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Full Grain Leather – What Makes It Desired and Durable

When purchasing leather for my projects, I typically always choose full grain when possible. It is durable and has added character on its surface, making it perfect for any leather project and highlighting what makes the material special. 

Full grain leather is any leather hide not sanded down during processing. It is made from the top layer of the hide, which contains the natural grain, imperfections, and unique markings of the animal’s skin.  Full-grain leather is the highest quality and most durable type of leather available.

With “full grain” being an industry term, let’s look at how it is used to characterize leather, simplifying the pros and cons of this material. 

What Is Full Grain Leather?

Full grain leather is any hide that has not had its surface sanded down. During the tanning process, after any hair is removed from the hide, a tannery has the option to remove material from the surface. By sanding the leather down, a tannery can make the leather more even and blemish free. 

Full grain leather skips this process and remains untouched. By doing so, the leather will proudly contain any marks left on the animal. In addition to this natural beauty, the untouched skin will provide a more dense, durable, and moisture-resistant final product. 

What We’ll Explore

  • Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
  • History of Full Grain Leather
  • Full Grain Leather Characteristics Quick Reference Table
  • In-depth Characteristics of Full Grain Leather
  • Pros of Full Grain Leather
  • Cons of Full Grain Leather
  • How Full Grain Leather is Made
  • Production Stats for Full Grain Leather
  • Cost of Full Grain Leather
  • When You Might Leathercraft with Full Grain Leather
  • Tips for Leathercrafting With Full Grain Leather
  • Examples of Goods Made from Full Grain Leather
  • My Personal Research on Full Grain Leather
  • Full Grain Leather Care & Maintenance
  • Helpful Insights on Full Grain Leather
  • Key Takeaways
Natural Full Grain Leather Hide - Full Grain Leather - Liberty Leather Goods
Natural Full Grain Leather Hide

Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions

Full grain leather is often said to be the best and is synonymous with high quality. While this is typically true, it must be noted that full grain leather is only a type of leather, and not always a mark of quality. Full grain leather can still be low-quality, having a loose, blemish-filled surface. 

This will detract, or completely outweigh, any other benefits offered by having the grain untouched. Equally, top grain leather may still far surpass full grain leather if the quality of the leather is sufficient. Some of the most renowned leather in the world is top grain, as its use may differ from full grain leather.  

The true mark of quality for leather is not the type but rather how it was harvested and processed. While the term “full grain” is often an indicator of higher quality leather, it still must be thoroughly inspected to truly uncover the leather’s quality. 

History of Full Grain Leather

When animal hides began being used by our ancestors during the stone age, all hides were full grain. They would leave the fur on the pelt, using the raw leather for crude garments, shoes, and pouches. These hides would decompose over time, leading to a need for preservation. 

The earliest methods of tanning we have proof of is in 700 BCE. At this time, animal fats were being used to soften the leather, helping preserve it. However, it was not until 400 BCE that vegetable tanning was used. This important innovation required the hides to be scraped from their fur to allow the tannins to work.

Today full grain has evolved into many potential leather types, including suede, split, and top grain. These grain corrections allow more blemished hides to be used but lose the durability of full grain leather. Full grain leather is now seen as a higher-quality approach to making leather. 

Full Grain Leather Characteristics Quick Reference Table

Natural or SyntheticNatural 
Surface TextureVaried
Available Thickness (oz/mm)3–15 ounces (1.2mm–7mm)
Largest Workable Size24 square feet
Flexibility (1–10)4
Softness (1–10)5
Sewability (1–10)9
Durability (1–10)8
Ease of Maintenance (1–10)7
How Long it Lasts (Daily Use)Lifetime
Available ColorsVaried
Waterproofness (1–10)6
Cost per Square Foot ($)$8–$20 per square foot
Ease of Crafting (1–10)8
Rarity (Common or Exotic)Common
Annual Production VolumeOver 115 million square feet
Biggest Exporting CountryBrazil
Biggest Importing CountryItaly 
Full Grain Leather Characteristics

In-depth Characteristics of Full Grain Leather

Natural or Synthetic

Full grain leather is entirely natural leather. This leather goes a step above most by leaving the surface of the leather untouched, filled with scars and other natural marks. Full grain leather is the perfect example of what people think leather is since the organic beauty of the hide shines through after processing. 

