Duane Collie
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    Default Re: A primer in selecting leather

    Burnished Leathers: One of the hottest leather categories right now, burnished leathers (and hand-antiqued) are hides that come into the maker in an unfinished state and the color is laid up on them after the piece is fully upholstered. Whereas the vast majority of hides are toned and highlighted at the tannery, burnished leathers are done on site at Hancock and Moore (I know of no other maker offering them at this time), by the finish department. There is an art to doing this, and no two are alike. Here is an example of a burnished leather - this one is Weston Cane Burnished by Hancock and Moore:

    Click image for larger version. 

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    This is a time consuming process, and requires an artist's touch to do correctly. The colors is laid up on the leather and when complete, is sealed in with a top coat glaze. It provides for a very unique look, and the last four pieces I have bought for my own home have been in the burnished or hand-antiqued hides. The burnishing process tends to make the leather stiffer and also 'squeaky' or noisy, so be aware of that if you are considering it. I usually will spec them with Ultra Down seat cushion cores to compensate for the stiffer leather. These hides will also change over time, getting 'broken in' and will look like an old bomber jacket with lots of character lines and so on.

    Burnished leathers are not for folks who demand color accuracy and consistency (you know who you are!). If you prefer high res digital prints to a painting, then a burnished leather is not for you. If you can't stand hairline use marks across the hide surface, then a burnished leather is not for you. If you are a matchy-matchy person that wants their room color schemes to be on the money then a burnished leather is not for you.

    But if you do like Christmas Morning surprises, and enjoy the true art of a handmade piece then they are a terrific alternative to the cookie-cutter appearance of tannery leathers. I will always have them in my store, because I think they're terrific and they hold up very well over time.
    Last edited by drcollie; 01-10-2016 at 08:43 AM.
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    Default Re: A primer in selecting leather

    Expanding on the topic of leather some more, based on what customers ask me frequently.

    * Leather wears 4x better than fabric on average. That's an important number because that means more usable lifespan, but it does not mean leather will not show wear with use and age, because it does. Some folks are under the misconception that hides should look like new for quite some time, and its not unusual for me to get a phone call from a customer a couple years after purchase and they are upset because there is wear on their leather. If you have a painted leather (aka: Protected, Finished, Pigmented, Corrected) you have a topcoat on the leather. What happens to any painted surface over time? It will show friction wear and possibly chip, and that's no different with leather that is painted. That's not a defect, that's just plain old wear. Aniline hides (Dyed, Unprotected) will also show wear, but they don't chip because the color goes all the way through the leather. The most susceptible wear point on any leather sofa or chair is the welt trim on the cushions, especially on the front seat edge. Welt trims are made by taking strips of leather and rolling them around a cord - there's a lot of leather tension on a welt and its the contact point when being used.

    * Headrest stains. Once a year or so I will get a call on a headrest stain on a fairly new piece, usually an aniline leather. Customers can be upset when their leather has a large stain on that headrest from use and think the hide is defective. What occurs however, is that people have different chemical makeups and the perspiration and oils we leave behind can affect the leather. The vast majority do nothing, but once in a great while I do see it occur and customers are not pleased when told there is no warranty or guarntee of use from any of the makers to re-make or replace such a piece. It also seems that people on certain medications can tend to stain leathers more so than those not.
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    Default Re: A primer in selecting leather

    To add to this thread, one of the things you want to do when selecting a leather is not pick solely on color. I see so many customers laser-focsued on color hues, and that - in my opinion - is leaving so much out of the equation. It's like choosing a spouse - you better not go for just looks alone!

    The leather hand, or texture and softness, is actually a more critical factor in choosing. You have to gauge that softness of the hide which means you have to have a sample in your hand. It's a huge mistake to buy on a photograph or a color you see on a website, don't do it. There are a lot of leathers out there that look handsome to the eye, but are hard and stiff - is that really what you want to sit on for the next 25 years? I don't think so....that suppleness and softness should be an important criteria in your selection.

    Use your nose. Flip the leather over and on the backside, get your nose right in there and take a deep breath. What do you smell? Some leathers have a chemical smell, others (and I am not making this up) are fishy-smelling. And the very best hides smell like butter. You want fish or butter aroma? Don't over look that aspect either, because if you can get a whiff of the frangrance in a 2" square sample just imagine how a sofa and chair and ottoman will fill up the room.

    Sight, Touch and Smell. Use all your senses when buying leather. And of course, my recommendation is to always buy in your financial comfort zone however balance that with a 25 year + lifespan so you realize you will have these pieces a long time.
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    Default Re: A primer in selecting leather

    Let's discuss some of the aspects of leather, part of the continuing education on hides.

    There are (4) types of leather and they are often confused.

