What is top grain leather?

Our topic of the day is top grain leather ver­sus split grain leather. In my expe­ri­ence most folks do not under­stand what top grain leather really is; what top­grain means. The major­ity think that the word “top” in top grain means that it is the top qual­ity or best leather. In a gen­eral sense top­grain is best, but that’s not what the term really means.

A cowhide is gen­er­ally thicker than what you would think it is; and thicker than what is used for fur­ni­ture uphol­stery. A hide has an approx­i­mate thick­ness of a nickel. By nature, all hide has a denser cell struc­ture at the sur­face, on the top, than they do deeper under the sur­face. Now know­ing that, let’s go to the tan­nery where they will shave/cut the typ­i­cal hide into three lay­ers in order to cre­ate a leather that will be of suit­able thick­ness to be of use for fur­ni­ture uphol­ster­ing. While all three of these lay­ers are con­sid­ered to be leather, only the top layer, the dens­est part of the hide, is con­sid­ered to be top grain. Top grain leather is the strongest uphol­stery mate­r­ial in exis­tence. The under­cut­tings, the other two lay­ers, are referred to as split grain leather; these are weaker, lesser dense parts of the hide which are not suit­able for use in pro­duc­ing qual­ity leather furniture.

Many of the over­seas imports com­ing into the United States today are built with a large por­tion of the piece uphol­stered in these weaker split grain leathers. Using split grain leather will cer­tainly lower man­u­fac­tur­ing costs, which will result in a lower pri­ce­point at retail, but it lessens the over­all qual­ity of the fur­ni­ture as well. Shop­ping for a qual­ity piece of leather fur­ni­ture means accept­ing noth­ing less than 100% top grain leather.

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