No doubt that leather is a fine fabric that lasts for a lifetime if handled with proper care. In the form of leather clothing such as a jacket, trousers, or even a shirt, it looks good and makes you feel super comfortable with its warm and sturdy material. However, if you like to try some handy work on your leather, hardening it is a good way to make it a little extra durable. Don't forget, using the right techniques and proper tools is the key to your success in this venture. Whether you’re looking to make a robust armor out of it or just want to add some extra strength to your leather, we’re here to help you with some useful tips and tricks.
Over the years, experts have discovered many ways to harden the leather, especially back in the days when it was the most common, probably the only armor for soldiers to protect them against crazy weather conditions. Romans, Turks, and many others used leather as shields, helmets, arm & leg guards on the battlefield. Regular leather that is obtained from the animal hide is not as strong and cannot be used to block bullets or save you from injuries in case of a road misadventure during a bike ride, hence the leather enthusiasts came up with methods to harden it.
Naturally, leather becomes harder and stiffer over time if it is allowed to dry out by not moisturizing or conditioning it. But this can lead to cracking and tearing, especially in weaker leather types. To avoid any damage while ensuring the hardening of the leather, one must use proper procedure. One of the most common mistakes people make during the hardening process is to take things too far, even to the point where leather becomes very easy to break.
If you own a piece of leather accessory, you must already know that water exposure can cause dryness and cause the leather to get stiff. We can use this characteristic of the leather to our advantage. By making the right moves and using the right technique, leather can be hardened to the point of our requirement. Remember that this method is only applicable for vegetable-tanned leather. Any other leather might get damaged beyond repair if you put it in water.
All you need to do is:
- Fill a spacious pot with tap water and put it on medium flame until the water boils.
- Cowhide or sheepskin leather is ideal for this procedure as it is comparatively strong and sturdy. Lambskin or calfskin may not be able to take the beating. This procedure is for thicker, stronger leather.
- Place the piece of leather in the boiling water. Don't worry if you see the leather getting dark and stretched.
- Take the leather out of the pot and stretched it or manipulated it into different shapes. Let it sit for a few hours, once it’s completely dry, you’ll feel the stiffness in it.
- The longer the leather is left in the boiling water the harder it will be once it dries.
- Leather that is hardened using this method will shrink to around 7/8 of its original size.
- Leaving the leather in boiling water for more than 30 minutes will result in super brittle leather.
- If you’re working with more delicate leather such as calfskin, soak the leather in water that is around room temperature. Take it out after two minutes and pat it dry with a towel.
- Lay the leather on a dry towel and fold it in order to get rid of excess water. Then let it sit for a while to air dry. As the leather dries it will become harder however, it can cause the leather to lose its moisture and lead to cracking. To avoid any such damage, apply a small quantity of leather conditioner on the surface of the leather.
Bake The Leather
- For a more advanced approach, soak the leather in a bowl of water and let sit for a couple of minutes.
- Set your oven to 120 degrees Fahrenheit and place the bowl into the oven.
- After ten minutes, take the leather out of the water and start molding it with your hands.
- Don't forget to use mittens or gloves to any heat damage to your hands.
- Run your fingers along the edges while you shape the leather. This can set the pace for your leather to hold its shape.
- Once the leather starts to hold manipulated shape, put it back in the oven for another 20 minutes.
- Let it sit at room temperature for a while.
- Anything more than 30 minutes in the oven can damage your leather hence you must be super careful with your timing.
- Once you take it out allow it to cool for around 10 minutes. If the leather is not as hard as you’d expected, repeat the process.
Wax The Leather
Firstly, you need to be super careful with this method. If you’re new at this, you should preferably be doing this in your garage and away from any kids. This method may work on all types of leather but vegetable-tanned leather is easiest to harden.
- To begin with, you need to bake the leather with a preheated oven for almost 20 minutes.
- This will stiff the leather a bit because it liquifies the molecules in the leather, causing them to become more flexible. This makes it easier for you to manipulate the shape as per your desire. Don't let it get too hot or it would become brittle.
- Melt the wax till it’s completely liquified. You can use beeswax, melted candle or literally any other type of wax.
- Take the leather out of them over and lay flat on a smooth surface, preferably over a newspaper to avoid making any mess.
- Brush the wax onto the hot leather using even and generous strokes. Continue with the brushing until the leather cools down and is no longer absorbing the wax.
- Check if it is hardened to the point of your requirement, if not, you can place it into the oven again and apply some more coats of wax.
Nonetheless, it’s always better to do a patch test before exposing your leather accessory to water or anything else. Because once you soak it in water, there’s no going back.