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 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?)
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.”