FAQ - Leather
Are All Boot Leathers the Same Quality?
Most western or cowboy or work boots and shoes are made from cowhide, or cow's leather, but other animal hides have also been used, such as goat leather, bison, and pigskin, as well as ostrich leather, snake skin and crocodile or camian hide. Each of these types of leathers has its own characteristics.
How Does Animal Hide Become Boots?
The skin of larger animals such as a cow or bison is generally called a hide, and if a smaller animal (rabbit, pig) is generally called a skin.
Animal hides are cured by drying, salting, freezing or with chemicals to stop deterioration. This begins a process of more than 20 tanning, dying, finishing and grading steps to produce the finished leather used to make your cowboy boots.
In such an involved process there are bound to be several potential quality differences that affect the finished product. In addition, the quality of the animal hide will be influenced by the health, diet, and exercise of the animal itself.
All leather footwear does not come from the same quality of leather, which is why grading is an important step in producing finished leather goods like cowboy boots, work boots and leather jackets. Generally speaking, a lower price will mean lower quality.
What is Full Grain Leather? What is Top Grain Leather?
An animal hide has several layers. The outermost layer, just under the hair, is the most dense, and is the strongest and toughest.
Full grain leather is the protective layer of the animal hide closest to the surface. It was covered only by the animal's hair, and was exposed to air, to sun and rain.
This layer is made up of dense, interlocked fibres that provide strength and some natural water resistance. It is the strongest and highest quality part of the hide, and is the best leather for saddlery, work boots or western boots, and furniture.
True full grain leather has had only the outer hair and skin cells (epidermis) removed. The leather not been refined by sanding or buffing. Because this outer layer was exposed to the animal's daily life, it will likely have imperfections, cuts, scars or other blemishes. Full grain leather retains the markings of the hide, including any scars or blemishes.
Top grain leather is full grain leather that has been sanded and buffed at its surface to remove the imperfections.
Removing the tough surface improves the softness, flexibility and look of the leather. While top grain leather is desirable for its cosmetic appeal, its natural strength has been reduced by removal of the uppermost surface.
The animal hide is split into full grain/top grain leather and Split Leather, which is used to make genuine leather and suede.
'Genuine' leather is real leather but lower quality, made from the lower layers of the hide. Its cellular structure is less dense, therefore it is less strong. It is sanded or chemically treated and could be dyed or even stamped to provide a uniform surface. Genuine leather is more likely to be used for belts or wallets.
Suede is from the lower layers of the hide. It is not strong but it is soft, and made softer through manual processes. Suede is used for fashion jackets, coats, gloves and shoes. Suede can easily be damaged by any liquids.
Nubuck leather is very similar to suede but it is made from top grain leather, therefore is stronger than suede.
Bonded leather is a mixture of leather scraps that are shredded and mixed with a resinous or plastic material such as polyurethane. There is no legal requirement for the ratio of leather to poly - so, bonded leather could be just 10%.leather and very thin.