Dubbin

The Ultimate Leather Finish / Dressing Any Leathercrafter can Use!

I have successfully made my own Dubbin: I rendered sheep fat for the tallow (beautiful white stuff – also good for cooking and preparing cast iron cookware), and then I added Beeswax and cod liver oil (or Neatsfoot oil), lanolin and glyserin. The result is all I expected and I do not feel anxious any more about having to import my Dubbin from South Africa!

Etherington & Roberts says it is made of tallow and cod oil.
Thelma Newman, in her book “Leather as Art and Craft” describes DUBBIN as a mixture of Tallow and Codliver Oil.

Why I Like DUBBIN so Much!

  1. DUBBIN feeds and protects the leather from the inside and replaces all the oils taken out of the leather during the tanning process.
  2. DUBBIN brings out a deep glowing color in leather. In un-dyed leather it will cause the leather to turn a golden honey color when exposed to light.
  3. DUBBIN is very good for your hands – especially in winter. I always apply it by hand – it allows me to regulate exactly how much I put on.
  4. DUBBIN never acentuates stains on leather – it rather tends to clean up any water or light stains.
  5. DUBBIN Can be used over any non-sealing finish, such as spirit dyes and water based dyes as well as water based inks.
  6. DUBBIN allows leather to become supple without loosing its shape – it helps the leather to stay “alive” and always as beautiful as new.

Answers to DUBBIN critics

It is sometimes said that DUBBIN rots stitching on leather articles. When applying DUBBIN you must simply make sure that you do not leave chunks of Dubbin in folds or seams of the leather – this will collect dust, trapped by the thick DUBBIN and the dust will then rot the stitching. I always polish a project that I have just applied DUBBIN to, with a soft brush – there seems to be some beeswax in DUBBIN that will cause the leather to have a natural shine when treated like this.

I posed the following question to the Leather Chemists of America:

I make my own Dubbin as a leather dressing – mainly for veg tan.
I am curious as to the ingredients I use and how meaningfull they are (are they all necessary?)
Beeswax
Sheep Tallow
Cod Liver Oil
Glyserin
Lanolin
I see on the ALCA dictionary that there is also mention of aluminum stearate in dubbin – what is its purpose and where can the-man-on-the-street buy this?

This was the answer I got back:

Each of the materials in your dubbin has a unique character and therefore imparts a special trait to the leather. The wax protects the surface and adds that unique feel to the treated leather. The tallow penetrates a little better, but also contributes to that waxy nature, but also has a lower melting point, so it changes more effectively when warmed slightly than the wax which remains solid to a bit warmer condition. The fish oil penetrates deep and softens as well as providing anti-oxidant properties and even some tanning when heated. The glycerin is a good humectant and keeps the leather from over drying by pulling moisture from the air.

Lanolin is also unique, though some folks are sensitive to lanolin and should always be advised that it is in the leather. This sheep byproduct has long been taunted as a great soften and water repellant for leather.

Clearly the amount of each of these materials in the dubbin can be a major issue, but that is something that I am sure you have seen with time and experience as you adjust your formula.

Aluminum stearate is just soap, though most would probably consider it more a grease than a soap. It combines a wax and humectant roll, but just as most leather experts warn against the use of saddle soap, I think you will quickly see that this soap really has little to offer your mix. The biggest issue with soaps and leather is that soaps are made under highly alkaline conditions, and unless that basicity (alkaline pH) is neutralized it can carry terrible consequences to the acid leather.

Getting Leather Soft

There is not a single product that softens leather.
Let me explain :
Think of this in terms of the leather fibers – kind-of like the fingers of your two hands interlaced.
When you dye the leather and while the leather fibers are limp, the leather is pliable. Same goes for getting the leather wet for tooling or wet forming.
Now as the leather dries, the dye, and to a lesser extent the water, makes the leather fibers sticky and when it is dry, the leather feels stiff. Many people confuse this stiffness with “casing and/or dying leather dries it out”.

Now you put a sealer or conditioner on and nothing changes. The fibers still stick to each other because of the dye, and maybe now also the sealer.

BUT, as soon as you start manipulating and bending the leather, the fibers break free of each other and the leather becomes softer. If you had applied a conditioner like dubbin or Aussie or neatsfoot oil, the fibers that break free from each other, get lubricated and the leather feels even softer because the fibers now also get lubricated.

I hope this helps!

