Most, if not all, people can instantly recognize a worn, brown leather baseball glove.
Baseball gloves look deceptively simple to make, but did you know that the single baseball glove requires about 25 leather pieces, 40 construction steps, and 4 hours to complete?
Building a baseball glove is an art that requires highly skilled workers and quality materials.
- Step #1 – Choosing the right material
- Step #2 – Die-cutting the Baseball Glove Parts
- Step #3 – Stamping and Embroidering
- Step #4 – Assemble the Webbing
- Step #5 – Stitching & Welting
- Step #6 – Shaping & Joining
- Step #7 – Lacing the Glove
- Step #8 –Break-in a glove at the factory
- Frequently Asked Questions
Step #1 – Choosing the right material
A traditional baseball glove consists entirely of leather, except for extra foam and felt paddings in the small finger/thumb area and nylon thread.
With advances in material technology, today’s baseball gloves use many types of leather and synthetic materials.
Synthetic baseball gloves can be made PVC (polyvinyl chloride) or PU (polyurethane).
PVC is often found in tee ball baseball gloves (8.5 inches or smaller) for preschoolers (3-5 year old) because it is light and cheaper than “PU leather”. “PVC leather” deforms easily so gloves made from this material should ONLY be used for light catching. The tell tale sign that a glove is made from PVC is to look at the underside of a lacing. You will find a gauze-like white fabric layer.
PU leather is also referred to as “artificial leather” or “synthetic leather”. PU leather is thicker than PVC and so it does a better job of mimicking genuine leather. PU leather gloves are mostly used in baseball gloves intended for 6-8 year old players.
|To see examples of a tee-ball and youth baseball gloves, please read my post “From Bare Hands to Gloves – Buying Guide to Selecting the Perfect Glove.
It should be noted that PVC and PU leather gloves are intended for young players at the beginner’s level. Although they are less expensive and have virtually no break-in time, both materials are not durable as leather baseball gloves, and not suitable for fielding a hard-hit baseball.
Leather baseball gloves, though more expensive than synthetic gloves, are durable and perform great in competitive baseball games. With proper care, a leather glove will last multiple generations!
What are the different types of leather used to make baseball gloves?
Since the original invention, types of leather in gloves have expanded, including:
- Steerhide Leather – a “steer” is a male bovine (cattle) bred for food consumption; bulls are turned into steers for ranching purposes; steerhide baseball gloves are stronger and more durable than cowhide baseball gloves; comes from the back shoulder of grown steers so so it takes longer to break-in
- Cowhides – female bovine (cow) that are bred to raise calves and produce milk; cowhides are lighter with spongier fibers in the abdomen region; tend to have many more natural markings dur to longer lifespan than steers; easier to break-in but it tends to lose shape in short period of time, resulting in “floppy” gloves
- Bull hides – “in-tact” male bovine for mating purposes; bull hides are larger and heavier with lots of wrinkles in the shoulder region
- Heifer hides – leather from cows that did not produces any calves; unlike cow hides, heifer hides have thick and tougher fibers in the abdomen region
- Calf hides (a.k.a. calfskin or kip leather) – more commonly referred to as the kip leather, calf hide comes from a young cow; the side of leather is light and come with little to no grain appearance; many professional baseball players prefer baseball gloves made from ‘kip’ leather because they are light, durable, and have a soft feel; kip leather baseball gloves usually cost $300+
- Bison hides – contains higher fat content so it tends to be more greasy; tends to have inconsistent thickness and wrinkles
- Horse hides – horsehide has a coarser grain, inconsistent weight; it is more abrasive resistant; not readily available
- Kip Leather – Please see calf hides above
- Less common materials include kangaroo, buffalo, deerskin, and pigskin (usually found in softball gloves)
Best baseball gloves that are preferred by MLB players are kip leather, followed by steer leather.
|For more detailed information leather, please read:
|** 99baseballs – “Which is Better-Leather Baseball or Synthetic Baseball?”
** Nokona – Leather Guide
** Horween – What’s the Difference Between Hides
Depending on quality control, a worker can make about 13 baseball gloves per side.
Horween Ball Glove Leather
If you are buying a baseball glove from a a small glove shop or buying a custom glove from Rawlings, 44Gloves and others, you should know that they use Horween ball glove leather.
Horween X Baseball Glove leather is fully aniline, oiled, and chrome tanned to yield strength, durability. Ideal for repetitive use in baseball games,
Horween leather results in a firm baseball glove that can be broken in by the player to their preference.
Step #2 – Die-cutting the Baseball Glove Parts
The first step in making a baseball glove is to cut pieces for the following parts:
- Out shell
- Inner lining
- Felt pads
|Did you know that one side of leather can make approximately 140 leather baseballs or 12 baseball gloves?
There are three cutting methods: cardboard template, die/clicker, or CNC.
The simplest way of cutting is to use a set of cardboard templates where a skilled worker transfers the cardboard template on a piece of leather and then cuts it with a pair of sharp scissors.
The worker uses a hammer and punch tool to create lace holes before moving on to the next step. Many niche glove makers also factors in player’s hand and middle-finger circumferences for a tighter, custom fit.
Traditional glove companies use a set of “die” or “clicker” metal templates.
It starts with a hydraulic press that press on a die to cut the leather or foam/felt pieces. A die or clicker has a built-in lace holes which are punched out at the same time.
A more modern method is to use a CNC laser machine to cut the materials.
Among large glove makers, Mizuno uses CNC to cut all their baseball glove materials. Both glove pieces and lace holes are cut with precision.
With all necessary pieces cut, the next step is to apply the company logo, model name, model number, size, and any custom embroidery before assembling the glove.
