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

8 thoughts on “Color & Finish 101”

  1. I was only able to find remant packages in which the leather has been colored. Can I still use it basically the same or not?

  2. Pre-dyed leather like that was tanned differently. The leather I describe above was tanned with tree bark and totally unfinished. Find your local Tandy store and go and have a look at their tooling leather/veg tanned leather.

  3. I want to create different colors for my leather hand stamped cuffs and I am so glad to find this site. But do you do number four after you dye.

  4. I really like the look of Hi Lite on my leather. But what is the best finish to use with it. When I try Super Shene it wipes off the color of the Hi Lite. Is there a finish that will prevent the color from wiping off if it gets wet? Thanks for your good information on this site.

  5. Super Sheen is the best cover for Hi-Lite stain, but the secret is not to mush it around. One wipe in one direction only and leave it to set – hour or more. Then when that is totally dry you can add one or two layers again.

  6. Hi, thanks for all the info here. I’m just trying to dye my work solid black and then apply a finish so that it will stand up to regular wear and not crack when flexed. What sort of finish should I use with spirit-based dyes such as Fiebing’s USMC Black and Fiebing’s Pro oil dye? Are their any steps that I need to take besides applying the dye and then applying the finish? (I’ve been experimenting with Tan Kote, Super Sheen, and Resolene) Thanks.

  7. For a solid black, just get it absolutely saturated with the dye, let it dry very well and then buff it off with a soft cloth (they load the black dye so heavy with pigment that a lot of it tends to stay on the surface of the leather.
    Any conditioner or sealer over the spirit based dye will do the job.

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