    1) Full Top Grain
    2) Top Grain
    3) Genuine Leather (also known as the Splits)
    4) Bonded and/or BiCast Leather

    Look at this diagram and you will see the first three:

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Notice how the fibers of the grain are running. Vertical near the top and horizontal near the bottom. As they become more horizontal, the hide is easier to pull apart, it's not structurally as sound. The area where those are running horizontal is called the Splits or Genuine Leather, and we really don't use that in better leather furniture. Typically that portion of the hide becomes a suede or is put on less costly furniture such as what you might buy from Costco or Ashley. Often its bonded with a sheet of polypropylene to infuse some strength into it and that becomes bicast leather when the do that. When you see cushions all stretched out, its probably this part of the hide used. Suede is tougher than cloth, but it can't handle the stress of the better parts of the hide.

    The FULL Top Grain portion of the hide is the best part of the leather, however because most cows don't live inside in a nice comfy home, they frequently have scars, bug bites, and other marks of the trail that shows in the hide, plus natural hair pores. This is the most desirable of the leather and the hardest to work with. Most hides are too banged up to become full top grain (only 6% worldwide qualify) so frequently that is sanded down to become usable and smooth. But it's the full top grain that build patina over time and becomes the best looking leather as it ages, though I would guess only 10 % of my customers understand that. One of the most common things I hear is that folks want the product to be smooth and even, with no scars, pigmentation variances and natural markings like fat wrinkles. That's OK too, but they are really missing out on the best leather. And the best of the best comes from German, Belgium and Scandinavian tanneries (leathers like Hancock and Moore's Capri, Quintessence, Arizona, Envy).

    When a hide is too banged up to use for Full Top Grain, then its sanded down and becomes Top Grain. The grain pattern is embossed back into the leather, and its painted of finished. (This is often called 'protected' leather). This leather looks great when new, but will not age well and build patina. It's durable, but has no character, and the best part of the leather has been sanded away. This is the majority of leather sold on midline to better furniture, and even handbags as well as shoes. Its less costly to buy for the supplier than full top grain so you often see these as the entry grade leathers.

    Not onto the bottom of the barrel. Bonded Leather. This is nothing more than scraps of leather. Sometimes its what hits the floor at leather makers after they cut the hide and trim the bad areas out, and it includes shavings and leather dust from the sanding of the hides. I know companies like Hancock and Moore put all their scraps into 55 gallon drums and a agent pays them for the scrap then ships them to China. There they are chemically melted into a slurry with the shavings and dust and then poured into sheets bonded with glue. Then embossed with a grain pattern press and painted. it degrades quickly and is no better than vinyl, which is a plastic. This is what you are buying at Costco or Marlow - stay away from Bonded Leather, its junk.
    Duane Collie
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    Alexandria VA
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    Default Re: A primer in selecting leather

    Another topic I have not addressed is how leather is Tanned, and like most things in life there are the proper ways to do it and the cheap and easy way that costs less. Try to find out what you are buying.

    Once a hide is taken off the animal meat, fat and hair are removed. The tannery then extracts the moisture, and oils and natural preservatives. Its then call 'Wet Blue' because that's what it looks like.

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    The tannery then takes the Wet Blue hides and puts them into a giant drum with new oils, preservatives and coloring and lets them tumble for hours. Thicker hides can be in the drums for 9 to 10 hours as that's how long it takes for the new liquids to penetrate to the middle of the hide. Once that is accomplished, the leather is put into heated presses and hung up to dry at specific humidity levels and sprayed with various sealers and finishes, then pressed again.

    Now let's look at the cheats. A good leather has color all the way through, a cheap leather is tanned only on the surface:

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    Why do they cheat? Time and Money. A single tanning drum costs about $ 100,000. Because they are expensive, many tanneries don't own enough of them and instead short cycle their hides, maybe only leaving them in the drums for an hour or two. Plus they save on materials that go into the leather. So the outside gets coated but the inside does not, and it remains dry and much more brittle. And the tanneries can buy cheap materials (oils and pigments) or high quality ones. They can save tens of thousands of dollars a year by going cheap. If you see blue in the middle, avoid that hide. Be aware that some tanneries will paint the edges, but its unlikely you will see this on samples in the stores.

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    Most the suppliers I deal with to not use these cheats. Where you are mostly going to see this occur is downmarket product at lesser quality furniture stores. But use your eyes and examine the swatch for yourself. Sometimes I will see a new leather series come in from a supplier and if I see that bare or blue edge on the sample, I toss that series in the trash. I won't sell it, because I know it's no good.

    There is a a lot to learn about leather - it's not all the same. If you do your shopping based on price alone, you'll likely wind up with lousy leather, not to mention the frame and build. Learn to recognize the good stuff, and buy the best you can comfortably afford and you won't regret it down the road. Knowledge is Power. Do your due diligence and be an educated consumer.
    Last edited by drcollie; 12-17-2016 at 02:42 PM.
    Duane Collie
    Straight answers from thirty years in the business.
    My Private Messages are Disabled - Please ask questions here in the forum
    I ask that you do NOT call my store with general furniture questions, that is what the forum is for

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