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LEATHER RELATED QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
We have been getting a very large number of Leather Related questions from visitors over the last year. these are from Companies & the General Public, We will publish the more interesting ones here. Francis can deal with the majority of those relating to leathergoods manufacture. However that is only part of this diverse subject. Over the past two years we have built up a friendship with other experts in related areas & we exchange information & help one another we will call on them where the inquiry relates to their specific field. Areas that can be covered by this association: Leathergoods Manufacture, Footwear, Saddlery & Harness, Tannery Related Issues, Bookbinding, Leather Tooling/Carving, Platting/Thonging. Retail of leather Items, (There may be More to Follow). There will at time be things that stump the Experts, In this instance we will post them here in the hope that someone out there may have an answer.
28/6/06 From Kevin.
Comments: Hi, I recently bought a leather reclining suite (a three piece sofa, and two single chairs) in beige, after a short time, we have noticed disclouration on the leather itself, it seems it is turning olive. Do you knowe any leather inspectors in the UK, that we can arrabnge to come round and investigate the problem. Thank you for any help you can give.
Answer: Thank you for contacting me. I am afraid there is no organisation that oversees the leather industry in the UK (that's also assuming that it was manufactured here) a lot of leather furniture is made in Italy). It is also difficult to assess what the problem might be without knowing what type of Tannage was used to produce that leather. However there is some useful info I can supply.
First I will assume that you have not had that 3 piece suite very long & under those circumstances you are protected by law & you can claim that the goods are not fit for purpose. The quickest option is to return to the Store you purchased them from & demand a refund. (They should collect it as well). Most stores try to pass of the responsibility to the Manufacturer & will suggest that you contact them. (refuse) the law clearly states that your contract was with the Store & it is their responsibility & they must take the goods back & make a refund. (It is then up to them to pursue the manufacturer for supplying them with faulty goods.
If they refuse then contact the local Standards Agency, get them to view the furniture & let them tackle the Store. If they still wriggle The Standards Agency & you can call in a Leather Expert. Nean College will usually oblige. It then becomes a case for a Small Claims Court, where you the customer, the Standards Agency, & the Leather Expert, (usually a Leather Chemist). give evidence against the Store. A decision in your favour will leave the Store liable to refund you, plus your costs, the Stands Agency's Costs, Nean Colleges Costs plus any fine imposed.
General Info. The leather normally used for furniture of this kind has a special finish that does not stain & is wipeable with a damp cloth. & you are not responsible for damage unless it can be proved that you used unsuitable chemicals to clean it. Occasionally furniture is made from Bark Tanned Leather to produce an antique look. Now this can fade & be affected by colour rub to a small degree. but this would happen of a period of years not months & can be slowed by polishing. But it should not change colour unless treated with unapproved chemicals.
If you are in the clear on that issue my advice is to copy the salient points. from this email & approach the shop & ask politely for a refund & them to take back the the furniture If they quibble point out the law on the issue & mention the fact that you will if necessary bring in the Standards Agency & a Leather Chemist. But do not mention the court as you will not want to provide their layers with too much info.
23/6/06 From Nigel.
Comments: I have recently bought a leather jacket and the shop sold us a kiwi select universal all protector to prevent rain and stains. I am worried that this shoe protector( it doesn't mention clothing) might harm my new jacket. Is it safe to use? Is it effective? Thanking you in advance.
Answer: Thank you for contacting me. (Kiwi select universal all protector to prevent rain and stains). Kiwi are renowned for their Shoe Polish but it is a trade name & probably it's ingredients are similar to all other makes of shoe polish. As for leather protectors there are quite a lot on the market & to be honest I have not tried any of them. You do not say if your coat is suede or not, if it is then only a spray on treatment should be considered as anything else would paste down the fine exposed fibres that make it suede. You give no indication as to the colour? Any treatment will darken the leather even clear treatments, this is not a great problem with black & brown leather but pastel colours & tan's will darken. Then there is the suppleness of the article which is important with leather clothing. The Tanners will have gone to great lengths to make the clothing leather supple & to ensure it stays supple through out the life of the garment, they employ Leather Chemists to ensure this.