Surface Texture

The surface texture of full grain leather can vary depending on how the leather is processed. Naturally, the leather will be relatively smooth, with wrinkles around the neck and belly. If the leather is milled or shrunken, the surface may develop grains of various sizes.

Some of which may remain largely smooth to the touch. The most distinct surface texture of full grain leather is pebbled leather. This refers to leather that has small bumps throughout the surface that can easily be felt. 

Available Thickness

Full grain leather can be some of the thickest leather available since the surface of the leather is not sanded down. The leather can be around 15 ounces (7mm) thick. On the opposite end, however, full grain leather may not be as thin as others at around 3 ounces (1.2mm). This is in an effort to keep the leather’s grain untouched; any thinner and the grain would be in jeopardy.

Largest Workable Size 

Full grain does not play a role in the size of the leather, as it is only the material’s surface. This means full grain leather can be any size as long as the surface remains untouched. Some of the largest available pieces for full grain leather are around 24 square feet — more than enough for large projects such as bags or belts.


While the flexibility of full grain leather can change depending on how it was made, the grain makes the leather firmer. Full grain leather will have less flexibility than other leathers using the same tanning method, as the grain is much denser. 


Full grain does not affect softness and can have a wide variety. Both extremely soft and stiff leather can be full grain. Typically full grain is made to be firmer, as the dense fibers of the grain do not feel spongy. However, through processes such as milling, the leather can be broken down to a much softer end product. 


Sewing full grain leather is a breeze. The density of the fibers makes for a clear hole that does not stretch. This means that any full grain leather can have needles easily pass through it, without the fear of deforming the leather when pulled to tension. Full grain leather can come in many thicknesses and flexibilities, which may make sewing some full grain pieces more difficult than others. 


One of the best features of full grain leather is the added durability. Full grain leather has a strong, dense, fiber structure that helps resist wear, and stretching. In addition, the thickness of the grain prevents surface leather damage from causing larger issues, limiting most wear to scratches and other superficial marks. 

Ease of Maintenance

Maintaining full grain leather may be easier than other leathers since it does not damage as easily. Scratches and other marks may only add character as the hides are often imperfect to begin with. Cleaning and routine conditioning are still required with this leather, as it may crack when dry. 

Lifespan With Daily Use

Full grain leather has some of the longest lifespan potential with many items lasting well into a lifetime. This is mostly due to the leather’s durability and resilience. Full grain leather will not tear as easily, nor will it stretch out of place, due to the dense fibers of the grain. Full-grain leather items can easily become heirloom pieces when well-treated. 

Available Colors

Full grain plays no impact on the colors available for the leather. While earth tones are common for this type of leather, they can be any color a tannery wishes to produce. The grain type, however, affects how the color looks on the leather. Range marks and other blemishes will show through, leading to potentially lighter or darker spots throughout the hide. 


Full grain leathers are only slightly more water resistant than other leathers. While the leather itself will not be waterproof, the dense fibers make it more difficult for water to penetrate the surface. Most droplets will roll off the side of an item, leaving behind a small trail. However, if the water pools on top of the surface, it will saturate it, leading to potential damage.


Compared to most other leathers, full grain leather will cost more. Full grain leather is sold at a premium for its natural beauty and durability, starting at around $8 per square foot. The price of the leather can greatly increase depending on the tannery that produces the leather. It is not uncommon to find full grain leather for $20 per square foot or more. 

Leather Cross-Section - Liberty Leather Goods
Leather Cross-Section of Layers

Ease of Crafting

Full grain leather is a great leather to work with. The dense fibers of the surface allow for clean cuts without any stretching. In addition, the fibers help define holes punched into the leather, allowing needles to pass through the leather with little to no trouble. Full grain leather does not bunch as easily as other leathers when pulled to tension.

Rarity (Common or Exotic)

Full grain leather is fairly common, though it may be harder to find in mass-made goods. Since the price of full grain leather is higher, many fashion companies will opt for other types of leather. However, as crafters, full grain hides will be available at almost every retailer.

Although visually, it can be possible to identify the leather through blemishes, it is best to read the description. With the leather being highly sought after, most companies will be sure to include the information making it easier to purchase.

