Full-Grain Leather for Shoemaking

The highest quality of leather, using the top layer of the hide and retaining the natural grain. Full-Grain Leather is durable, breathable, and develops a rich patina over time. 

Common Uses: High-end dress shoes, boots, and luxury footwear.

Main qualities of Full-grain leather

Full-grain leather is a premium material renowned for its superior quality, unrivaled durability, and timeless appeal. It is the highest grade of leather and is in high demand in a variety of industries, including fashion, furniture, and accessories. Here are the fundamental characteristics of full-grain leather:

Natural Beauty: Full-grain leather retains the natural grain and imperfections of the animal hide. Unlike other leathers, it isn't sanded or buffed to remove blemishes, scars, or wrinkles. These unique marks contribute to its distinct character and beauty.

Thickness and Strength: Full-grain leather is thick and robust, making it incredibly durable. It can withstand daily wear and tear, making it an excellent choice for products that need to last for years.

Breathability: One of the remarkable features of full-grain leather is its breathability. It allows air to pass through, preventing moisture buildup and keeping the material comfortable to wear.

Aging Gracefully: Full-grain leather develops a rich patina over time, enhancing its appearance as it ages. This patina is a testament to its authenticity and quality, making each piece unique.

Versatile Applications: Full-grain leather can be found in a variety of applications, from high-end footwear and luxury bags to premium furniture decoration. Its adaptability indicates its extending popularity.

Maintenance: Proper care and maintenance are essential to preserve full-grain leather's quality. Regular cleaning and conditioning can help prevent drying, cracking, and other forms of wear.

Cost and Investment: Full-grain leather is an investment due to its premium quality and longevity. While it may come with a higher initial cost, its durability, and timeless appeal make it a wise investment in the long run.

Leather Types: Full-grain leather comes from various animal hides, including cowhide, sheepskin, and goatskin. Each type has its unique characteristics, such as texture, grain pattern, and thickness.

Semi-finished Full-grain leather

Full-grain leather can be semi-finished, depending on the specific processing and treatment it undergoes during production. The term "full-grain" primarily refers to the quality of the top layer of the leather, which includes the natural grain pattern and surface imperfections. Full-grain leather retains the outermost layer of the hide, making it the highest quality and most durable type of leather.

However, during the manufacturing process, full-grain leather can be further finished and treated in various ways to enhance its appearance, texture, and performance. Some of these treatments might include:

Aniline Dyeing: Aniline dyes can be applied to full-grain leather to color it. This can affect the appearance of the leather but doesn't significantly alter its natural grain or texture.

Aniline leather

Semi-Aniline Finishing: Semi-aniline leather is a type of full-grain leather that is lightly coated with a clear, protective finish. This finish helps improve stain resistance and durability while retaining the natural look and feel of the leather.

Embossing: Full-grain leather can be embossed with textures or patterns to create a specific visual effect. This doesn't remove the natural grain but adds an additional texture or design.

Waxing and Oiling: Some full-grain leathers are treated with waxes and oils to enhance their suppleness, luster, and water resistance. These treatments can slightly alter the leather's appearance.

Pull-Up Leather: This type of full-grain leather is treated with oils and waxes that migrate within the leather when it's flexed. This creates a unique "pull-up" effect where the leather appears to change color when stretched or folded.

In all these cases, the term "full-grain" still applies because the top layer of the hide remains intact. These treatments are designed to enhance the leather's performance or achieve specific aesthetic effects while preserving the natural characteristics of the full-grain leather.

So, while full-grain leather can be subjected to various finishing processes, it is still considered full-grain as long as the top layer of the hide is not removed or altered.

Types of Full-Grain Leather for Shoemaking suitable for the Upper

cutting leather patterns for dr.martens boots

Baby Calfskin

Description: Derived from the hides of young calves, known for its softness and fine grain.

Thickness: Typically 0.8 - 1.2 mm.

Benefits: Extremely soft, smooth, and has a luxurious feel.

Common Uses: High-end dress shoes, women's footwear like Flat ballet shoes, T-strap pumps, Slingback Pumps, High Heels pumps or sandals.


How to define a baby calf?

Identifying baby calf leather involves examining certain characteristics of the leather. Baby calf leather typically comes from young calves, and it has distinct features that differentiate it from leather derived from older animals. Here's how you can define baby calf leather:

Texture and Grain: Baby calf leather is known for its exceptionally fine grain and smooth texture. It lacks the pronounced grain pattern and texture found in leather from older animals.

