How to make your own leather condioner and use it

cremedemonthe

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People have been asking me how I make my own leather conditioner as well as how to look after leather so I have come up with this info.
If the powers that be want to make this a sticky thread to help others then that's fine by me.I hope it helps, Oz :)

Firstly a bit about oiling and veg tanned leather.AVOID USING JUST OIL OF ANY KIND (if you were to look at the fibres/cells of the hide under a microscope after oiling it you'd see a soggy yucky mess which makes the leather stretch quickly and weakens the cells.
All veg tanned leather will lose moisture whether it's used or not, best thing to condition leather to make it last is any product without any silicone or preservatives and includes, tallow, bees wax and lanolin or all 3 if possible.
I make my own leather conditioner simply because I use so much veg tan in my trade, I have hides that I have hand dressed that are at least 25 years old when I first trained and are as good as new.
Avoid leatherwork adverts saying quality this that and the other, the majority of people wouldn't know quality leather or leatherwork if it jumped up and bit them!

Home made leather conditioner (traditional) recipe:

My own recipe is a secret one I have perfected over many years but what I will give you a basic one, get hold of any beef fat (I make my own tallow but you can use beef dripping), beeswax and some lard (pig fat, again I make my own), do roughly a 50% beef fat, 25 % beeswax and 25% lard, melt it down and mix it thoroughly.
Let it set, when you use it if it has melted because the weather is warm, shove it in the fridge for 10-20 mins to get the right consistency.
When conditioning the leather, wipe it with a warm wet cloth (just warm water) and whilst still wet/damp get some conditioner on your fingers, the heat from your hand and your fingers are by far the best way to apply any conditioner, it's a mucky job but forget sponges, cloths or brushes at this stage!
By putting the water on first it acts as a medium that aids the penetration of the fats right into the fibres of the hide.
The flesh side of the hide is far more porous than the grain side,try to imagine a funnel shape to the fibre with the wide open mouth end as the flesh side (flesh side is the underside where the flesh used to be) so allow a little more conditioner that side, you don't need alot anyway as it goes a long way.
Rub it all over and massage it into the hide, then leave it to dry naturally in a dry room and not in any sunlight or near artifcial heat,it can take 3 days or more to dry out and be asorbed into the hide, depends how much you use!
When it's dry, then get a lint free cloth, I use old bath towels cut up, the bobbly bits of the towelling act like a polishing stone and this is where it gets hard work, you need alot of elbow grease.
It's basically good old fashioned saddlers grease which most saddlers, leatherworkers and cobblers would have made years ago and none of the commercially made rubbish you get today.
The idea is to rub the hide fast and fairly hard, not too hard to scratch it, the friction heats up any fats you have left on the hide (the white stuff) and gets it further into the fibres to add to the already asorbed conditioner that you put on it a few days before.
Lastly, this where it looks like I am contradicting myself about saying not to use oil on hides but I do, I use cod liver oil (NEVER neatsfoot which quite frankly is rubbish)and wring a cotton cloth out in the cod liver oil so almost dry and put a very LIGHT film on both sides of the hide,wipe off any surplus and give it another gentle polish to buff it up with a bit of clean, dry bath towel, you are merely giving it a final dressing with the cod liver oil NOT conditioning or feeding it, it also gives the hide back it's leathery smell, a good trick of the trade to know if you sell second hand saddlery or leather, people love the smell of leather!
When completed you should have hide that is fairly stuffed full of fat and wax which is what it was designed for and it will have a nice bloom/shine to it, it should feel slightly moist/clammy but not sticky, if it is sticky you need to rub it more, it should feel heavier too.The conditioning will act as a rain barrier to keep the wet out.
Sorry for long post but I think it's worth mentioning all this.
Happy polishing!
 
