Wood vs Leather Steering Wheel: Guide On Which Is Best

Wood vs Leather Steering Wheel

Wood and leather steering wheels have been around for as long as cars have, but what’s the difference between them and Which one is best? Let’s find out.

Wood steering wheels are very smooth and can get very slippery when it’s wet, unlike leather steering wheels which have great grip action on them. On top of that, leather steering wheels are also cheaper as wood steering wheels will involve selecting premium quality exotic wood and handcrafting them into their vintage look. Leather steering wheels compared to wood will come in pretty much any standard vehicle.

To learn more about the differences between the leather steering wheel and the wood steering wheel and which one is best, keep reading this article.

1. Look And Appearance

We all like our car interiors to be spot on in terms of how it looks. So it is important to look at how wood compares to leather steering wheels when it comes to appearance.

Leather steering wheels on the other hand, never lose their natural brown

Wood Steering Wheel:

  • Wood steering wheels are beautiful and have a unique look, which has made them popular over the years. They come in different varieties of wood such as maple, walnut, or mahogany. They also can be stained to give it more color variation.
  • Wood steering wheels usually symbolize a classic and luxurious car. This style is mostly used in old and vintage cars. With the wood steering wheel, the look is simply elegant and makes the interior of your car look rich.
  • Wood steering wheels are made out of different types of wood that is treated to withstand extreme weather conditions, which means they can be used in any season without worrying about them changing color or appearance from being exposed to too much heat/cold.

Leather Steering Wheel:

  • Leather steering wheels in terms of their look are also very elegant and are as popular as a wooden steering wheels.
  • Just like wood steering wheels, leather steering wheels are also symbolized a luxury car, but in addition to its luxurious look, leather is generally also used in cars for its comfort and grip.
  • One of the main issues with the leather steering wheel is that it can be worn down from the friction of your hands on it making them look less expensive than their wooden counterparts.
  • The look of leather steering wheels may also vary depending on how you handle it or take care of it. It will become more tattered with time and usage if you do not treat it well.

The Verdict:

Choosing between the wood and leather steering wheel will come down to individual preferences when it comes to their look.

2. Grip

How much grip action you’re going to have on your steering wheel is the next factor we are considering for this comparison.

Wood Steering Wheel:

  • The wooded steering wheel comes with a good amount of grip. Although the wood steering wheel just by looking at it will have a very smooth surface you will still be able to have a good on it when driving.
  • The challenge arises when the wood steering wheel gets wet either from your sweaty palms or from rain, in which you may slip around. This means that you will constantly readjust your hands to be able to maintain control.
  • This can take a huge toll on how comfortable you are and how much fatigue you feel as you are driving.

Leather Steering Wheel:

  • The leather steering wheel comes with a tight grip because is comes with a fair amount of textures on its surface. Some leather steering wheels are perforated to give the leather steering wheel grip.
  • Due to this, leather steering wheels are not going to be as slippery when wet from the sweat on your palms or any sort of water that has seeped into your car. So in comparison to wood steering wheels, leather far outweighs wood steering wheels in this aspect.
  • As for the feel of it when you are driving, the leather steering wheel is going to be a lot more comfortable and forgiving than wood steering wheels because there aren’t any hard edges to rub against your palms as you grip on tightly to steer.

The Verdict:

Leather wins as far as grip action goes!

Choose whichever one suits your needs! There isn’t really a wrong answer for either choice here but just make sure you’re aware of how different grips will affect them both if choosing between these two types of wheels. It all depends on the type of comfort and features that work best for you!

3. Environmental-Friendliness

How environmentally friendly are wooden steering wheels when compared to leather steering wheels? This is an important factor to consider when you are purchasing a steering wheel and want to make sure it is not causing any harm to the environment.

Wood Steering Wheel:

  • Wood steering wheels are often made with a lot of different types of wood. Each type of wood have their of properties but are generally environmentally-friendly since they are made from sustainable materials.
  • Wood steering wheels also don’t have any toxic chemicals, so if you’re worried about that it’s a good choice! Also, wood is recyclable so you can always save it for another project.
  • I have seen a lot of vintage steering wheels being turned into wall hangings, tables, or other furniture. So you can always keep it as a keepsake and put it in your home.
  • It is important to add that wood steering wheels will be finished with polishes and some amounts of chemicals. Although these processes may involve some amounts of chemicals it’s nothing compared to the amounts that go into leather production and maintenance.

