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restoring "dead" leather

teef

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i'm having a bit of problem with some old leather and i wonder if the experienced folk hereabouts might have some useful insights.

so I've got a lovely old piece of 4oz veg tanned leather, roughly 10 sq ft at a guess, that has completely dried out. the stuff has got to be 50 years old and has barely been touched in the last 40 years. although it looks great it in the rolled up state it's been sitting in for ages, and it seems fine when you flatten it out, it readily cracks if i flex it even close to 90 degrees. i'd like to restore some suppleness to the stuff in order for it to be suitable for use in various projects i have in mind.

so far i've tried a beeswax+lanolin "conditioner", a bit of plain olive oil and a few other things but they don't seem to improve the situation much.

i've goobled around, tried the Utubes, etc but i'm pretty much coming up short.

so, anyone know a tried and true recipe to return some life into dessicated old leather?
 

Ystranc

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yeah, trying that now. apparently neatsfoot oil tends to oxidize leather over time and that leads to -- you guessed it -- cracking.
needless to say i don't have high hopes for it, but i'm willing to try pretty much anything.

Renapur is new to me, looking into it now.
Renapur is what I use on antique luggage that has gone crusty.
 

teef

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a wee update on this in that i've tried a couple more things:
  • neatsfoot oil: soaks in immediately; darkens the leather considerably; in my particular case didn't improve things much. even after several days the leather remains "brittle" in that it readily cracks if flexed. to be fair there was a little improvement in that it can now flex to roughly 45 degrees or so before cracking whereas before anything past 30 degrees -- or even less -- would start to shatter the skin.
  • pure tallow: soaks in fairly readily though takes days to be well absorbed; darkens the leather noticeably at first but almost fades back to the original over the course of several days; improved things a fair bit actually though not 100%. in terms of reducing the leather's brittleness the sample can now be flexed to 90 degrees or even slightly more before cracking begins. but it still does crack so not a perfect solution here either.
  • soaked in plain old water: let it soak a couple days and it did restore some suppleness, about as good as the tallow i'd say. of course once the leather started to dry out again you're back to square one.
next step is to try some of the commercial products that have been recommended: Renapur as mentioned above, and also something called Lexol which i've seen mentioned on the leatherwork forums.
 

teef

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okay, tried a couple more things:
  • Renapur: nice stuff, goes on easy, soaks in fairly well especially if you work it a bit, darkens the leather a bit but not terribly, leaves a dryish waxy feel. effectiveness? well above average I'd say, a bit better than plain tallow and soaks in a lot faster. however, depth of penetration is maybe a bit underwhelming: my leather still cracks at the 90 degree point, give or take. days of soaking and multiple applications improved things but didn't produce spectacular results.
  • Lexol: it's a milky looking emulsion and is easily the fastest acting of anything i've tried so far: within a couple minutes the leather is moderately flexible, and very much darker. the more you rub it in the better the results. it's perfumed though, sandalwood and Old Spice at a guess, so that takes a bit of getting used to. dries to a light waxy touch and the leather pretty much returns to its original colour (almost). with one application it's good but no better than the rest EXCEPT that it has obviously penetrated much deeper than anything else and even though the skin of the leather still cracks on 90-135 degrees bends the body of the leather is noticeably more supple.
my suspicion is that a combination of a couple of these treatments is likely to produce the best long term results for this 50 year old leather. something like a couple coats of Lexol to get some moisture and deep penetrating oil into the stuff then maybe finish with Renapur or tallow for longer term surface conditioning. i'm guessing, just starting these tests now.

that said, at this point i'm more or less resigned to the fact that this leather is too far gone to ever return to the full suppleness and flexibility of newer leather. it'll be fine for flat or flat-ish work where a little stiffness is a feature and the tendency of the skin layer to crack when flexed a lot is not much of an issue.
 

