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How to Age Leather – A Simple Process for Developing Patina

When I condition old leather projects that have received a lot of love, every piece has a distinct patina. I can recall what caused it on some, and it only makes me appreciate the item more. While patina is naturally occurring, I have been exploring methods to skip forward in the leather lifecycle to showcase more worn leather. 

Aging leather is speeding the patina or darkening and shine that appears on leather as it wears. Patina is highly sought after, demonstrating the natural traits of leather. While patina naturally occurs over time, aged leather can also be created by rubbing it with felt or leaving it in the sun. 

Let’s look at the best ways to age leather quickly, expanding on what makes patina desirable and the pros and cons of each method.

What Is Aging Leather?

Aging leather is speeding up the process in which leather displays wear, allowing the piece to provide a patina, or worn look, without requiring years of continuous use. One can age leather with a coarse fabric to draw out the oils in the material, darkening the surface.

Leaving leather in the sun will have a similar effect but more evenly change the color. Aged leather appeals to those who enjoy the distressed or vintage look of leather products.

What We’ll Explore

  • Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
  • Reasons You Might Choose to Age Leather
  • Variations or Styles of Aging Leather
  • Aging Leather Overview Table
  • Skill Level of Aging Leather
  • Tools and Supplies Needed for Aging Leather
  • How to Age Leather Step by Step
  • How to Get Better at Aging Leather
  • My Personal Research on Aging Leather
  • Helpful Insights on Aging Leather
  • Key Takeaways
Aged Leather Boots - How to Age Leather - Liberty Leather Goods
Aged Leather Boots

Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions

While many fear aging will only shorten the lifespan of their leather product, when done correctly, it should not damage the leather at all. Patina is simply oils on the surface of the leather, creating a gradient look throughout the piece.

While this can occur through hard wear, many alternatives exist to artificially recreate this look without exposing the leather to heavy use. This is ideal for those wanting to enjoy the look of aged leather without needing the leather to be aged. 

Reasons You Might Choose To Age Leather

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The main reason for aging leather is to create a final look that mimics the patina that occurs from years of owning a leather item. The gradient pattern throughout the leather’s surface is an iconic look many seek when purchasing leather products. In addition to changes in the leather’s appearance, aging leather may also soften the material. Those working with overly stiff leather may benefit from aging leather to soften it for projects. 

Variations or Styles of Aging Leather

Various ways to achieve the look of aged leather exist, each providing a different appearance. Rubbing the leather’s surface with a fabric, such as felt or canvas, will generate heat, targeting the patina in specific areas. In addition, this mimics the uneven look of the patina, with some places becoming darker than others.

Another method is leaving the leather piece out in the sun. This benefits from an easy, convenient process that does not require as much effort. Leaving the leather in the sun will not darken it as quickly as rubbing the surface but will create an even color across the entire leather surface.

Aging Leather Overview Table

Area of PreparationDetails
TechniqueAging Leather
Overall Level of Skill (1–5)1
Time to Complete (minutes/hours)Minimum 30 minutes (More time creates darker leather)
Workspace NeededCan be done anywhere, or outdoors
Skills NeededNone, the leather will only need to be rubbed
Tools and Supplies NeededFelt, canvas, conditioner, and an outdoor area
Key Helpful TipSlowly age the leather, as it will get darker over time.
Aging Leather Details

Skill Level of Aging Leather

Aging leather requires little to no skill. It can be done by those entirely new to leather crafting, as one can pick up the technique within minutes. Aging leather with fabric only requires rubbing the leather back and forth. Other methods, such as aging with the sun, are as simple as leaving the leather outside for a set time to darken. 

Tools and Supplies Needed for Aging Leather

Depending on the method chosen for aging leather, the supplies will differ. For manually aging leather through abrasion, a semi-coarse fabric is required. Felt, denim, or canvas are the most popular materials for this. When aging leather with the sun, I recommend conditioner as a supply item. Although it will not be needed to darken the leather’s color, it will help alleviate any dryness caused by aging.

H. Ozgunay, from the Ege University, Faculty of Engineering, Department of Leather Engineering, in Bornova-Izmir, Turkey, discusses how the tanning method of leather can greatly affect how it darkens when exposed to light. With some leathers darkening quicker, a watchful eye is needed regardless of the tools used for aging leather.

How to Age Leather Step by Step

To start, the desired look must first be determined, as some methods will be better than others. Research patina wear for an object, and choose if it needs to be darkened evenly or in specific wear areas. Leather pieces that are aged evenly will best be suited for the sun, while those requiring highlighted areas work best with a hand aging method.

Aging Leather Using the Sun

  1. Using the sun to age leather is straightforward. Place the piece in direct sunlight outside; a window will also work if there are no shades, and leave the leather untouched until the desired color is achieved. This can take as little as 30 minutes up to 24 hours.
  2. When using the sun to age leather, the material will begin to dry and needs to be conditioned. A leather conditioner should be applied to the leather’s surface to rehydrate the piece. Some leather conditioners may also darken the leather. If this is the case, take the piece out of the sun at a slightly lighter color to offset the difference. 

