Leather Made Simple(r)

Leather is beautiful. It has a wonderful earthy smell. It gets better with time. Do you know what makes leather high quality? Can you spot the garbage? We’re here to help you understand what to look for!

There’s so much to learn when it comes to leather. I could bore you for days on the details, but I worry that’d count as cruel and unusual punishment, so here’s the CliffsNotes version:

Q: Where does leather come from?

A: Cows (cowhide), goat, sheep, deer, buffalo, etc. And some exotic sources like ostrich and alligator.

Q: Is leather always the same thickness? And how is that thickness measured?

A: Cowhide leather can be really thick, then depending on what you’re wanting to do with it, it can be split down to certain weights or thicknesses. They use a machine to split it—think wood planer, but it only cuts off the underside (or flesh side) of the leather, creating a fairly uniform thickness. Check out the chart below for some specifics:

Q: Are there different cuts of leather?

A: Yes! The best way to show you is with a chart:

common leather hide cuts

Q: Are there different leather qualities?

A: Yes, and this is important because it’s easy to get something that’s only mostly leather. Watch for the following words to tip you off that your leather is low quality:

  • Splits: these are the backsides of the leather that’s shaved off in the splitting process; this leather has no topside and will sometimes be stamped with a pattern to look like nice leather
  • Genuine: this is a vague term; it does contain real leather, but will be a split or contain some leather blended with other products)
  • Bonded: this is leather that’s been ground up and reconstituted with other products
  • Suede: splits finished to feel soft on the top side (often mistaken for nubuck, which is a good quality leather)

And your high quality leather will be full grain, top grain, and nubuck.

  • Full grain has no grain correction, meaning all the scars and imperfections of the leather remain on the hide. It keeps all the strong top fibers that contribute to its strength and durability.
  • Top grain has had a light surface sanding to remove some imperfections while still maintaining its strength and durability.
  • Nubuck has been textured to have a soft finish, but retains its strength and durability.

These high quality leathers also age well over time, gaining a nice patina as they’re handled and taken care of.

Q: What is tanning? Are there different processes?

A: Tanning is when the hides are treated to turn them into leather. It stops the decay of the hide and brings out the sought-after characteristics of leather. There are two main processes that you’ll hear about: vegetable tanning and chrome tanning. Veg tanning uses tannins from bark, woods, and other parts of trees and plants. Chrome tanning uses chromium compounds. There are also combination tannage processes such as oil tanning (chrome tanned and re-tanned with oils and waxes to preserve the leather for heavy use and protecting it against the elements) and latigo (where it's first chrome tanned and then vegetable tanned for a highly durable and beautiful leather).

Q: Is all leather dyed?

A: Nope, you can get leather that hasn’t been dyed, and leather that has been dyed. Some dyes are sprayed on the surface (that’s low quality) and others have been dyed all the way through (that’s the high quality stuff—it takes time and expertise).

*Our five leather choices are shown on top and are dyed through. The two bottom leather swatches are both undyed--sunlight and air will darken undyed, vegetable tanned leather as is shown here.


Q: What other characteristics do I need to know about leather?

A: One you may hear about is the temper, which means how stiff the leather is. Some projects you want a soft temper (like a leather jacket) and other projects you want a firm temper (like a saddle). You may also hear about leather that has a beautiful pullup. A pullup is a unique feature in leather where the leather will lighten in an area when it’s folded and darken again when it’s rubbed.This is due to the oils and waxes in the leather.

*Leather without pullup immediately seen.

*Fold the leather to bring out the pullup.

*Leather pullup seen on fold.

*Rub folded area to return to darker color.

*Leather rubbed and returned to darker color.

There you have it! Your basic educational rundown on leather. Now, where does Ox and Pine fall in all of this? I’m so glad you asked! We use only the best full grain leather, which is the most durable. Our leather is oil-tanned for added durability, especially in the elements. And when it comes to the dyeing process , our leather is dyed all the way through . At every stage, we take great care to find the best leather with the unique features that make it your own, so that you know when you’re shopping with Ox and Pine that you’re getting the very best.