Discovering How Leather is Graded in 4 Easy Steps

by Galen Leather April 09, 2019 12 Comments

Discovering How Leather is Graded in 4 Easy Steps

How Leather is Graded (And Why You Should Know)

When you buy a real leather item — a handbag, coat, wallet, or other leather goods — you will generally find a stamp on the underside of the skin that categorizes it as top-grain, full-grain, split-grain, or genuine leather.

While leather is usually categorized into five different grades of leather (the four mentioned above, plus bonded), there are in fact, as many grades of leather material as there are leather tanneries.

Each grade represents different attributes of the leather and can contribute to durability, wear-resistance, and how the leather feels next to your skin.

Depending on the leather item in question and how you’ll use it, you may want to consider a specific quality to ensure that the item lives up to your expectations.

How Leather is Graded: What You Need to Know

If you plan on buying leather goods, you’ll want to be armed with as much knowledge as possible to ensure you get the best value for your money.

As we mentioned, there are five common grades of leather:

  • Full-grain leather
  • Top-grain leather
  • Split-grain leather
  • Genuine leather*
  • Bonded leather*

*These are not technically leather grades. Instead, they’re terms in the leather industry that have come to be widely used among today’s consumers. You may also run into a material called “corrected grain leather,” which is leather that has had the grain smoothed with abrasives.

We think it’s critically important to keep you informed of all the types of leather you may come in contact with, so you can make the best choice.

So, let’s begin with the basics: How is leather graded?

1. Splitting the Hide

In the first step towards becoming a beautiful piece of leather, a section of cowhide (also called rawhide) that ranges from 6mm to 10mm in thickness is run through a splitter and is split depending on what the final product will be used for.

For example, upholstery leather will be split to a thickness of 1.2mm while leather for belts may be 3.2 to 4mm in thickness.

The hide is split into two parts, the top, which is the most valuable, and the bottom, which may be even further split to make the various grades.

2. The Top of the Hide — Full and Top Grain Leathers

Both full- and top-grain leathers are made from the best quality part of the hide.

Full-grain leather is less processed and leaves the entire — or full — grain of the hide intact, including natural scarring and blemishes. Full grain leather absorbs moisture and oil and, over time, will develop a wonderful leather patina that looks better the longer the item ages.

Top-grain leather, on the other hand, is buffed, sanded, and pigmented to provide a more uniform and smoother look to the end product. Water and oils do not absorb into top-grain leather and can be wiped away since the leather’s natural pores have been sealed during the coloring process.

3. The Bottom of the Hide — Split and Genuine Leathers

Split-grain leather actually doesn’t contain any of the hide’s natural markings or grain. The most common split-grain leather is suede, which is used to make shoes, handbags, jackets, and other goods where a soft and pliable product is preferred.

What Does Genuine Leather Mean?

Although technically leather, it isn’t as durable or beautiful as high-quality leather, and it is considered by experts in the industry to be a very low-quality product.

Genuine leather is leather made from the very bottom of the cut. It is heavily processed and contains none of the original hide’s natural grain.

4. Bonded Leather

Bonded leather isn’t technically leather at all. Instead, it is an amalgam of leather dust, vinyl, leather scraps, plastic and glue that have been bonded together through a complex process. Like genuine leather, it’s a relatively cheap product that doesn’t stand the test of time.

Bonded leather is commonly used to create cheap upholstered items and low-quality handbags, clothing, and other inexpensive leather goods.

In fact, waxed canvas and vegan leathers are more durable and of higher quality than most genuine and bonded leather products.

Using What You’ve Learned When Buying Leather Goods

The next time you decide to purchase leather goods, look for a stamp on the underside or raw area of the leather to ensure you’re getting the highest quality leather product for your money. If you're wondering if a particular product is really leather, give it the “fire test.” Wave a lighter quickly on the broad side of the product.

If it’s fake, it will shrivel and burn. Real leather is very fire-resistant.

Good leather can last a lifetime, so purchasing a full-grain leather product is worth the extra money it may cost up front.

A full-grain leather product, adequately cared for, can provide years and years of usefulness to its owner and will grow more beautiful as it develops the warm patina for which high-quality full-grain leathers are known.





Galen Leather
Galen Leather

Author


12 Responses

Liliana
Liliana

January 07, 2023

Very interesting article…you don’t mention CROSSGRAIN LEATHER. I would like to know if it is good leather. Thank you

Sandra Traversy
Sandra Traversy

January 07, 2023

It should be illegal to use bonded leather for furniture… After three years the bonding agent is falling apart and so does your sofa. Your money is better spent on a decent fabric couch than a bonded leather couch.

Lynnie
Lynnie

August 14, 2022

I was so thankful for this article. In the past if a furniture sales person said, This couch is genuine leather…”, I would have considered it as “high quality” furniture. I need living room furniture. I have to pull from my small savings to buy it, as I’m elderly & live on social security. What I buy now has to last the rest of my life. Now I know how to pick out high-quality leather that will last. Thank you!

Deborah
Deborah

September 29, 2021

Are grades of leather numbered?

Adele
Adele

September 29, 2021

This is the most understandable and honest explanation about understanding leather. I am in the market for two leather sofas and I have been doing my homework to understand what I am purchasing. I found myself confused, but this is not bad because confusion is halfway to learning. Your article cleared the confusion and pulled all the other things I learned to a place of understanding. Thank you Thank you.

Solo Katia
Solo Katia

May 03, 2021

I really applaud your well presented article. It is rich and precise. ‘Is there synthetic leather really?’ was my question, am now good to go!

Michaela Ufkes
Michaela Ufkes

February 17, 2021

Thank you for this very useful information
Its helpful to know the true quality of products. ❤

Niklas
Niklas

August 09, 2020

My friend bought a leather doctors bag and it has these numbers. 25216 A5. What do they mean?

Niklas
Niklas

November 22, 2020

My friend bought a leather doctors bag and it has these numbers. 25216 A5. What do they mean?

Richard Pace
Richard Pace

June 27, 2020

Practically all leather furniture makes my skin sting and it is impossible to find a chair or sofa. No one seems to have any idea what causes this. Do you have any thoughts or suggestions for me to try? I will appreciate any info at all.
Thank you.
Richard

Michael
Michael

May 29, 2020

While good to know, the “fire test” might get us in trouble in stores. 😜

Steph
Steph

September 29, 2019

Thank you so much for this article! I have always assumed, dass genuine leather means “real” leather😂 now I’ve learned that is NOT the case!

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