Aging Leather By Hand

  1. To age the leather by hand, rub a piece of semi-coarse fabric on the leather’s surface. This can be done with denim, felt, canvas, tweed, and many other materials. Sticking to a circular motion when possible will help keep any marks hidden.
  2. Aging by hand can be done throughout an entire leather piece to achieve a more gradient look or in specific areas to mimic high-wear areas. Rubbing the fabric does not require a lot of pressure and may take hours to achieve the desired look. However, by aging the leather by hand, you can fully control the outcome, and the leather will not need additional conditioner. 

In this helpful video below, Adam Savage, a special effects designer, describes his techniques for creating aged leather, offering unique methods to create heavily worn looks. 

How to Get Better at Aging Leather

The best way to get better at aging leather is to study the wear areas of a leather item. For example, a tote bag will have the most wear on the handles, while a wallet will have it on the exterior panel. Understanding where and how the leather looks as it ages will allow you to recreate the finish more accurately.

Additionally, practicing both techniques will make it much easier to achieve the desired finish. Ideally, the techniques can be combined to produce an evenly aged look with accented areas to create a deep patina further.

Aging leather is speeding up the process in which leather displays wear, allowing the piece to provide a patina, or worn look, without requiring years of continuous use.

My Personal Research on Aging Leather

Since leather crafting is a hobby that prides itself in handmade goods, I wanted to see how other crafters felt about artificially aging leather and if they had any tips they could share during the process.

Fans of Aging Leather

Having seen the general public’s reaction to fake patina on leather shoes, I expected most leather crafters to dislike artificially aging leather. However, this was furthest from the truth. Many crafters agreed the “bone” look of natural vegetable tanned leather was bland and primed for patina.

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Similarly, many bushcraft leather crafters strive to keep their projects as rustic as possible, often distressing the leather by repeatedly folding it to generate creases and stress marks. Lastly, those focused on western style tooling praised artificially aging leather to add depth to their art pieces.

Opposed to Aging Leather

Although most crafters I saw online were fans of aging leather, some were not. The most common response I saw against the practice was from those who deemed it unnecessary. To them, leather patina had a story to tell and occurred naturally. Faking it was similar to those who purposely sand the paint off instruments to simulate age.

Additionally, some felt the patina created was typically too aggressive, leading to the final look being unnatural in their eyes. The last opinion I saw, similar to mine, is the fear of the leather becoming too dark in the future. Leather products are made to last decades, and they only get darker; therefore, speeding up that process may create a pleasing look now that can turn muddy over years of use.

Tips for Aging Leather

When reading through various forum posts about aging leather, I came across tips from experienced crafters. If aging leather aims to darken the piece, they recommended oiling it with neatsfoot oil before setting it out in the sun. This creates a darker leather piece more quickly and stops the leather from becoming too dry.

Another tip for creating the patina was to airbrush a darker shade on the leather, creating the gradient pattern seen on shoes. Lastly, one crafter I came across described their process of dyeing leather completely, strategically removing some of the dye using a deglazer. 

Conclusion

Regardless of how one may feel about artificially aging leather, the leather workers online provide great alternative methods for making a leather patina. If the look suits what you are after for a project, consider using one of their methods to create a piece you’re happy with. 

An Aged Leather Coin Purse - How to Age Leather - Liberty Leather Goods
An Aged Leather Coin Purse

Helpful Insights On Aging Leather

What does patina mean on leather?

Leather patina is the sought-after darkening and shine that appears on leather as it wears. It is naturally occurring due to oils, sunlight, and other substances affecting the leather color. Patina showcases leather’s natural character, as each wear pattern is unique.

How long does it take for leather to Patina?

Leather begins to patina almost immediately; however, it may be more difficult to notice the small changes. Areas will darken and soften where they have been touched. The fibers on the surface will be flattened. All these small changes build up over months of use and will become apparent. 

How do you make leather look rustic?

Leather can look more rustic through simulated wear. This can be done by bending the leather repeatedly to create crease lines or rubbing the leather to develop a patina. Additionally, some crafters lightly sand the top of the surface to remove the finishing surface, revealing more fibers. However, sanding the leather can cause damage quickly.

Can you fade leather?

Leaving leather out in the sunlight can fade leather. The sun will wear the colors out, creating a much more faded piece. Alternatively, if a dye was applied, fading can be created by removing small amounts with a deglazing product. 

How do you age veg tan leather?

Vegetable tanned leather can be aged the most easily as it is highly affected by changes to its surface. Leaving the leather outside will quickly absorb sunlight, darkening the entire piece. Additionally, a semi-coarse fabric can wear the leather’s surface through abrasion, bringing the natural oils out from the leather and darkening the surface in the spots where the fabric is rubbing.

Can you patina fake leather?

While fake leather cannot patina in the same ways natural leather can, one can use paint to simulate the look. An airbrush is the best tool as it allows the buildup of thin layers without completely saturating the surface. Fake leather shoes are just one example of how to add patina. 

Key Takeaways

  1. Anyone can age leather with few supplies.
  2. Abrasion will allow aging for specific areas, while sunlight covers the surface more evenly.
  3. Leather will continue to darken after being aged, so consider how dark you make your leather.

In Closing

Aging leather can help provide the unique look worn leather offers without requiring years of wear. The look of leather is timeless and one of the only materials that can get better with age. Speeding up the process only allows people to enjoy their product their way sooner. 

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