Leather Steering Wheel:

  • Leather after it has been obtained from the meat industry goes through processes called tanning to turn it from raw animal skins into leather. Hold that thought for a second!
  • What makes leather production such an awesome thing for the environment is all that raw animal skin would have had to be disposed of one way or the other. Although animal skins are biodegradable it can take quite some time before they completely decompose.
  • So it’s such an awesome thing that all that raw animal skin that would have otherwise be piled up in some landfill somewhere around the world is processed into leather. The great thing is leather as a material is also very recyclable.
  • Think of the quantities of all the animal skins around the world and its clear our planet would have had massive pollutants.
  • Back to my initial point! But it is not all rosy! The process of turning animal skins into leather is brutal as a lot of wastage especially with how much water is used in the process.
  • Also, the whole process of turning the animal skins into leather also makes use of a lot of chemicals like chromium salts and chemical dyes.

The Verdict:

Wood wins when it comes to how environmentally friendly they are!

Give or take, leather to some extend helps the environment but in the process, the environment suffers some collateral damages which in most cases can not be avoided. But all in all, going for wood steering wheels will be a lot more environmentally friendly when compared to leather.

4. Durability

How durable the wooden steering wheels are, how long they will last, and how much wear they are going to take on with time is also another factor to consider.

Wood Steering Wheel:

  • In terms of overall durability, wood steering wheels are more capable of resisting wear and tear, which is why they have longevity that’s pretty much unmatched by leather and most other materials out there on the market.
  • Wood steering wheels are often made from woods such as walnut, oak, birch, and some exotic ones like mahogany and a few others. The tightness of the grain is going to be a determining factor in how well it will resist wear and tear with time.
  • It’s also important to know that wood steering wheels are often hand-crafted by skilled artisans which means they come with more refined finishing touches because of all the manual labor involved in crafting them.

So these types of steering wheels are simply robust and would not flinch structure-wise but will take up scratches, scuffs, and darkening with time.

Leather Steering Wheel:

  • It can offer nearly comparable durability when used and cared for correctly. Leather is one of the most durable porous materials on the planet and when it is used for steering wheels, it becomes even more durable due to how tightly they are often wrapped.
  • However, this material has to be kept in good condition and maintained with care so that it doesn’t fade or wear out quicker than a wooden steering wheel would. Leather steering wheels just like wood will take up a bit of scratches and scuff here and there and will also become darker with time as it ages.
  • But unlike wood, the surface of leather steering wheels will wear and will be a lot less grippy than when it was new. Meaning leather steering wheels are going to lose how much grip it has with time as you put a lot more miles on your car.

The Verdict:

A win for Wood Steering Wheel!

The verdict comes down on the side of the wood as it has all-around better advantages when compared to its counterpart, leather. It offers greater longevity and durability while still being able to offer comfort and feel like no other material can replicate these days.

5. Maintenance

The maintenance routine you need to keep your steering wheel in good condition for the best performance is also important when comparing leather steering wheels to wood steering wheels.

Wood Steering Wheel:

  • The way wooden steering wheels are finished makes it almost maintenance-free. Wooden steering wheels are usually finished with lacquer application which makes them water-resistant.
  • So as far as your wooden steering goes all you will need to care for and maintain it is by simply wiping it with a clean microfiber cloth to keep it in good condition.
  • Any major cleaning that you will do will involve using some form of mild dish soap solution to wipe the wood steering wheel to remove any gunk or dirt build-up.

Leather Steering Wheel:

  • Leather steering wheel on the other hand needs to be cleaned using leather cleaning products like saddle soap. You can also use mild dish soap to clean the surface of your leather steering wheel.
  • On top of that, you need to condition the leather steering wheel so that it doesn’t dry up and crack. You can do this by purchasing a leather conditioner like Leather Honey Leather Conditioner or any good conditioner you may have around the house.
  • Finally, you will have to apply leather protectors on your leather steering wheels if your conditioner of choice does not offer protection.
  • Getting all of the above-mentioned products can add up quickly and you can end up with quite a bill even if you’re doing it by yourself at home

The Verdict:

Leather steering wheel will generally be a lot more involving when it comes to care and maintenance while the wood will be almost maintenance-free. So the verdict; wood wins.

