Different Kinds of Leather

We use Full Grain Leather on almost all of our hand made items. That's the same stuff cowboy saddles and holster in the old west are made of - and still are by companies like American Saddlery / Big Horn Saddlery.

But, as you may have noticed there are plenty of things being sold on the internet labeled as "Real" or "Genuine" Leather." Here's the truth about leather!

Full Grain or Top Grain Leather
Full Grain or Top Grain Leather is the top of the line when it comes to leather working. It's often called "Tooling Leather" as it can be tooled with a design when damp. As it dries the design sets. This type of leather includes the actual top-layer of cowhide.  It can be split into layers by a splitting machine to the desired thickness. The outer layer will probably show natural scars and haircell patterns if left as uncorrected natural grain. This is the starting point for all of the different types of leather.

There are different "grades" of this type of leather. A hide with little or no scratches, bug bites, brands etc is "graded" higher than one with multiple issues. If the hide is really ugly... well, read below.

Corrected or Embossed Grain – Second type of "Top Grain"
Really ugly hides are turned into "Corrected" or "Embossed Grain" leather but are still often called "Top Grain" because the top layer is still there. But, it's been sanded, buffed or treated with a chemical process to smooth the blemishes. Then a pattern is pressed onto the leather to give it a flawless look with a dimpled pattern. Exotic prints such as ostrich, gator, elephant cowhides are also made this way. 

There are two types of Corrected or Embossed Grain leather. The natural versions can still be worked, to some extent, and stained. The colored versions are mentioned below.

Leather Splits
Leather sides can be very thick so they are run through a "splitter" that thins it down to the needed thickness. Think of a side of leather being a piece of Texas Toast. Now, lay it on its side and run it through the splitter which is a huge machine with a long flexible sharp blade. The Texas Toast is sliced "Split" into two pieces. One piece keeps the original top layer while the pieces that is shaved off is called a "Split" which can be used for all kinds of things such as toolbelts, pouches etc. This is almost "Suede" leather as it's rough on both sides.

Suede Leather
Suede Leather is split leather that has been worked to remove stiffness and make it soft. It's often colored.

Processed "Real Leather" 
This is where things get murky when it comes to items sold as real leather. Really ugly leather or splits can be processed with chemicals and machines to add a fake top-grain complete with color and dimples, or even pink ostrich, purple gator, metallic gold... name it! This leather does not retain tooling and us used in everything from upholstery to the garment industry as well as bags, cases, shoes and just about anything.

"Genuine" Bonded, Reconstituted, or Fibre Leather
RUN AWAY! This leather is actually scrap leather of all colors, types, and such that's tossed into a grinder with a bunch of chemicals, fillers, and adhesives then burped out as a piece of leather! It can be any color, with any pattern, and used in cheap clothing, bags, etc. It's cheap, will fall apart, etc.

Leather Chart from Tandy Leather
We buy a bunch of tools, snaps, buttons, thread and more from Tandy Leather so I wanted to give full credit to where this chart came from.

Leather Hide Parts and Thickness Conversion Chart


Sometimes a scratch and dent is OK!
No two pieces of leather are alike. Well, in this day and age some leather is processed so much that they are actually... almost exactly alike. We hate that! We love leather that has character, that has a few scrapes, cuts, and dings. That's what makes our hand-crafted leather items so much different from the seats in your car.

Types of Hides and Leather We Use
We use full-grain tooling hides that are hand-tanned from time honored methods. We also use select leather drum dyed leather. What we won't use are hides from endangered exotic animals - any exotic style leather we use on specialty items is actually cow-hide and we'll provide all of the information in the item description.

We try hard to steer away from overly processed hides that look like plastic. If any item, such as belts made from classic Italian Leather, uses a highly processed leather then we will tell you right in the description.

Each item we build starts with selecting the right piece of leather, like a painter picks a brush or color of paint. We look for the right piece, handle it, bend it to soften, and work with it until the character we are looking for is achieved.

The goal?
We want you to have a unique item that is one-of-a-kind!