Stitching Wax

From Bryan Stancliff (Aug 2016)

“One of the major changes I’ve made in the last year is switching from waxing my thread with beeswax, to using coad. Coad (also called code, shoemakers wax, sticky wax, black wax and a dozen other names) is a mix of beeswax and one otlr more pine resin materials. Coad acts as both a lubricant and a glue; as the thread is pulled friction melts the coad allowing the thread to glide through the stitching holes, once the thread is pulled tight the coad sets up acting as an adhesive.
There are dozens, if not hundreds of different coad recipes. Many of the traditional recipes are designed around producing a black wax and utilize a black pine pitch. This pitch has become difficult to source over the last 50 or so years (even the shoemakers at Williamsburg have trouble getting it), while some of the newer black recipes substitute tar for the pitch, most recipes have done away with the black compounds resulting in a “blond” wax.
With the widespread availability of colored thread there’s really no reason to deal with tar fumes or in trying to source a material that only two companies in the world produce. The blond recipes work as well as the black recipes and are much cheaper and safer to produce.
I use two different recipes depending on the time of year. I don’t have central heat and air in my house, so the temperature tends to run a bit warm in the summer and a bit cool in the winter and I adjust my coad to suit these temperature changes.
My coad recipe(s) consist of two materials, beeswax and rosin (I use rodeo rosin, $10/pound on eBay, a pound should last a decade or more). The measurements are by weight, don’t go overboard, close enough is good enough. The smaller the components the faster the melt. I can generally crank out a ball in 15 minutes including weighing the material.
Winter recipe:
1 part rosin,
2 parts beeswax.
Summer recipe:
1 part rosin,
1 part beeswax.
You will also need a bucket of cold water.
Melt the rosin first, it has a higher melt point and takes longer to liquify. I use direct heat, I’ve had poor results attempting to melt the rosin in a double boiler. If the rosin starts bubbling lower the heat and pull the container off until it cools a bit.
Once the components are liquid and thoroughly mixed, pour them directly into the water. This flash cools the mix lowering the temp to a point that it can be handled. Wad the mass up in the water, this gives a chance to check temperature without risking burns. You want it warm, but not too hot to handle. Pull it from the water and start taffy pulling. It’ll feel a bit gritty at first and will probably just tear apart for the first 30 seconds or so, just keep at it, it’ll start to smooth and the stretches will get longer.
You’re probably not going to get a 100% amalgamated mass, you’ll probably see little flecks of rosin throughout, that’s fine, just try to get them as small as possible and thoroughly mixed through the mass.
Once it gets difficult to pull start squishing it a bit and then ball it and set it on a piece of plastic or was paper. Let it set and cool over night.
To use, run your thread across the surface of the ball and then either pull the thread through your hand, or a piece of cloth a few times to heat the coad and disburse it a bit better, and start sewing.
Since switching to coad I’ve had zero issues with not untying (no more knot burning) or back stitches unthreading. If you knot while stitching (I do on some projects) the coad really locks the stitch in place. The few items I’ve had to dismantle since switching to coad have required the parts to be fully cut apart (along the stitch line) and pliers were required to remove the remaining thread.”

Vinagroon

…. or a cheap effective way to turn leather black, without fighting with dyes and without fear of it bleeding off on clothing.

This is a very old method.  In its simplest form:  you let vinegar chew on some iron/steel for a few days and use it to chemically change the leather color to black.

The photo below shows what I am experimenting with.  I took five of those nails, covered them with 1/4 cup of white vinegar and 18 hours later dipped the piece of leather in the solution.

I have added a pint of vinegar and twenty more nails and now I will let that stand for a few days and play again.

UPDATE:  So it stood for a week and then I took the first part of this video showing the filtering of the vinagroon.

The second part of the video, where I am using it, was taken a week after the filtering process.

I like simplicity, but for the sake of giving you a complete picture, I will quote from the interwebs here:

From the forum of the America Leather Chemists Association:

The black color is the reaction of Ferric salts or oxide with tannings, nice formula for leather crafts, but it is a pain in the neck in vegetable tannery.

About “neutralizing” the vinegar’s acid:  The leather may be damaged by the excess of acid: white vinegar is acetic acid and if applied in excess can give some problem according to what was stated in the post. Iron react with vegetable tannins giving a product that is black.

 

Neutralizing the leather is not wrong. In the industrial process this is also being used even though the term is confusing because it does not mean to take the leather up to the neutral pH condition or the 7.0 value. It means to neutralize some of the acid inside the leather to avoid acid damage. The final pH for vegetable leather can be around 4.0 and this is far from neutral.

Chuck Burrows posted this in 2010:

VINEGAR BLACK 
For giving color to the grain of leather there is no blacking that will at all compare with the well known vinegar black. This may be made in various ways. The simplest, and, without doubt, the best, is to procure shavings from an iron turner (note: some folks get the turnings from brake drums) and cover them with pure cider vinegar; heat up and set aside for a week or two, then heat again and set in a cool place for two weeks; pour off the vinegar, allow it to stand for a few days, and draw off and cork up in bottles. This will keep for a long time, and, while producing a deep black on leather, will not stain the hands. 