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cremedemonthe

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Another point is all you are trying to do is replace the fat that was once naturally in the hide when it was living, you don't need all these polishes and silicones that are artificially added to some of the commercial products, the polishes seal the fibres too much and don't allow the hide to breathe or asorb any further conditioner.
The true craft of the currier is old fashioned fats and waxes as well as hard work to do it thoroughly!
When I get any saddlery it that needs tlc as it's filthy dirty, covered in horse grease and rock hard I get a bucket of fairly warm water with fairy liquid in and scrub the leather with a soft brush or sponge, the soap gets all the grease off and dirt, then chuck it in clean warm water to rinse, hang it up until it's still damp but not soaking wet then apply the leather conditioner and follow above instructions.
I never use saddle soap, fairy liquid is better, just remember, you have removed alot of grease from the leather by cleaning it that way so you HAVE to replace it afterwards with conditioner, if you don't it will go even harder and crack, Oz
 

Rowreach

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This is bringing back many memories Oz!! We do get lazy over the years, the things we don't do any more because there are modern, easier (and frequently not as good) alternatives.

I'm allergic to lanolin (and latex gloves) so sadly I have to force the children to do the leather dressing, as for me lanolin is a must for it :)
 

cremedemonthe

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This is bringing back many memories Oz!! We do get lazy over the years, the things we don't do any more because there are modern, easier (and frequently not as good) alternatives.

I'm allergic to lanolin (and latex gloves) so sadly I have to force the children to do the leather dressing, as for me lanolin is a must for it :)
Sadly quite a few people are allergic to it.
I've just made a new batch of my own "secret" recipe conditioner, was pouring it into the tubs when the soup ladle I nicked out of the kitchen draw to use to pour it got caught on the top cupboard jarring my hand, result?
Leather conditioner all over the kitchen top, all over the tubs I was trying to pour it into, even Mum's egg timer got covered!
So, becareful when pouring it if you make some, it's very hot too!
Oz :)
 
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Hello,
I am not a horse rider, or leather worker. Well... actually I am using leather for the first time now. I am prepping supplies and making tools for the timber frame cabin I am going to build. The tools are of varying condition from new and handmade to antique and hand forged. I am creating leather sheaths and blade protectors for them. I am also creating a thick leather journal to keep track of my drawings, and notes. I have made my wood and steel protective coatings. Beeswax, linseed oil and turpentine/ however I don't want to use it for leather. I was going to use your recipe. But where does the lanolin come into play?
Your post is the only reference I can find that makes any sense. Most of the craft sites say to use olive oil and vinegar as a cleaner, and similar to my steel coating for conditioner. It seems wrong.
Can I use beeswax, tallow and lanolin? Or did I misunderstand your post? What ratios; 2:1:1 ? Thanks for revisiting this topic.
 

JillA

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Good information, thank you. One small point - as there is so much animal fat in it will it need keeping in the fridge etc in summer to prevent it going rancid and smelling? Or doesn't yours last that long??
 

cremedemonthe

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What I was referring to regarding the lanolin is if you buy any commercially made product try to get one that has beeswax, lanolin and tallow in it.
The recipe I gave you is just a basic recipe to get your leather nourished, you can add lanolin if you wish and experiment with other ingredients exactly as I did years ago.
With my own recipe I use 5 different ingredients.
If you use just beeswax, lanolin and tallow and nothing else, use this ratio:
BEESWAX 20%
LANOLIN 35%
TALLOW 45%
Lastly, I would not use oil and vinegar to clean veg tanned leather.
Craft sites are not always good for currier advice, most tend to be American, they have different views than we do here.
Oz
Hello,
I am not a horse rider, or leather worker. Well... actually I am using leather for the first time now. I am prepping supplies and making tools for the timber frame cabin I am going to build. The tools are of varying condition from new and handmade to antique and hand forged. I am creating leather sheaths and blade protectors for them. I am also creating a thick leather journal to keep track of my drawings, and notes. I have made my wood and steel protective coatings. Beeswax, linseed oil and turpentine/ however I don't want to use it for leather. I was going to use your recipe. But where does the lanolin come into play?
Your post is the only reference I can find that makes any sense. Most of the craft sites say to use olive oil and vinegar as a cleaner, and similar to my steel coating for conditioner. It seems wrong.
Can I use beeswax, tallow and lanolin? Or did I misunderstand your post? What ratios; 2:1:1 ? Thanks for revisiting this topic.
 
