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The Journal

What is Full-Grain Leather?

For centuries, full-grain has been around for creating clothing, decor, and many other crafts. Because of its durability, attractive grain texture, and resistance, leather craftsmen continue to use it today. But are there other reasons why full-grain leather is popular?

Through this guide, we’ll go over the characteristics of full-grain leather. Then, compare it to other leather types to help you understand the differences. And finally, teach you the three processes the leather goes through during production.

What is Full-Grain Leather?


Full-grain leather is made from the grain layer of the animal hide. The grain provides the most thickness that helps with its durability to resist tearing and cracking. At first, it can start very stiff until it ages. Over time, the leather fibers become more relaxed as they are softened and more flexible.


Full-grain leather is tan in vegetable oils which gives it a natural brown color. It can become browner while it ages. Unlike other leather types, full-grain keeps its grain from the animal it's from, which can appeal to most consumers looking for high-quality leather.

Full-Grain vs Top-Grain

In a clothing store, you may have seen some leather goods labeled as top-grain. Top-grain has similar characteristics to full-grain as they both have the same thickness. However, there are three distinct differences.

The first difference is top-grain leather is made from the lower grain and the corium junction. The name top-grain can be mistaken for whole-grain for some consumers as the grain is the top layer of a leather hide. Top-grain received its name from the lower grain fibers connected on top of the corium junction.

The second detail you will notice is the grain texture on their surfaces. Top-grain has a smoother surface because the grain is sanded out for a more attractive look before being tanned. This prevents the leather fibers from being able to breathe as it ages. 

The reason why the grain is left on full-grain is to help the leather to relax and will leave behind creases during its use. On the bright side, top-grain can still gather a better brown color over time. But with the grain closed, it develops more slowly.

The last detail to go over is the cost of making them. Full-grain is more likely expensive due to the thickness and the grain on its surface. Top-grain leather while still sharing the same amount of thickness, its smooth surface makes it a little more affordable than full-grain.

The Advantages of Full-Grain Leather

Within the grain of the full-grain leather, it can reveal an animal's life from the scars it left behind, creating a natural appeal to consumers. The browning or the patina gives leather goods a vibrant and sleek style. And as it softens during its lifespan, it can become flexible in clothing, furniture, shoes, and accessories.

The Disadvantages of Full-Grain Leather

What pushes consumers and manufacturers away from full-grain leather is the price. Keeping the natural grain and not thinning the leather makes the production of leather goods expensive. The grain with the animal scars can also turn away consumers. It’s the reason why other leather types are cheap by removing the grain.

How to Make Full-Grain Leather


Before the animal skin or the hide of the animal becomes leather, it will need to be prepared for tanning. To do this, you will need to clean it and cure it by following these directions:

  1. Prepare a saltwater brine. The brine will help rehydrate and cure the hide. Keeping the animal skin out after trimming the flesh off will cause putrification which can attract bacteria and flies. Leave it to cure for about 16 hours.
  2. After the skin has been cured, it’s time to remove the hairs and grease from the grain by liming. Wear some protective gloves before moving the skin to the alkaline solution. As you limed the hide, its texture will soften and become somewhat flexible.
  3. De-lime the hide to remove the chemicals and the proteins to further soften the pelt.
  4. Remove any remaining fat inside of the skin by slicking. Gather some natural oil soap, water, a slicking stick, and a soft rag. At the edge of the leather, rub some water on it, then lightly coat it with soap. Next, take your slicking stick and brush it against the leather's edge for the soap and water to enter the fibers. Finally, rub it with the soft rag to apply heat and pressure for the fibers to relax.
  5. Finally, to finish cleaning the leather, it will be bleached in oxalic acid at 10-minute intervals until you have a desirable result. Bleaching lowers the pH of the leather for the tanning oils to penetrate through it. You can bleach it longer if you like light-colored leather.


After you finished preparing your hide, tanning it will help stabilize its proteins and prevent odorization. There are three methods to tan your leather. We will go over each one to show which is more suitable.

Vegetable tanning is considered the best method for leather tanning. The leather is fermented in an oil drum full of plant oils. The oil drums are then placed in a tanning pit for about two to three months. The process helps the oils to give the leather a natural appearance on the grain and the color. It’s also the most environmentally friendly method to prevent pollutants from spreading.

The downside to vegetable tanning is that it’s not resistant to sunlight. When the coating is underneath the sun for long periods, it can leave sunbleached spots and causes the leather to crack.

Chroming or mineral tanning is the cheapest method you can use for leather tanning. Instead of an oil drum, the leather is soaked in a bath of acidic salts and chromium tanning agents. You can tell when the leather is ready when the color becomes blue in two days. It can even copy other grain textures from exotic animals when embossed.

Chroming’s downfall comes from tearing easily and blocks the grain from breathing to soften over time. While it can copy different textures, it makes the leather look cheap. This method is used for genuine leather.

Synthetic tanning requires a combination of chemicals while using either the chroming method or the vegetable tanning method. The chemicals synthetic tanning uses are mostly formaldehyde and glutaraldehyde. Similar to chroming, it can release dangerous smells. In addition, synthetic tanning can include a plastic coating that creates dioxins, a group of pollutants that causes cancer.


Now that the leather has been tanned, the last thing to do now is to crust. The crusting process involves thinning, re-tanning, lubricating, and dyeing the leather. Follow these steps carefully:

  1. Split the leather horizontally with a splitting machine. The layer you want to have is the grain for making full-grain leather.
  2. Take the leather to a spiral blade machine to shave the remaining hairs on the non-grain side to create a uniform thickness.
  3. Neutralize any chemicals by wiping the leather’s surface with a soft rag.
  4. After neutralizing, the leather may need to be re-tanned to complete the tanning process in full.
  5. Next, use water or oil-based dyes to color the leather.
  6. The leather is now ready for fatliquoring. Lubricate the leather with oils to moisturize the fibers to keep them flexible and soft.
  7. In a roller machine, placed the leather inside to reduced the moisture content down to 55%.
  8. Depending on which animal the leather is from, it may need to be stretched to reduce the more of the moisture down to 40%. Buffalo leather for example does not need to be stretched due to its grass-fed diet.
  9. Allow the leather to dry by using taking it to a staking machine. A staking machine help separate the fibers by massaging them, allowing the leather to become more flexible.
  10. Dry the rest off the leather by tumbling it inside of a rotating drum.
  11. To finish crusting the full-grain, you want to apply a coat of leather paint and leather wax coating to prevent any damages.

A Full-Grain Q & A

Q: Is full-grain waterproof?

A: Full-grain can be water-resistant due as long you maintain it properly. To keep full-grain waterproof, you can apply a leather wax coating.

Q: Is full-grain leather good?

A: Full-grain leather is great if you want to have leather that can become flexible and have a more natural brown appearance as it ages.

Q: Is full-grain leather also genuine leather?

A: Full-grain leather is not the same as genuine leather. Genuine leather is a cheaper and thinner leather made from the corium layer of the hide. It’s mistaken for high-quality leather for its stamping and leather dye color. Because of how thin genuine leather is, it’s more likely to tear and crack easily.

When choosing the right type of leather for furniture to belts, full-grain leather is a versatile choice. It’s the highest quality of leather you can craft with for a more natural feel in style. From the grainy texture of an animal to the aging quality in flexibility and color. And it’s stronger against most damages which is great for any crafting project.