Leather is to thick and too rough to be sewn in its natural state, so leather is always split (or cut) leaving you with the “top-Grain” and “Splits.”
The “Top Grain” is used exclusively on all the seating areas that have tension, like seats and backs. The reason Top Grain is so valuable is because the cell structure of the skin is tighter and more unidirectional the closer you get to the surface, just like in ours. So, when we cut ourselves we don’t get a run up our arm like you would in a fabric: same with leather. The top grain is a lot stronger and durable.
Splits are generally used on outside arms and outside backs which isn’t a bad thing. The split is not as strong as the grain and will never be as soft because in order to make a split look like a grain you need to apply a great deal of heat and pressure to simulate the grain on the top. All that added pressure makes the leather stiff. Splits are also used in things like belts, handbags, shoes… a lot of different uses.
Many companies will have different grades for their leather. However, all you need to know are the following leather classifications, all of which are Top-Grain leathers:
The ugliest, most beat up, scared up, tic bitten hides will become pigmented leather. They sand off all the grain and use stucco, which is essentially bondo, to fill in the scars & holes. Then through heat and pressure, an artificially grain is embossed (stamped) onto the hide. Anytime you press leather it will make the product stiffer. After that they spray on the dye (as opposed to drum dying) through a spray line that fixes the dye to the hide. When you feel this leather, you are not feeling the natural grain of the animal. These are the least expensive but the most available, nearly 50-60% of leather will qualify for this product. Most durable leather for kids and pets. Aka Protected/ Corrected Leathers
Aniline dyed but they are far less rough in the sorting process. So, when you make the hide you use far less heat/ pressure and color to make the finished product so they are softer than pigmented leather. Can be top grain or full grain.
Leathers that have been dyed only with aniline dyes, no opaque color has been added. All full grain leathers are aniline dyed. Since aniline has no paint you will see the scars, insect bites, wrinkles, we like to call them “hallmarks of the trail” because it sounds better. What it really is, are the finger prints of the life of the animal. The payoff of these products is that they are remarkably softer. Aniline leathers can have sub-categories as well
- Wax-pull-ups: Highest of the aniline leathers. These leathers are crusted and instead of dying the hides they get wax dumped on them. Heat and pressure is added which impregnates the wax into the hide. It will take a greater patina over time; a baseball mitt is a good example of what a wax pull-up will look like over time. The wax also acts as a natural protectant. This leather will scratch easily because what is happening is you are physically separating the wax in the leather.
- Oil Pull-ups: Are the same as the wax but oil is more robust and lightens in tension areas and stays longer. Scratches in both Wax and oil leathers can be redistributed using heat
- Wipe-ons & Wipe offs: After the main dyeing has taken place, these hides get an added dye that is either hand rubbed on (or removed) as a special effect.
The easiest way to delineate the difference between the an aniline and the pigmented leather is imagine you have two pieces of wood in your hand. In one hand you have a piece of wood that has been painted and in the other is a piece of wood that has been stained. The stained wood is an aniline because you can see the natural grain of the wood and the painted is pigmented because it covers up the natural grain. Aniline leathers generally cannot have a vinyl match because the grain and color is so volatile that they cannot match a synthetic product.