When shopping for Leather Furniture it helps to know a thing or two about how leather is prepared before it becomes the beautiful sofa you are about to sit on. There are 5 basic steps to processing leather:
The primary distinction between leather types is the quality of the hide prior to tanning. The quality is determined by the age, geographic origin and diet of the animal.
Curing is the initial protective treatment that is administered to the pelts. It only preserves the hides prior to changing them to leather. The most common methods use salt (sodium chloride) as the principal curing agent.
Tanning is the process of taking raw cattle hides that are in the perishable state and putting them into a preserved state. Hides at this stage are light blue in color (wet blue) and have an unlimited shelf life.
This is the first step in introducing color to the hides. The dye has the same effect on the hide as a stain has on wood. The hide is soaked in a solution of dye until the color has penetrated all the way through. This is a synthetic dye, a color which has no solids. A purely dyed hide will have a very natural look. With no solid, the color varies through the hide and is darker in some areas than others. Also dye allows all of nature's marks to be visible. Some leather gets all of its color from dye.
A slight coating of color, with the solids, is put onto the hide to create a more consistent look and even coloration. This coating provides many positive and practical characteristics. Color is put on top of a dyed hide of similar color. The color achieved during dyeing acts as a primer for the finish. This allows less coating to be put on the hide, resulting in a softer hide. The finish acts as a barrier between you and the actual skin. It helps prevent staining and keeps the leather color consistent over many years. A finished leather is the most widely used leather in the industry. It features color consistency, durability, and ease in cleaning.
Hides are too thick to use without splitting. Splitting the hides yields different qualities of leather:
1. SPLIT HIDES / CORRECTED HIDES
A split hide is the underneath layer of the hide that has been split off when the top grain leather has been separated. Split hides can be embossed and finished to look like top grain leather. They are used with top grain leathers and placed on the sides, backs and base rails of upholstered pieces. This cost saving process provides customers with an excellent value. Split hide leather is not as strong as top grain leather and should not be used for upholstery seats and inside back cushions. Many steps are needed to process split hide leather, causing it to lack the soft and supple feel of most top grain leathers.
2. TOP GRAIN / LIGHTLY CORRECTED
Top grain leather is the upper layer of the leather hide. All top grain leathers have many hallmarks of the trails that may not be pleasing to the customer. As a result, these hides are shaved and sanded, then grain patterns are embossed back on to them. This gives the leather a grain pattern that looks natural, but lacks character markings only found in the finest of leather. Corrected leathers will also feel stiff and lack the soft supple feel of high quality leathers.
3. FULL GRAIN / NON-CORRECTED HIDES
Full grain leather is top grain leather that has not been mechanically altered. This high quality leather features natural grain and character markings. These natural markings add to the beauty of the hide. Full grain leathers are never sanded or embossed and have the softest and smoothest feel of all leather used in fine upholstery furniture. Less than 3% of all hides have the qualities necessary to become full grain leather.