Pros of Full Grain Leather

Full grain leather is often seen as some of the best leather available. When the leather is high quality, full grain adds character and strength to the piece. Full grain leather is often a prime example of what leather is, including:

  1. Easy to work with
  2. More durable than most 
  3. Water resistant 
  4. Offered in many colors, and textures
  5. Extensive lifespan 

Antoneta Tomljenović, Jadranka Akalović, Juro Živičnjak, and Andrijana Barišic, from the University of Zagreb Faculty of Textile Technology, in Zagreb, Croatia, researched the durability of full grain leather when compared to others. They found that although it does perform better, various areas of the hide will also play a role in its durability. The belly, for example, is less dense and will not perform as well as the back part of full grain leather. 

Cons of Full Grain Leather

Although full grain leather is often highly regarded, it may not be for everyone. The leather’s unique surface may detract from those who are not into the organic look of leather. Finding alternative options can be more widely appreciated. The cons of full grain leather can include:

  1. Higher cost than most leathers
  2. Scratches easily
  3. Imperfections throughout the surface
  4. Firm, and less flexible
  5. Stains easily 

How Full Grain Leather is Made

Full grain leather begins as harvested animal hides that have been preserved through salting and shipping to tanneries around the world. When a tannery receives a hide, they will wash them and scrape the hair and excess fat from the hide. The surface of full grain leather is left untouched, leaving the scars, range marks, and other blemishes visible.

Once the hide has been prepared for the tanning process, it is added to a vat with various chemicals. Since full grain leather can be any tannage, the tanning agents used widely differ. After tanning, the leather is dyed in a separate vat and has a finishing added to the surface. The full grain leather is then ready for shipping to retailers. 

This type of leather will display all the beauty marks and scars from the animal while also remaining more durable, as the tight fibers of the leather have remained untouched.

Production Statistics of Full Grain Leather

  1. Volume per year: Over 115 million square feet
  1. Key countries where it is produced: Brazil, Italy, U.S.
  1. Biggest exporting country: Brazil
  1. Biggest importing country: Italy 

Cost of Full Grain Leather

  1. Square foot: $8–$20 per square foot
  1. ½ Hide: $72–$180
  1. Full Hide: $152–$275

When You Might Leathercraft With Full Grain Leather

Crafting with full-grain leather can be a great choice for many projects, thanks to its durability, natural beauty, and premium quality. Here are some common scenarios where someone might choose to craft with full-grain leather:

  1. When creating a long-lasting, durable item  
  2. When wanting the most natural leather for a project  
  3. When needing leather that requires some water resistance

What does ‘full-grain’ leather even mean? In this quick video, you’ll learn just that.

Tips for Leathercrafting With Full Grain Leather

Crafting with full-grain leather can be a rewarding experience, but it’s essential to handle this high-quality material with care to achieve the best results. Here are some tips for crafting with full-grain leather:

  1. Use a sharp knife to ensure clean cuts when crafting  
  2. Avoid scratching the surface, as marks will appear clearly  
  3. Apply neatsfoot oil, or roll the leather to soften the fibers when necessary 

Some Examples of Items Made From Full Grain Leather

Full-grain leather is a versatile material used in crafting a wide range of high-quality and durable items. Here are some examples of items that are commonly made from full-grain leather:

  1. Belt   
  2. Shoes   
  3. Wallet  
  4. Bag
  5. Furniture
  6. Dog collars

My Personal Research on Full Grain Leather

With “full grain” often being used as a selling point for leather, I decided to test how it performs. I tested how high-quality full grain leather compares to low-quality full grain leather and top grain leather, examining how the leathers stretched, wore, and reacted to water droplets. 

Stretch Resistance

Full grain leather is known for having a tight fiber structure that can help prevent it from stretching. To test this, I simply cut a one-inch strap of each leather and pulled on them to see what I felt and saw. The high-quality full grain leather was tough. The piece wasn’t willing to snap or tear before stretching. Once I had placed it down, the leather was slightly deformed but otherwise in good shape.

However, the low-quality full grain leather did not perform as well. This leather immediately began stretching, feeling somewhat gummy in my hands. This leather was completely out of shape but did not tear. The top grain leather I chose is average quality and performed similarly to the low-quality full grain. Stretching was slightly tougher and did not “snap” back into shape afterward. 

Wear Resistance

The leathers I chose for these tests all had a similar waxy finish that helped protect the leather from damage. To test them, I took a medium grit sandpaper and passed it over the leather five and then 10 times. I aimed to see if the denser would prevent holes from being created. 

After five passes, the high-quality full grain leather showed little wear. The waxy finish may have been worn through, but rubbing the surface hid most of the damage. By the tenth pass, there was clear fuzz where the sandpaper was, but no holes in sight. When using the sandpaper on the low-quality full grain leather, five passes was enough to do quite a lot of damage.