Softness: Baby calf leather is incredibly soft and supple. It has a luxurious feel and is often used for high-end fashion items like shoes, handbags, and gloves due to its softness.

Fine Wrinkles: Examine the surface of the leather for fine, subtle wrinkles or creases. These wrinkles are characteristic of baby calf leather and are less prominent than those found in leather from older cattle.

Uniform Color: Baby calf leather usually has a uniform and even color across its surface. It takes dye well, resulting in rich and consistent coloration.

Size and Shape: Consider the size and shape of the leather pieces. Baby calf leather is typically used for smaller items, like gloves or small leather goods, due to the limited size of calf hides. The size of an average baby calf skin can vary, but it typically measures around 8 to 12 square feet (0.74 to 1.11 square meters). Keep in mind that the actual size can depend on the age and breed of the calf, as well as how the hide is trimmed and processed. 

Supplier or Label: Sometimes, the supplier or label of the leather product may indicate that it's made from baby calf leather. Check any product tags or labels for this information.

Professional Assessment: If you're uncertain about the leather's origin, consult with a leather expert or a professional who can identify the type of leather based on its characteristics.

Kid Leather (Baby Goat Leather)

Description: Sourced from young goats, kid leather is prized for its fine grain, softness, and lightweight feel.

Thickness: Typically 0.6 - 1.0 mm.

Benefits: Exceptionally soft, supple, and lightweight, making it ideal for elegant and delicate footwear.

Common Uses: Fine quality dress shoes, gloves, small leather accessories, and items requiring a refined touch.

Lamb Leather (Baby Sheep Leather)

Description: Derived from young sheep, lamb leather shares qualities with kid leather, offering softness and a fine grain.

Thickness: Typically 0.6 - 1.0 mm.

Benefits: Soft, smooth, and pliable, providing comfort and luxury.

Common Uses: High-quality women's footwear, including stylish flats, pumps, and comfortable shoes and moccasins for various occasions.

Among baby calfskin, kid leather (baby goat leather), and lamb leather (baby sheep leather), baby calfskin is the most commonly used in shoemaking. Baby calfskin is highly regarded for its softness, fine grain, and luxurious feel. It is a popular choice for crafting high-end dress shoes and various women's footwear, including pumps, ballet flats, and sandals. Its versatility, combined with its exceptional qualities, makes it a preferred material for many shoemakers.

While kid leather and lamb leather also offer similar qualities of softness and fine grain, they are often used for specific applications in the fashion industry, such as gloves and small leather accessories. While they are suitable for shoemaking in some cases, baby calfskin's popularity and wider range of applications make it the primary choice for shoemakers seeking a balance of quality and versatility.

Box Calf Leather

Description: A type of calfskin that's been vegetable-tanned, or chrome-tanned, or aniline-dyed.

Thickness: Usually 1.2 - 1.5 mm.

Benefits: Smooth finish, consistent color, and relatively easy to maintain.

Common Uses: Dress shoes, particularly Oxfords and Derbies.

Box Calf Leather traditionally underwent a vegetable tanning process, which is what gave it its characteristic smooth and lustrous finish. However, with advancements in tanning technology and changes in industry practices, it's possible that some modern Box Calf leathers might be chrome-tanned or aniline-dyed to achieve certain desired characteristics or finishes.

Box Calf Leather is a term that has historical roots and is associated with high-quality leatherwork, particularly in luxury goods.

To be precise:

Traditional Box Calf Leather: Vegetable-tanned, resulting in a smooth and glossy finish.
Modern Variations: Can be chrome-tanned or aniline-dyed, especially if the aim is to achieve specific colors or finishes.

The key takeaway is that while the traditional Box Calf Leather was vegetable-tanned, modern practices and demands might lead to variations in the tanning process. When purchasing or working with Box Calf, it's essential to check with the supplier or manufacturer regarding the specific tanning process used.

Now let's talk more deeply about Calf Leather with original vegetable-tanned process.

Origin: The name "Box Calf" originates from Joseph Box, an English shoemaker in the 19th century. The term was used to describe a specific tanning and finishing process that he popularized.

Material: Traditionally, Box Calf Leather is made from the hides of young cattle, making it a type of calfskin. Calfskin is prized for its softness, fine grain, and durability.

Finish: What distinguishes Box Calf from other types of calfskin is its specific finish. It's characterized by its smooth, lustrous, and glossy surface. This is achieved through a vegetable tanning process followed by a unique finishing process that involves agitating the leather in drums to achieve its signature shine.

