Guide to Hand Protection, 2005

Take advantage of surveys and sampling programs available from most manufacturers and suppliers.

PROTECTING our quality of life is dependent upon how well we identify potential risks and apply our knowledge of the five basic types of hand protection. Hand injuries consistently rank as the second-most-common workplace injury, according to the National Safety Council's accident report. Of greater significance: U.S. Department of Labor statistics endorse hand injuries as the number one most preventable workplace injury.

Our greater opportunity as safety providers is dependent upon our ability to make the proper recommendations for specific applications. While our industry has thousands of sources for hand protection with an even greater variety of product offerings, all can easily be organized into five types of hand protection.

Think of your hand's five appendages as your easy reminder of the five major categories for all hand protection. From a historical point of reference, leather hand protection was our industry's first offering. As textile industries evolved, cotton styles were second. With cotton styles available for dipping, supported hand protection was third. The unsupported category, gloves manufactured generally by dipping a ceramic mold directly into a liquid polymer, is our fourth type. Technological advances in our knitting equipment, as well as engineering advances in yarn spinning and fiber contents, have resulted in string knits being our industry's fastest-growing and fifth type of hand protection. Let's examine the variety of offerings available in each style and identify the strengths and weaknesses of each.

The most common leathers within our industry are cowhide and pigskin. Additional offerings include goat, deer, and elk. Most of these hides are split horizontally into two or more usable layers. The external side with the animal hair is what becomes the top grain split. Grain leather is most commonly consumed by the garment, furniture, and auto industries.

The bottom split or internal side of the hide is generally classified into side, shoulder, or belly split. Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of these different splits is the density of fibers from each area. Side leather, which has experienced the least movement from the animal, has the greatest density and is therefore the strongest and most durable. Likewise, belly split has the least density and is used for the most economical styles.

The most common construction for leather styles is a gunn pattern. Features include full leather thumb and forefinger, leather fingertips, knuckle strap, continuous pull, and a safety cuff. For greatest economy, clute patterns provide leather on the palm and seamed canvas on the back.

Driver styles are constructed similar to gunn patterns, except with a full leather back. Driver styles are constructed with grain or split leather and are available unlined or lined with an assortment of materials. Some of the newest driver patterns are manufactured with synthetic leather, waterproof materials, or high-performance fabrics. These styles are marketed as multi-purpose or multi-task gloves targeted to general industry and, especially, to mechanics.

Welding gloves are available in traditional 13-inch all-leather gunn patterns, assorted linings for additional heat protection, and welted at heavy wear seam areas for abrasion, spark, and flame protection. Mig/Tig welders are available in multiple leather types and in gunn or clute patterns. Generally, these are unlined and available with 2-inch to 4.5-inch leather cuffs.

Foundry and high-heat gloves with assorted and sometimes multi-layered linings are also available in clute and gunn patterns.

Mother Nature's natural fiber affords comfort, breathability, and modest hand protection and is our second style. Woven cotton, blended fabrics, nylon, and jersey materials are all represented in this category for hand as well as product protection. While clute patterns are the most common, two-piece reversible patterns are also available. Brown jersey and cotton knit wrist styles are two of the most traditional styles of the category. Both are available with different weights of fabric and with dots or coatings applied to the fabric. The weight of fabric per square yard is a significant criterion when comparing jersey and canvas offerings.

For product protection more so than hand protection, inspector gloves are available in cotton, blended composition, and nylon fabrics. Most inspectors are a two-piece reversible pattern, while some are available with fourchettes and inset thumbs for better fit.

General-purpose applications that require additional protection should consider using multi-layered styles such as chores, double palms, and hot mill styles. These are styles utilizing heavier weights of fabrics that have been quilted or laminated together to create more protection and longer wear.

Terrycloth gloves are available in cut-n-sewn or in a seamless knit construction. Original terrycloth offerings were cut-n-sewn styles that offered greater heat and wear protection because of the additional material at all seams. Seamless, continuous knit terrycloth offers a lower price option from reduced labor costs.

Polymer coatings on fabric liners evolved to provide protection from solvents and chemicals while also extending wear ratios and providing better grip for certain applications when compared to leather or cotton offerings. The most common polymers used for coating and dipping shells include PVC, vinyl, nitrile, neoprene, and latex.

