The art of making leather goods has been around for over 7,000 years. By the 1400s, leather tanning (the processing of hide/skin into leather) was commonplace in Europe. In the modern world, leather is used for everything from furniture to footballs to clothing like boots and leather work gloves.
Leather work gloves have long been a staple of American agriculture and industry. However, understanding the leather glove market isn’t as simple as you think. There are a variety of glove patterns, hide/skin types, and other elements to leather work gloves. Understanding these elements can help workers choose the right glove for their job. The article below discusses what you need to know about leather hand protection.
Gloves are not all made the same. The two main types of leather work gloves are leather palms and drivers. Leather palm gloves are constructed primarily with leather on the palm of the glove whereas leather drivers feature leather from front to back. Leather palm gloves may have canvas or other material on the back of the glove.
There are three common patterns used when designing leather gloves: clute cut, gunn cut, and reversible.
Aside from varying glove patterns, there are also three main thumb types. The most common is the straight thumb glove which has the thumb in line with the index finger. In a wing thumb glove, the thumb is angled diagonally across the palm for improved comfort. The most premium design is the keystone thumb in which the thumb is inserted into the rest of the glove fabric and has a separate seam. This provides additional comfort and durability.
Leather work gloves also vary in cuff style. There are four main cuff styles that provide differing levels of protection based on job need.
Leather palm cuffs can also come in a variety of materials. Starched cuffs are two layers of fabric laminated and stiffened with starch. Plasticized cuffs are waterproof adhesive laminated between two layers of fabric. Rubberized cuffs are material layers bonded using rubber cement.
Design, cuff style, and cuff material can exist on any type of leather work glove, of which there are several popular types.
Before we dive into the different types of leather, we first need to understand where leather comes from. Leather is the skin/hide of an animal. Whether it is called hide/skin depends on the size of the animal. Leather from large animals like cows and horses is considered hide while leather from smaller animals like pigs and goats is called skin.
Leather comes in grades that represent the quality of the leather, with A being the top grade and D being the lowest. Leather can be inconsistent across grades, but inconsistencies are greater on lower grades of leather.
There are two layers of hide: grain and split. Grain leather is taken from the outer layer of the hide, which is softer, smoother, and more flexible. Split leather comes from what remains after the grain is removed. This leather is coarser but is more resistant to abrasion and better repels water.
Durability of leather is often affected by what part of the animal it comes from. Leather from the side is the highest quality and the most durable. Shoulder hide/skin is a bit more economical and still quite durable. Belly leather is the least durable, but the most economical.
Leather work gloves are typically made from either cowhide, pigskin, or goatskin. Other less common types of leather used for gloves include sheepskin, deerskin, buffalo leather, and horsehide. All have their own benefits and applications.
Cowhide is the most common leather used for gloves and other products. It is what comes to mind for most people. It is considered the “go-to” leather because of its durability and great value. It is also easy to care for and resistant to dirt and water.
Pigskin may remind you of football, but it also makes great gloves. While less economical than cowhide, dense pigskin is more durable and breathable. The biggest benefit of pigskin is that it stays softer after getting wet than other types of leather due to its porous texture.
Goatskin is one of the most comfortable types of leather work gloves and one of the strongest. Not only does goatskin have high tensile strength and abrasion-resistant properties, but it also provides increased dexterity which can be important for many applications. Goatskin is flexible and water-resistant.
Sheepskin is the softest and most lightweight of the leather options. It is the warmest type of leather work glove on the market and is water-resistant. However, it also works well in cold environments. Sheepskin leather provides optimal dexterity and touch sensitivity.
Deerskin is another soft leather. Despite being strong and naturally abrasion-resistant, this leather gets softer after getting wet as it is porous like pigskin. It also conforms to the hand for improved flexibility. Its lightweight properties make it one of the best leathers for temperature regulation.
Buffalo leather is extremely durable and has superior abrasion resistance. While it resists puncture better than most other types of leather, it is also very breathable. Buffalo leather is similar to cowhide but considered more flexible and allows more dexterity.
Horsehide is like cowhide in its strength but is smooth like sheepskin. While it has a longer lifespan than other types of leather, horsehide also takes longer to break in. Once broken in, these gloves are comfortable and highly durable.
Leather work gloves offer hand protection and durability for workers across industries. The style of design in leather often depends on the specific application and worker preference. At Pyramex, we offer a line of over a dozen leather gloves to meet the needs and wants of all workers.
Questions about what type of leather gloves are right for you or your team? Let us help!