Use: Due to its luxurious appearance and feel, Box Calf Leather is often used in high-end products, especially in luxury footwear, handbags, and small leather goods.

Durability: Box Calf is not just about aesthetics; it's also known for its durability. The tight grain of calfskin, combined with the vegetable tanning and finishing processes, makes Box Calf resistant to wear and tear.

Care: Like other luxury leathers, Box Calf requires regular care to maintain its appearance. This might include cleaning, conditioning, and occasionally polishing to retain its signature shine.

Variations: While traditionally made from full-grain calf leather, the "box" finish,  can technically be applied to top-grain leather as well. However, purists and luxury brands typically stick to full-grain for Box Calf.

If you want to understand more about Box Calf leather, how to distinguish the difference between genuine leather and imitations, why this leather type is the crème de la crème of leather, and why luxury brands employ it, click here.

Kangaroo Leather

Description: Lightweight and strong, sourced from kangaroo hides.

Thickness: Usually 0.7- 1.2 mm.

Benefits: Highly durable, yet thin and flexible.

Common Uses: Athletic shoes, especially soccer boots

Kangaroo leather is a unique type of leather that comes from the hide of kangaroos. It's known for its exceptional strength, light weight, and durability, making it a popular choice for various applications, including sports equipment, such as soccer cleats, and premium leather goods like wallets and gloves.

To identify kangaroo leather, you can follow these steps:

Look for the Label: Many products made with kangaroo leather will explicitly state "kangaroo leather" on the label or product description. This is the easiest way to confirm the type of leather.

Examine the Grain: Kangaroo leather typically has a fine grain pattern with small pores. The grain is often smoother and more uniform than other leathers, giving it a distinctive appearance.

Feel the Texture: Kangaroo leather is exceptionally soft and supple to the touch. It has a luxurious feel and is often described as one of the softest leathers available.

Check for Brand Reputation: High-quality kangaroo leather products are often associated with reputable brands and manufacturers. Research the brand to ensure their use of authentic kangaroo leather.

Color and Finish: Kangaroo leather comes in various colors and finishes, just like other leathers. Pay attention to the color and finish of the leather to see if it matches the description provided by the manufacturer.

Check the Price: Kangaroo leather is generally considered a premium leather due to its unique qualities. Be cautious if the price seems too low for a product claimed to be made of kangaroo leather; it might not be genuine.

Ask the Seller: If you're unsure about the authenticity of a product, don't hesitate to ask the seller for more information or proof of the leather type.

Remember that kangaroo leather is ethically sourced in Australia, where kangaroo populations are carefully managed and controlled by wildlife authorities. Always make sure you're purchasing kangaroo leather products from reputable sources that adhere to ethical and legal standards.

Ostrich Leather


Description: Recognizable by its unique pattern of bumps or quills.

Thickness: Typically 0.8 - 1.4 mm.

Benefits: Luxurious texture, breathable, and durable.

Common Uses: Exotic dress shoes, boots.


Description: Sourced from goat hides, it's supple and has a distinctive pebbled texture.

Thickness: Usually 0.8 - 1.2 mm.

Benefits: Lightweight, flexible, and resilient.

Common Uses: Casual shoes like Derby shoes, Oxford shoes, loafers, bespoke footwear


Description: Sourced from pig hides, it's often used for its breathable properties.

Thickness: Typically 0.6 - 1.0 mm.

Benefits: Naturally breathable and has a unique texture.

Common Uses: Inner linings of shoes.

Stingray Leather

Description: Distinctive for its caviar bead-like appearance.

Thickness: Usually 0.8 - 2.0 mm.

Benefits: Extremely durable and water-resistant.

Common Uses: Exotic footwear, decorative shoe accents.

Elephant Leather

Description: Known for its toughness and unique wrinkled appearance.

Thickness: Typically 1.2 - 2.0 mm.

Benefits: Highly durable and has a distinctive texture.

Common Uses: Rugged boots, exotic footwear

Despite the fact that each of these leather varieties has a different stretching quality, the pattern making techniques using these types are the same.

Leather for lining

Among the full-grain leather varieties, Baby Calf, Goatskin, and Pigskin are best suited for lining.

These leathers are chosen for linings primarily because of their comfort and breathability, ensuring a pleasant experience for the wearer.