With shoes it is a different thing they are quite firm & have a certain amount of rigidity & a spray would not make them noticeably stiffer. Unless that treatment specifically recommends it's use on leather clothing then Don't Use It. Even if it recommends that it is safe to use on clothing I personally would take that with a pinch of salt & conduct an experiment first before treating the whole coat. If you look at the inside of the coat you will notice that the lining does not reach the bottom & that there is a small area of leather hem all round the bottom edge. If you want to try the treatment out then apply it to that inside hem, Not at the front but at the back of the hem. Also cover the lining so that you don't get any of the solution on that.
2/10/05 An email question & a request for help, which has developed & grown into a Joint Venture involving help from some of the experts we can call on for help & advice. But lets start at the beginning: some weeks ago I received the following email from Clem Oxby:
Company: Earby Lead Mining Museum
Phone: 0113 267 5489
I am a member of the Earby Mining Research Group. I've been asked to make presentable part of a harness used by 'pit ponies' in old lead mines, most of which closed down in the very early 1900's.
The harness is very old and is brittle/fragile in places, especially where the leather has been in contact with the now-much-rusted steel buckles and the like. Parts of some of the straps have now broken off.
We intend to clean the harness and mount it on a 'pretend' pony, and display it in the museum which is currently undergoing restoration of the building and its interior displays. I would be grateful for your advice. My thanks to you.
I try to help & respond to all inquiries but with this one there is a lot of problems & redirecting Clem to companies on my site was not going to help him. I am not located near him I am not a Saddler or Harness Maker, (Great Grandfather was). A request for more information got the following response:
Thank you for responding so fully and promptly. I'm based in Leeds, UK and I'm a volunteer 'worker' for the Earby Lead Mining Museum near Burnley, Lancs. Most of the Lead Mines closed around 1900.
I think all that is required of me is that the harness is cleaned, and
treated so that it can be displayed in a clean state and without further
breaking of the straps, parts of which have become brittle/fragile. I do not think that it needs restoring with the broken parts replaced.
I will take a picture or two and send them to you by email within a few
days. Many thanks. I'll be contacting you again in a few day's time. Clem (Oxby)
I now had a clearer picture of what was required. The project involves a small Local Museum attempting to record & display part of the local history. As you can see from the emails Clem is a voluntary worker & I guess most of the rest of the helpers are. Many emails have been exchanged but there is no need to reproduce all of them. The pictures did arrive & are reproduced below. Some interesting snippets arose during the exchange of emails, but I will return to them later.
Clearly More help was required & other experts needed to be involved. Enter the first expert on leather preservation. This is one of our Major Associates namely, Ben Staerch of: Company: Zenith, 9 Oakfield Road, Whickham, City: Newcastle Upon Tyne, Zip: NE16 5HG, Phone: 0191 4403179 (To view their products on this site select 'Furniture Clinic For Furniture Care' at the top of this page or just Click Here). Or use this URL http://www.furnitureclinic.co.uk to go straight to their site. Ben not only offered advice but sent the museum some leather treatment to use. Zenith is one of the leading suppliers of Leather Treatments in the UK.
The next expert had to be a Saddler/Harness Maker to help sort out the pieces of harness that the museum had, (there appears to be parts of more than one old harness). Make necessary repairs that don't detract from the age of the harness, (Like replacing rotted stitching, etc) & of cause assembling the harness on the model pony. Enter our second expert: David May. At The Cumbria School of Saddlery. Redhills, Penrith, Cumbria CA11 0DL. UK. Tel: 01768899919. David is an experienced & Competent Saddler, he is also provides some Leather Craft training. his courses are mainly short term courses. Linked to the National Skill Assessment & Qualification Scheme for The Saddlery Trade. (This is a Test Centre). To find his listing on this site Click Here. or use the following URL to go straight to David's site. http://www.saddlerycourses.com (we will report later on David's efforts once he has seen the tack).
I also Contacted Mrs Hazel Morley (Executive Secretary), of The Society of Master Saddlers Ltd. Tel: & Fax: 01449711642. E-mail Enquiries@mastersaddlers.co.uk This is the main Saddlery association in the UK & represents the majority of the Saddlery Industry as well as the rural Saddler. Anyone contemplating a career in this craft or starting a business should contact them. This organisation continues to help & support the saddlery industry as it has always done. Hazel informs me that Pat Crawford, their press officer may also become involved with this project.
A selection of the pictures sent by Clem.
As you can see the harness is old & in a sorry state, especially the collar The stuffing (straw) is in place but the lining at the back of the collar is in need of TLC. The harness is crude compared to Show harness & is not even comparable with that used on farms. However it was serviceable & adequate for the job it was made for. Don't forget it was used underground & in the dry.
