What Is Split Leather?
When researching the different types of leather, you may come across a particular variety known as split leather. Based on the name alone, it’s difficult — if not impossible — to determine what exactly this means. To make things even more confusing, very few products are made using split leather. If you’re still scratching your head trying to understand what split leather is, keep reading for a breakdown of the term.
What Is Split Leather?
Split leather is an artificial leather type that is made from the scrap or leftover pieces of real leather after they have been manufactured. All the scrap pieces are combined into a mulch and then bonded together with Polyurethane (PU) or PVC (Poly Vinyl Chloride). Most bulk leather SLG manufacturer brands make produce this type of leather material to be used in upholstery, furniture and shoe making.
Leather is typically sold in one of four different forms: full-grain, top-grain, corrected-grain and split. Products made of the highest quality leather are full-grain, which means it has not been buffed or sanded down in any way shape or form. This preserves its strength and durability while also keeping its genuine leather appearance. Top-grain, on the other hand, is a slightly lower quality of leather in which the split layer is removed and the surface is sanded or buffed down.
If a skin is divided into several layers over the entire surface, this process is called “splitting”. Thicker leather, mostly cow leather, which is 5 to 10 millimetres thick, is split. The obtained layers are designated as grain split or top-grain split and flesh split. Sometimes, the leather is thick enough for a middle split. The split, separated from the grain split, is also called drop split. The drop-split leather is rough on both sides like the back of a leather.
When adjusting the splitting machine, the tanner must take into account that the thickness of the skin is higher at this stage due to the water content of the wet skin. The water content of a wet skin is three times heavier than the dry weight of leather. This water content also makes the leather thicker. The tanner has to consider this difference in thickness when adjusting the splitting machine so that the desired leather thickness is achieved once the leather is dry.
The hide is split. Above is the grain split and below the flesh split. Outside the tannery, only the flesh split is recognised as “split leather”
The grain split is considered more valuable. The fibre structure is substantially denser in the upper layer of the grain side and is thus tear-resistant. The grain split is referred to as smooth leather when tanned.
After leaving the tannery, the term “grain split” is no longer used. The leather dealer then uses terms such as “smooth leather”, “aniline leather”, “napa”, depending on the leather type. The term “split” no longer appears in connection with the grain side. The drop split with the two rough sides is then no longer referred to as a “flesh split”, but only as “split leather”, “split” or “suede”. In order to make the leathers more intelligible to the layman, this is an important separation of the choice of words in tanneries and in public. This makes it clear that the term “split” always refers to the less stable lower layer of the hide.
As the quality of a split leather is lower than the top grain leather, there are rules about the use of the terms. But the rules are different in almost every country. Some countries don`t allow to label split leather as “leather”. Some allow it to be called leather, but only when further details make it clear that it’s a split leather.
It is indisputable that a split leather does not have the same quality features as a top-grain leather. If a split leather is coated in such a way that it looks like a grain leather, the end user cannot recognise the quality. The leather is then like a veneered wood of lower quality. The upper layer with smooth leather optic is then not leather, but only a coating and the grain is created by an embossing process.
Therefore, labelling requirements are fair and acceptable from the end-user’s viewpoint and split leather should be explicitly and clearly declared.
So, what types of products are made using split leather? While there are always exceptions to this rule, you’ll generally find that work gloves and some boots/shoes feature it. Because the quality is sub-par when compared to top-grain and full-grain, however, it’s rarely used in the production of jackets, belts, handbags or other accessories.