The looser grain would easily catch on the sandpaper, quickly causing fuzz. Although at 10 passes there were no visible holes, I could tear the leather with little force. The top grain leather seemed to do poorly at first. At five passes, the top coating was worn through to visible fuzz. However, the damage did not seem to get much worse by the tenth pass. Although the surface wore out quickly, the body of the leather held together well.

Water Resistance

Full grain leather is often said to have better water resistance than other leathers. To test this I added a drop onto the surfaces of the leathers and picked them up to see if the water would sink in, or roll off. 

The high-quality full grain leather had some water soak into the surface, but most rolled off. When completely dried, there was a slightly visible spot where the water was, but no other signs. The low-quality full grain leather immediately began soaking in the water, and not a lot fell off the surface when picked up.

This was made clearer as once dried, the leather had a stain and trail mark from where the water traveled. The top grain leather performed as well as the high-quality full grain, with the water mostly rolling off the surface. When dried, it had a slightly larger spot than the high-quality full grain but no additional trail. 


From my limited testing, I felt the grain density played the most important role with full grain leather. While the high-quality full grain leather performed excellently, as expected. The low-quality one fell short on every test. The loose grain on this leather vastly hindered it enough to have an average quality top grain leather perform, arguably, better.

Full Grain Leather Care and Maintenance

How To Clean Full Grain Leather

To clean full grain leather the surface must be dusted using a horsehair brush. This will remove much of the dirt, grime, and dust that has accumulated on the leather.

Once brushed, a trusted leather soap may be applied to the leather with a clean cloth, following the instructions provided by the product to achieve the best results. Test all leather cleaning products on a hidden area before applying them to the entire item. 

How To Condition Full Grain Leather

Conditioning full grain leather should occur periodically or after the leather has been cleaned and dried. To condition full grain leather, apply a leather condition to a clean cloth, and rub it into the leather in circles.

Once applied, wipe off the excess, and allow the leather to dry for a few hours. If the leather requires more product, it may be added once dried. Like leather soap, conditioner must be tested on the leather before being used to coat an item. 

How To Store Full Grain Leather

Full grain leather should be stored with its surface protected. This could be in a dust bag or rolled within itself to cover the flesh side. The leather must also be stored away from sunlight as it may cause the leather to become discolored or dry out. Heat and excess moisture should always be avoided when storing leather, as both may cause damage to the leather over time. 

Helpful Insights on Full Grain Leather

What is full grain leather?

Full grain leather is any hide without its surface sanded down. This keeps the original skin of the animal intact, allowing blemishes and other organic marks to be showcased. In addition, full grain leather is typically more dense, offering added durability.

Is full grain leather real leather?

Yes, full grain leather is real leather and considered one of the best types. During the tanning process, the skin is left untouched once the hair is removed from the hide. As a result, the natural marks that were on the animal are on full display, providing a unique surface and a small look into the animal’s life. 

Is full grain good leather?

While full grain leather is typically considered good, it should not be used as a final judge of its quality. Full grain leather can be high and low quality depending on how the leather was processed. It is always best to test other areas of the leather or contact the manufacturer to find out the true details of the leather. 

Is full grain leather 100% leather?

Yes, full grain leather is 100% leather. The term “full grain” refers to the surface skin of the leather. Instead of sanding the surface to create a uniform surface, full grain embraces the imperfections of an animal’s hide, resulting in a thicker, denser grain. 

What is the disadvantage of full grain leather?

The largest disadvantage of full grain leather is the higher cost compared to other leathers. In addition, although often seen as a benefit, imperfections are part of the leather. Range marks, bug bites, and other surface marks will be left on the leather, creating a varied look. 

Does full grain leather crack?

Yes, full grain leather may crack when not well maintained. This is often due to the leather becoming extremely dry. It is best to condition full grain leather periodically to keep it well hydrated and prevent damage, such as cracking, from occurring. 

Key Takeaways

  1. Full grain leather is not a concrete sign of quality.
  2. Range marks and other blemishes are visible on full grain leather’s surface.
  3. Full grain leather is often one of the most durable leathers available.

In Closing

A main goal as a crafter is to make high-quality items that can be loved for decades, if not generations. The leather we choose to use plays a large role in that longevity. Full grain leather allows for the high quality that leather is known for while showcasing the material’s natural beauty. 

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