One of the most important aspects of leather is the tactile enjoyment I get from a nice hide. This is doubly true for nubuck leather. Its fibrous surface may sometimes feel velvety but it is more durable than other materials. These characteristics make nubuck leather one of my favorite leathers to add to my projects.
Nubuck leather is an animal hide with its grain side sanded or buffed. This creates a fibrous nap that is fuzzy and velvety to the touch. Nubuck leather is fairly durable but lacks protection against liquids, which may stain the material easily. Nubuck leather costs $3 to $9 per square foot.
Nubuck leather offers an interesting surface that may be enticing to many. This article will cover the pros and cons of this leather and how it may be used in projects.
What Is Nubuck Leather?
Nubuck leather is a hide with its surface sanded or buffed to create a fibrous nap. This is done using the grain side of the hide instead of the split, distinguishing itself from suede. The nap created will be soft, velvety to the touch, and appear fuzzy.
Since nubuck is still made out of leather, it is quite durable and has an exceptional lifespan compared to other materials. The drawbacks of leather come from the sanded surface. By doing so, the leather lacks any surface protection, causing spills and stains to damage the hide easily. Therefore, nubuck is often used in products that will not see harsh environments.
What We’ll Explore
- Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
- History of Nubuck Leather
- Nubuck Leather Characteristics Quick Reference Table
- In-depth Characteristics of Nubuck Leather
- Pros of Nubuck Leather
- Cons of Nubuck Leather
- How Nubuck Leather is Made
- Production Stats for Nubuck Leather
- Cost of Nubuck Leather
- When You Might Leathercraft with Nubuck Leather
- Tips for Leathercrafting With Nubuck Leather
- Examples of Goods Made from Nubuck Leather
- My Personal Research on Nubuck Leather
- Nubuck Leather Care & Maintenance
- Helpful Insights on Nubuck Leather
- Key Takeaways
Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions
Although nubuck and suede leather feel similar, they are not the same. Nubuck is made from sanding down the grain side of leather, while suede comes from the underside or split. While this may seem small, there are significant differences between the two types of leather.
The most obvious is the feel. Suede has a looser grain, feeling softer and more flexible than nubuck. Where nubuck surpasses suede, however, is in its durability and look. Since suede has a looser grain, it is less durable than nubuck. Similarly, nubuck has small natural details such as pores visible on its surface due to using the grain side of a hide.
Nubuck is the answer for those looking for a more robust version of suede leather. It offers a similar feel and look while providing a much more durable product. For example, suede leather shoes estimate a 10-year lifespan, while nubuck ones can last 15 or more easily.
History of Nubuck Leather
Nubuck was first created in the 19th century by Swedish crafters. At the time, the material was made for the wealthy, creating a highly durable, velvet-like material. Nubuck has historically been made from deer, elk, and other soft game animals. This has changed as calf skins and cow hides have become more popular.
Today, nubuck is not limited to the wealthiest people. Popular shoe brands have embraced the qualities of nubuck and made it a staple for the working class, offering functional equipment and a stylish flair and allowing anyone to own soft, durable leather in various objects.
Nubuck Leather Characteristics Quick Reference Table
|Natural or Synthetic||Natural|
|Available Thickness (oz/mm)||2–8 ounces (.8mm to 3.2mm)|
|Largest Workable Size||22 square feet|
|Ease of Maintenance (1–10)||4|
|How Long it Lasts (Daily Use)||Decades|
|Available Colors||Varied, with a focus on earth tones|
|Cost per Square Foot ($)||$3–$9 per square foot|
|Ease of Crafting (1–10)||7|
|Rarity (Common or Exotic)||Common|
|Annual Production Volume||Less than 60 million square feet|
|Biggest Exporting Country||India|
|Biggest Importing Country||Vietnam|
In-depth Characteristics of Nubuck Leather
Natural or Synthetic
Nubuck leather is an entirely natural leather that achieves its looks by sanding down the material’s surface. Nubuck leather is also fairly high quality, as the hides chosen must have little to no blemishes. Unlike suede, nubuck is made from the surface grain of the leather, not the split.
The surface texture of nubuck leather is soft and fibrous. The hides are sanded down to create a nap, a collection of fiber strands. When feeling nubuck, a high-quality hide will feel velvety. A lower-quality one will still be soft but may feel more hairy due to a looser grain.
