29 June 2017

The Perfect Organiser - Part 4 [Leather]

What the outer material of your organiser is made from has the biggest influence on the potential life span of your organiser. Whilst there are hard wearing synthetic materials, the most commonly used material is leather.

The cover is the part you will most frequently touch, you will hold the organiser by the cover, it is the most visual part of your organiser. Therefore the choice of leather, its colour and texture is going to be a very personal decision, only you know what you like or don't like.

There are various types of leather, not just what animal it originally came from but how the leather has been treated or coloured.

Leather comes in the following forms. You will find most of these types used for organisers at different price points. 
Full-grain leather refers to hides that have not been sanded, buffed, or snuffed (as opposed to top-grain or corrected leather) to remove imperfections (or natural marks) on the surface of the hide. The grain remains allowing the fiber strength and durability. The grain also has breathability, resulting in less moisture from prolonged contact. Rather than wearing out, it develops a patina during its expected useful lifetime. This type of leather is used in the most expensive organisers. 
Top-grain leather (the most common type in high-end leather products) is the second-highest quality. It has had the "split" layer separated away, making it thinner and more pliable than full-grain. Its surface has been sanded and a finish coat added, which produces a colder, plastic feel with less breathability, and it does not develop a natural patina. It is typically less expensive and has greater stain resistance than full-grain leather if the finish remains unbroken. 
Corrected-grain leather is any leather that has had an artificial grain applied to its surface. The hides used to create corrected leather do not meet the standards for use in creating vegetable-tanned or aniline leather. The imperfections are corrected or sanded off, and an artificial grain embossed into the surface and dressed with stain or dyes. Most corrected-grain leather is used to make pigmented leather as the solid pigment helps hide the corrections or imperfections.
Split leather is leather created from the fibrous part of the hide left once the top-grain of the rawhide has been separated from the hide. During the splitting operation, the top-grain and drop split are separated. The drop split can be further split (thickness allowing) into a middle split and a flesh split. In very thick hides, the middle split can be separated into multiple layers until the thickness prevents further splitting. Split leather then has an artificial layer applied to the surface of the split and is embossed with a leather grain.
Bonded leather or reconstituted leather is an economical material that uses leftover organic leather (from tanneries or workshops) that are shredded and bonded together with polyurethane or latex on to a fiber sheet. The varying degree of organic leather in the mix (10% to 90%) affects the smell and texture. Its reduced cost makes it popular for furniture upholstery, especially for commercial furniture that requires durability—though durability can vary widely depending on the formulation.
The leather goes through a series of processes to make it useable and to dye the leather. Some leathers are dyed and then have a protective layer added to them so that they are more resistant to water damage and staining. 

The leather can be dyed a variety of colours some leathers being easier to dye than others. So for instance the full gain leathers like these samples above are in a more limited colour range because they use vegetable tanning type dyes to colour the leather.

Where possible I always recommend getting leather samples especially if you are having a custom made organiser. If you want to be reassured about what type of leather you are getting, ask the seller of the products.

Leather Stiffener

Between the internal and external leather, there will be hidden a variety of materials that you will often not be aware of. Even organisers that feel very soft and supple will have a lining material between the leather to prevent them from 'creaking' as they are opened and closed. This lining material is often just a synthetic mesh textile material.

In addition to the liner some organisers have a stiffening board inserted between the two layers of leather. This board material can be a cardboard (carton) sheet material, or a manufactured synthetic leather board known by the trade name of Bontex.

Bontex is a very flexible material you would hardly know it was there if you flex the covers, but it helps to provide stability and stops the covers from curling.

There is also Bontex Frame, this is used on the stiffer leathers to help with the assembly of the organiser.

When ordering a Van der Spek Custom organiser you can specify what sort of leather stiffener will be used on your order.

Watch the video below to see a full comparison of Bontex and Carton and see for yourself which is which.

Leather Care

Leather is a natural product, it isn't indestructible, it needs caring for over time.  

Try to avoid getting the leather wet and do not store in areas of high humidity. Likewise avoid areas of extreme temperatures for long periods of time.

Some people advocate not treating their leather organisers. I recommend asking the manufacturer as to what they recommend as they will know the type of leather used.

So as you can see from this post and the previous posts in the series, there are quite a lot of things that go together to make 'The Perfect Organiser' be it ready made or a custom handmade one from Van der Spek.

If there are any elements I've not covered in this short series of posts, please either leave a comment or drop me an email steve at philofaxy dot com and there might be additional posts for the series. 

[Information Source: Leather types and treatments - Wikipedia Leather]


  1. Thank you for this, it is fascinating seeing what goes into producing the leather and all the different types that can be had.

  2. I had to check the meaning of "snuffing" under full grain leather above. Apparently it's removing the top surface of the grain by abrasion.

  3. Thanks for a very interesting post, Steve. I had a look back in the catalogues & found that my Winchester is only listed as Montana calf leather. From your description, I would imagine that it would be full-grain as it has developed a patina.