Posted on September 18 2018
There's nothing in the world like leather. It's been used for thousands of years as a textile to create durable, protective, and fantastic looking goods. It is a time-honored material and turning it into usable objects has been honed into an art that is like none other.
However, if you are anything like us when we started this journey, we had no idea about leather grades, quality, tanning processes, or how to tell a good piece of leather from a cleverly painted piece of scrap hide.
The truth is, not all leather is created equal. When a leather sofa knowledge is power. Many so-called "leathers" are not what they appear to be. So lets look at the the amazing world of leather so you can avoid getting burned next time you are in the market for some great leather goods.
What is PU Leather?
PU leather is the lowest quality "leather" on the market. We use the term leather loosely here. Modern technology lets you take a single hide and split it into 4 or more layers. These thin worthless layers are then coated with a polyurethane coating to add "body" back into the material. This material comes in all colors of the rainbow since it is almost entirely synthetic.
This laminated leather is used by many manufacturers because it is significantly cheaper. Beware of this material! It will not last much longer than it takes to unwrap the package. It cracks and disintegrates quickly and has none of the warmth of real leather. American Classics Leather would never use such a product.
What is Bonded Leather?
Bonded leather is just as bad as PU leather. It is reconstituted leather, not actual leather hide. You take all the leather scraps, grind them into a pulp, then flatten it out, glue it together with polyurethane coating, and then spray paint it the color you want and emboss a leather texture on top. Bonded leather is extremely cheap to make, therefore it is a favorite of many cost cutting "big box" brands. It also often has a chemical scent to it that is very unpleasant. Bonded leather is often used on furniture to make it look fancy, but within a few short weeks / months, it starts to crack and fall apart. Beware buying any bonded leather products you want to last.
What Is Top Grain Leather?
In our grading system these are our A & B grade leathers.
This grain is called "Top Grain" because it is from the top layer of leather (the best cut) and the tannery removes the imperfections. The leather is then dyed and finished to seal the pours. These leathers have more color & grain consistency.
Top grain leather is a good leather, it is durable and long lasting, and will serve you well in many instances.
What Is Full Grain Leather?
In our grading system these are our C & D grade leathers.
This brings us to the highest grade of leather available, full grain leather. Full grain leather uses the entire hide with all the grain. It is used on the highest-end products that are designed to last decades or more. It is also the most expensive of leathers to use.
Full grain leather will have marks, brands, and imperfections. This leather is durable, though, it will age with time. These leathers develop the "Old World" patina look and feel. They do not wear out, they wear in.
While it is more expensive to use and work with, it will pay rich dividends to the you because it will last a very long time, even the rest of your life with proper care.