When you consider the conditions that the men & pony's worked under in the late Victorian & Edwardian era, in fact it was not until after the last world war that the pit pony's were replaced in the coal mines by machinery. The men had to wait until the mines closed altogether to be separated from that environment. Needless to say they resented the closing of the mines as it was their living & support for their families.
More information on the Lead Mines & the pony's used.
The Pony used in the Lead Mines were significantly bigger than those used in the coal mines. They were in fact Dales Ponies. More on this & pictures of the assembled harness when the exhibit is ready for display.
Ref: No.9. A question from Friedrich Ripman, Heidelberg Germany.
Greetings Friedrich, I have enclosed 3 pictures (Click to see them) of one of my strops as attachments. They are self made, length is determined by length of sheet of fine Emery Paper (plus enough to shape to a comfortable handle & a little extra at the bottom to round the corners). Width was determined by width of Emery Paper & it's ability to cut into equal width strips ( Being economical by nature I worked out the width by dividing the width of the Emery Paper equally into widths to avoid any waste strips.) Example if the Emery was 12 inches wide then if cut into 3 4 inch strips the strop would need to be made 4 inches wide. Thickness of the wood used was 1 inch. The emery was stuck to a piece of card (& allowed to dry) before it was cut into strips. Note. The card was also cut larger in width as well as length. On the length side the surplus card was trimmed level with the sheet of emery for a clean edge both sides before cutting into strips. The surplus card at the top & bottom was left in place to allow the emery to be nailed to the strop avoiding nailing through the emery itself. so that the full length of the emery is available to use. You will need to include this with your calculations when determining the length of the strop. The leather is nailed to the other side flesh side up so that the fibres are showing Stiff bridle leather of about 3mm is best Cow hide is all right but the best leather for this purpose is Horse as the fibres are denser. The leather should be cut from the Butt (Rump). Treatment of the leather to get a keen edge on a knife. Coat the surface of the fibres with a soft wax that will penetrate the fibres (Do not use a liquid wax or a hard wax). Directly after applying the wax spread Carborundum Powder over the top of the wax & rub it into the wax & fibres. This is a messy job, wipe of any surplus & the strop is ready for use. A good strop is of little use if the knives are not sharpened correctly. if you require advice on this I will supply it.
Note From Francis For those wishing to use this information these are the measurements of my Strop. (Shown in the pictures opposite). Length including Handle = 18 1nches. of which 6 inches is shaped for handle. Thickness = 3/4 inch wood. Working width =
2. 1/4 inches. The emery paper stuck to the board is cut slightly narrower than the strop & the leather strop on the opposite side will be the same width.
Ref: No. 2. 16/8/03. A possible explanation for this inquiry regarding the strange saddle. To see the addition to this ongoing inquiry Click Here.
Ref: No.8: 28/3/03. Question (From Amal Kanti Deb)
Comments: I am a graduate leather technologist & working as a lecture in Bangladesh college of leather technology, now I am doing a diploma in leather garments at Indian Institute of Leather Product,Chennai. After finishing it I"d like to study in UK at MS/MPhil level. I have a cognizance about footwear also. In this connection would you help me? Thanks.
(Amal I have posted your request. But your EMAIL IS NOT RESPONDING Francis)
Ref: No.7: 28/3/03. Question
Hi Francis, I'm looking for a square leather box...something with a lid and no inside detail other than a lining...(no pockets...etc..) I will be using it as a portfolio box. I have seen similar boxes used as archival or museum boxes...possibly a photo/film box...but I am looking for black leather instead of paper...and I can't find a square box anywhere. I'm not tremendously crafty so the idea of making one myself scares me a little...so I'm interested in having one custom made for me. I am looking for one at least 10" x 10", and preferably 12" x 12". (depth could be up to 2") Any information you could give me would be great. Thanks so much! Miranda
Ref: No.7: Answer (By Francis)
I have suggested that site members are contacted for a quote on this article. No further contact. Can anyone help with this?
