Suede has a soft surface; however, it is made from leather that is inherently less durable than the highest-quality leathers. If you want suede, you have to compromise. Nubuck offers the best of both worlds. Made from the strongest of leathers, it's as soft and touchable as suede.
In the production process, leather is typically split into multiple layers. The outer layer, called top-grain lather, retains the natural grain of the hide and is used in higher-quality products. The inner layers are often embossed with an artificial grain pattern and used in less expensive products. Full-grain leather is made from hide that has not been split into layers. It retains the hide's natural grain pattern and is heavy and very durable.
Some leathers are buffed and brushed to produce a soft surface with a fuzzy texture. Suede is split leather that has been buffed on its inner side, the side of the hide that was closest to the flesh of the animal. Nubuck is top-grain leather that has been buffed on its outer side, the side of the hide on which the animal's hair grew. Nubuck can also be made from full-grain leather. Because nubuck is made from the strong outer layer of the hide, it is more durable than suede.
Manufacturers oil leather to improve its resistance to water, stains and damage. Oiled leather is soft and flexible. It is often used in shoes, where strength and water resistance is important, but it is sometimes used in leather upholstery as well. Oiled nubuck combines the soft surface of nubuck with the durability of oiled leather. It is relatively easy to maintain, and light scuffs can be removed simply by rubbing the surface of the leather with a fingertip.
All leathers benefit from regular cleaning and conditioning with products designed to restore the natural oils to the hide. Polishes restore and protect leather, and waterproofing prevents damage from exposure to the elements. Oiled leather should be regularly treated with a conditioner that replaces its protective oils. Leather that is exposed to heavy wear should be conditioned more often than leather that is lightly used.
Evan Gillespie grew up working in his family's hardware and home-improvement business and is an experienced gardener. He has been writing on home, garden and design topics since 1996. His work has appeared in the South Bend Tribune, the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, Arts Everywhere magazine and many other publications.