Leather Layers

Leather Layers & Use


The Grain

The Grain represents the leather hide's outermost layer and consists of densely packed fibres which give this part of the hide the greatest strength. This surface has been exposed to various environmental elements such as air, rain, sunlight.  This part is also where you’ll see evidence of the interaction of the animal and its surroundings, such as scars, insect bites etc. Typically, after removing the hair, the grain is characterized by its strength and smooth texture.

The Grain and Corium Junction

The Grain and Corium Junction is where the tightly packed fibres of the Grain layer meet the looser fibres of the Corium.  At this junction, you find a combination of the highly sought-after grain layer and the more fibrous, less dense corium layer.

The Corium

The corium, found within animal hides, primarily consists of collagen fibres that are less tightly packed and more open in structure compared to the grain layer. Despite this difference, the corium is still valuable for leather production. Typically, it represents the thickest layer within an animal hide. Consequently, when a hide is split, portions of the corium may be present in both top grain and genuine leather products.

The Flesh

The flesh layer of the hide is primarily composed of muscle and fatty tissues, and it is not highly valued for the final leather applications. Therefore, leather is typically split to eliminate the layers above it, resulting in usable material of varying grades and qualities that can be utilized in the production of leather goods.


How are the Various Leather Layers used?

Full Grain Leather

Full Grain leather is the outermost layer of the hide, often called the "grain," that hasn’t undergone any sanding or buffing to eliminate imperfections. Typically, only the hair is removed from full grain leathers. The grain consists of densely packed, finer fibres, resulting in a highly robust and durable surface capable of withstanding rugged usage.

Because it doesn't undergo sanding, the surface may retain minor imperfections. These imperfections could stem from instances where a cow rubbed against a fence, received small cuts, insect bites or endured everyday scrapes. Full grain hides that exhibit few blemishes are particularly prized, as they are less common and possess the most appealing visual characteristics.

These surface fibres also contribute to its exceptional strength, making it ideal for applications such as saddlery, footwear, and furniture. Since the outer layer remains intact, full grain leather develops a patina over time—a change in surface colour due to use—that can be aesthetically pleasing. Additionally, the outer layer provides some level of water resistance. Consequently, full grain leather is widely regarded as the highest quality leather available.

Top Grain Leather

This type of leather closely resembles full-grain leather, but it has undergone a process where the very top layer is sanded and/or buffed to eliminate imperfections and irregularities in the finish. This treatment renders the leather softer and more pliable, and it is often treated with various dyes and finishes.

While this sanding process enhances its visual appeal, it does come at the cost of reducing some of the strength and water-repellent qualities found in full grain leather. Thus, there is a trade-off between the strength and the look and softness of the leather.

Due to its softness and flexibility, top grain leather is frequently used in the production of high-end leather goods, including items like handbags, wallets, and shoes.

Genuine Leather (Corrected Leather)

Genuine leather can be sourced from any layer of the hide and goes through a treatment process on the surface to achieve a more uniform and "corrected" appearance. This treatment may involve sanding or buffing to eliminate surface imperfections, followed by dyeing (or spray painting) or stamping/embossing to create the desired final surface look.

This process alters some of the desirable qualities of leather, so while it doesn't reach the level of top quality, it is commonly employed in the production of items like cheap belts and similar goods.

Split Grain Leather

Split grain leather is a layered type of leather cut from the lower levels of the top grain region of the hide. It typically lies above the flesh layer and below the full grain and the finest top grain sections. Despite its position, it still serves as a valuable leather material.

The natural surface of split grain leather lacks the density and tightness found in full grain and top grain leather. Consequently, it is often employed in leather finishes where colour, embossing, or significant surface alterations are applied. This allows it to retain some of the advantageous characteristics of leather while presenting a visually appealing and often functionally enhanced surface, which is beneficial for various leather products.

Bonded Leather (Reconstituted Leather)

Bonded leather is a produced to minimise waste and utilise offcuts and scrap pieces of leather.  It is composed of finely shredded leather scraps that are bonded together using polyurethane or latex onto a fibre mesh or sheet. The percentage of actual leather in the mix can vary significantly, ranging from 10% to 90%, and this variation has a notable impact on the use, durability and aesthetic characteristics of the final product.

To enhance its appearance, bonded leather is often painted to add colour and may also be subjected to pressing or embossing techniques to mimic the look of a specific grain or leather style.

Bonded leather is made up of scrap leather and polyurethane, which makes it a cheap, fake leather. When it comes to bonded leather, the cons really outweigh the pros. Because of the way bonded leather is made, it is not durable and can easily scratch, peel, and flake over time. If you’re looking for a genuine leather alternative, bonded leather may not be the best option, especially if you want your furniture or clothing to last a long time. PU leather will be a great genuine leather alternative if you’re looking for a good artificial leather.

What does all this mean for you, as a customer?

When you’re buying a leather product, you really need to look at the sort of leather it’s made from and how it’s constructed to decide whether it’s worth the price.  Check the label!  If it looks good but is made from ‘genuine leather’, you’re not going to get something that will last very long.

It’s a bit of a minefield though, as even a costly leather product may not be made from the best leather.  You may just be paying for the name!

Products made with the highest quality full-grain or top-grain leather are going to cost you more but will ultimately outlive products made with the cheaper parts of the hide.  Also, if they’re hand-stitched rather than machine stitched the cost will be higher, but the strength and durability will be so much greater.

Codman & Belter use only full-grain vegetable-tanned leather in all our products and hand stitch everything.  Our products might cost a bit more than commercially made ones but will last longer and get better and better over time. 

Thanks for reading this blog.  I’ll cover the different types of tanning, hide sections and stitching in future blogs – watch this space.



Back to blog