In addition to coating a shell, some supported styles are constructed by coating whole bolts of fabric with a polymer and then cutting the coated fabric and sewing the cut parts together to create a glove. Jersey, interlock, and cotton canvas are the more traditional linings, or shells, used for dipping. Seamless knit shells of high performance and/or more functional materials such as nylon, Dyneema®, Kevlar®, or other engineered yarns are providing greater protection and are exhibiting rapid growth in popularity.

Recapping some of the most distinguishing characteristics of each polymer:

  • PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride): Economical; liquid and chemical resistant.
  • Vinyl (dipped, impregnated, or laminated): All provide low-cost, general-purpose protection (splash protection only). Cut and sewn impregnated and laminated styles are not liquid proof. Some dipped vinyl styles do offer liquid protection.
  • Latex (natural rubber): Puncture, cut, and abrasion resistance and good elasticity; especially good for glass handling.
  • Neoprene (Polychloroprene, CR): Oil resistant; flexible at low temperature.
  • Nitrile (Acrylonitrile--Butadiene Rubber): Resists snags, cut, and abrasion. Some compositions provide excellent grip for water and light oil applications.

Fully coated styles offer liquid protection, while palm coated styles offer more breathability. Cuffing options range from knit wrist and safety cuff to an assortment of gauntlet lengths up to shoulder length, with 12-inch being the most common. Polymer coating can enhance the sense of touch and dexterity. Thicker coatings provide additional protection and longer wear. A range of quality options is available with all of these polymers. By combining polymers through layering or increasing thickness through multiple dipping, premium styles are created to address more specific applications such as cold temperatures or extreme chemicals, or to provide extra abrasion resistance. A multitude of grips for supported styles provide enhanced performance. Textured finishes for this style include smooth, etched, sandy, granular, rough, and textured.

The gloves are manufactured by dipping ceramic molds into mostly the same polymers common to supported styles of hand protection: vinyl, latex, nitrile, neoprene, and butyl, plus some blended combinations. Unsupported styles also include thin mil, flat film, and reversible patterns of polyethylene, primarily for the food service industry, and specialty blends of flexible laminates that offer one glove with resistance to more than 280 different chemicals. Unsupported styles offer the greatest dexterity and sense of touch, plus they provide liquid and chemical protection. Donning and doffing is facilitated by chlorinating, polymer coating, flocking, or adding powder.

The mil thickness is a primary consideration of unsupported styles. Glove lengths vary from 9-inch (wrist area) to 18-inch (elbow area) and can range from less than 1 mil to 50 mil thicknesses. Characteristics for unsupported styles are consistent with unsupported styles and in some cases offer some additional benefits and features. For example:

  • Vinyl: Economical disposable offerings for food service, housekeeping, and janitorial.
  • Latex: Excellent dexterity and especially good resistance with water-based solutions.
  • Nitrile: Latex free, with greater tear and puncture resistance than rubber or vinyl. Additionally, nitrile resists a broader range of chemicals.
  • Butyl: Excellent chemical impermeability for a broad assortment of general resistance.
  • Neoprene: Resistant to a broad range of chemical applications and recommended for hazardous material, first response, and homeland security.
  • Polyethylene (PE): Offer the greatest economy for food service, small part handling, and applications requiring minimal hand protection.
  • Flat Film: Resists permeation and breakthrough to the widest range of toxic chemicals.
  • Viton: Specifically for handling chlorinated and aromatic solvents.

Assorted grips or finishes vary by polymer and manufacturers. Some of the most common include smooth, textured, sandy, and diamond. These different grips provide better performance in certain applications.

String Knit
Automated manufacturing using programmable continuous knit machines provides a range from low-cost, general-purpose to high-performance, cut-resistant hand protection. This style has continuously shown the greatest area of growth as advancements in yarns and manufacturing equipment create more cost-effective and safer solutions. Dividing this style into the three categories of general-purpose, general cut/slash protection, and high-performance cut protection helps organize the offerings. Yarns and materials used for these categories include:

1) General purpose: Cotton, polyester, acrylic, and nylon yarn either knitted separately or blended. Thermastat™, a hollow-core, rapid moisture wicking fiber, is an excellent liner for thermal protection.

2) General cut/slash protection: Kevlar®, Twaron®, and blends of these materials with other yarns such as cotton or polyester.

