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 glycerin. 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.

To Make Your Own

Here is my suggested quantities (I vary them everytime I make a batch – just like grandma used to bake with a handful of this and a pinch of that…..):

  • 1 kilogram lard [2 lb] – I prefer sheep lard. It has to be rendered – cut it up and boil it in water until the lard separates out clear from the water and gunk. Pour it off so that you can let it cool off and solidify.
  • Less than 100 grams of beeswax [<3oz]. Beeswax is NOT the main ingredient - too much will make the dubbin hard and will remain as a surface covering on the leather after application.
  • 1/2 liter of Cod Liver Oil [16 fl oz]. If the thought puts you off, replace it with Neatsfoot oil or olive oil, in fact,
    any plant or animal oil, but definitely not a mineral oil (that will attack your leather).
    I have doused a piece of leather in Cod Liver oil – it smelled fishy for four hours, and then the oil and leather started to talk to each other and all that was left, was a very traditional leather smell. Cod Liver oil used to be a very traditional oil used in working with leather and some ascribe the very romantic smell of the previous century car interiors and saddles and leather goods to Cod Liver oil.
  • 60 ml of Lanolin [2 fl oz]. I have found pure lanolin sold in pharmacies for use by breastfeeding mothers.
  • 60 ml of Glycerin [2 fl oz].

Simply melt them together gently – the result should be creamy and easy to apply to leather.

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?)
Sheep Tallow
Cod Liver Oil
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!


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.


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


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

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”.

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….)

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!

Color & Finish 104 – All-in-One

Use of All-in-One

All-in-One is a product sold by Tandy Leather Factory. It is both a dye and a finish all in one!

It works very well in situations where you want to dye a complete piece of leather. It also has a darkening effect in tool impressions. The finish is much like Super Sheen, a water based acrylic finish. There is therfore no fumes to sniff or worry about.

In the MINI MOVIE you will see how this product is applied and how the excess is wiped off. Take care to wipe off very lightly so that the All-in-One that is in the tool impressions, do not get wipes out of those depressons – you want it to dry there to have the eventual darker effect.

The photo below show the finshed piece of leather incorporated into a card holder.

(The back part of the card holder was done in the frog skin pattern shown else where in this blog and then it was colored with acrylic paint.)

Finished Card Holder

Color & Finish 101

This is probably the aspect of leathercraft where there are as many opinions as there are crafters, and most of them will swear by their own methods as gospel truth. So, I want to give you my opinion as well, but with the hope that it will clarify some of the confusion that exist around dyes, stains, finishes, dressings and oils.This whole discussion will center around vegetable-tan (treebark tanned) leather. This is the only leather to be treated with the products I will discuss.

The basic sequence in any project will more than likely be as follows:

  1. The project is cut out and tooling / stamping is done.
  2. The leather is dyed – either completely or selectively.
  3. A choice is made between a) not using an antique stain, b) lightly using an antique stain just to highlight tooling or c) making heavy use of an antique stain in such a way as to drastically add to the color of the leather.
  4. A finish or dressing is added to the leather to waterproof and lubricate the leather fibers.
  5. The project is assembled.

Step 2 above, dyeing, can be left out if you want the natural color to remain, but remember that antique stains over un-dyed leather might not be successful at all.

Step 3 can be left out all together.

Step 4 can never be left out! You always have to feed leather! Putting a dressing on leather will bring out the color of the dyes (make it glow), waterproof the leather (your best defence against stains) and make the leather softer (if you have not treated it for the making of armor.
OK, more soon! If you have any questions, please e-mail me and I will add to this blog as fast as I can! My e-mail address is leatherworker at gmail.com