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hi, i'm using a waterproofing and conditioning paste i made with turpentine, beeswax, line seed oil and a little lard.
I've heard that lard could go rancid inside the leather and eventually shorten it's life, so i tried to avoid putting too much animal fat in it, am I right?
I see that you don't name turpentine at all but i found it in many old recipes (one of them in a book printed in 1880), is it bad for leather?
thank you
 

cremedemonthe

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Turpentine is an old ingredient that was favoured way back when for quite a few things but it's not something I have tried or would use as I'm happy with my recipes and have found they work.
Lard shouldn't go rancid as it's heated to fairly high temperatures to refine it and even if it did, leather loses moisture every day whether it's used or not so the lard wouldn't stay in there more than a few months, especially in hot weather.
Best way is to experiment and see what works for you, my methods are not set in stone but I do know they work, you may find other ingredients that work as well.
Oz
hi, i'm using a waterproofing and conditioning paste i made with turpentine, beeswax, line seed oil and a little lard.
I've heard that lard could go rancid inside the leather and eventually shorten it's life, so i tried to avoid putting too much animal fat in it, am I right?
I see that you don't name turpentine at all but i found it in many old recipes (one of them in a book printed in 1880), is it bad for leather?
thank you
 
Joined
28 November 2013
Messages
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Thanks for the advice.

Hello,
I am not a horse rider, or leather worker. Well... actually I am using leather for the first time now. I am prepping supplies and making tools for the timber frame cabin I am going to build. The tools are of varying condition from new and handmade to antique and hand forged. I am creating leather sheaths and blade protectors for them. I am also creating a thick leather journal to keep track of my drawings, and notes. I have made my wood and steel protective coatings. Beeswax, linseed oil and turpentine/ however I don't want to use it for leather. I was going to use your recipe. But where does the lanolin come into play?
Your post is the only reference I can find that makes any sense. Most of the craft sites say to use olive oil and vinegar as a cleaner, and similar to my steel coating for conditioner. It seems wrong.
Can I use beeswax, tallow and lanolin? Or did I misunderstand your post? What ratios; 2:1:1 ? Thanks for revisiting this topic.
 
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Thanks for that. Very interesting. Seems to be much of a muchness. Could signify, may not. Like if you've got pure neatsfoot it'd be okay. All depends who you are and what you're doing with what gear.

For my purposes doesn't much matter. Good for me to know what it's all about. Thank you.

I've got a query: why does Lard never get a mention? It was once much used I do believe, in all kinds of applications. I've frequently got quantities of it from our kitchen because we eat a fair bit of pig. If I could use it on my leathers it'd be handy.

And while I'm at it I wonder about sheep or lamb, mutton, fat? It never gets a mention anywhere for anything. Why? It doesn't even have a name of its own, I think, does it? There's tallow for beef and lard for pig, but what for sheep fat?
 

cremedemonthe

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Thanks for that. Very interesting. Seems to be much of a muchness. Could signify, may not. Like if you've got pure neatsfoot it'd be okay. All depends who you are and what you're doing with what gear.

For my purposes doesn't much matter. Good for me to know what it's all about. Thank you.

I've got a query: why does Lard never get a mention? It was once much used I do believe, in all kinds of applications. I've frequently got quantities of it from our kitchen because we eat a fair bit of pig. If I could use it on my leathers it'd be handy.

And while I'm at it I wonder about sheep or lamb, mutton, fat? It never gets a mention anywhere for anything. Why? It doesn't even have a name of its own, I think, does it? There's tallow for beef and lard for pig, but what for sheep fat?
Lots of animal (mammal) fats can be used, the grease from wool, lanolin, tends to be used over sheep or pig fats.
Fats are very under rated and seem to be making a comeback.
 
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Yes, on looking further I saw that you mention lard to the extent of suggesting using it for 25% of the mix. I tried to edit my post but I'd left it too long and it wouldn't let me.

I guess I ought to experiment. There seem to be no particular dangers, nothing to worry about, be avoided. Follow my instinct. I'd like to use lard and neatsfoot and lanolin and beeswax to solidify it a bit.

I'll try.
 