6. Resistant To Weather Conditions

The steering wheel is one of the most hardwearing parts of the car and it’s not only subject to you constantly massaging and caressing it when you drive but it is also at the mercy of the weather. Below is a comparison of how the leather steering wheel and wood steering wheel hold up against extreme weather conditions.

Wood Steering Wheel:

  • As mentioned before, wooden steering wheels are finished with varnishes and lacquer that makes the wood which is somewhat porous to become hardcore nonporous. And because of this, wooden steering wheels tend to get extremely hot even under normal daylight. You can imagine how hot it can get during the hot summers.
  • Not only do they get super hot but they also get hot pretty quickly. It will almost seem as if the wooden steering wheel has been hit by some scorching fire lasers.
  • So if you live in a particularly hot climate, you might want to consider wearing gloves or installing some form of sunshade so the sun does not directly hit your steering wheel. Or better still it is probably best not to get this steering wheel variant.

Leather Steering Wheel:

  • Leather generally has the quality with allows it to reflect the temperature around it. Meaning if the weather is cold, the surface of your leather steering wheel will feel cold. And during the hot summer days, leather will also feel hot.
  • But when compared to the wooden steering wheel, leather steering wheels are more resistant to weather conditions because of how they are sometimes modified to build its resistance for extreme conditions.
  • For example, some leather steering wheels are perforated to make them more breathable. This allows it to be a lot more comfortable.

The Verdict:

Leather Steering Wheels are more comfortable in extreme weather conditions.

7. Cost

Wooden Steering Wheel:

  • Wooden steering wheels will generally cost higher due to two main reasons. First, the type of wood and secondly the workmanship that goes into its production.
  • Most vintage car manufacturers select the best mahogany or walnut for their steering wheels.
  • The money invested in the wood and the handcrafting that goes into it is a lot more than what’s used on leather steering wheel production.

Leather Steering Wheel:

  • Leather steering wheels usually come in standard cars.
  • Compared to the high-end mahogany or walnut, leather steering wheels are not comparable in terms of how much you can expect to pay for one.

The Verdict:

Leather Steering Wheels have a lower price tag than those high-end wooden ones. The decision here will basically come down to how much you’re willing to spend.

Wood vs Leather Steering Wheel – Summary

Leather Steering Wheel Wooden Steering Wheel
Look And Appearance Leather has a luxurious classic look Wood steering wheels have a vintage look
The Grip Leather steering wheels are a lot grippier due to the natural textures it comes with Wood may feel very smooth and will be very slippery when wet
Environmental-Friendliness There are some chemicals (chemical dyes & tanning agents) involved in the production of leather Wood has very minimal amounts of chemicals that would hurt the environment
Durability Leather is very durable but will lose its grip and become very smooth with time Wood steering wheels will darken and take on some scratches and scuffs
Maintenance Leather needs cleaning, conditioning, and protection to keep it in top condition The wooden steering wheel only needs to be wiped from time to time and it’s essentially maintenance-free
Resistant To Weather Conditions Leather steering wheels will feel cold when its cold and hot during the hot summer seasons Wooden steering wheels can get scorching hot and very quickly unlike leather
Cost Leather steering wheel will come in most standard cars and will usually be cheaper compared to wood High-end wooden steering wheels cost more due to the exotic woods and craftsmanship that goes into each steering wheel

Final Thoughts

There is a lot to like about both the leather steering wheel and the wood steering wheel. With my guide, I hope I have been able to bring a little bit of clarity to this topic.

If you love both the wood and the leather so much and you at this point feel you cannot choose one and leave the other, you can also go for a steering wheel that has a combination of both leather and wood.

If you choose to go this route you want to make sure the parts of the steering wheel where you grab are made of leather and the rest can be made out of wood. This way you will be able to enjoy both worlds.


Hi! I’m Kwabena, the owner and founder of Favored Leather. I’m a huge Leathercraft enthusiast and I’ve been that for almost 13 years now. I'm excited to share my experiences and all the new stuff I learn each day about leather craft, leather cleaning & care, and everything in-between!

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