3) High-performance cut protection:

  • Stainless steel wrapped with polyester, fiberglass, Kevlar®, or other synthetic yarns is one of the more traditional materials.
  • Spectra®, a wire-free composite yarn, offers very comparable cut protection, greater comfort, and better dexterity than stainless steel engineered yarns.
  • Dyneema® is an ultra high-density polyethylene fiber spun to create a thin, flexible, cut-resistant, and highly abrasion-resistant product.
  • Kevlar® Armor Technology is stainless steel wrapped with Kevlar and/or Lycra to offer excellent cut protection, better fit, and grip than most engineered yarns.

Manufacturing of string knits varies with the knitting machine's gauge capabilities. Most common are seven, ten, and thirteen gauge knitted shells. The higher the gauge, the finer the knit and better the fit. After shells are knitted, they can be dotted, blocked, crisscross coated, palm coated, or dipped. Flat dip technology, which incorporates the natural ergonomic hand contour, provides maximum fit and breathability. Leather is also being added to some shells for the extra abrasion and gripping properties. New technologies such as air-infused, foam, and tacky polymer finishes for more specific applications continue to fuel sales growth for this style.

Seamless knit terrycloth gloves for general purpose and heat-resistant applications also can be grouped as string knit styles.

Protecting quality of life is dependent on how well we organize the thousands of offerings into these five types of hand protection and make the most appropriate recommendation. Take advantage of hand protection surveys and sampling programs available from most manufacturers and suppliers. Consider this general guide to help identify strengths and weaknesses for each of our five types of hand protection.

This article appears in the June 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.



1. Leather

Abrasion resistance

Limited cut protection


Absorbs shock

Excellent tear resistance

Good puncture protection

2. Cotton


Minimum protection


3. Supported

a) Dipped

Contoured fit

Hands perspire with fully coated styles

Chemical and solvent protection (fully dipped)

Heavier styles have limited dexterity

b) Cut-n-sewn

Excellent wear ratio to cottons

Limited liquid protection

Better fit than the heavier dipped styles

4. Unsupported

Greater dexterity plus chemical protection

Minimum cut or abrasion protection

5. String knits

a) Basic styles

Low cost, general purpose

No liquid protection

b) Kevlar®, Twaron®

Medium cut resistance

Decomposes w/bleach

c) High performance (stainless steel,
Spectra, Dyneema)

Cut resistance

Very limited thermal properties

SOURCE: MCR Safety. This is a general guide only. No guarantees are either implied or stated.

This article originally appeared in the June 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Larry Garner currently serves as Chief Marketing Officer for MCR Safety. He is a graduate of The University of Memphis with a BBA degree in Marketing with an emphasis on Sales. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for the International Glove Association and the NSC Exhibitor Advisory Board. He earned Qualified Safety Sales Professional (QSSP) certification, which is sponsored by ISEA, and is a 2005 IGA (International Glove Association) Hall of Fame Honoree. Contact him at [email protected] MCR Safety has more than 40 years of experience as a leader in the field of personal protective equipment. Its assortment of offerings includes gloves, glasses, and garments that are made from the highest-quality materials available to ensure maximum safety, comfort, and style. Take advantage of the 360° PPE Protection Analysis Program and the Buy & Try program to expedite product evaluations.

Download Center

  • Hand Safety Program

    Hand injuries are the #1 preventable industrial accident worldwide. In REThinking Hand Safety, the most comprehensive book on hand safety, you'll learn how top companies have reduced hand injuries by up to 90% and what the most successful hand safety programs have in common. Get your free copy today!

  • Free 1-on-1 Consultations

    Is your company ready to reduce hand injuries? Schedule a free meeting with a Superior Glove hand safety expert and learn how to reduce hand injuries, lower PPE costs, and increase worker productivity. Our 1-on-1 consultations offer personalized advice and recommendations for your specific needs and concerns.

  • Glove 101 Guide

    Choosing the right safety gloves for your workers can be a daunting task. That’s where some basic knowledge of gloves can really come in handy! In this comprehensive guide you’ll find key information you need to know about safety gloves from types of gloves and materials to additives, treatments, safety standards, and more.

  • Sample Program

    Find the right safety gloves for your team and try before you buy—in just 3 easy steps! Simply add the products you want to try to your sample box, complete the sample request form, and wait for your samples to arrive at no cost to you.

  • Water Protection Product Guide

    Find the right safety gloves for your workers that are designed to protect in wet environments. From light and flexible to heavy duty, find the best water-resistant gloves with mechanical protection to safeguard workers.

  • Superior Glove