One of the best parts about leather is the material’s look. Each leather piece tells a story throughout the hide with blemishes and color variations. Because color variations are the most appealing to me, one of my favorite types of leather is pull up. With pull up leather, there is much more variation throughout a piece that only deepens with use.
Pull up leather is a finishing method using hot oils and wax to add a multitone look to leather. As pull up leather is stretched or bent, undertones become more visible. This can be used with any leather and provides durability and wear resistance. Pull up leather costs $4–$15 per square foot.
Let us take a look at pull up leather and uncover its characteristics and why it is a popular way to finish leather.
What Is Pull Up Leather?
Pull up leather is any type of leather that uses a hot oil and/or wax finishing technique. While each tannery has its own formula for creating pull up leather, the multitone effect is universal. As the leather is stretched or bent, the oils/waxes shift, uncovering the lighter color beneath and creating a gradient throughout the wear areas.
Since the effect is created by stuffing the leather with large amounts of hot oil or wax, the leather becomes more durable. Scratch marks will blend into the leather, while water will be repelled more than other leathers.
What We’ll Explore
- Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
- History of Pull Up Leather
- Pull Up Leather Characteristics Quick Reference Table
- In-depth Characteristics of Pull Up Leather
- Pros of Pull Up Leather
- Cons of Pull Up Leather
- How Pull Up Leather is Made
- Production Stats for Pull Up Leather
- Cost of Pull Up Leather
- When You Might Leathercraft with Pull Up Leather
- Tips for Leathercrafting With Pull Up Leather
- Examples of Goods Made from Pull Up Leather
- My Personal Research on Pull Up Leather
- Pull Up Leather Care & Maintenance
- Helpful Insights on Pull Up Leather
- Key Takeaways
Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions
The wear patterns created in pull up leather can often be mistaken as damage rather than patina. Traditionally leather will age by becoming darker, but pull up leather becomes lighter in color. While the scratches and wear will be highlighted, most marks are superficial since the leather is stuffed with oil or wax.
In fact, most of the marks that are made on pull up leather can be removed by simply rubbing the leather with a cloth to generate heat. This helps return the wax or oil to the area, making it more uniform with the darker parts of the leather.
History of Pull Up Leather
The use of oils in leather making is nothing new. Traditionally untreated leather was soaked in animal fats. The oils from the fats would penetrate the hide, coating it to become more wear and water-resistant. However, the pull up effect is something more. Horween’s Chromexcel is said to be the first pull up leather.
Created over 100 years ago, it utilizes a proprietary formula of oils and waxes to over-stuff the leather. This creates durable leather, with the visual effect of seeing the oils and waxes move across the leather. Currently, the pull up finishing method is popular globally, with each tannery using its own formula to create the special effect.
Pull Up Leather Characteristics Quick Reference Table
|Natural or Synthetic||Natural|
|Surface Texture||Smooth, waxy, or oily|
|Available Thickness (oz/mm)||1oz (0.4mm)–12oz (4.5mm)|
|Largest Workable Size||60 square feet|
|Ease of Maintenance (1–10)||9|
|How Long it Lasts (Daily Use)||25 years+|
|Available Colors||Any, with the majority being available in earth tones|
|Cost per Square Foot ($)||$4–$15|
|Ease of Crafting (1–10)||7|
|Rarity (Common or Exotic)||Common|
|Annual Production Volume||Around 2 billion square feet|
|Biggest Exporting Country||India|
|Biggest Importing Country||India|
In-depth Characteristics of Pull Up Leather
Natural or Synthetic
Pull up leather is real leather that can be split, top grain, or full grain. The “pull up” characteristics of the leather are merely the finishing method used to coat the leather. Therefore the quality/authenticity of the leather comes from the hides used. Most pull up leathers will be top grain, chromium tanned leather.
