Leather Finishes And Finishing Techniques

Leather products have been around for a very long time, with the techniques used for making leather look amazing getting better and better all the time.

In today’s article, we are looking at the difference between different finishes for leather, how they are applied, and their effect.

Not every type of finish has the same result, and some can have a negative impact depending on the leather being used and other elements added to the leather during the production process.

So, if you want to learn about the best finishes for your leather projects, have a read on.

What Is Leather Finishing?

Leather finishing can be defined as ‘how the leather looks’ once it has been through all the processes it requires.

The term ‘finishing’ itself doesn’t just refer to the final stage of leather processing, but the process as a whole that is taken to turn leather from its raw form into the final product made available to purchase.

If you don’t have good finishing processes, with quality control at every step, leather will not look appealing or presentable.

Those who work with leather are very meticulous in every part of the process, from ensuring they select the best leather to work with to get the design absolutely right.

While we have this all-encompassing term of ‘finishing’, many types of finish are available.

What Is A Leather Finish?

A leather ‘finish’ is different from leather ‘finishing’.

This time the word ‘finish’ does refer to the last stage of a process. Specifically, the finish is the topcoat that is used to preserve the dyes used to color leather. It can also refer to any treatment given to help the longevity and durability of the leather.

Reasons for applying a finish include:

  • Adding a professional, clean look to the leather
  • Enhancing the color created by dye
  • Ensuring the dye doesn’t rub off
  • Ensuring the leather has a shine or glossy look
  • Ensuring the leather’s appearance is maintained
  • Prevention of mold
  • Providing a protective surface layer on the leather
  • Giving an element of water resistance
  • Giving an element of weather resistance

Whatever finish is applied can change the certain properties of the leather. That is why this is a stage that happens at the very end.

Types Of Finishes Used For Leather Finishing

1. Burnishing

Burnishing can be used to finish the grain of the leather or leather edges. It is a process achieved through the continuous rubbing of the leather surface/edge against another object. That object should be smooth, hard, and be rounded. With these attributes in mind, common objects used for burnishing include glass bottles, smooth rounded stones, and curved metal spoons.

Burnishing is one of the more simple finish techniques and can be done in the comfort of one’s own home if required.

To burnish leather, you need to apply pressure to the leather with the object you have chosen and continuously rub it. Doing this will give the leather a shine similar to that you see with glass and make the surface resistant to water, warping, and corrosion.

Burnishing Tips

  1. Keep the leather on a smooth surface.
  2. Remove any dirt or impurities from the leather’s surface
  3. Burnish the grain of the leather, not the flesh
  4. Use the burnishing tool continually until the gloss-like finish is achieved.

2. Polishing

If you want smooth, glossy leather products, consider polishing as the finish.

This is done by using a substance that will enrich the leather. The polish used can come as a solid, a cream, or a liquid and may be used many times before the product is sold. This is also a process that can continue once leather is being used.

A good polish will ensure that leather is protected, looks good, and, depending on the polish you use, smells good as well.

To get a perfect polish on leather, ensure that the leather is free of dirt and impurities before starting the process.

There is some debate as to whether polish can act as a finish by itself. Some who work with leather believe it yields satisfying results, while others prefer using it as part of a two-part finish process. They may use polish and then add a coat of acrylic afterward.

When polishing, it is important to apply the polish gradually and use a circular motion when doing so.

3. Oiling

Oiling is a method that helps prevent leather drying out. When leather dries out, it becomes brittle and can crack.

Types of oil that can be used include:

  • Castor
  • Groundnut
  • Jojoba
  • Mink
  • Neatsfoot
  • Shea-butter
  • Vegetable

However, as with polishing, there is some debate among those who work with leather about whether oiling should be considered a finish. Many people use it as a finish, but an equal number would rather use it as one step of a finishing process.

When you apply oil to leather, it seeps into the pores of the leather enriching the leather fibers.

Before you do any oil application, it is important to ensure the leather is free of dirt and impurities. Once this is done, you can apply the oil in the amounts required and allow it dry. Ensure the oil has dried before attempting any further processes.

The type of oil you use will depend on what you are willing to pay for and what is available in your area.

Ensure you know the effect oil will have on your leather. Some oils will darken leather, and that darkening may be more than you are satisfied with.

4. Waxing

A leather wax finish is very common and less a debated form of finish for leather products.

You will find wax in both liquid and solid form, but the preference tends to be to use the liquid.

When waxing, a coating is applied to the leather. This wax coating, just like oil, goes into the pores of the leather, giving it a layer of protection and enhancing the overall look of a leather item. Following a wax polish, some buffing will help with getting a glossy look.

As with all other types of finish, ensuring no dirt nor impurities are present on the leather is a must. The leather should also be dry before waxing commences.

Waxing Tips

  1. Use a circular motion when applying wax
  2. Only apply a little wax coating at a time
  3. Maintain an even coating of wax across the leather surface
  4. Use a spray wax finish if possible
  5. If using a brush, ensure it is soft-bristled

5. Lacquer

A lacquer is a liquid coating that offers protection to the leather. Only a thin lacquer is required to get protection and give the leather that glossy look.

However, using lacquer is not advisable if the leather has been colored using solvent dyes. The solvent dye and the lacquer could react with each other, changing the color of the leather.

One tip the pros give when using lacquer Is to add a thin layer of wax finish before doing the lacquering. When combined, the wax and lacquer form a strong water resistance and will help seal any non-solvent dyes.

6. Antique Finish

If you like your leather all kinds of brown shades, then the antique finish method could be for you. This method usually requires a cream that will change the tone of leather and enhance any detail the leather may have.

  1. Antique Finish for Raised Leather

With any carving, stamping, or pattern created through depressions, simply apply the finish cream to the raised parts of the design.

The easiest way to do this is by applying the cream using a lint-free cloth.

The result of this will be that the raised leather is darker and receded leather lighter.

2. Antique Finish for Receded Leather

To do this, apply the antique finish cream to the whole leather surface, ensuring the depressions in the leather get filled up. Once this is done, wipe the cream immediately from any raised parts of the leather.

The result of this is that the receded leather will be darker and the raised leather lighters.

How To Finish Natural Leather

One of the best ways to finish natural leather is a combination of wax and oil. The types of each you use are up to you.

However, some suggestions include:

  • Beeswax with almond oil
  • Beeswax with castor oil
  • Beeswax with cocoa butter

What Is The Best Finish For Leather?

There is no one ‘best’ leather finishes technique, with all the methods used being favored by one professional or another.

At the end of the day, the best finish for leather comes down to personal preference.

All you need to do is be careful that the finish you use will not react to your leather project’s other products or chemicals. Don’t forget, lacquer can react with solvent dye, and certain oils can over-darken your leather.

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