There is something in leather that gives off a classic, simple yet elegant vibe that really attracts people of different ages. These characteristics of leather are achieved by both the raw material of the leather and the finishing techniques it went through. There are a lot of leather finishes in the market and I did some research on what are the best finishes based on the finishing techniques for your leather.
What is the best leather finish? The best leather finish to use on your leather depends on your personal preference. Polishes or wax finishes may be the best to some while others prefer oils, lacquers, burnishes or antiques finishes or even the combination of any of the above mentioned finishes.
There has always been confusion between finished leather and leather finishes, these two are commonly interchanged in the leather crafting world. In this article we will differentiate the two and list down finishes or products to use with your chosen finishing technique.
Finishing or Finishes. Which is which?
Leather finishing and leather finishes are commonly interchanged in the leather crafting community. Two words that are connected but entirely different from each other.
Difference between leather finishing and leather finishes
Leather finishing is the process a leather project goes through to achieve the desired final appearance. Finishing includes the application of different chemicals or specially formulated products to the leather.
Leather finishes are topcoat products applied to the leather to enhance its appearance. These are used on the latter part of a leather project.
Finished leather is the final product. It has different types, including aniline, semi-aniline, embossed, pigmented top-coated, and waxed or oiled finish.
Different Finishes Given to Leather
What are Finishes
Finishes are topcoat chemical or treatment products given to leather to preserve the leather’s qualities and appearance. These are applied during the last stage of a leather project because they usually impact the final appearance of the leather. These products also provide conditioning and protection to a leather project. Applying leather finishes may change some characteristics of the leather, like color and texture.
Types of Finishes
Burnishing is the finishing technique used for edges. This finish strips your leather’s edges and gives it a glassy look and smooth feel.
When burnishing, your slicker should glide smoothly on the edges without putting too much pressure while finishing. Apply the Gum Tragacanth evenly with a wooden spreader and smoothly glide your slicker until you achieve your desired outcome.
Burnish after dyeing. The dye will penetrate well into the edges and get fully absorbed by the leather to give consistency.
Polishing is applying a product to the leather to give it a smooth texture and glossy finish. Polishers can be applied several times, even after the project has been completed and while in use. Polishing is also considered an after-care technique because it enriches the leather.
As a general rule, do not polish without conditioning the leather. Clean leather first before conditioning.
As a finishing technique, polishing should be the last step. All treatment procedures and final touches to your leather should be completed before polishing. Apply polishing finish like Angelus Acrylic Finisher circularly into the leather. Repeat until your desired texture is achieved.
Wax finishes come in solid or liquid form. Most leathercrafters prefer liquid wax over solid or paste because of its more straightforward application. But since leather has to absorb and dry thoroughly, liquid wax has a longer treatment time than solid wax. Liquid wax, like Fiebing’s Leather Balm with Atom Wax, also gives a consistent result since the finish can fully penetrate the leather’s pores.
It is recommended to use a spray container when applying liquid wax to have full control during application. If you would prefer to use a brush, pick a soft sable brush.
Over time, leather loses its moisture. Oiling’s primary purpose is to condition the leather and prevent it from becoming too dry and brittle.
When oiling, leather must be free of dust and dirt. These will stick to the leather and damage it. Oiling conditions the leather by enriching the leather’s pores, making it soft and lasts longer. Use Now Solutions 100% Jojoba Oil or Feibing’s Mink Oil Paste to condition your leather and maintain its natural moisture.
Antique finish is different from dyeing because it does not aim to give the leather a new color but rather enhance its existing color. Tone and depth are added on leathers with patterns like embossed leather showing its leather impressions and texture.
Make sure to wipe off excess antique gel-like Fiebing’s Antique Finish or Tan Kote with the antique paste before sealing it or applying lacquer to ensure that you will not wipe off the antique finish.
Lacquering is applying a thin coat sealant or lacquer into the leather, which gives off an intense gloss finish. Lacquer finishes act as a protective coating to the leather and can be used on old leather items to give it a new look.
Lacquer finishes are usually applied after applying color or dyeing the leather for the topcoat to be sealed in the leather. The number of coats depends on how shiny you want the leather to become. You can use Bee Natural RTC Sheridan Resist and Finish to give your leather a protective coating and seal in your dye.
What is Finished Leather
We’ve discussed the different finishes and some recommended products applied to leather. Now let’s discuss, what is finished leather.
When is a leather considered a “finished leather”
Leather is durable because, naturally, raw leather is rough. Unfinished leather has no color, or if using naturally colored leather, the color is inconsistent.
Finished leather has leather finishes applied to its surface. Finished leather may appear refined, glossy, and consistent throughout the product. This look is brought about by the finishing technique or techniques it went through.
What is the Best Finish to Use on Leather
There are a lot of leather finishes available. But the best leather finish technique and product to be used have been a long-standing debate in leather crafting. This debate remains unresolved because the best finish to give your leather is a personal preference. We’ve discussed that finishing techniques mainly consider the final appearance of the leather. The finish to be applied to one project may not be the finish you desire for your next project.
Although burnishing is a finishing procedure, it is uniformly considered a necessity in leatherworking. It is no longer considered an option whether to burnish or not but is regarded as a fundamental skill in leatherworking.
Shower Your Leather Some Love
Leather is a lucrative hobby. Quality leather does not come cheap, hence the need to shower them with love. Whether you just finished your first leatherworking project or you just bought your first leather product, it does not stop there! Taking care of your leather is an essential part of your leather journey.
Condition Your Leather
Leather go brittle with time, conditioners prevent this from happening. Apply a thin layer of conditioner to let the leather breathe. You can choose from the different types of leather conditioner: oils, creams, wax.
Remember to clean first before conditioning. Apply conditioner 3-4 times a year when always exposed in the sun; 2-3 times a year when stored properly
Keep Your Leather Clean
Leather can be cleaned by a simple soap or a specially formulated leather cleaner. Dry leather naturally before applying any leather finishes. Drying will take time but rushing in using your finishes may reverse the outcome you desire. Let your leather dry.
Do not use any cleaning products if you do not know your leather composition; this will do more damage than good. Stick to water!
Store Them Properly
Keep your leather in an environment that is not too dry and not too moist—leather rots. Check the humidity in your storage room to prevent your leather from rotting.
To avoid leather becoming brittle, prevent direct exposure to sunlight. Store leather in a breathable container to let them breathe.
For purchased leather products, you might want to keep the packaging that comes with them. Do not wrap them in plastic; use acid-free paper to protect them from dust, dirt, and moisture.
With the different finishing techniques available, the best comes down to personal preference. Some even prefer combining other finishing techniques to achieve the leather’s desired texture, tone, and color. I carefully choose my finishes and select products that provide the desired look I aim for and give my leather conditioning and protection.