The surface texture of pull up leather can vary. The two most common qualities are a waxy or oily surface due to how the pull up effect is created by stuffing the leather with these compounds. In addition, the leather may already contain a texture that will not be covered by the additional wax or oil. However, pull up leather with an additional texture may only contain subtle pull up effects.
As the leather is stretched or bent, the oils/waxes shift, uncovering the lighter color beneath and creating a gradient throughout the wear areas.
Since pull up is only a finishing method used to coat the leather, the leather can be purchased in almost any size, from 1oz (0.4mm)–12oz (4.5mm). However, most pull up leather will be 4oz (1.6mm)–6oz (2.4mm), which is an ideal thickness for most larger goods where pull up leather is best suited.
Largest Workable Size
Similar to thickness, the size of pull up leather is up to the hide used when making the leather. Even upholstery leather can be made as a pull up leather at 60 square feet. This is less common, however, with most pull up leathers being sold around 26 square feet or as shoulders, around 14 square feet.
In an effort to display the effects of pull up leather, most of the hides available will be somewhat flexible. As the leather bends, the color underneath is highlighted, a key selling point for pull up leather. Many pull up leathers will also be chrome tanned, a tanning method that produces much softer leather.
Pull up leather is not presented as soft leather. While the surface is more supple than soft leathers it can be seen as average at best. In particular waxy pull up leathers, the hide may be stiffer, taking longer to break in. On average pull up leather is a rugged leather that sacrifices softness to achieve its effect.
Sewing pull up leather is almost a perfect experience. The leather is flexible enough to punch holes and pull needles through easily. While having enough stiffness to prevent the leather from bunching together. Unfortunately, there is a single problem when sewing pull up leather, the finishing surface. Both the wax and the oil will begin to build up as you sew, potentially changing the hue of lighter-colored thread.
With the added hot oils and/or waxes stuffed into the surface, pull up leather becomes highly durable. Scratches not only add character by causing the pull up effect to occur but can be removed by simply rubbing. The added oils and/or waxes also help prevent water from saturating the leather. These characteristics make pull up leather a popular choice for boots and other high-wear items.
Ease of Maintenance
Another highly regarded benefit of pull up leather is its ease of maintenance. Since the leather is stuffed with additional oils and/or waxes, it does not dry out as easily. Pull up leather items may only need to be conditioned once a year. Even most of the scratches that occur on pull up leather can be removed by simply rubbing the leather.
Lifespan with Daily Use
Pull up leather can see more wear and tear than most leathers due to the finishing method. On average, the lifespan of the leather is around 25 years, but can easily last a lifetime with consistent care. Items such as boots will need their soles replaced multiple times before ever needing to replace the leather itself.
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The vibrant effect created by the pull up finish method is fully explored by a wide range of colors. This is thanks to the majority of leathers being chromium tanned, allowing for bright dyes to saturate the leather. While the most common colors available are brown or earth tones, pull up leather can be found in any color.
While not completely waterproof, pull up leather is water resistant. The hot oils and/or waxes stuffed into the surface of the leather provide a barrier, both repelling and preventing water from entering the leather. However, prolonged exposure or large amounts of water can still saturate the leather.
Pull up type leather is a popular finishing method, allowing the leather to be purchased at many price points. At the lower end, pull up leather can be as little as $4 per square foot. As the quality increases, so does the tanning method. Vegetable tanned pull up leathers are the most expensive type, costing up to $15 per square foot.
Ease of Crafting
Working with pull up leather is a joy. The leather is stiff enough to hold its shape during cuts but soft enough to allow any blade to pass through it without much effort. Since surface scratches can be rubbed out, accidents that project damage on other leathers may be fixable with pull up leather. Oil or wax build-up is the only downside to working with pull up leather, as it may stain thread or other materials.
Rarity (Common or Exotic)
The pull up finishing method is a common way to coat many types of leather, making it a highly popular leather. Pull up leather is both seen and available in various products. This common leather can be purchased from almost any retailer, which will most likely provide many colors and tanneries.
