5 simple steps to spot quality leather

Knowing a few practical guidelines will give you years of graceful ageing

Finger feeling leather

Examine the leather's grain — a compact fibre structure makes for more durable leather.

It can be difficult to tell when first viewing that bag or those gloves that you feel the need to make yours. Is the leather any good? Will it last for years and age gracefully? Or will it dry out and start to fall apart?

Going through 5 easy steps will help you pick the good stuff.

1. Exposed grain 

Verify you can see the natural grain in the leather. Leather that is over-pigmented to cover the grains could be covering up defects and poor quality. Leather should be dyed all the way through and the grain allowed to show ― aniline dyeing ― rather than having merely a surface coating applied. 

Leather grain closeup

Get close to see the grain in the leather. You may need to bend it a little so it will catch the light.

2. Compact fibres 

Examine the grain to check it is dense. If the grain is loose, meaning the fibre structure is not compact, the leather will be less durable.

Leather bag edge closeup with enlarged section of fibres

You can see the density of the grain especially well on the edges of the leather. Compact or a bit "fluffy"?

3. Good smell

Smell the leather. Avoid leather that has a slight plastic smell to it.

Nose

Even a hint of a plasticy/chemical smell probably means the leather has not been treated with natural dyes.

4. Good feel 

Feel the leather. It should feel soft and smooth — free of bumps, and flex easily. It shouldn't feel like there is a clear coat covering the leather.

Finger feeling leather

Feel the leather. Practise by comparing the feel of quality leather with stiff and surface-dyed leather.

5. Real!

See if you can find exposed edges, or look at the reverse side, and confirm that you can see the fibre structure. If you can't, it could be fake leather.

Leather fibres

Very good fakes exist. If you can't see fibres anywhere you could be holding some. Check edges and reverse sides if possible.

At Waremakers we have gone through these steps for you. All leather products on display in the shop are, of course, made from superior quality leathers.

Thanks to Doe Leather and Michael Pearson for comprising decades of expertise and helping put this little guide together.