The Story Of Leather - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 8 Old 06-23-2009, 05:25 AM Thread Starter
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The Story Of Leather

Many threads either ask about how to maintain your saddle / leather or mention the use of OIL

To clarify things as to what to use and why , I have written the following.

The Story Of Leather

Leather is made from the skin of a cow, the Aberdeen Angus or Highland cow is best ( probably because they are thick skinned because of the weather in Scotland ) . The skin goes through two processes to become Leather - the Tannery and the Curriers

The Tannery is responsible for turning the skin into Leather - the curriers colours and finishes the Leather .

The tannery process is as follows ( simplified )
1.The skin is soaked in a lime solution - this loosens the hairs
2.The skin is scraped - this removes the hair and unwanted flesh, the leather is also graded
3.The skin is submerged in a vegetable tan solution ( oak bark is best )
the skin absorbes the tannic acid - this is the part that turns the skin into leather. The longer the skin is in the solution the better the leather.

The leather at this point is colourless and has had all natural nutrients removed and is passed onto the Curriers

The Curriers are responsible for colouring and replenishing the nutrients of the leather.
1.The leather is coloured - curriers mostly spray today but in times past the hides would have been dipped
2.The nutrients are replenished. The tannery process removes most of the nutrients from the hides and these have to be replaced otherwise the leather would be brittle and dry. The curriers use what is called curriers grease, this is mostly tallow ( rendered beef fat ) with a bit of oil mixed in to make it easier to apply

The finished product looks like this
Making a bridle (1).JPG

At no point during the manufacturing process is neat oil used - if they don't use it in manuracturing then don't use it for maintenance.
One rule - if it is a liquid - then don't use it

Just remember that Leather is the skin of a cow - what we need to do to maintain good condition is to use a product that is as close to what the cow would have ( cow fat ). There are lots of products on the market you can use, most leather dressings are good ( but only if they are a grease )
If you want to make your own ( a bit smelly to make) but as follows
Take 3 LBS Tallow and heat it up ( don't boil it ) add 1 LBS neatsfoot oil and mix it together.
When you use any dressing warm it up ( this will make it easier to apply, you should also put it on with your bare hands, if there is a bit of grit you will feel it, if you use a sponge then you will scratch you leather to pieces, the heat from your hands will also help
Leather has two sides - the Grain ( shiny ) side and the flesh side
apply a little to the grain side but most to the flesh side ( the grain side is sealed and will absorb little but still needs to be done to stop cracking )

Sorry for the book but anytime someone mentions OIL I reach for my baseball bat. Most companies that make oil products DO NOT MAKE LEATHER and are just trying to sell you their stuff, so don't believe all you read on the can

Do what I do - use what the manufacturers of the leather use, I have 17 years experience in making bridlework and I expect my bridles ( if looked after correctly ) to last at least 20 years ( I have a leather girth in my workshop that was made in 1915 and is still good ) .

Last edited by Nutty Saddler; 06-23-2009 at 05:34 AM.
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post #2 of 8 Old 06-23-2009, 11:42 AM
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So, I was always taught to use Mink oil. Although it's not from cows, it seems like that would satisfy your is not liquid, it is a natural product and it really helps protect the leather from rain (important here in Florida.) Is there any reason that something like Mink oil wouldn't be a suitable substitute for brewing my own?
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post #3 of 8 Old 06-23-2009, 12:24 PM Thread Starter
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Quick answer - cows don't produce mink oil - cows dont produce oil at all.

The subcutaneous layer of skin in a cow contains fat , not oil.

As for making your own - yes mink oil would be a suitable substitute for neatsfoot as it is a natural product, use in the same proportions as neatsfoot 1/4 oil to 3/4 tallow. Cod liver oil would also be OK.

The leather should be cleaned after every time it's used - glycerine saddle soap and a damp sponge are good. The tallow/oil mix needs to be used about once a month depending on how much you use your tack and on the weather.
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post #4 of 8 Old 06-23-2009, 03:06 PM
Green Broke
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Mink oil isn't oil though, it's a pasty-waxy stuff. It comes in a jar and really should be named mink paste, lol.
Mink oil - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Mermac Mink Oil: Leather Care Products, Shoe Care and Waterproofing, Horse Tack Care

What about products that contain beeswax? I like Passier Lederbalsm, which is a yellow waxy/jelly type stuff. I don't use it often though as leather becomes moldy VERY quickly here in Arkansas. I only use 2-3 times a year at most.
The Cheshire Horse - Keene, NH and Saratoga Springs, NY

What commercially made products would you recommend then? What about places like here, where humidity is a constant concern, summer and winter, and leather will begin to mold within 12 hours and be covered in mold in just days if I use something that conditions the leather too much...

Some good selections:
Dressage Extensions Products
The Cheshire Horse - Keene, NH and Saratoga Springs, NY
Conditioners - Dover Saddlery.
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post #5 of 8 Old 06-23-2009, 06:10 PM Thread Starter
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Firstly, only a stupid person has an opinion about something they have no knowledge of, so I will only talk about what I do know.

I had a look at the products, the only one that is a leather dressing is the Carr Day and Martin - Ko-Cho-Line - . I know this is available most places and is also a product that I reccommend to my clients if they ask me. The other products that i know are the Jefferies and Stubben dressings.

The others listed are called ' conditioners or balsams ' . Having never used them I cannot really comment, but provided they are a grease and not an oil I wouldn't normally have a problem with them. I have no knowledge of the mink oil & wax as it is not something I have seen.

I use Ko-cho-line, but mostly I get curriers grease from my leather manufacturers and have done so for 17 years so my knowledge of other products is limited

One thing to say about Ko-Cho-Line is that you need to apply it and really work it in at least 2 days before use or it will turn your clothes pink.
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post #6 of 8 Old 06-25-2009, 05:01 PM
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Yes, the mink oil is mainly fat, not actually "oil." Don't know why it got that name. Anyway, it's often sold at shoe stores that sell nicer, leather shoes. Because it is a solid, it is much easier to control how much of it you use than oil. It makes the leather really soft and supple without making it slick or greasy. It also helps to seal the leather and protect it from water and mold.

Only thing annoying about it is that you need a dedicated sponge, because once you use one to apply it, no amount of soap and water will get it out of the sponge. I've always applied with a sponge after cleaning, then wipe with a soft cloth to remove any excess.

Also, from experience using it on an old saddle that had sat unused for years, I can tell you that if you use it on older leather that is dry and stiff, it can literally bring it back to life.
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post #7 of 8 Old 09-21-2009, 01:20 AM Thread Starter
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Thought I'd bump this to refresh people into how to look after their leather and why
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post #8 of 8 Old 09-21-2009, 09:24 AM
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Thank you for the information.

The outside of a horse is good for the inside of man.........unknown
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