Pros of Pull Up Leather
There are many reasons why pull up leather is a popular choice for manufacturers. Its appeal begins with the way it looks. It is one of the few types of leather that highlights the beauty of the material through the patina. This lightening effect created through use lends so much character to each and every item that utilizes pull up leather.
In addition, the hot oils and/or waxes stuffed into the leather’s surface provide durability and water-resistance and limits the amount of maintenance required for the leather. In short, pull up leather is a beautiful type of leather that is easy to take care of, is hard-wearing, and only becomes more beautiful over time.
Olga NiculescuI, Luminiţa Albu, Gheorghe Coara, Lucreţia Miu, Carmen Gaidau, Rodica Constantinescu, and Dana Gurau, from the Division of Leather and Footwear Research Institute, in Bucharest, Romania, studied the effects of using waxes with other oils when finishing shoes. This combination provided a surface that can be shined but is also wear and water-resistant. Pull up leather often takes this further by stuffing the leather with additional oil, only adding to the final product.
Cons of Pull Up Leather
Very few cons exist when discussing pull up leather, as most of the characteristics presented are desirable. However, for some, the pull effect can hinder their enjoyment of a project. Those who desire to keep their leather looking brand new will find that pull up leather scratches much more easily, and highlights wear quickly.
For crafters, the oily or waxy surface can bleed onto other materials or build up on needles or thread. This may cause the thread to become dirty, requiring multiple stoppages to change out the thread.
How Pull Up Leather is Made
Pull up leather starts like most other leathers, as a hide taken from an animal. The hide must be cleaned and trimmed before the tanning process begins. Since pull up leather can be vegetable tanned and chrome tanned, the leather will be placed in a drum or pit with their respective chemical compounds.
After tanning, they are left to dry before adding color to the leather. Color can be applied through an airbrush or in a large vat. The pull up effect is created by the final process of the leather, the finishing method. Waxes and/or hot oils are mixed and applied to the leather’s surface.
When the leather is covered, the color will appear darker as it is “hidden” behind the finish. This creates the pull up effect, as when the leather is bent, the true color shows through.
Check out this helpful video provided by Stahl, as Stahl’s Senior Technical Advisor, Paul Spierings, shows how they make their pull up leather.
Production Statistics of Pull Up Leather
- Volume per year: Around 2 billion square feet
- Key countries where it is produced: India, China, and the U.S.
- Biggest exporting country: India
- Biggest importing country: India
Cost of Pull Up Leather
- Square Foot: $4–$15 Per square foot
- ½ Hide: $52–$200
- Full Hide: $104–$390
When You Might Leathercraft With Pull Up Leather
- When looking for rustic leather that will develop a patina over time.
- If durabilities, such as wear resistance or water resistance, are key to your project.
- When in need of budget-friendly leather with a premium look.
Tips for Leathercrafting With Pull Up Leather
- Patterns can be traced on the surface of the leather with a scratch awl and then rubbed off.
- The surface of the leather can be buffed to a high shine with a clean cloth.
- Keep oily pull up leather away from other materials to reduce rub-off on other materials.
Some Examples of Items Made From Pull Up Leather
My Personal Research on Pull Up Leather
A key part of pull up leather is the patina that is created by using the leather over time. However, pull up leather scratches easily. While scratches can be considered part of the patina, some can be unsightly. I researched and tested various ways to remove scratches and make the color uniform again.
Rubbing the Leather
The most common method for repairing scratches is rubbing the leather. I tested using my fingertip and a cloth. There seemed to be little difference in removing scratches, but rubbing with a cloth also provided a small shine. Surface level scratches were no problem, but as they got deeper, they could not be hidden as well, and would only slightly darken.
Rubbing the Leather With Leather Balm
Leather balm is filled with waxes and oils that tend to darken leather when applied. In this test, I attempted to cover similar scratches, but while using the leather balm on a cloth. This performed wonderfully as the balm seemed to fill and darken the lighter areas.
