Leather finishing tools prove helpful when working to refine and add protection to the the outer surfaces of leather. Let’s look at which tools are available.
Leather finishing tools are a category of tool that helps refine and protect the surface and edges of leather. They commonly include sanding blocks, beeswax, burnishing gum, resolene, heating lamps, and files. Their use is generally dependent on personal preference and project type.
so let’s explore a little about each and see which tools can help the most on your next project.
What Are Leather Finishing Tools?
Leather finishing tools are used primarily to refine the edges of leather work. When cut, the natural fibers inside leather are exposed, and should generally be finished to protect the leather. They might show as loose or “hairy” as the fibers stick out. This is generally unpleasing to the eye, and also exposes the leather to faster wear and damage from moisture.
Finishing the edges helps to smoothen and seal the fibers. This makes the edges stronger, protects the leather, and is more visually appealing. Leather can be finished using a combination of abrasion/friction and waxes/sealers too. The leather finishing process is usually fast, depending on the project.
The tools can include a variety of styles intended for specific purposes. Let’s look at the different types.
Types of Leather Finishing Tools
Sandpaper can be used on newly cut leather to smoothen the edges. The roughness of the sandpaper wears down the loose fibers, shortening them and creating a more dense, smoother surface. This, in most cases, looks better.
This is usually achieved by using coarser sandpapers that are rougher, and working down to finer sandpapers that leave a tighter edge. Sandpaper is available is many variations, most commonly grit size. Grit size refers to the size of sand grains on the paper. Coarser grits have a lower number (for example, 50), while finer grits have a higher number (for example, 120).
Sanding blocks are blocks of material, usually wood or plastic, with sandpaper attached. It can make it easier to hold and rub across the leather when attached to something that fits well into the hand. Sandpaper is relatively inexpensive and is quite useful for leather finishing. Sizes of the blocks can vary, according to personal preference and how it fits in the hand.
Sandpaper can also be utilized in a rotary tool or drill press bit, thereby freeing up the hands for use in holding the leather material being sanded.
This video walks through some helpful sanding tools:
Beeswax is a natural wax produced by bees. It has numerous functions in leather working, including leather finishing. It can be used to condition leather, and also applied as a protectant that provides water resistance and in some cases water proofing properties.
Beeswax can also be applied to the edges of leatherwork to form a strong barrier. It protects the underlying leather and provides a smooth finish. Warming the wax during application helps it flow into the leather for effective adhesion, while also allowing it to be shaped during burnishing.
This is a versatile finishing substance that most crafters will find use for depending on the project. Often, it is applied along with burnishing, as the friction generated from burnishing will warm/melt the wax. After it dries, it provides that even, smooth, protectant surface.
Leather Burnishing Gum
Burnishing gum is a substance with similar to properties to beeswax. It is used to coat the edges of leather work to protect the underlying leather and seal the edge from outside elements and wear. Burnishing gum also leaves a smooth, shiny surface on the leather edge that is quite visually appealing.
They’re generally available in synthetic and some more natural varieties. While beeswax is more commonly used, burnishing gums offer alternative options with sometimes different properties. Depending on the project and budget, burnishing gum might be a helpful alternative to beeswax.
Piece of Canvas
Canvas material pieces can be used, similar to sandpaper, to abrade the edges of leather. It can help “mat” down the look leather fibers on an edge, giving it a more smooth appearance. While using canvas along likely wouldn’t be the only method applied, it can be used in conjunction with other finishing methods to produce nice edges.
For example, sandpaper is rougher. So, canvas might be used on occasion to smoothen out certain areas or give it a unique feel, while sandpaper might be used for larger work or those which require a finer-fibered, smoother, result.
Carnauba wax is a formula that can be applied to leather. It is usually a blend of waxes and conditioners. When applied, it serves to condition the leather while also providing a protective layer that helps resist dirt, grime, and moisture.
The wax is usually put on by hand, then buffed to a shine. The end result is a soft-feeling, shiny surface that wears well and looks great. Where some leathers benefit greatly from deep conditioning, this might be a helpful substance as it will seal in the conditioner as the wax dries and provides some protection.
Resolene is a synthetic finish for leather. While waxes can be used to seal and protect leather, resolene is comprised of acrylic (essentially, plastic). It is usually applied in thin layers, each building a thinner layer of acrylic.
When dried, it will result is a smooth, durable, shiny surface that provides a fair amount of protection for the underlying leather. Resolene is available in several colors, so a match can be made closely to the leather color that is being coated.
Hand Leather Rougher
In some application and on some projects, an effective way of joining leather can be via glueing. In order to help ensure a strong bond between surfaces, glues generally benefit from having a rough area on which to form their bond.
When finished leathers are mostly smooth, a hand leather rougher tool digs into and scratches up the leather, creating a rough surface. This newly-roughed surface will greatly help the adhesive set into and join the leather pieces once dried. Hand roughers are relatively common in saddle making and related work.
They can turn smooth leather, and leather with exposed fibers, into a toughed surface pretty quickly. If one finds themselves gluing often, this is probably a good tool to have on hand. Here’s a demonstration of one in action:
Alcohol Heating Lamp
Metal leather creasers can be used for both functional and aesthetic purposes. They generally perform better when heated, as they more smoothly mark and glide into the leather, forming the creases.
Alcohol heating lamps are a common way to heat up these creasing tools while working on leather craft projects. They are usually comprised of a small metal reservoir filled with denatured alcohol, that when lit, provides a steady flame. Usually attached is a metal extension where the creasing tool can rest while it is heating on the flame.
If maintained properly and watched closely during use, alcohol-based heating lamps can be an easy way to heat your creasing tools right by your leather working space. This might be a more specialized tool for some. Depending on the type of work done, it might also be something used daily. Here’s a great look at how they work:
When finishing leather edges (to seal and protect them), many abrasives can be used. Along with sandpaper, metal files are another option. With so many varieties available (round, flat, diamond, etc.).
They are also available in many grit sizes. For grit sizes, the smaller the size number, the larger/rougher the filing result will be. Likewise, the larger the number the more fine/smooth the filing result will be. Keeping a range of sizes on hand can make it easier when working across various projects.
Generally, one would start with a rougher file and work their way down to a finer file as he edge becomes tighter and smoother. Files make it easy to smooth rough leather edges, helping prepare them for further finishing such as burnishing, waxing, or painting.
A good approach to leather finishing can really set the final pieces apart in level of quality. While the skills can be acquired over time, they’ll likely make the time learning them well worth it. And great tools will make all the difference. For my overview list of leather tools, click here.
Here’s a great video that walks through a few different finishing methods one-by one:
What is leather top coat?
Leather top coat is generally a term to refer to a water-based, transparent coating for leather material. It is available in several sheen types (low, semi, and gloss), and dries flexible. Thus, it can help protect leather goods during everyday use.
How do you finish the back of leather?
The back of leather can be finished in a few different ways, depending on preference. This includes slicking (with a glass slicker), sanding with sandpaper or a wheel, or via application of a coating or paint to protect the leather surface.