Leather Guide for Beginners

by Albert Varkki updated 08-03-2023

Table Of Contents

If you are looking to buy leather goods, it’s important to learn the essentials about certain leather types so that you can pick the right one. We are known for our premium leather and we have a lot of experience in delivering quality materials, so there are quite a few things we want to share.

Quick links: Cow Leather | Buffalo vs Cow | Care Tips | Best Leather Types

This guide will help you understand why certain leather products are expensive, why some are cheap and how to recognize if they are overpriced or not.

leather guide

1. Top leather quality

Cow and buffalo hides

All of the cow and buffalo hides which are used for our products are supplied from the meat business, meaning, we don’t harm any animals in order to produce our products.

What is cow leather?

This is a material used for creating shoes, bags, belts and other similar products. Cow leather is made out of natural hides through a long process. It retains all of the natural features of the hide and gives that fine look to products.

2. Types of cow leather

Is cow leather good? It can be if the producers know what they are doing. This is why we carefully pick all of the hides by looking at important factors such as the gender of the animal, age, maturity, when the hide was taken and in what conditions.

Any scars and markings on the piece simply add up to its “story”. The majority of the hides we have are from animals which have been processed for the production of meat. They are usually 2 to 3-year-old males, making the hides around 30 square feet.

Buffalo vs cow leather

When products require more durability we use buffalo leather. Buffalo leather is different from cowhide in terms of flexibility and thickness. The Buffalo leather grain is particularly distinctive, as it has wider and thicker fibers.


This material is completely natural and it breathes similarly to human skin, as it has the power to release and absorb moisture. Because of these features it can adapt to any temperature and this is why it’s always comfortable to wear, no matter if it’s winter or summer.

All products made of buffalo leather will remain the same and not lose their shape or stretch out due to pressure. Opposed to fabric materials that wear out over the years, leather actually becomes more comfortable as time passes by.

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Buffalo leather is famous for its durability and it has great elasticity and strength, making it very resistant to pressure and burns. It cannot be ripped or burned easily, making it a very durable material.

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How to care for buffalo leather

It’s very easy to take care of buffalo leather because of its smooth finish and strong fibers that can stop dust, animal hair or bacteria from getting stuck in it. This is why it’s ideal for people suffering from allergies. In case you spill something on it, you only need a soapy cloth to wipe it clean.

We have also developed a specifically designed leather cream which is ideal for protecting this kind of material. This type of leather is also very good for annual conditioning.

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3. The best leather quality grades: Bonded leather, genuine leather, top grain and full grain

There are 4 basic leather quality grades – bonded leather, genuine leather, top grain and full grain. Use the picture below as a leather grade chart, and you will see how fibers on the bottom are in a horizontal line and as you go up, they start to go in a vertical line.

leather layers types grades full top genuine

This indicates the toughness of the material – the more vertical the fibers are the tougher it is, and the more horizontal they are the weaker it is. Let’s see how different types of leather compare.

Bonded leather: What does bonded leather mean?

This type of leather is made out of shavings and dust of processed leather and it gets pressed and glued into a whole. Simply put, it’s the worst quality leather. It is basically made out of leftovers which are not thrown away. It is very weak and it tears and wears over time.

But how to keep the bonded leather from cracking? It can be done, but you cannot expect it to be as good as full grain leather. Find a good leather cream like the one we developed and use it according to the instructions, and you will get the most out of bonded leather.

Genuine leather

This is the third-grade leather product which is produced from the layers that remain after the highest quality layers have been removed to be used for better quality products. In most cases, the surface looks worse than higher grade leather and this is why it has to be refinished with spray paint.

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It is real leather, but one of the worst kind. Compare full grain vs genuine leather visually and they might seem similar, but grabbing them and looking at them closely will show you the big difference between them. So, if you were searching for: “what is bonded leather vs genuine leather”, you now know the answer.

Top grain leather

The second-grade quality leather is called top grain leather and it is produced by splitting it from the top layer of blemished hide, after which it is refinished and sanded as well. Doing this removes the scrapes and scars. This type of leather doesn’t get better over time, although it has great durability and strength. When comparing top grain vs full grain leather, we can say that it’s good but it doesn’t have “all the grains” that characterize real leather products.

Full grain leather

What is full grain leather? This is the best type of leather which is located on the hide’s top layer, which has grain. It is the only one that has grain and this is why it is called full grain. This grain-filled natural surface becomes prettier over time. It is the only real leather that we accept and this is why all of our products are made out of it.

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We also stock full grain leather briefcases here

However, for many companies full grain leather is too expensive and this is why they use it only for around 5% of their products. All of our products that have scars or scrapes come from the natural beauty of the full grain. You can recognize full grain leather by looking for “veins” running through the hide. These natural imperfections and scars give that unique look to products, making them just perfect.

4. Tanning leather

This is a very important part. You need to know how to spot bad leather and learn how it’s tanned to avoid getting low-quality products and wasting a lot of money on something that’s simply not worth it.

Related leather articles:

How leather is tanned:

1. When a buffalo or cow is processed for meat, their hide is removed. The hide is sold to a tanner who then removes any remaining hair, fat or meat from it.

2. The second step is to remove all the moisture, preservative and oils from the hide. At this point, the material is in the “Wet Blue” phase, as it has a blue color.

3. All of the wet blue hides are tanned in a big drum with added preservatives, colors and oils as it gets tumbled for hours. This process can last up to 10 hours for the thickest hides.

4. In the end, leather is put in heated presses and then dried with added finishes and pressed once again.

We have an exceptional tanner that gives our leather the quality it deserves. However, there are a lot of leathers out there that can look tanned but actually aren’t. In order to save time and money, some tanners let the wet blue tumble for a short time, so all of the vital ingredients aren’t soaked deep into the leather but only at the surface.

wet blue leather

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5. How to recognize good and bad leather?

By price

Products made out of quality leathers cannot be cheap. If you want quality, you will have to pay for it and whenever someone claims that their cheap products are genuine, it is possible that they are lying.

Make sure it’s not fake.

Apart from recognizing low-quality leather, you also need to be able to recognize fake leather because there is a lot of it. First of all, real leather has a strong smell and even lower quality leathers have it. If there no pungent and rich smell, there is a very big chance that it is fake. Additionally, if it feels like plastic, again, it’s probably fake or of low quality. Also, make sure to avoid bonded leather and leather that has many blemishes. You can explore many tips on keep bonded leather from cracking if you do end up with such a product.

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Author: Albert Varkki

Albert Varkki is the co-founder of Von Baer. He understands leather products as a consumer, supplier, and a manufacturer, helping you with the inside knowledge you need, to choose the perfect leather product for you.

We always aim to have the highest editorial standards, and only publish accurate information on our website.

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Laura Jun 09, 2023 at 15:24

Do you have leather “fixer” products??
I bought a purse last month and it has a significant scuff already. I would love to find a product to “heal” this “wound”.
I have pics I could forward if it would help in deciding what product would be best?
Laura Rathburn


Vince Adkins Jun 09, 2023 at 15:19

Thank you! Just the answers I was searching for to make purchases.
Vince Adkins


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