Deep scratches that had yet to reach the color of the leather were also filled nicely. One issue of note was the area where the leather balm was used was slightly darker than its surrounding. This method may require covering the entire leather surface to keep the color uniform.
Using a Heat Gun
One popular method, I always wanted to try was using a heat gun or hair dryer to warm the waxes and oil in the leather before rubbing it. For this, I used a heat gun on the lowest setting and aimed it at the scratches.
Immediately the heat caused the scratches to disappear, and once I rubbed the surface, it completely removed them. Deep scratches could be covered if they were not deep enough to scratch the color off the leather.
All the tested methods proved effective at removing surface-level scratches, but deeper scratches required more effort. For those situations, a leather balm can be applied but may darken the area. The heat gun worked best as it could repair the deep scratches in less time and without making the area darker. It is important to note that no method tested can fix scratches that have removed the color of the leather.
Pull Up Leather Care and Maintenance
How to Clean Pull Up Leather
Pull up leather may attract more dust than other leathers and will need slightly more attention when cleaning. A fine horse hair brush is ideal for cleaning the surface, but a damp rag can also be used to remove any stuck-on material. Once dusted, a clean rag with saddle soap can be used to clean the surface fully. If saddle soap is used, it is best to condition the leather to prevent it from drying.
How to Condition Pull-Up Leather
While pull up leather requires more dusting than normal leather, it will not need to be conditioned as often. Once or twice a year is more than enough unless the leather gets soaked or after using leather soap. To condition the leather, use a clean cloth with a small amount of leather conditioner. Rub it on the surface of the leather, and leave it to completely dry before applying additional conditioner.
How to Store Pull Up Leather
When storing pull up leather, it is important to keep it away from sunlight and heat. Both can cause the leather to dry out during prolonged exposure. Ideally, the best way to store any pull up leather is in a dust bag. The leather attracts dust and debris, so keeping it contained can help when pulling the leather out for use.
Helpful Insights on Pull Up Leather
Is pull up leather good quality?
There are a lot of tanneries that make pull up leather, which highly determines the final product. While most pull up leather will be at least top grain, their finishing methods, and how the top coat is applied, can greatly affect the final feel.
What does pull up on leather mean?
When discussing leather, the term “pull up” is the effect created when the leather is bent. Pull up leather is stuffed with hot oils and/or waxes that coat the color of the leather, darkening it. When the leather is bent, the color is “pulled up” to the surface, highlighting wear, scratches, and other patina.
What is pull up leather good for?
Pull up leather is good for most projects, especially those that will see a lot of hard wear. Boots are a popular place where pull up leather is used. However, leather can be extremely versatile, being used in bags, wallets, key chains, and more.
Is pull up leather genuine leather?
Yes, pull up leather is real leather. The pull up effect is caused by an additional coating that is seen on other aniline leathers. While the top coat of oils and/or waxes can be heavy, resulting in a plastic feel, the leather underneath is typically top grain leather or better.
Can you shine pull up leather?
Sometimes, there are many combinations of materials that are mixed to create the pull up leather. Typically pull up leather that uses a large number of waxes will shine the best. To shine the leather, simply buff it with a clean cloth. Oily pull up leathers may not always produce a shine.
Is Chromexcel pull up leather?
Yes, Horween’s famous Chromexcel is a pull up leather. It is often referred to as the “original pull up leather”, as their secret formula dates back over 100 years. Chromexcel’s pull up effect can be more subtle than others for those who prefer a subdued patina.
- Pull up leather is a finishing method that can be used on both vegetable, and chrome tanned leather.
- When the leather is bent, scratched, or worn, the color beneath the surface will show, creating a patina.
- The added oils and/or waxes provide durability to the leather making it more wear and water-resistant.
What draws people into leather is the liveliness of the material. From the scars, bug bites, and brand marks to the inevitable scratches and patina. Pull up leather is a great option when looking to highlight the perfect imperfections leather has to offer.
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