Article: Leather Types
Building hand crafted products varies widely. The marketplace for leather products is large and one size does not fit all. There is a wide variety of price points, quality levels and interesting designs. This means that a large segment of the marketplace can find products at a wide variety of price points and quality.
At Happy Hollow Farm TN, here in the Tennessee Smoky Mountains we stress using top quality materials. A product constructed from inferior materials often means a failure in durability, function or appearance. So, if a product fails often and soon it means the real cost is much higher than the initial acquisition cost.
Actually finding the right type of leather can be somewhat complex. There are grades of leather, quality of hides used and different methods of tanning and finishing. See below, a chart showing the various levels of leather quality. As this chart (below) illustrates that there are sections within a hide that vary widely. This is also dependent upon the starting quality of the hide, even prior to the tanning and finishing process.
As you can see the best part of a hide is called FULL GRAIN, shortly followed by Top Grain, this can be determined by examining the density of the fibers in each section of a hide. Top Grain typically has the top or outer layer sanded or process to remove scars, brands and or damage to the hide. This provides a smoother finish and a better appearance. However, FULL GRAIN is the strongest and most durable part of a cowhide. If the picture is examined closely we can see that the densest part of the hide is the outer most or full grain area of the hide. The fibers there are the closest together meaning better strength, durability and appearance.
The grades seen above are: Full Grain; Top Grain; Genuine / Suede Leather. These are the grades of leather that come from the hide. Bonded Leather and PU Leather are manufactured and often contain glues and other chemicals.
Here at Happy Hollow Farm TN we use Full Grain, and suede leather. Suede is mostly used for lining material. In the process of constructing our products there are several considerations: Quality, durability, appearance, strength and cost. Suede leather is used in some of our products as a liner in our bags and as an interior section in some of the briefcases.
All of the vegetable tanned leather that we use is full grain, or the outer or strongest part of the hide. So, once a type of hide is chosen the hides are then graded into categories. Typically there are four categories from most top level tanneries: #1 best quality of hide with least defects; #2 a bit more scaring or damage from scrapes or insects; #3 a lower level in terms of damage to the hide and TR or tannery run.
Better tanneries use the same tanning process regardless of the grading of the hide. What the grading process does is it determines how much of the hide can be used for making products.
On our vegetable tanned products we use # 1 graded hides and on occasion #2 graded hides..
Vegetable tanning is an older process that, in our view, has not been improved on. Vegetable tanning uses, typically, tree bark and other natural tannins to tan the hide. This process is eco-friendly. It also produces the best leather that is durable, stronger and more attractive . Vegetable tanning from top tanneries typically takes 4 to 6 weeks.
The more popular modern method of tanning is called Chrome Tan or Oil Tan. This process uses, typically, chromium salts or oils (like fish oil) to tan a hide. This process usually takes 24 to 48 hours. Most of the leather used today is tanned with these methods. Since it is faster the chrome tan hides are usually less expensive. There are some chrome tanned hides that are competitive cost wise with top of the line vegetable tanned hides.
Once a hide is tanned it is then "finished". There are multiple methods, like tanning, Some common methods or terms are "Bridle", "Harness", "Latigo", "Skirting", "Tooling" and "Traditional". The various type of finishing provides a wide variety of looks and uses. We offer multiple colors and styles to allow a wide a variety of choice.
On our site (click here) you will see a variety of finished products built with different products and in different styles in order to provide flexibility and choice to our customers.
We use leather and canvas from top suppliers in the world. Some might be surprised to learn that some of the best leather tanneries are located in the United States. These better tanneries produce leather hides that take time to produce. A better tanned leather hide will result in a better leather product.
As mentioned above we do prefer vegetable tanned leather because it produces the best overall leather products.
With our products they are ALL built with the same process. We build our products in-house in the Tennessee Smoky Mountains from the hide up. All of the products we build are hand made by two craftsmen.