teef

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well, it's another week on with the "dead leather" project and there's a few interesting things to add:
  • the Lexol continues to be a very interesting product, but not perfect. i'd say its great advantage is the speed with which it works: imagine a haircut and a bikini wax all done in a drive-thru. :p this stuff gets down to business! in less than 5 minutes the leather is noticeably revitalized. repeat treatment over a number of days just improves things ... to a point. after about 5 days or so nothing much comes of repeated treatments. after a week of daily applications my "dead" leather regained considerable flexibility, but it did still crack rather badly when flexed to about 135 degrees. good but far from ideal.
  • a pleasant surprise in the last day or two: i went back to some of my early test samples, specifically the one i'd used pure tallow on, and discovered that things had improved considerably after a week of rest. the tallow had soaked well into the leather leaving only a bit of a dry, waxy feel on both the skin and the flesh sides AND the leather could almost be doubled over before small cracks started to appear. that's a major win as far as the restoration efforts go with the added bonus that it's by far the cheapest leather treatment method i've tried. i think i paid £5 for 2 kilos of the stuff! win-win, if you've got the patience to wait for it to do it's business.
  • the once-a-day-for-a-week routine with Renapur is ongoing. interim results look very promising.
 

teef

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ok, final entry into this long story of trying to restore some dried out old tooling leather. at this point i've finished the long term and mixed treatment tests i'd alluded to in earlier posts. i'll try to summarize my final observations:

by far the quickest way to restore SOME life to dried out leather is Lexol. it works in minutes and gets you a good way towards having usable leather again. here are some key points about Lexol:
  • works very fast, within minutes.
  • won't darken leather if only applied a few times.
  • will darken leather if repeatedly applied.
  • does a half-good long term job of bring leather back to life: the leather is certainly better but not perfect.
  • on a scale of 1 ("no better") to 10 ("fully restored") i'd put Lexol alone, assuming repeated treatments over several days, at about a 5.
Renapur is one of the top two leather "restorative" treatments i tried:
  • doesn't work particularly fast but does a pretty decent job.
  • one or two treatments won't darken the leather dramatically.
  • repeated treatments over several days WILL darken the leather considerably.
  • used alone it does a better than average job of restoring the dried out leather.
  • on the 1-to-10 scale -- again assuming repeated treatments over several days -- i'd give it a 6.5 or 7.
pure tallow is probably the single best leather restorative "product" that i tried:
  • it works VERY slowly, don't expect to see great results for at least 10-15 days.
  • my best results came from daily treatments for 10 days or so and then letting the leather sit for another week or more.
  • single treatments DO darken the leather noticeably.
  • repeated treatments over an extended period will turn the leather VERY dark. indications are this fades S L O W L Y over time.
  • on the 1-to-10 scale -- as ever, assuming repeated treatments over a week to 10 days -- tallow scores something like 9 or 9.5. it really is quite dramatic how much life it brings back to the leather. after the full tallow treatment my dessicated leather could __almost__ be folded back onto itself without cracking. by far the best results.
in terms of combination treatments i tried:
  • Lexol first for a few days then Renapur for a few more days: good results, slightly better (perhaps) than Renapur alone.
  • Lexol first then tallow: pretty much the same results as Lexol + Renapur. given how well tallow works alone -- if you have the patience -- i was mildly surprised that this combo didn't give better results.
personally if i wanted to give a bit of old leather a quick restorative treatment i'd go for Lexol followed by whatever else you want to put on it for longer term care.

if i wanted the ultimate in restorative care and was willing to give it the time it needed i'd go for daily treatments of pure tallow for 7-10 days and then let the leather sit for another week or two. voila! it'll be as close to fully revived as it's likely to ever be.

the least impressive product i tried? Neatsfoot Oil. i admit that it looks like it should be great because it sinks in so fast and from the oily look you know there's obviously something in the leather when you're done. other than that though the results are shite in terms of restoring life to dried out old leather. in my opinion it's a short term placebo and your money is better spent elsewhere. fwiw you can buy a bucket of tallow for what you'd pay for a wee container of Neatsfoot Oil.

and there you have it: job done!
 
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Handy comprehensive info Teef. I have a couple of old, tired, wide leather belts with sentimental attachment that could do with some new life injected into them. Does Tallow come via Leather suppliers?
 

teef

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hey Sax, yes it does. couple quid a kilo and only by the kilo iirc. i'd happily send you a chunk if you like. message me if you're interested.
 