Step #3 – Stamping and Embroidering
Traditionally, a heat (or hot) stamping machine embosses the company logo, glove model, and size information on the palm section belonging to the outer shell.
Most companies also embroider their company name and logo on the back side of the outsider shell to increase brand awareness. A higher quality gloves will have the logo stitched whereas inexpensive gloves will have printed company names.
Both large (Rawlings, Wilson, Mizuno, etc.) and small companies (Nokona, Shoeless Joe, etc.) allow you to embroider your name on the glove for an additional fee.
Step #4 – Assemble the Webbing
While embossing is taking place, another worker assembles the webbing.
For example, a basket pattern requires two pieces to be weaved by hand before gluing and sewing the edges.
Step #5 – Stitching & Welting
All baseball gloves come in two parts, outer shell and inner lining, designed to provide hand protection and durability. They use two different sewing techniques to build so let’s go over them separately.
There may be some confusion around the words “welting”, “piping”, and “dual welting” so we will go over them in detail as well.
Inner Lining Construction
The inner or interior lining is the part that touches the hand.
A skilled worker stitches the inner palm lining and the finger lining together, then sews the felt finger pads to the lining for extra protection and comfort.
For almost all glove makers, this involve layering two pieces of the leather, and using a sewing machine, sew or stitch them together to form the shape.
Outer Shell Construction
Like the inner lining, outer shell has multiple, individual pieces that must be sewn together.
- A – palm layer
- B – back hand layer (integrated thumb, index finger, part of the middle finger stalls)
- C – second half of the middle finger stall
- D – webbing
- E – ring finger stall
- F – felt / foam padding for fingers and wrists, and plastic insert for pinkie and/or thumb
- G – pinkie finger stall
- H – pinkie finger stall
- I – wrist strap
- J – thumb loop
Split Welting Finger Stalls
Unlike the inner lining, the outer shell is exposed to weather and must be able to withstand repeated abrasions.
In order to build an outer shell that is tough and durable, all seams must be protected. Glove makers accomplish this by sewing together parts for each finger stall inside-out, then attaches it to the palm layer using a technique called “welting”.
Wilson vs All Other Glove Makers
If you are buying a Wilson glove, please note that the finger pockets on an inner lining come with a design called “dual welting”. Duel welting describes stitching two leather strips (welts) along each finger pockets to create a finger tunnel that roughly mimics a trapezoid. Wilson received a US patent for dual welting in 1993.
Although the patent has expired, all other glove makers, including Rawlings, continue to make gloves with a traditional, semi-circular finger pockets.
If your fingers are somewhat thin, you may benefit from “dual welting” as it will fit more snuggly around your fingers. If you have a large hand with sausage fingers, Rawlings (or other gloves) will fit just fine.
Just remember that “dual welting” terminology does not describe how the outer shell is constructed.
Finger Stall Welt Options
Adding two or more welts on each finger pocket will make the glove more stiff and durable but make it harder to break-in.
Thus, most gloves for young children do not have any exterior welts at all.
A novice glove (for seven to nine year old players), you may see welts on the middle and ring finger stalls, but none for the index finger and thumb for easier handling.
More competitive youth players will use gloves with welts on all five fingers for maximum control.
Step #6 – Shaping & Joining
Once complete, a worker turns the outer shell inside-out, then places it on a heated hand mold to shape the fingers.
Afterward, a worker slips the outer shell over the inner lining to form a semi-completed glove.
Step #7 – Lacing the Glove
Lacing a baseball glove involves intense manual work and uses around 95 inches of leather lace.
A skilled craftworker installs the lace with the correct tension and ensures that the attractive side of the leather faces upwards using traditional knots and loops.
Finally, a worker places the completed glove on a heated hand mold to make final adjustments and inserts wooden dowels into the finger pockets to ensure that finger stalls remain open.
Step #8 –Break-in a glove at the factory
New gloves made from high-quality leather are very stiff and require a break-in.
Manufacturers use different methods to remove some of the stiffness, including a mechanical hammer, steamer, and a special leather conditioner.
Even with the factory break-in process, players will need to break in their gloves on their own by:
- catching lots of baseballs
- break-in using a wood hammer
- hire someone else to do it for about $50.
Making a baseball glove is an art that requires a tremendous amount of skills, knowledge, and attention to detail.
From heat stamping to weltering, countless generations of glove makers poured their sweat and soul into developing and improving every part of a baseball glove. From large corporations to a one-person glove shop, each glove is truly a reflection of love born out of tradition.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What is a full grain leather?
- Full grain leather means only the hair has been removed from the skin and uually carries an aniline or glazed finish
- What it mean when a baseball glove is embossed?
- Embossing is a mechanical process where heat and pressure is used to stamp a particular grain effects onto the leather surface
- Do baseball gloves come with a glazed finish?
- Several baseball gloves come with leather on the outer shell that is polished to a high shine by rolling glass or steel rollers under high pressure; less, lightly-buffed leather is referred to as “snuffed” leather
- What is an imitation leather?
- Synthetic materials (rubber of plastic-coated fabrics) made to resemble genuine leather
- What is a patent when describing the leather material?
- Patent is a show leather finished with high luster, baked-enamel sheen; you can find them in men’s dress shoes
- How do baseball gloves come in so many different colors?
- Glove makers use a pigment finish process to apply coloring and coating to leather surface using binders; end product is colorfast (does not fade or run)
- What does it mean “side leather”?
- Prior to processing, a full cattle hide (including right and left sides) are split into two halves or “sides”
- What does it mean “split leather”?
- the bottom layer of side leather that has been peeled off from the top layer; the end product dos not contain natural grain
- From Bare Hands to Gloves – Buying Guide to Selecting the Perfect Glove
- Baseball Gloves: Two Centuries of Innovations
- A Guide to the Best Baseball Glove Brands