Pull up leather gives Harrison Ford his roguishness. It protects Tom Cruise while piloting fighter jets. It’s used in the highest quality boots, attached to Rolexes, and a mainstay of vintage clothes shops. It has an almost alchemical ability to shift in time. So what is it?
Santalum‘s chrome tanned pull up leather from Indonesia
What is Pull Up Leather?
Pull up is a finishing technique, not strictly speaking a type of leather — any kind of leather can be pull up. A popular finishing technique for top grain leather, the pull up finishing technique infuses hot oil and/or wax into the hide. The intricate finish allows for lines to form in the leather when pulled or stretched. This pulling creates the desirable “two tone effect.”
“To me, the beauty of pull up isn’t that it looks older or aged, it’s the gorgeous two tone color variation it can achieve,” says Tucker Gasho, the owner of K&H Leatherworks, noting that both veg tanned and chrome tanned leathers can be pull up. “Horween’s Dublin or Derby and Badalassi’s Waxy Veg Tan, those are vegetable tanned with a pull up effect. Chromexcel, or Acadia’s Leather Wheat Harvest are chrome tanned with pull up. What makes leather pull up or not is if you get the color change when it’s manipulated. Bridle leather, like that of Sedgwick or Wickett and Craig, can be heavily stuffed with wax, yet they have no pull up. ”
[Related: Vegetable tanne vs chrome tanned: which leather is best for your boots?]
The oil tanned pull up leather on the excellent (and very tough) Dayton service boot. Note the two tones.
How is Pull Up Leather Made?
First, the hide is softened and dyed. Pull up leather’s magic is achieved by “hot stuffing”. Hot stuffing heats oil, wax, and/or grease and forces them into the hide. This coats the fibers of the leather with oil. The leather is then dyed again using a process called an aniline finish.
“Some pull up leather is just waxed, some is just oiled, and some is both,” adds Gasho.
A combination tanned pull up leather on the Parkhurst Delaware boot.
How Can You Recognize Pull Up Leather?
Pull up refers more to the manufacturing and finish process and less to the nature of the leather. The strength, softness, touch, stretchability, and grain tightness will vary between products.
“The best way to think of it is that pull up is just a reference to tonal change. The leather itself can be tanned a variety of ways.”
Like most leather, pull up leather comes in a variety of colors and shades. The patina will change depending on the color of the leather. Stretching a darker chocolate leather will create a rust colored stressed area. The quantity of oil and wax can also affect the tonal contrast between the leather and stress lines.
Viberg and Alden boots (above and below) made with Chromexcel, a hugely popular pull up leather
Is Pull Up Leather a Suitable Material for Boots?
There are a wide variety of boots constructed from pull up leather. We have written a lot about the versatility of Chromexcel, a type of pull up developed by Horween Leather Company that’s more or less the most popular leather for American Goodyear welted boots.
You can find pull up leather on mid-range boots like the Wolverine 1000 Mile to $600+ Ludwig Reiter boots. Its rugged look and rustic patina contribute to its popularity while its finish suggests quality and durability.
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“Knowing all those waxes and oils are doing their part to resist water is great,” says Gasho. “In my experience, oiled pull up leathers tend to have color bleeding or cracking more frequently than waxed pull up leather.”
His favorite pull up leather, for the record, is the waxy veg tan from Badalassi Carlo Tannery. Here’s a card wallet that he made with that leather below:
[Related: The right way to waterproof nice boots]
How Do I Care for Pull Up Leather?
Boots with a pull up finish are low maintenance. The hot stuffing method has already filled leather with oil, and the wax and oil shift so while they show scuffs and scrapes, it’s also easy to rub them out with your thumb, a bit of time, and pressure. On top of all that, the boots are resistant to penetration by contaminants. You still want to avoid water, moisture, other liquids, and stains.
There are different opinions about how frequently you should clean and condition your boots. This has a lot to do with how frequently you wear them. It’s typically recommended to condition a pull up finish one to two times per year.