All About Leather
Leather products in the furniture industry can sometimes be confusing for consumers - we have all seen leathers sofas advertised for $999 that look identical to one you can find elsewhere for $2999. Generally while inexpensive leather sofas can be made from 'real' leather, they are made from a lower grade hide, or at worst from a reconstituted leather product like a 'bonded' leather.
Generally speaking - there a 3 grades of 'true' leather; Full-grain (top level), Top-grain (mid-level) and Split (third-tier), along with numerous other 'bonded' or man-made "leather" products of varying makes an quality - which we have outlined for you here:
Full grain leather
Full grain leather is the highest grade and the highest quality. It is called full grain because it comes from the top layer of the hide which has ‘all’ of the grain or ‘full’ grain. It is the layer closest to the animal’s hair line. Full grain includes the ‘Top’ grain and the ‘Split’ grain layers of the leather. This grade of leather is not sanded, buffed or snuffed to remove natural marks (imperfections) on the surface of the hide. This grade of leather retains all of its authentic texture and markings of the original hide. This is the strongest grade of leather because the strongest fibres are in the ‘original grain’. This grade of leather develops lustre, richness and depth of beauty as it ages (patina). It also has breath ability resulting in less moisture build-up from prolonged contact.
Top grain leather
This is the second highest grade of leather. If the top surface of the hide (known as full grain and the original grain surface) has imperfections too great to be used as-is, the original top surface (original grain) of the hide is altered. The imperfections may be shaved off to remove the damage or they may be sanded, buffed or snuffed and refinished. Since the original grain is altered, corrected or embossed, the grade of leather is known as ‘top grain’. This grade of leather is not as strong and durable as ‘full grain’ because the strongest fibres are found in the ‘original’ unaltered grain; however it is still a nice grade of leather. Likewise it does not age as nicely with use as ‘full grain’ does.
Split leather is the third highest grade of leather. It is known as split leather because it is split off from the surface layer (full grain and top grain). It has no natural animal scaring; therefore it is refinished to resemble a more natural higher grade. Split leather has a suede surface. Often an artificial polyurethane coating along with plating of artificial markings is applied making the surface smooth. Split leather is not as durable as full grain or top grain, will not last as long, and it not recommended for high stress products. This grade of leather is less expensive.
Bonded leather is not leather in its original form. It is reconstituted leather. The amount of actual leather included varies by manufacturer. Some bonded leather is made primarily from the collected waste products of the leather such as shavings. Other bonded leather may contain very little leather as is the case where a polyurethane or vinyl product is backed with fabric and then a layer of latex which is mixed with a very small amount of leather fibres. The polyurethane surface is stamped to give it a leather-like texture. Because this grade of leather has small amounts of leather in it and because the other ingredients used with the pieces (shavings) of leather are more plentiful, this grade of leather is least expensive.