How I do it most times:
I use de-oiled 4/0 steel wool: dip in acetone, squeeze out the extra and hang to dry – then tear or cut into small pieces. Add one pads worth of the de-oiled steel wool to one quart of white or cider vinegar – I use those plastic coffee “cans” and punch a single small hole in the lid to let of any gas buildup. Let it set in the hot sun which will speed the reaction. I let it set for about two weeks until there is only a light vinegar odor left and/or the bulk of the steel wool has been dissolved. I also keep a new batch “cooking” all the time so I have a constant supply.
For the deepest black, apply a bath of strong black tea first (this increase the tannins) and let it soak in good, then apply a generous amount of the vinegar black. Let set for about a half hour and then rinse with a mix of baking soda and warm water, about a 1/8 cup soda to a half gallon of water, apply let set for a few minutes and then rinse off. While still damp apply a light coat or two of your favorite saddle oil. Once dry top coat as normal
Experiment – I test a piece of each new side without oiling to see how well it takes the blacking, if need be I’ll do a second black tea mix to darken, then apply the oil which also helps darken.

Instead of steel wool you can use chopped up bailing or fence wire – the smaller the better since it will dissolve in the vinegar bath faster.

1) Does the ‘rooning process change the color of natural thread? No
2) Should I sew before or after I apply the vinegaroon? either way – your choice
3) For the ‘rooning process, how do you apply it? Dip the item, dauber it on, brush it on, etc? Could the vinegaroon be kept in a spray bottle and sprayed on the item? all of the above – which ever way works best for you and the item you are working on. I prefer dIp dying since it is simply the easiest for me, but I also brush it on for larger pieces – a spray bottle should work fine, but you would need to filter it good to prevent any clogging

Swivel Knife Stropping

First off, lets make a difference between a sharp blade and a polished blade:

  • Almost all blades are manufactured as “sharp” blades – that is, they come with the correct angles to their blades – roughly a 48 degree combined bevel as shown in the illustration below.
  • A polished blade is where those beveled edges of the blade has been stropped and polished to remove TWO things – the grinding marks from when the blade was manufactured and secondly the residue that builds up on the blade from the leather.

This means that sharpening a blade is seldom necessary.  I used my first swivel knife blade for more than twenty years before the stropping so deformed the shape that I had to put it on a grind stone and just reshape it again.

When you buy a new blade, here is what I suggest you do:

  • Spend at least half an hour stropping / polishing the blade as shown in the following video (card board with jeweler’s rouge on it works just fine).
  • Then you can start with it on the leather.
  • Every time you pick up your swivel knife to use it, strop it for a few minutes.
  • If you do a lot of work with it, strop it every five minutes.   After a while, you will get the feel of a blade that is gliding through the leather as if it is cutting through butter, and a blade that “stutters”.  As soon as it cuts with jerky movements, you know it needs more stropping.

I hope this helps – please contact me if you have any more questions.

 

Using Eco-flo Pro-Stain

Probably one of the top stains on the market today for the leathercrafter.
To quote the Tandy Website:

“It’s a blend of natural and synthetic waxes, dye-stuffs and binders with high penetration and dyeing power. This stain will not bleed or rub off. Colors can be mixed to form different hues. It can also be thinned with water to reduce intensity.”

BUT, it has to be applied properly to be effective. Remember also that it was developed as a stain to color large areas of leather. However, I have used it very successfully with a small brush in selected areas only.

One of the most important points for getting good even coverage on the leather: SATURATE the LEATHER with the DYE/STAIN. If that gives you a too dark finish, then DILUTE the dye / stain!

Fuzzies

Well, I mean the often fuzzy ‘under’ side or flesh side of veg tan leather.

There is some people who think that a smooth backside to the leather means a higher quality. A smooth back (flesh) side of leather is merely achieved in the tanneries when they split the hides to get them an even thickness.

However, often it is nice to have the back of your project nice and smooth, a belt, for example.

There are a few ways of doing this – here are the two methods I use most often.

If you use Eco-Flo Pro Stain on a belt or project, use the stain on the back as well – it will slick down the fleshside beautifully and should not bleed off on clothes after you have sealed it with a finish. I have carried a piece of leather with this Pro Stain on both sides – no finish – in my pants pockets for a year and there was no bleeding at all.

Second method:

Get hold of Gum Tragacanth. You can apply that a little at a time and rub down the back of the leather with an old spoon. To smooth it down even more permanently, you can then cover the back of the leather with Super Sheen – an acrylic product that will effectively seal off the back of the leather.

Both these products are available at your local leather supply store or they should be able to order it for you.

FuzziesThe belt piece before anything is done to it – you can see the typical loose fuzzies on the back.


Fuzzies

After the gum has dried on the leather you can see the difference between the covered part and the untreated part.

Fuzzies

This is a very upclose of the treated back side of the piece of belt.

This post from August 2007 has been updated. The gentleman in the videos is my long time friend and mentor, Larry Moskiewicz

The Making of a Knife Sheath

Keep your eye on this – I have only finished the first five videos of making the two knife sheaths.  More videos will follow as I make progess with the project and as I get time to produce the videos.

..and here is the second video – it is long but shows the full basket weave stamping and border stamping.
The first basket weave shows Chan Geer’s method of getting the basketweave perfect every time!

If you want to see this method of doing basket weave in print, contact the Leather Crafters and Saddler’s Journal.   They can help you with back issues that the articles about basketweave was printed.

 

There will be one or two more after this fourth one….

Video number five shows the saddle stitch by hand, using two needles and an awl in hand.