Intro to Leather Gloves for Work Applications
Undoubtedly, when you think of work gloves you think of leather. Much like your high-end work boots, a good pair of leather gloves will keep you safe and comfortable as they age and break in with continued use. That said, not all leather is created equal and many factors play a role in making sure that your glove is up to snuff. Between the type of animal that the leather comes from, the cut of the leather used, and the tanning process followed, there are a variety of factors that can influence the performance of a leather glove. In the article that follows, we will start to scratch the surface of the leather glove world and how you can make sure that your glove is ready for anything you can throw at it.
Leather comes from a variety of different sources. Each source of leather has distinct performance characteristics that separate it from the others. As a result, different leathers have different applications when used in the setting of gloves. Below are some of the most common sources for animal leathers used in work gloves.
Cow. Cow leather makes up approximately 65% of the leather that is sold due in part that it is tough, durable, and readily available. It is a great choice for inexpensive gloves where durability is the main focus. However, what it adds in durability, it loses in dexterity as cow leather is thick and will stiffen up if it gets wet.
Goat. Generally considered to be one of the few leathers that is more durable than cow leather, goatskin has an advantage in that it also offers superior flexibility and softness so you won’t have to break in your gloves. In addition, goatskin performs well in wet environments and won’t get stiff or crack after getting wet.
Deer. Perhaps the most comfortable option on this list, deerskin has a natural elasticity to it which allows it to comfortably move with your hand. This stretch is an evolutionary trait that has resulted from deer living in heavily wooded areas where they are prone to punctures from sticks and branches. However, this harsh environment also makes unblemished, grade A deerskin harder to come by. As a result, deerskin gloves tend to be more expensive than other leather gloves.
Pig. Made up of dense fibers, pigskin offers good durability and excellent abrasion resistance. In addition, Pigskin will stay soft and supple when wet and even has natural water resistance properties.
Types of Leather
Being a natural material, leather is comprised of collagen fibers that are bundled together to create the hide. The tightness of these fibers varies throughout the hide and plays a key role in the durability of the leather. The fibers are tightly bundled near the grain (smooth) side of the leather, and loosen up as you move toward the split (rough) side of the leather. If a hide is too thick for glove applications, it is split into layers, Grain and Split, which each have unique properties.
Grain Leather. The grain side is the top of the leather that has a smooth appearance. It is made up of tightly bundled fibers, and as a result is more durable and offers more natural water resistance than the split side.
Split. Split leather is the bottom section of the hide that is removed from the top grain during the splitting process. Split leather is easily identifiable by the visible fibers and suede texture on both sides of the leather. Because it is comprised of the looser bound fibers, it is generally less durable than grain leather, so it is primarily used as the back of hand material on gloves.
Perhaps more important than the cut or the source, the process used to tan the leather can make a tremendous difference its performance – this is where the secret sauce is added to our Limitless Leather™ to make it 8x more durable than traditional leathers. During the tanning process, chemicals and enzymes are added to the leather to remove excess moisture resulting in increased performance and improved look and feel. Different combinations of chemicals yield different results and can be tailored depending on the application the leather will be used for. Here are some of the more common tanning methods.
Vegetable Tanned Leather. For thousands of years, this was the primary method for tanning leather. This process uses vegetable tannins (molecules that bond easily with protein and help draw out liquid) to create a tanning solution made from various tree barks. The leather is then allowed to soak in the solution where the tannins replace the water trapped in the collagen fibers of the leather. Because the water is replaced with the tannins, the leather stays soft and does not dry out or stiffen from dehydration. This is a very time intensive process - it can take up to 2 months for all the water to be extracted from a single hide. While this method produces highly durable results, the leather will not be water resistant and will stain easily.
Chrome Tanned Leather. The concept for chrome tanning is similar to that of vegetable tanning, although it is a less time consuming process that can be more easily automated. Because of this, chrome tanning has grown in popularity in recent years. The major difference between chrome and vegetable tanning is that chrome tanning uses Chromium ions, in combination with acids and other chemicals, as the primary agent for extracting water from the leather rather than vegetable tannins. Often referred to as Wet-Blue tanning, chrome tanning typically creates a leather that is thinner, softer, and more easily dyed. This method is more resistant to water, stains, and heat than vegetable tanned leather.
While a basic leather glove is a great choice, sometimes a little more is needed. The addition of features such as cut liners or impact protection can transform a standard leather glove into a very effective & versatile hand protection solution. When choosing a glove to meet your needs, it’s important to consider the performance features from both the type of hide that is used, as well as any features that might be added to the glove. For example, one of the common issues that we see is that while traditional leather gloves might be very durable against abrasion wear, they do fair as well in cut prone scenarios. To counter this, we created a glove, the ULD-C5, that includes a full 360° ANSI A5 Cut Liner to supplement the already durable leather.
Ironclad currently offers a variety of leather gloves, from basic leather palmed mechanic styles to our award winning ULD-IMPC5, which features a full Limitless Leather™ shell combined with a 360° ANSI A5 Liner and our patented IVE™ high visibility back of hand impact protection. No matter what task you have in front of you, we have a glove that can meet your needs.