What is full-grain leather?

Full-grain leather is the most valuable, beautiful, pleasingly tactile and durable leather. But what exactly is full-grain leather?

Full-grain leather refers to the natural uppermost surface layer of tanned cowhide.

A tanned bovine hide can have a thickness of up to around 10mm. The uppermost surface layer is the side from which the hair has been removed. The inner layer is where the hide originally connected to the flesh, also known as the “flesh side”. The surface of the upper layer is smooth whereas the surfaces of the flesh side and middle layers are textured – what we call “suede”. The fibre structure of the leather is not uniform throughout its thickness. The fibre structure is tightest and densest at the upper layer and progressively looser, and less durable, at it progresses through to the lower flesh side.

full grain calf leather wallet

It is rare to use the full thickness of a hide for finished products. Some items such as belts may use the full thickness but for most items eg bags, wallets and shoes a thinner and less bulky leather is more appropriate and desirable. Tanned hides are therefore normally split into two or more separate “sheets”. The lower sheet layers are less durable and less valuable than the upper sheet layers. Only the uppermost layer has the naturally smooth surface grain which we associate with leather. The lower layers are used either as suede or they can be sanded, pressed and coated to create an artifical grain similar in appearance to the natural grain of the uppermost layer.

tan full-grain calf leather wallet, zander fish leather interior

The surface of leather is known as the “grain”. As we have seen above only the uppermost layer of a hide, from which the hair has been removed, produces a naturally smooth grain. Full-grain leather refers to leather with this surface layer left untouched – other than the removal of hair the surface remains intact. Full-grain leather requires the finest flawless hides with no scratches, marks or other imperfections. Most hides are not flawless and the natural surface layer requires some sanding or other abrasive treatment to smooth it – this is known as top-grain leather. Top-grain leather uses the uppermost layer but requires some treatment to smooth off imperfections whereas full-grain leather leaves the surface layer as nature designed it.

Layers/grains of leather

 Leaving the surface layer untouched is important as the fibre structure of this surface layer – the full-grain – is naturally designed to offer the best protection from contact with natural hazards in the animals’ habitat and offers excellent water resistance (just as our skin does).

Full-grain leather, like most of the finer things in life, improves with age, developing an increasingly attractive patina with repeated use and over time.

At Creel we use full-grain calf leather for our wallets and card holders. Calf-leather is softer and more supple than mature bovine leather and silky to the touch. For smaller finished articles full-grain calf leather is simply the best leather there is – much more expensive of course - but it’s worth it: transforming every-day accessories into things of lasting quality and real beauty.

Our use of pure silk linings and flourishes of exotic fish leather in combination with full-grain calf leather lend our accessories a special and unique allure.

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full-grain calf leather cardholder with salmon leather detail and shot silk lining