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!


…. 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:

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

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!

Resist and Hi-Lite

At our guild meeting in February we had demos on two tone dying.

One method that works really well on pre-embassed belts, is the same block dyeing that the hippies did in the sixties!

It starts with a belt that was dyed with Pro Waterstain in the bordeaux color (let it dry well for a few hours):

Next a small sponge is used to apply a darker or lighter stain to cloth that is wound tight around a flat piece of wood.

This is wiped lightly across the embossed leather so that just the tops of the tooled designs catch the dye.

The result is really great.  But, like all dyes, it looks fairly dull untill a finish is applied; and here you can see the difference:

Here are more examples Larry did last year:

The other method we explored was resisting parts of a project.   This one started with a simple basket weave – you can use this on floral carving or any tooling you have.

Next you paint one row of the basket weave with super sheen and one row with a brown dye and let it dry well.  It will not look too defined at this point unless you are super anal and sit for hours with a very thin paint brush.

Then you follow the Mr Miyagi instructions for applying Chestnut Hi-Lite stain:  Wipe on – wipe off.

And the magic happens:

The other half of this piece of leather also got basketweaved, and the whole process was the same, except Tan Antique Gel was used in stead of Hi-Lite stain.

Close up:

I like the Hi-Lite more than the antique gel for this particular effect.

So one step further!  Add one more different line to the basket weaving – black dye.  So the four different rows you see here is: not treated / resisted with super sheen / dyed with timber brown dye / dyed with coal black dye.

And after applying the chestnut tan Hi-lite stain, the result is even better than I expected!

There is an older post on the leatherlearn blog about resisting as well:  just search for “resist”.

Quick effective belt

Need a fast gift?

This is a pre-embossed belt.  I used water and spirit based dye to roughly add the red and green and purple to the belt design.  I worked fast to get a more organic look.  I did not want a detailed dye job.

So after that was done the belt did not look so hot at all.  

Then I sprayed the belt with two layers of Supersheen to create an even partial resist and coated it with Chestnut Tan High-lite stain.   It outlined the tooling and gave the belt, even with the red and green, a very natural look!


New take on Basketweave

Tom of Boarshead came up with this idea and I will probably mostly do basketweave backgrounding like this!

This is a piece of leather stamped with the basket weave background and Block-out resist painted on every second line of stamping
After applying Dark Brown Antique Gel

This one was done by Tim:

Ons this piece only the 'tops' of the weave was coated with Block-out. You can still see some spots that have not dried completely.
Medium brown Hi-Lighter (Tandy Item #2608-03) made this design come alive.

Here is another one I tried – this time with Super Sheen and a mix of Briar Brown and Raisin Mahogany Eco-Flo Hi-Lite Stain.

Color & Finish 106 – Dyes Simplified

I do recommend Al Stohlman’s book, Coloring Leather, (not How to Color Leather).  It is still a very relevant book.

There are a few changes happening in the world of dyes – solvent (spirit based / alcohol based) dyes are being phased out and water based dyes will be the only ones available in a few years time.  Some states have already stopped the sale of solvent (alcohol) based dyes.

Pro-oil dye is a higher quality version of spirit based dye – it is simply spirit based dye with a bit of oil added and a better pigment base –  it gives better penetration into the leather and takes a bit longer to dry.  The coverage is a bit more even.  First choice if you can get it.

Eco-Flow water based dye – the new generation dyes – so far looks to be the next choice, mainly because they will hopefully prove to be a lot more color fast than the old regular spirit based dyes, like Tandy Pro Dye and Fiebing’s spirit dyes.

I know your leather craft store is stocked with hundreds of little bottles, so I will expand on this theme as much as I can, but here is the short version:

  1. The first liquid to hit your leather, is water if you want to tool and/or shape your leather (“casing”).
  2. The next liquid to touch your leather, is dye, if you want to change the color of the leather or parts of the leather.
  3. The third possible liquid you use, is a resist (in order of preference: Neatlac / SuperSheen / Blockout), if you want to shield some parts of the leather by being colored by the next liquid.  There is another article on this blog about resisting.
  4. Now you can consider using an antique finish on the leather, if you wish to have an antiquing effect, mostly on tooled leather (it sits in the tool impressions and makes them more pronounced).
  5. Lastly you add a finish / dressing / conditioner:  for working leather I prefer Dubbin, Dr Jackson’s, Aussie; for leather that was painted with acrylic paints, I prefer and acrylic finish like Supersheen or Satinsheen.

If you want a light stain and thereby enhance the tooling on the leather, you need to dye your project with a much diluted (with water) Eco-Flo dye – that is how a lot of the products shown in the Tandy catalog was done.

