When a cow is slaughtered, the skin is removed in one layer. Later at the tannery, the outer layer of skin is separated from the layers of skin. It is shaved off and is usually 3/64" thick, about the thickness of a coin. This outer layer of skin is referred to as the "top grain" and the other layers of skin are referred to as "split hides".
The top grain is best because it is the strongest and most durable part of the hide, yet it is soft and supple. In fact, top grain becomes more supple over the years and obtains a soft patina. If properly cared for, top grain leather should last indefinitely.
The split hides are coarser and stiffer and tend to crack more easily. The average wearing time of split hides is 5 years. Split hides are better suited to make shoes, handbags, belts, etc., which are not expected to last more than a season or two.
Cheaper leather garments are often made of split hides instead of top grain leather. The advantages to a manufacturer to use split hides are the cheaper price of split hides per square foot and the greater yield obtained from a split hide. Top grain leather tends to have more scars and surface blemishes than split hides since it is the outside layer of skin. Since split hides have fewer flaws, there is less waste per hide, thus a greater yield per square foot. An average cowhide is approximately 50 to 55 square feet, but only 70% of this area can be used from a top grain hide. In split hides, 90% or more is suitable for use; thus there is only a 10% or less waste factor.
Obviously, the advantage of using split hides is the substantial savings in the cost of the leather; however, that savings is directly responsible for the poor quality and wear ability of the leather.
In motorcycle leather, as in other goods, the quality you pay for is the quality you get. In the Fort Smith area you can find relatively cheap split leather vest, chaps and jackets. Patsy and I have observed jackets with cracks in the shoulders where the split leather has dried out and lost all elasticity.
At Old Dog Leather we want to provide our customers with a premium product that will, if properly maintained, last a lifetime. That's why in our store you find only products made from premium, top grain hides. We don't, and won't, carry split leather or patchwork items.
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