To achieve the texture of nubuck leather, the material’s surface must be sanded or buffed. Depending on how it is processed, this may affect the potential thickness of the leather. Typically, nubuck is a thinner, 2-ounce leather (.8mm), but some manufacturers offer thicker hides, around 8 ounces (3.2mm).
Largest Workable Size
Like other types of leather, the size of nubuck is often determined by the type of animal it is produced from. Nubuck is most commonly made from cow hides, which average around 22 square feet for a side. However, it may also be made from pig, goat, or calf hides. These smaller animals yield less leather, only around 10 square feet or under.
Although nubuck leather can remain fairly dense, the material is very flexible and a great choice when looking for a more pliable leather. By altering the material’s surface when achieving the nap, the most dense areas of the leather are broken down. This, combined with chromium tanning used for most nubuck, results in highly flexible leather, only being held back by its potential thickness.
One of the biggest draws of nubuck leather is its softness. Due to the exposed fibers, the nap created through manufacturing can produce a velvety feeling. Although nubuck leather uses the grain side of the leather, its density causes it to be slightly less soft than suede.
Sewing nubuck leather is not difficult but has its drawbacks. While needles will pass through the holes easily, they may be obscured by the fibrous surface. An overly waxy thread may also cause issues as the fibers get caught on the thread, making a project look messy. On the other hand, the leather is supple yet has enough body to hold open stitching holes.
Nubuck leather is still fairly durable, but compared to other leathers, it is on the less durable end. This is because the surface of the leather is sanded down to create the nap. This removes the leather’s strongest part, making it more susceptible to water damage.
Ease of Maintenance
The maintenance process of nubuck is relatively simple but can be laborious. Nubuck leather must be brushed using a specialty brush to remove all the dust and debris. The fibers often catch dirt, so cleaning must be routine to keep the leather looking its best. In addition, any cleaning or conditioning of nubuck leather will require specialty products, as the leather is quite delicate to liquids.
Lifespan with Daily Use
The lifespan of nubuck leather may vary significantly depending on how it is used. Overall, the material is highly durable but has glaring faults that ruin it quicker than others. The nap of the leather leaves the surface highly vulnerable to water and debris. When avoided, the leather may last for decades, but it may fail much sooner when exposed to poor conditions.
Nubuck leather is typically chromium tanned, which easily accepts dyes and can be more vibrant. Therefore, nubuck can be found in a wide array of colors. These will typically be solid earth tones, but a manufacturer is more than capable of producing a unique pattern of color.
The biggest drawback to nubuck leather is the lack of water resistance. It is extremely sensitive to any liquids and can easily stain from a drop left to soak in. Water will completely ruin nubuck, potentially destroying the nap and making the hide a splotchy mess. It is best to avoid using nubuck for any item that will come in contact with liquids.
Nubuck is a relatively inexpensive leather, costing around $3–$9 per square foot. This is largely due to the chromium tanning process, which can speed up production. Compared to suede leather, however, nubuck is more expensive. Nubuck uses full grain leather rather than split, requiring manufacturers to use the best part of the hide when creating nubuck leather.
Ease of Crafting
Crafting with nubuck leather has a few challenges, as the material is stretchy and fibrous. When cutting, it is possible to misshapen it without a sharp knife. The fibers of the leather may get in the way of markings or often get caught during the sewing process, gumming up the thread and requiring cleaning before continuing to sew. Overall, nubuck leather is similar to other types and should not be a problem for most crafters.
Rarity (Common or Exotic)
Nubuck leather may not be as common as suede or other leather types, but it is still a popular choice for many goods. Shoes, bags, and higher-end garments may opt for nubuck over suede leather. While it may only make up a small part of the leather industry, less than 60 million square feet, nubuck leather can be easily found and purchased from many manufacturers.
Pros of Nubuck Leather
The softness and unique fibrous texture of nubuck help it stand out from other leather. It can quickly become a favorite for those looking for flair. Nubuck retains much of what makes leather great, including longevity.
- More durable than suede leather
- Soft and flexible, making for a versatile leather
- Stylish fibrous surface adds an extra design element to projects
- Highly breathable due to the sanded surface
Cons of Nubuck Leather
Compared to other leathers, nubuck prioritizes look-over function. The soft, fibrous surface created can hinder some key qualities in nubuck leather, making it a more delicate leather overall. Some other cons of nubuck leather include:
- Stains and discolors extremely easily
- More difficult to maintain, requiring specialized products
- Sensitive to ultraviolet light, which causes color fading
- Traps dust and debris easily, requiring routine brushing
Nubuck leather is fairly durable but lacks protection against liquids, which may stain the material easily.