To further emphasize the tooling, you can use an antique finish over the dye – the antique finish will add its own color to the project, unless you have the project fully or partially resisted.  I still need to experiment with the new antique gel, but for a more subtle effect, you should be able to dilute the antique gel as well.

I hope this sheds some light!  (… and color….)

Uneven Brush Dying

Dying certain areas only can be even more eye-catching if the dying is done in such a way that the area is darker around the edge and lighter in the center.

Use of All-in-One

This photo shows the project with the dye completely dry – you will notice it is lighter than what it was in the little mini-movie.

This project is done with a very old piece of leather – at least thirty years old – it is an old tri-leg chair kit. The leather is already darkened by light, so I chose darker colors to color with. The dye is the new Eco-Flo Cranberry Red dye. It is water-based.

I start off with diluting the dye a lot with water and I just cover the whole area with a thin color. Then I use less diluted dye and only work around the edges, so that the area is dyed darker around the edge and lighter in the center.
REMEMBER: The dye causes the leather to be WET and therefor darker, so it is not immediately clear what the project will look like when the leather dries out. The dye will get lighter as it dries.

This little MINI MOVIE shows the final step with undiluted dye.

Use of All-in-OneThis photo shows a similar effect with Eco-Flo dark mahogany. Here the dye, and leather, is still wet and it does not look as though the transition from dark to light is going to be gradual enough. I will have to judge that only when the dye is completely dry.

X1 AppliedThe completed seat after I applied a coat of X1 dressing. The dye came out the way I wanted it, and I then applied X1 dressing to bring out the tooling in sharp definition.

I cannot help being a bit upset that this product is being take off the market. The new colored hi-liters does not have that same effect without coloring the leather. X1 only accentuates the tooling in a very non-obtrusive way.

Completed seatCompleted seatThe chair complete.

If you want to know where to get the legs, contact Dan at Logo’s Leather: Logo’s

Using Resist – for Antiqueing


I had this request: “I have been using block-out to keep my dye out of what I have stamped, but I can’t get it to resist. Please help me with my leather resist problem.”

Dyes and resistMy first answer would be that it could be that you are trying to use a spirit based dye over the resist and that will be less successful. On this scanned piece of leather I covered the bottom half of the leather with super sheen as a resist.

On the very left I used antique gel on the leather – it wiped off nice and clean off the resist.

In the center I used Eco-Flo water based dye and although it did not wipe off the resist so very completely, the result is still successful.

On the right I used a normal spirit based dye and the obvious result is awful. Now let us have a look at the intended use of a resist:
Purpose: A resist is used before you use an antique stain to make sure the antique finish/stain does not change the color of the leather, but only gets into the tool impressions so that it gets to the antique effect.

Products: Several products can be used as a resist: Neatlac, SuperSheen, SatinSheen, Blockout, RTC. As you can see, all these products are also classified as finishes, i.e. they are also used as finishes on veg-tan leather after dyes have been applied.

When to Resist: After tooling the project, you decide on a color for the project. This color change in the leather is achieved with dye. If you are also going to apply an antique stain to the project, and you do not want the antique gel / paste / liquid to change the overall color of the project, you need to apply a resist over the project first. Everyone recommends two layers of resist – and you must allow then to dry properly (I do overnight).

The Effect: When you now apply the antique stain, and wipe it off with a soft damp cloth, the stain will only remain in the tool impressions and you will be able to wipe it off the smooth parts of the leather. You will have to seal in the antique stain by putting a layer of finish over the stain.

Variations on Resist: You might choose to use the resist only on the tooled design and not on the background – a two tone effect. This will take some fancy brush work with a fine artist brush. It will mean that the antique stain will change the color of the leather on the unresisted areas, but on the tooled areas you will be able to wipe most of the stain off the leather.

Using Resist - BeforeThis first photo shows some variations: From top left clockwise: 1. The whole design and background was dyed with Eco-Flo Range Tan Dye and the left half of the quarter was resisted with Super Sheen. 2. In the top right the design only was resisted with Block Out. MINI-MOVIE 3. Bottom right the whole quarter was resisted with Block Out – bot design and background. 4. Bottom left the background was dyed brown with Eco-Flow Timber Brown [MINI-MOVIE] and the design was resisted with Super Sheen.

Using Resist - AfterAfter the first photo, Antique Gel Medium Brown was applied as seen in the little Minimovies (to follow in a day or two) and this is a photo of the results.

Problems with Resist: Resist is not very successful to keep dye away from leather, especially the spirit based (alcohol based) dyes. These dyes will penetrate through most resists.

Not Yet Tested: The new Eco-Flo dyes are all water based and might just work very well with the resist technique described above. Hopefully I can test these tomorrow and take some photos to enhance this blog entry! Keep an eye on this space!