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Well it is difficult to know what to do. See here where another 'authority' counsels against tallow:

http://www.davidmorgan.com/leathercare.html

I currently have an old saddle, bridle, etc., that I've been trying to rescue with neatsfoot oil. It is so soaked in it now I might as well not worry any more. It can't get worse and, I suppose, it can't now get better, either. what will get neatsfoot out?

Hopefully it is a matter of degree. There's no mention of actual levels of saturation or depths of penetration or lengths of time for deterioration of this or that.

I've found no scientific studies. Just anecdotal opinion and advice.

So perhaps where exactly the right stuff might be mandatory for a museum curator or a keeper of fine expensive saddles (and what's right when neatsfoot and tallow are both out?) perhaps for man playing with old junk gear and using it for merely a couple of years - maybe five at most - needn't be so concerned?
 

cremedemonthe

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I read that article a while ago.
It's an American site, their views on leather tend to be different from ours.
On one site out there I found someone advising to throw their harness in a barrel of oil, leave it 48 hours then bury it in the sand in the back yard for 3 weeks and "your harness will be lovely and soft"
So, do take these things with a pinch of salt.
Firstly, the source of the beef fat or tallow needs to be taken into consideration, the breed of cattle, environment and feed. English cattle supplying the fats I use are very different from cattle in the USA.
There are too many variants to be sound advice.
Tallow is made from suet which is fat from round the cow's Kidneys yet in his article he says "The majority of leather dressings are based on tallow or neatsfoot oil. Tallow, even kidney fat, contains salts which build up with repeated dressing and attack the leather fibres. " which suggests to me that he doesn't really know what Tallow is.
ALL of the tallow and beef dripping I have ever made and used has never gone rancid, even when kept out in the heat of Summer.
I have never had any customers return leather conditioner to me complaining it has gone rancid or hasn't worked on their leather.
I have been making it since 1988.
The fact that their Pecard leather dressing contains a petroleum base ought to ring alarm bells, beef fat in most forms will be far more preferable and near to the natural fats that were once found in the hide when it was still on the cow.

He states no where on his webpage where he was trained and to what degree of experience he has, or if he has I couldn't find it.

I provide no scientific studies as like most Saddlers we are too busy working to do that and find no need to prove what we already know.
I provide nearly 30 years experience in the Saddlery trade and was trained to very high standards within the main Saddlery college in the UK, they teach us these things in material sciences when we learn about leather in depth, if you choose not to follow my advice or believe it that is up to you. I merely put up articles on here to help people make their own leather conditioner, there are plenty here who have tried it.
It makes no difference to me whether you try it or not, good luck with your neatsfoot oil, Oz
 
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Hello Creamdemonthe, aka Oz,

Are your recipe percentages by weight or by volume?
Fortunately I have local grassfed beef tallow available, harder to find top quality local lard, but I do at least have heritage breed non-CAFO lard available.

I was sorry to read on Unicorn Leather of the dwindling demand for saddlery. I hope you are well and happy in your new career.

KMuriel
Hayden, Idaho, USA
 

cremedemonthe

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Hello Creamdemonthe, aka Oz,

Are your recipe percentages by weight or by volume?
Fortunately I have local grassfed beef tallow available, harder to find top quality local lard, but I do at least have heritage breed non-CAFO lard available.

I was sorry to read on Unicorn Leather of the dwindling demand for saddlery. I hope you are well and happy in your new career.

KMuriel
Hayden, Idaho, USA
Percentage wise, I was going on weight, Oz
 
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Hi again, Oz!

Thank you for your leather care tips! My boots look and feel happy and supple again.

I have been searching for traditional methods of conditioning fur. I don't know how different caring for leather is compared to caring for furs. Can you help out? I know that one has to condition from the back, non-fur, side. I suspect that this is another area that plant oils are not the best. I have a fur jacket that I picked up quite cheaply from a thrift store ($15!) so don't mind experimenting a bit. Do you have any resources or can you point me to any resources that detail how to keep furs conditioned (not drying out, and not losing individual hairs)?

Again, thank you so much!
Happy New Year!!
Kaitlin
 
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