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The difference between high grade and low grade leather is like the difference between Pappy Van Winkle and Jack: they can both look great on the outside, but it doesn’t take long to tell that one cost a lot more to make.
Life lesson? Know your bourbon. And know your leather.
There are four main types of leather. Here’s a quick rundown:
Full grain leather is the highest grade of all types of leather. It’s the top layer of the hide, including the full thickness of the skin, and is not sanded or buffed to remove natural marks or imperfections. The full thickness makes this the most difficult type of leather for manufacturers to work. All the grain remains in full grain leather, which allows fiber strength, durability, and breathability. Rather than wearing out, the natural surface of full grain leather develops a patina over time.
Top grain leather is the second-highest quality, and is the type most commonly used in high-end leather products. This leather has the split layer with imperfections removed, making it thinner and more workable for the manufacturer. The surface of top grain leather is sanded and given a finish coat. The finish coat means the leather will not develop a natural patina and greatly reduces breathability, but it provides protection against stains that would otherwise sink right into full grain leather.
Corrected grain leather and “genuine” leather are two names for the same type of leather. This is the third grade of leather and is produced from the layers that remain after the top layers are split off for the better types of leather. An artificial grain is applied to the surface and then sprayed with stain or dye to give it a more natural appearance.
Bonded leather is quite literally the bottom of the barrel. Leftover scraps of leather are shredded and ground to a near pulp, then bonded together using polyurethane or latex onto a fiber sheet. The varying degree of actual leather in the mix (versus chemicals) affects the smell, texture, and durability of the product. Bonded leather is the cheapest to produce and is often resurfaced to look like higher quality types of leather - so watch out!