What is Full Grain Vegetable Tanned Leather?

I get a lot of questions about leather and below I have the answers for ya! I use Full Grain Vegetable Tanned leather in all of my leather goods. I have chosen this high end type of leather due to it’s overwhelming durability and superb aging characteristics. Read on below for more.

full grain leather chart

The Answers

Full Grain refers to where on the cow’s hide the leather was made from. Specifically what layer it is. You see, cowhide can be made into leather that is up to 1/2 inch thick. Full Grain is the uppermost layer. The closer you get to the surface layer of the leather (the part that faced storms, barbed wire fences, rocks and hail), the tougher it is. Leather is basically trillions of interwoven fibers. Those fibers are smaller and extremely densely packed at the surface…and they get looser and looser the deeper down you go. Full Grain is the top layer, the strongest and the most durable cut you can buy.
Vegetable Tanned refers to how the cow’s hide was preserved and made into usable leather. There are many ways to preserve a hide and Vegetable Tanning is one of the only original and all-natural methods. Hides are soaked in certain tubs filled with tree bark. The tannins in the tree bark are what help to preserve the leather and give it unique characteristics. Vegetable tanning can take weeks at a time and as such this type of leather tends to be much more expensive than chemically treated varieties.
Vegetable Tanned leather is the only type of leather that looks even better as it ages. This type of leather will absorb sun rays, oils from your skin, rubbing in your pocket and anything or surface that it touches. Over time a unique and dark ‘patina’ will continue to develop. I have quite a few customer photos posted on many of the products, if you navigate to the product’s page, then look for a tab called Customer Photos
Yes, this is quite possible and markings, scars, small blemishes, bug bites, and ranch brands are actually a testament to the authenticity of Full Grain Leather. Since Full Grain leather is the uppermost layer of the cow’s hide, it was exposed to the elements during the cow’s lifetime. Whatever scars the cow received will be evident on the leather. Typically these markings are very small and they actually add quite a bit to the beauty of the piece. No marking will ever degrade the quality and longevity of the piece. Most people are only used to seeing ‘perfect’ looking leather goods that are mass produced. There are two reasons for this. One, the manufacturer is using ‘Top Grain’ leather, which is basically leather that has had the top layer sanded off of it to remove any markings (this significantly degrades the durability). Or two, they are using ‘Genuine’ or ‘Bonded’ leather, which is a very low grade of leather and comes from a low layer of the hide that is basically a waste product. Bonded leather similarly is ground up leather pressed into sheets using glue and wont retain any natural markings at all.
If it is Full Grain leather then you have nothing to worry about. Since Full Grain leather is the uppermost layer of leather and has the most densely packed fibers of any leather, even thin cuts of this type of leather will withstand the abuse a typical wallet sees in its lifetime. Many consumers have learned through poor experiences with mass-produced leather goods that thin leather equals low quality…this is only true depending on the type of leather. For example a thin wallet made from genuine leather or bonded leather is a bad thing and a poor choice. The reason – it has to do with the low fiber count and loose quality of the fibers in those types of leather. I have a bit more on that here.

Full Grain leather items will be very strong. They will withstand a fair amount of abrasion. They can be cut thin without sacrificing strength. They tend to have beautiful natural markings and scars. You don’t need to attach linings to it to hide the backside (as is typical with other lower grade leathers).


They cost more. Some don’t like their leather to have any natural markings on them.


They age well. The color gets richer over time. It’s an earth friendly tanning method. The leather fibers are kept intact and not artificially broken/softened. After a week of use they soften right up naturally, but remain strong. Apply a bit of oil once in a while to keep it healthy.


Not waterproof, but can be made to be water resistant with wax. They don’t do well if it gets soaked. More expensive to buy.