When looking for a quality leather product such as a wallet, it’s important to have a little bit of understanding about the types of leather and what to look for. The question I get a lot in emails each week goes something like this:
Hey Mr. Lentz, What is the best leather for a wallet, there seem to be so many makers and just as many leather types?
Well, this question happens to be plain and simple: Full Grain Vegetable Tanned Leather from U.S. cows happens to be the best leather your money can buy…and hold, in a wallet. Of course an important thing to note: I use only Full-Grain Vegetable Tanned Leather in all my leather goods in my shop.
Here’s a breakdown of why that is:
Full Grain is a term used to describe the layer of hide used. Full Grain is the outermost layer comprised of the tightest-packed layers of fibers. This extreme density of fibers is what helped that cow weather storms, bump against a barbed wire fence, scratch itself on a rock and get bitten by a mosquito or two. It’s tough and the beauty of it is that this type of leather will show these markings as subtle scars and variations in color. The Full Grain hide will not have a perfect uniform look since it was sculpted by a lifetime out on the range.
This is a cross-section photo of my belt leather. It’s as close as I could get, but you can see the different layers in action. That nice thin line at the top is the most tightly packed layers of fibers and it’s what gives Full Grain Leather its strength.
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I spend most of my free time creating tutorials like this to help those like yourself get into leatherwork and woodworking, or get better at it. If you'd like to support my efforts, consider checking out my handmade leather goods shop and purchasing a gift for yourself or a loved one. It's readers like you that help keep a small U.S. business like mine going strong, so -thank you!
Most people have not ever experienced Full-Grain leather, as it is harder to work with and work around. Most mass-produced consumer goods use either Top Grain (which is leather that has the outermost layers sanded off, thus removing any blemishes and scars – but it also takes off the durable outer layer), or they use ‘Genuine’ (the flimsy inner part of the hide) or ‘Bonded’ leather (which is basically just leather scraps finely ground into a dust, then re-glued into large thin sheets, a very cheap way to make leather products but they tend not to last long).
Vegetable Tanned simply means that the cowhide was put through a tanning process to preserve it using vegetable matter – typically oak and other tree bark. It’s a fairly natural form of tanning that has been around for hundreds of years. A wallet, bag, belt, or shoe made with vegetable tanned leather will need to be broken in over time to help the leather stretch and relax into shape. This is much different than other types of leathers that cheat the process with chemical solutions that actually break the leather fibers, causing them to feel soft. A typical culprit is ‘chrome tanned leather’ (using toxic chromium salts the fibers are broken and thus feel soft, but at the expense of the item being much less durable). The great part about Vegetable Tanned leather is that it ages like no other. It will react to its surroundings while you use it, darkening in color and polishing up nicely. Vegetable Tanned leather is known for that beautiful aged patina you see in heavily used leather goods. Just take a look at the one of my customer photos below:
Cowhide happens to be the strongest type of leather for use in wallets, bags, belts and shoes due to the uniquely and extremely tight-packed fibers in the skin of the cow. The reason U.S. cowhide is the best is simply due to the care standards and nutritional regimen we have here in the U.S. Plainly put – we feed cows well and they live a simple life in relatively safe and managed areas as compared to other countries. As a side note – U.S. cowhide is only a byproduct of the U.S. meat industry and no cows are raised just for their hides, they are raised for their meat – plain and simple. Ranchers would lose a ton of money if they raised cows for leather. The hides would generally be thrown out if not for the demand in the leather industry.
So how does this all come together for being the best type for a wallet? Well, when buying a wallet from my workshop – you are getting consistent quality with U.S. cowhide, the highest level of strength and durability with Full Grain, and the absolute beauty of a well used and nicely aged Vegetable Tanned leather. As the ol’ saying goes – buy nice or buy twice!
If you enjoyed learning a bit more about this unique leather type, you may also be interested in checking out all of the goods in my shop. Head on over to have a look!