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How leather is made

leather hides


Hi everyone. Well in my last post I told about what different animals leather comes from. So let’s say from that you have decided you want a cowhide leather jacket. Great, good choice. Are you going to get one that is top grain, top grade, split leather, naked leather, aniline or patchwork?

Oh no, not more confusing stuff! Yes, leather can be tricky like I’ve said. Now you can see just how little people understand when they go out and get that “top grade leather jacket”. But it’s not that hard once it’s been explained, and I’ll do that right now for you.

As you know leather is just the hide, the skin of the animal. Different areas of the animal has stronger or thicker hide than others. Take a look at that picture at the top. That shows you the basic sections they use for making a leather product. The sides are the most thickest and strongest and more uniform in texture.

A good quality jacket will be made using the leather from the sides. Next is the shoulder. This area is a bit thiner, often suffers more cuts and wounds, and is not as uniform in texture. It’s alright, but not as good leather hide from the sides. Finally we have the belly. This area is the most thinest and weakest type of leather.

No jacket should be made from belly leather. It’s ok for riding gloves, trim, hats and maybe vest. Personally I would not want anything from belly leather. The rest of the hide, the outer edges, are made into,,, cheap stuff! A lot of those “patchwork” or “Italian stone design” leather jackets are made from this scrap leather, nice!

So lets say we have a jacket made from cowhide leather, taken from the side, great. There are still a few more things the leather goes through, which makes a good or great jacket. Lets examine what those steps are and what the names mean so your local leather dealer can’t pull the leather over your eyes, so to speak!

Top Grain Leather

After they cut that side slab of leather from the hide, a cows hide is very thick. So thick that they put it into a machine and actually split the hide once or twice. That gives the leather a uniform thickness. The outside part, the side that had the hair on it, is the top part, or top grain. It’s also the strongest part of the hide.

Full Grain Leather

The top part of the hide is what was exposed to the elements. This part has all the natural blemishes that nature gave it. Nicks, healed wounds, and the natural leather texture. A full grain leather means they have done nothing to hide those, leaving them just as they are with no sanding or smoothing. This way makes it the strongest and shows off the natural beauty of the leather.

Buffed, Embossed or Plated Leather

When a hide has a few too many markings on it, they sand the hide just like they do wood. That leaves it smoother and more uniform. It also makes it a bit more weaker. Sometimes they stamp the leather with a design to try to restore that natural leather texture that was lost by sanding.

Split Leather

As I said above under top leather, they split the hides in two or more. The layer under the top one is the split leather. This layer is not as strong as the top one and is often pressed with a design to make that natural leather texture in it. A lot of jackets are made with split leather, some even point that out as if it was a good thing!

If it’s a fashion jacket or vest that does not get heavy use then it’s fine for that. It is often softer than the top grain and used a lot in trench coats. But for a real motorcycle jacket that gets a lot of use you want a top grain jacket.

Top Grade Leather

This is a sales pitch term. Top grade is just a word anyone can use to describe anything, including leather. It’s basically worthless. If someones says this is a “top grade leather jacket” you say yes, but what kind of top grade jacket! I can make a jacket out of lizards and say it’s top grade,,,,, for a jacket made from lizards!

Patchwork or Stone Design Leather

After they cut the sides and shoulders of a hide, there is a lot of trim leather left. Since they hate to waste any of it, they came up with an idea. They take it all and cut it into pieces that are roughly the same size. Then they feed it into a machine that sews it all together so it’s one big piece again.

From that they make jackets and other items with a fancy name like Patchwork, Italian stone design, brick work and whatever else they can think of that sounds fancy. Needless to say, it’s garbage! The leather is not uniform in thickness, it comes from the sides, belly, legs and flanks. It weighs a ton because of all the sewing and pieces, plus it leaks in all the sew areas.

So never get a patchwork jacket. Like one lady said, it reminds her of that suit that guy was making in silence of the Lambs! Plus anyone who knows anything about leather is going to be laughing his ass off inside if he can hold it in.

So there you go, now you know a lot more about how leather is made. So let’s see, we know we want a cowhide, top full grain leather jacket. Now there is just one more thing, how they treat the leather. Yes they have several ways they do that too. So check out my next post for that!