If you want to know what is lining in shoes, you are welcome to read this article:"Shoe Parts"

Leather Selection Tips for Beginners in Shoemaking

Here are certain types of leather that you might consider avoiding, especially during the early stages of your shoemaking journey.

Patent Leather: Often made from split leather, it can crack during lasting or folding, especially with pointed toe shoe lasts. The quality can vary, with some being made from older animal hides or hides with imperfections.

Suede and Nubuck Leather: These can easily get dirty during shoemaking processes like cutting, sewing, and lasting. Cleaning can be challenging, and sometimes stains are permanent. Protective plastic covers exist, but beginners should avoid these leathers initially.

Other Leather Types:

Sheepskin: Some people may be allergic.

Kangaroo Skin: Durable and strong, making it challenging for beginners.

Horse Skin: Also very durable.

Exotic Leathers: Types like crocodile, snakeskin, and fish skin are costly. Beginners should avoid them until they've honed their skills to prevent wastage. If you want to learn about other obstacles you can face and how to prevent them, read this article:"8 common mistakes that beginners do". Also, here is a comprehensive guide for beginning shoemakers on how to make shoes.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Full-grain Leather

What is full grain leather?

Full-grain leather is the top layer of a hide, containing all of the grain with minimal processing. It's known for its natural appearance, durability, and distinctive markings.

Is full grain leather real leather?

Yes, full grain leather is genuine leather. It's considered one of the highest quality leather types available.

Is full grain leather the best?

Full grain leather is often considered the best choice for its quality, strength, and longevity. It develops a unique patina over time and is highly prized in leather goods.

What is the disadvantage of full grain leather?

The main disadvantage of full grain leather is its cost; it tends to be more expensive due to its high quality. It may also have natural markings or blemishes that some find appealing but others may not.

What are the 5 grades of leather?

Leather grades typically include full-grain, top- grain, genuine- leather, bonded leather, and corrected grain. Full grain is the highest quality among them.

What is 100% full grain leather?

100% full grain leather means that the entire piece of leather is made from the top layer of the hide without any splitting or alteration.

What is the highest quality of leather?

Full grain leather is considered the highest quality due to its natural state and durability.

Does 100% leather mean real leather?

The term "100% leather" indicates that the product is made from real leather. However, it doesn't specify the type or quality of the leather.

Is full grain leather cheap?

Full grain leather is not typically inexpensive. Its quality and durability make it a premium material, which often comes with a higher price tag.

Does full grain leather crack?

Full grain leather is less prone to cracking compared to lower-quality leather types. Proper care and maintenance can help prevent cracking.

What material is full grain leather?

Full grain leather is made from the natural hide of animals, most commonly cattle. It retains the characteristics of the original hide.

Will Moisture Ruin Full-Grain Leather?

Moisture alone generally won't ruin full-grain leather. In fact, high-quality full-grain leather can withstand exposure to moderate moisture. However, it's essential to dry it properly if it gets wet. Avoid excessive exposure to water or prolonged soaking, as this can lead to damage or discoloration. Regularly conditioning full-grain leather helps maintain its resilience against moisture.

How to Tell if It's Genuine Full-Grain Leather?

To determine if leather is genuine full-grain, examine its surface closely. Look for natural imperfections like pores, scars, and a fine, irregular grain pattern. Full-grain leather retains these characteristics as it hasn't undergone heavy sanding or correction. Genuine full-grain leather often feels soft, and supple, and has a natural, unaltered appearance. It should also develop a beautiful patina over time, further confirming its authenticity.

Can Full-Grain Leather Be Vegan?

No, full-grain leather cannot be vegan. Full-grain leather is derived from the hides of animals, typically cows, and is a natural material. Vegan leather, on the other hand, is a synthetic or plant-based alternative created to mimic the look and feel of real leather without using animal products. While full-grain leather offers superior quality and durability, vegan leather provides an animal-friendly option for those who prefer not to use animal-derived materials.

Is full grain leather thick?

The thickness of full grain leather can vary depending on the specific product and application. It's available in various thicknesses to suit different needs.

How long does full grain leather last?

With proper care and maintenance, full grain leather products can last for decades and even a lifetime. They often improve in appearance as they age, developing a desirable patina.

Online stores to buy leather for shoemaking

Here are some online stores where you can purchase various leather types mentioned above:




All Shoemaking Supplies 

If you want to make shoes there is no way around it, you will need knifes, hammers, leather, glue, shanks, boards, and everything else to get the job done.
For that purpose I have created a detailed list of everything you need to make shoes.