What is Split Leather?
Black Split Leather With A Coating
Split Leather is created from the corium that’s left once the top grain has been split from the hide, this is known as the drop split, with thicker hides this can be further split into a middle split and flesh split.
Split leather is used on bi cast leather giving it a backing to the balance of the manmade material. This is where the fine split is bonded to the reverse of bi cast leather.
Cow leather is mainly used for splitting as it’s between 5mm and 10mm in thickness, this allows the hides to be split several times, but caution has to be used when splitting hides as they are done while wet and the water content can cause issues as it can be thicker in places due to the water content, so the splitting machine has to be adjusted to take this into account.
Split leather is used for suede leather also and this is buffed and sanded on the top side to create the suede finish.
Split leather does not have the same qualities as top grain leather, splits can be coated to look like grain or even an embossing of grain is put in the split and then this is coated, almost like placing a veneer on wood.
Split leathers are commonly used on sofas, and some higher end sofas use split leathers on the sides and backs of sofas. Splits can be easily torn, whereas a top grain leather is almost impossible to tear by hand. Splits can easily be torn by hand by pulling the skin apart. Always ask the salesperson to confirm in writing if the leather is top grain or a split this gives you reassurance for the future if things happen to go wrong with your leather sofa.
A lot of car manufacturers are using drop split leathers today on steering wheels, gear sticks, and door trims, when people are looking to purchase vehicles they see a smooth leather and believe this to be a top grain leather, when it’s just a coated split leather, always ask for this to be confirmed in writing when purchasing a vehicle.
Most door cards, steering wheels, gear sticks and arm rests are all made from a drop split, drop splits have a much weaker fibre structure and as such are sanded, then given a grain imprint and a coating on the surface. Drop splits can easily be damaged due to the fibre structure being much weaker. They feel colder like vinyl and the surface coating can sperate like blisters.
People believe they have leather in cars, some do have full top grain splits, but a lot of cars have a drop split with the flesh side exposed, this where people get confused think they have plastic interiors, and use all types of chemicals on them to clean them rather than a dedicated leather cleaner, this causes damage in time, other items that cause damage is APC, Magic Erasers and scrubber pads.
In most cars, leather seats are made from the grain split, but lower budget car interior are made from the drop split which causes issues for the consumer with identification processes, its also easily damaged and wears quicky compared to a top grain split.
Leathers that are splits can be coated with a paint and PU finish, but they feel colder and are prone to cracking and peeling.
Split Leather Cracking
The picture below shows what can happen to split leathers once the top surface coating that’s applied has been damaged or removed.
Split Leather Surface Coating Removed
This is when it gets more complex, when splits leave tanneries they get called terms such, nappa, smooth or aniline leathers by the leather dealers, the grain split is dropped fully and these terms are adopted, then drop splits the flesh side become known simply as a split or a suede, this makes it easier for the consumer to understand what they are dealing with.
But the general public are still very confused due to so much information around, when the term split is used, this is the drop split in a tannery and is not that great a quality leather as its flesh side and is used mainly for suede, but some car manufacturers and furniture manufactures use splits to make car seats or furniture.
Then nubuck comes into play, nubuck is from the grain split and has the grain sanded off, but not fully this can be seen by paying close attention to a nubuck skin, once you study this you can work out the grain pattern.
In most cases, furniture sides and back and lower front are made of the drop split, anything that’s a front facing is mainly made of the grain split known as the top split.
Drop splits have a plastic layer applied to them that’s embossed with a grain pattern, the embossed grain patterns vary depending on its uses, steering wheels and other trim like this are mainly coated with a smoother grain pattern, but some have a heavy grain pattern applied, making the consumer believe they have a much better leather than they actually do have.
Other ways of telling if something is a split is if the surface goes sticky to touch, you have in most cases a split leather that’s coated, when splits tear they tear in a very odd way they show loads of fibres as it tears, not like a split leather which is almost impossible to tear under normal circumstances.
Split leathers when they wear they become like suede on the underside where the coating has worn off, but top grain splits are dyed and painted on the surface so the colour wears off very differently leaving a clear visible leather structure below the coloured painted surface.