How Nubuck Leather is Made
Nubuck leather can be made from various animals but is most commonly made from calves and cows. When these animals are harvested, their hides are preserved through salting, where they can then be transported to various tanneries. At the tanneries, the hides are pressure washed, and the hair is scraped from the surface to prepare them for processing.
Where nubuck stands out from other leather is the change in its surface. The flesh of the leather is sanded and buffed down to create a velvety surface. While simultaneously removing imperfections on the hide.
After this process, the hides can be tanned using either a chromium or vegetable tannin-based combination. Chromium tanning is often preferred as it is much quicker and produces a softer leather overall. Once the hide has been tanned, it may be added to another vat where color can saturate it. Since nubuck leather has no protective finish, this ends the manufacturing process of nubuck leather.
Ahmed Ibrahim Nasr, from the Department of Wool Production and Technology, Animal, and Poultry Production Division, at the Desert Research Center in El Matareya, Cairo, Egypt, tested how making nubuck changes the properties of the leather. He found that the manufacturing process increases the surface contact area of the nap and results in a more absorbent, and therefore stain-prone, surface compared to other types of leather.
Production Statistics of Nubuck Leather
- Volume per year – Less than 60 million square feet
- Key countries where it is produced – India, China, and Vietnam
- Biggest exporting country – India
- Biggest importing country – Vietnam
Cost of Nubuck Leather
- Square foot – $3–$9 per square foot
- ½ Hide – $30–$90
- Full Hide – $60–$160
When You Might Leathercraft With Nubuck Leather
Although nubuck is not the first-choice leather for making hard-wearing items, it can still be a great choice for many others. If the leather is not exposed to liquid, it can be just as good as many other leather options. Other times nubuck can be great for leathercrafting can include:
- When looking for a more durable version of suede
- As a lining leather to provide softness and durability
- When looking to add flair to a project from the unique texture and softness
Tips for Leathercrafting With Nubuck Leather
Crafting with nubuck leather is fairly intuitive. The hides are soft enough to cut nicely but with enough body to limit the amount of stretching. The fibrous surface may make it difficult to mark the leather and find sewing holes. Some tips for leathercrafting with nubuck leather include:
- Always use a sharp blade when cutting nubuck to prevent the leather from stretching
- Mark the backside of the leather to create easy-to-follow lines and guides
- Clean the thread used periodically, as the wax will catch a lot of loose fibers
Some Examples of Items Made From Nubuck Leather
Nubuck leather shares many of the same uses as its counterpart, suede. However, nubuck can be slightly more versatile as the leather is more durable and often slightly thicker, allowing for more robust items to be made using this leather. Some items that are made from nubuck leather can include:
My Personal Research on Nubuck Leather
With liquids causing the biggest downside to nubuck leather, I looked at different ways to help reduce the damage, hoping to find the best waterproofing method for nubuck leather with the least side effects.
The first suggestion I came across for waterproofing nubuck leather was to use beeswax. In theory, the melted wax coats the surface and acts as a protective layer that will have liquids run off. To attempt to apply this, I used a heat gun with a beeswax stick, rubbing it all over the surface until I felt it was sufficiently applied. The first thing I noticed was the darkening of the leather.
The nubuck had significantly changed colors, and the nap was pushed down, making it look even darker. This did work, however, as the water I applied would quickly roll off. Even water left stagnant took quite some time before making it through the layer of wax.
Since a big part of nubuck is the nap, I attempted to brush it into place. After many minutes, I could bring the nap back to life, but the waxy coating felt gone. Upon retesting the leather, the majority of the beeswax had been removed, allowing water to seep into the leather easily.
There are many sprays on the market for waterproofing leather; I found one specialized for nubuck and gave it a shot. There was a slight color change when applying the spray, but overall, it was less aggressive. In addition, the mist prevented the nap from being slicked down. When testing the water resistance, the spray did a comparable job. Water that was applied to the surface rolled off. Some areas were less waterproof than others, most likely due to an uneven application.
While the spray performed well, I did not like the stiffness left on the nap. Although I attempted to brush the fibers back to a softer feeling, they felt as if they were hardened and started to pull off rather than restore.
Another interesting product I came across was a nubuck waterproofing oil. The bottle had an applicator on top that was used to roll onto the leather. I could quickly and accurately cover the nubuck with little to no color change. However, the nap once again seemed ruined as it was pushed down as I rolled the product on. When the oil dried, however, it was not as stiff and seemed to retain more of the feeling of nubuck than the other products.
