Leather – Know Before You Buy

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Are you thinking about purchasing leather furniture or perhaps an automobile with leather seats? Consumers should know what type of leather they are buying so they can understand what to expect. This article defines terms, describes attributes of each leather type and offers advantages and disadvantages so you are a knowledgeable buyer.

How the leather is processed at a tannery determines its “type.” Think about this distinction: the toughness of a shoe’s leather sole and the suppleness of a fine leather glove. Could they be any different from each other? Yet, they both entered the tannery as an animal hide then processed in a way that creates the desired attributes. Here is the meat of the matter.

Finished Leather – Top Grain (Full Grain)

Definition: Typically chrome tanned leather representing the epidermis of the hide. It is aniline dyed then a topical pigment coating and has a clear coat applied to the surface. These coating represent the color and sheen on the leather.

Attributes: This is the most durable leather as it has the strength of a top-grain or epidermis with a protective coating on the leather. The epidermis is the primary contributor to the leather’s durability and strength.

Advantages: Highly durable, will withstand the rigors of an active household or commercial environment. It is fade and stain resistant. Easy to keep up, this leather will last many years if properly conditioned. This is the correct leather for an active household environment.

Disadvantages: If heavily coated, the leather can feel stiff, and cold.

Finished Leather – Corrected Top Grain

Definition: This is chrome tanned leather where the epidermis of the hide is sanded or corrected. The correcting process minimizes the unsightly hide characteristics. It is aniline dyed then a topical fairly heavy pigment coating and clear coating are applied to the surface. These coating represent the color and sheen on the leather.

Attributes: This is not as durable as a true top grain as the sanding erodes the outer layer or epidermis of the hide. The epidermis of a skin is the dominant contributor to the leather’s durability and strength. It is however normally protected with a heavy coating on the leather. This is the most common type of leather found in automobiles.

Advantages: While it lacks the longevity of true top grain it will withstand the rigors of normal usage patterns. It is fade and stain resistant. Easy to maintain, this leather will last years if properly conditioned.

Disadvantages: Due to its heavy coating, the leather can feel stiff, and cold. It has had the primary element of durability (epidermis) eroded through the sanding process.

Finished Leather – Split-hide

Definition: Chrome tanned leather representing the flesh side of the hide that is split away from the top-grain. It is dyed then a topical pigment coating and clear coating are applied to the surface. These coating represent the color and sheen on the leather.

Attributes: Because it’s not the top-grain, this leather lacks durability. This is inferior grade leather without the tinsel strength of top-grain consequently will have a short useful life expectancy. Split-hides are typically heavily pigmented with a heavy urethane clear coat.

Advantages: Affordable. It is fade and stain resistant. The leather is easy to clean.

Disadvantages: It is heavily coated. The leather feels stiff, and cold. Splits lack durability.

Unfinished, aniline-dyed Leather

Definition: Chrome tanned top-grain leather. The leather is a called a crust (no finish) with aniline dye infused within the skin. These are typically the most expensive hides. Only a small proportion of all leather can qualify ass unfinished as they are the hides with the least amount of unsightly hide characteristics like scaring or other anomalies in the leather. A variation is semi-aniline — aniline dyed leather with a light protective coating.

Attributes: This is soft, supple leather that has a wonder feel, and look. Aniline dyes are translucent. As such, they accentuate the natural beauty of the leather. Because it’ the top-grain, this leather has plenty of physical durability. As the leather ages, it develops a unique patina exuding quality of fine leather.

Advantages: The initial look and feel of the leather can’t be beat. Warm and inviting, with wonderful eye-appeal this leather represents the best of the best.

Disadvantages: It stains and fades. While it is aesthetically beautiful at the on-set, this leather is vulnerable, particularly in an active household environment. Very difficult to maintain its original. It is very porous and will absorb spills, body oils, etc more readily.

Pull-up or Oil Tanned Leather

Definition: Chrome tanned top-grain leather. The leather is infused with aniline dye that is “floating” in an oil mix. This means the dye is not bound to the leather. Rather it can move inside the hide, showing areas of color loss when stretched, scratched or scuffed. This leather is often called distressed or referred to as the “bomber jacket look.”

Attributes: The leather has a certain classic aged look. Again, the dyes accentuate the natural beauty of the leather, and because it’s the top-grain, this leather has plenty of physical durability.

Advantages: The look and feel of the leather is intended to be distressed which works beautifully in a rustic setting, rapidly developing a well-worn look. The distressing effect helps to conceal stains. Because it’s intended to be distressed, staining and fading is less of an issue.

Disadvantages: Scratches easily. It will absorb stains and lose its color from UV exposure. It is very porous and will absorb body oils, etc more readily.

Bi-cast Leather

Definition: Chrome tanned split leather or leather composite (like fiber-board) with a very heavy urethane coating. The urethane coating has a dye infused so the color is embedded in the coating, not the leather. It’s typically a shiny darker brown in color.

Attributes: This is very low-grade leather with little tinsel strength. The primary strength is the urethane coating. While the initial look is appealing, it has a short life expectancy.

Advantages: This is low-end leather that is affordable. It’s easy to clean.

Disadvantages: Very short life expectancy. If it fails, it’s not easy to repair.

Suede

Definition: Chrome tanned that is either the top grain or split. This is the flesh side of the leather. It represents the nap created when the cow hide is split laterally. Quality suede is the underside of top-grain leather.

Attributes: This leather has a nap to it that presents a soft appearance and feel. It is aniline dyed with no protection. If it’s the top grain turned inside out, then it will have the durability normally associated with leather. If it’s simply the split, it won’t hold up to active usage.

Advantages: It offers a warm inviting look. Feels comfortable to the touch with a depth of color only a dye can offer.

Disadvantages: It fades and stains easily. It is very porous and will absorb anything that comes in contact with it. It’s very difficult to clean.

Nubuck or Brushed leather

Definition: Chrome tanned, aniline-dyed, top-grain that is sanded to raise the nap.

Attributes: Like suede this leather has a nap to it that presents a soft appearance and feel. Its aniline dyed with no protection.

Advantages: It offers a warm inviting look. Feels comfortable to the touch with a depth of color only a dye can offer.

Disadvantages: It fades and stains easily. It is very porous and will absorb anything that comes in contact with it. Like suede, it’s very difficult to clean.

Belt leather (vegetable tanned)

Definition: This is vegetable tanned leather that is highly durable and very strong. In leather furniture, it is used as components that are load bearing. Examples would be Wassily and Barcelona(the support straps) chairs.

Attributes: Tough and durable, this leather will withstand years of use and continue to perform as expected. It requires very little maintenance. It’s available in both finished (pigmented) or unfinished (raw) forms.

Advantages: Long life expectancy, durable and requires little to no maintenance.

Disadvantages: Stiff with no suppleness, like a saddle, can be uncomfortable. Unfinished version will stain readily.

There are a number of other leather types from exotics like hair-on hides or stingray, to very delicate leather like lamb, calf or kid-skin. These are not normally applied to leather furniture as they lack durability, and are extremely sensitive to staining and fading.

This foundation of knowledge is so important that during Advanced Leather Solutions technician’s training program, it’s presented in the first lesson. To learn more go to www.advleather.com. The web-site is loaded with good information about the care and maintenance of leather furniture, and automobile grade leather.

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Source by Kevin Gillan

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