What does ‘Genuine Leather’ mean?

What’s up with Genuine Leather?

You will often see the term ‘Genuine Leather’ on items you find a stores, but what does this really mean?

If you go to a department store or other big box retail store, you will often run across leather items like belts or wallets that are stamped with the term ‘Genuine Leather’ but is this really any kind of quality guarantee?   Not really.  In fact it is one of the lowest grades of the types of leather you can purchase.

Genuine Leather is usually made from the lower quality parts of a hide that are removed from higher quality leather hides.  Often it is made from the parts shaved off of the back of a leather hide that are then glued together for strength and have a leather texture embossed onto the surface.  These are basically rejected parts from higher quality items that are recycled into something useful for the mass consumer market.  This kind of leather doesn’t have much strength or the ability to wear well because it doesn’t include the grain surface of the leather from the original hide. The grain surface is where most of leather’s strength resides.  Thus items made from ‘Genuine Leather’ won’t hold up well and tend to wear out or break down quickly.  It’s only suitable for items where strength and durability are not required.


Other Types of Leather

Top Grain is the next step up and while it’s better, it still has some drawbacks.  Top Grain still has the grain surface on the leather but that surface has been ‘corrected’.  Leather naturally has slight imperfections on the grain surface.  These are usually marks or scars the animal picked up on its hide over it’s lifetime.  On Top Grain leather the gain surface is sanded to remove these marks so it looks like a higher quality leather but this removes some of the strength from the leather.  To repair the damage to the surface, paints and sealants are sprayed on the surface.  Often a grain design will be embossed onto the leather as well.  These treatments can make this leather hold its color well and be water resistant, but often lower quality hides are used because the finishing steps mask the imperfections.

Top Grain leather is the kind of leather used in most luxury brand handbags, wallets or briefcases.  It wears better than Genuine Leather but that’s partially due to the surface treatments that are added to it.  It doesn’t have the strength and resistance to wear that Full Grain leather does because the top of the grain surface has been damaged by the sanding.


Full Grain Leather

Full Grain leather is the highest quality of the types of leather used in making personal items.  This leather has the original grain surface of the hide intact which gives it all the strength and wear resistance leather is known for.  It may have slight blemishes and imperfections but a skilled maker can work around them in the hide.  Full Grain leather is preferred for heavy duty items that need to be rugged and wear resistant.  However in a skilled craftsman’s hands the same leather can be used for handbags, wallets, belts and other personal items that will wear very well and last for many years.  If you want an item that will be durable and last a long time, this is the leather you want to use.  Full Grain leather is usually more expensive because it has to be a higher quality hide to start with.  This initial expenses is usually more than offset by the lifetime the finished product will have.


Understanding these differences helps to explain why hand crafted items from a reputable maker like C and B Leather cost more than the mass produced items you find at a department store.  The quality of the full grain leather we use is one reason for a higher price, but the experience and skill we bring to your project are also a factor.  If you have a personal item you would like custom made out of high quality full grain leather, please contact us to make your idea a reality.


5×8 Floral Carved Notebook


Angled Leather Basket Stamping Tutorial. It’s Easy!

When I published my Straight Basket Weave Tutorial I said that I planned on making the same kind of thing for Angled Basket Weave, and this is it.  Angled basket stamping is actually what I use almost exclusively when doing leather basket stamping.  So if you look at my work this is the technique you will see almost anytime I’m basket stamping a project.

Leather Basket Stamping

If you’re not familiar with the term, angled leather basket stamping means you are stamping your impressions at an angle but the centers of the impressions run at a straight line to the borders of the project.  See the picture below for a visual of what I mean.

Leather belt with basket stamp design

On this belt the actual stamp impressions are at an angle but that angle is such that the basket weave design runs parallel to the length of the belt. There are a lot of ideas and techniques out there on how to do this.  Sometimes people work out the precise angle the stamp needs to be held at to achieve this effect, they make templates of the angle, etc.  Those techniques work but there is actually a very simple way to do this that works for every basket stamp and does NOT require any knowledge of trigonometry or using any special tools!  In this case there really is one simple trick to lining the stamps up correctly.

I’ve done this tutorial differently than the last one.  This time instead of a photo heavy blog post, I’ve created the tutorial as a PDF file that you can download.  You don’t need to sign up for anything, just click the link below to download the file.  Take a look at it and I think you’ll see it’s really easy to stamp angled basket weave.  Grab a piece of scrap leather and give it a try.  You’ll be stamping angled basket weaves like a pro in no time flat!

Download the tutorial here: Angled basket tutorial

As always if you have questions leave a comment here.

Leather Tools of the Trade

Working with leather is a very old art form. It’s perhaps the oldest profession (or at least one of them) and there are many special leather tools that have been developed over time for cutting and working leather. Here at C and B Leather we use many different tools to make the custom leather items that you order. Below are some of the most important ones.

Round Knives

Leather Round Knife
These are two examples of different kinds of leather round knives. Top is an Al Stohlman model from Tandy Leather, bottom is a Leather Wranglers model.

One of the most iconic tools is the round or head knife. The design of this knife is centuries old and in the middle ages the shape of this knife was a symbol of leather workers and leather working guilds. The curved design is optimized for cutting leather into pieces from the hide. The sharp points on the blade are adapted to cutting tight curves while the long curved blade is good for straight cuts.

Swivel Knives

A more modern development is the swivel knife. This knife is used for carving a design into leather, and is only used with special types of leather that can be carved and stamped. This kind of leather is called vegetable tanned and it possesses unique properties that allow it to take stamp impressions or to be carved when wet.

Leather Swivel Knives
Three kinds of swivel knife. From left to right, Robert Beard Pro Tools knife, Leather Wrangles SK-V and SK-3 knives.

Swivel knives get their name because the top finger rest of the knife can swivel and turn. When used the carver rests their index finger on the top part which is commonly called a ‘yoke’ and uses this finger to press down into the leather. The body of the knife where the blade in mounted can be turned or ‘swiveled’ by the other fingers and thumb, allowing the knife to carve intricate designs into the damp leather. Usually (but not always) other tools called stamps are used along these cut lines to create a relief sculpture in the leather.

Leather Stamps

Leather stamps are used with vegetable tanned leather to create designs in the leather. They can create simple geometric or basket weave designs or they can be used to create more complex bass relief carvings. These kinds of stamps are very specialized to create certain effects, and it takes a lot of skill and experience to use them properly and create works of leather art.

Stamping tools used for creating a carved design in leather.

Having Quality Leather Tools

It isn’t necessary to buy the most expensive leather tools but having quality tools is definitely important. The old saying ‘it’s a poor craftsman that blames his tools’ is very true, but quality swivel knives and stamps make the job of rendering your work of art much easier. It is our goal at C and B Leather to make you the highest quality custom leather item we can, whether you are looking for a custom wallet, notebook or handbag. Our focus is on making your imagination come to life in an heirloom quality item that will be a family keepsake for years to come.

Floral carving in leather.