During testing, the product repelled water fairly well but failed to prevent staining when water was left on the surface. Overall, this was the least waterproof method for nubuck leather, but it was the best for retaining the leather’s texture and appearance.
Taking good care of leather is often the number one goal of any owner. Nobody wants to spend money on a product only to see it get ruined. Nubuck leather is slightly more difficult to care for, however. The products required to prevent damage lessen the look of the leather. The fibrous nap is the appeal of nubuck, and although the waterproofing products work, they all tamper with the nap to various degrees.
Nubuck Leather Care and Maintenance
How To Clean Nubuck Leather
There are very few ways to clean nubuck leather without discoloring the material. The best method is to use a nubuck brush to wipe away all the dust and debris that has built up. This may also help restore the nap. A nubuck eraser can be used if damage cannot be addressed by simply brushing. This product rubs stains clean but must be tested before using.
The final solution for cleaning nubuck is to use a soap specifically made for the leather. This will require saturating the leather completely, which will most likely cause it to darken. After any cleaning, the nap should be brushed to help restore the leather’s look.
How To Condition Nubuck Leather
The most common method for conditioning nubuck leather is to use a brush designed for the material. As the brush passes over the surface, the nap of the leather will restore its luster. Limited conditioning products can be used on nubuck, as normal leather conditioners will only stain the leather. When using a nubuck-specific product, it is vital to test it on a small area, as the leather is sensitive.
This informative video, provided by the footwear company Johnston & Murphy, explains how to care for nubuck and demonstrates the proper cleaning and protection techniques.
How To Store Nubuck Leather
Nubuck leather should always be stored in a dry environment away from heat, sunlight, and any moisture at all. The leather will quickly dry and fade if left in the sunlight, and moisture can completely ruin the nap of the hide. More than other leathers, it is best to store nubuck in a dust bag when possible. The fibrous surface attracts debris; therefore, covering it keeps the leather clean.
Helpful Insights on Nubuck Leather
Is Nubuck leather real leather?
Yes, nubuck leather is real animal leather. The surface is created by sanding and buffing a leather hide until it becomes smooth and fibrous. The hides selected for nubuck leather are often of good quality, with few to no blemishes.
What is a Nubuck leather?
Nubuck leather is a hide whose surface grain has been worked, sanded, and polished to provide a soft, fibrous texture. This process is solely for creating a unique look and feel for the leather. Because nubuck uses the grain of the leather instead of the split, it is more durable than suede leather.
Is Nubuck leather any good?
Yes, nubuck leather is great quality leather. With the grain side being used, nubuck retains many prized characteristics, including softness, longevity, and flexibility. While its durability is slightly hindered, it is a step up from the comparable suede leather.
Is Nubuck leather better than regular leather?
Nubuck is a style choice rather than an improvement compared to other leathers. The leather trades durability and wear resistance for a softer feel and unique texture. Therefore, it is up to the consumer to decide what leather works best for them.
What are the disadvantages of Nubuck?
The biggest disadvantage of nubuck leather is how easily the material will stain or discolor. There is little to no surface protection, so any spill can easily mark the shoe and ruin the nap. This sensitivity carries over to the leather’s maintenance. Specialty products are required to keep the leather looking as good as possible.
How do you maintain nubuck leather?
Most of the nubuck maintenance is done using a specialized brush, which removes debris and rejuvenates the nap. Water and other solutions should be avoided when treating nubuck. Some companies sell soaps and conditioners made for nubuck, but they should be tested first as the leather may stain easily.
What is the best protection for Nubuck leather?
Nubuck is prone to staining, so adding a protective layer of leather helps. However, nubuck requires tailored protection products, as the nap is more sensitive than other leathers. Using a waterproofing product is the best way to protect nubuck from liquids and general dust and debris.
- Nubuck leather uses the grain side of leather, making it a more durable material.
- Avoid getting nubuck wet at all costs, as it may stain or damage easily.
- Nubuck uses the same finishing process as suede but is more natural and durable.
Nubuck is a great leather choice for those looking for leather with added flair. Not only does the material look nice with a fuzzy surface, but it also adds an unmatched soft texture. All while retaining many key features of leather and being able to last a lifetime if well taken care of. Nubuck may not be for everyone, but those who choose to work with it will find a unique, high-quality leather.
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