Ystranc

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ok, final entry into this long story of trying to restore some dried out old tooling leather. at this point i've finished the long term and mixed treatment tests i'd alluded to in earlier posts. i'll try to summarize my final observations:

by far the quickest way to restore SOME life to dried out leather is Lexol. it works in minutes and gets you a good way towards having usable leather again. here are some key points about Lexol:
  • works very fast, within minutes.
  • won't darken leather if only applied a few times.
  • will darken leather if repeatedly applied.
  • does a half-good long term job of bring leather back to life: the leather is certainly better but not perfect.
  • on a scale of 1 ("no better") to 10 ("fully restored") i'd put Lexol alone, assuming repeated treatments over several days, at about a 5.
Renapur is one of the top two leather "restorative" treatments i tried:
  • doesn't work particularly fast but does a pretty decent job.
  • one or two treatments won't darken the leather dramatically.
  • repeated treatments over several days WILL darken the leather considerably.
  • used alone it does a better than average job of restoring the dried out leather.
  • on the 1-to-10 scale -- again assuming repeated treatments over several days -- i'd give it a 6.5 or 7.
pure tallow is probably the single best leather restorative "product" that i tried:
  • it works VERY slowly, don't expect to see great results for at least 10-15 days.
  • my best results came from daily treatments for 10 days or so and then letting the leather sit for another week or more.
  • single treatments DO darken the leather noticeably.
  • repeated treatments over an extended period will turn the leather VERY dark. indications are this fades S L O W L Y over time.
  • on the 1-to-10 scale -- as ever, assuming repeated treatments over a week to 10 days -- tallow scores something like 9 or 9.5. it really is quite dramatic how much life it brings back to the leather. after the full tallow treatment my dessicated leather could __almost__ be folded back onto itself without cracking. by far the best results.
in terms of combination treatments i tried:
  • Lexol first for a few days then Renapur for a few more days: good results, slightly better (perhaps) than Renapur alone.
  • Lexol first then tallow: pretty much the same results as Lexol + Renapur. given how well tallow works alone -- if you have the patience -- i was mildly surprised that this combo didn't give better results.
personally if i wanted to give a bit of old leather a quick restorative treatment i'd go for Lexol followed by whatever else you want to put on it for longer term care.

if i wanted the ultimate in restorative care and was willing to give it the time it needed i'd go for daily treatments of pure tallow for 7-10 days and then let the leather sit for another week or two. voila! it'll be as close to fully revived as it's likely to ever be.

the least impressive product i tried? Neatsfoot Oil. i admit that it looks like it should be great because it sinks in so fast and from the oily look you know there's obviously something in the leather when you're done. other than that though the results are shite in terms of restoring life to dried out old leather. in my opinion it's a short term placebo and your money is better spent elsewhere. fwiw you can buy a bucket of tallow for what you'd pay for a wee container of Neatsfoot Oil.

and there you have it: job done!
Thank you Teef, you may just save me a fortune in the future. In what form/where did you buy your tallow? Isn't simple food grade beef dripping the same stuff?
 

teef

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i bought mine from Abbey England. i think i paid a fiver for 2 kilos. it came in a large poly bag, white as snow and almost odorless so i suspect it's been rendered and purified somehow. i have to say that it absolutely does not look like drippings but i'm a vegetarian and largely innocent in the ways of the meat-eating world.
 

Ystranc

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Beef dripping from the supermarket or butchers looks a little like lard but is harder and slightly more crumbly, it keeps well and doesn't smell of much until you heat it up. You can even use it a little bit like butter if you wish.
 

Baytree

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You may find it at plumbers merchants too. I've got a couple of tubs of it labelled as plumbers tallow . It's used for soldering and so on . The tubs are somewhere between a pint and a half pint glass size , maybe half a kilo (?) . Worst thing is the tubs are made of the cheapest plastic possible and split very easily. I've used tallow o some leather boots. I mixed a little vegetable oil with the tallow and warmed it before application.
 
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