Ref: No.6: 28/3/03. Question
Hello, I am a researcher of a mineral producer company from Turkey. My research project deals with the uses of absorbent clays in the leather industry, by the means of removal of fat from the hide. According to some general information, some absorbent clays like sepiolite, attapulgite or bentonite have some applications in this industry, and the raw material is gained from the producers of Spain. I am kindly asking for any information related with the technology of application of these clays as inorganic agents. I would be so glad if you could help me with this. Thank you very much for your response.. Best Wishes Mss. Ozden Ozsoy
Ref: No.5: 28/3/03. Question
Dear Sir, I am postgraduate student at the chair "Technology of leather goods and design" of the Tashkent institute of textile and light industry. Now I am having researches about processing of leather with salt composition to dye. I would like to have contact with you to exchange skills and ideas.
Your faithfully, Ravshan Aliyev
Ref: No.4: 2/2/03. Question From Negash Design.
I am a small Manufacturer & Retailer of high end leathergoods. Some time ago I Purchased a large quantity of briefcase locks from 'Hodges' locks UK. I desperately need to reorder but am having difficulty locating the company. If you have any information regarding them it would be appreciated. The last I heard was that C.W. Cheney & Son were making these locks. I do not have current information on this company & am unable to reach them, can you help with this?
Reference No.4: 2/2/03. Answer from FB-M.
Hodges was taken over by Listons & they have also gone out of business.
(Also find info on this under 'Books & Publications' entry No. 33).
Cheney & Son Have also gone out of business & they were taken over by:
'Tomkins Buckle CO Ltd' Brockhurst Crescent, Walsall. UK.
If you need any further help please don't hesitate to contact me.
Ref: No.3: 6/2/03. Question From Bill Hauge. USA.
He is looking for 1.5mm/1.7mm (4+oz) Black Drum Dyed, Chrome Tanned Garment Leather. (Must be Horse Hide) to produce Motorcycle Clothing. Is there anyone out there who knows where to get this?
Ref: No.1: 2/1/03. Question From D.J. Pfaltzgaff. USA.
When I was born in Nigeria in 1946, my mother was given a native leather sling that is decorated with cowrie shells. Of course she never used it, but it was passed on to me when I returned to America in 1962. It was oiled with what I think is shea nut oil and when I last checked a few years ago it was still quite pliable. However, the oil had turned rancid and the odor was quite unpleasant! Thus it remains 'put away'. I am interested in finding out what is the best way to clean it and continue the preservation. At this time it is not of historic interest and probably will never be. However, it does represent a lifestyle that has faded into the past. For this and for sentimental reasons, I am interested in this project. Most of the searching I've done on leather preservation has lead me down the lines of the library preserving the leather book bindings. I'm not interested in placing this up on a shelf! Using Google, I eventually found the link to your 'Museums' selection which looks like it's the right kind of link. But, I was sad when I saw that all the references were in Europe. (When I think of it, I guess there may be more interest in leather antiquity there than here in America!) Anyway, given this brief background and the fact that the financial resources are limited, could you give me some pointers as to where the best start would be?
Ref:No.1: Answer. From FB-M.
I have never seen one of those slings so I would appreciate a picture of it if that is possible? Secondly I have never heard of 'Shea Nut Oil' & do not know what effect it has on the leather or to be more precise how it reacts with the leather. So we will start with a few questions, is it thick & doe's it lay on the surface of the leather like a paste? Or is it absorbed into the fibres of the leather? Is the surface of the leather dry to the touch or is it still tacky? In answer to one of your observations regarding Museums, Due to the antiquity of leather & the production of leather items it is understandable that there will be larger collections of this type of artifact in Europe on the understanding that America is a more recent culture. However America was well populated during the industrial revolution so Museums over there must have leather items among their exhibits.
Most Museums around the world will have a small selection of leather goods on display or among their stored items. Museums that specialize in leather items are thin on the ground any way. With the exception of old books which were leather bound. You also touched on the main difference in attitude & approach to the preservation of leather between Museum Conservationists & Leather Craftsmen we tend to operate from the position of minimizing deterioration & preserving the usefulness of a leather object & will not entertain working on an object if the leather has perished beyond repair. As Craftsmen we are all capable of copying & reproducing the article so that the owner has a new & serviceable item. To the Museum Restorer this is sacrilege the antiquity of the object is lost (Never mind that the new one might be better made). Their object is to preserve the item as it is (freeze it in time), they will carefully & expertly fill any areas that have fallen away match the colour & to all intense & purposes the item will look as if it were perfectly preserved. the problem then is that it can't be handled any more & needs a special atmosphere & a glass case.
Back to your Baby Sling, leather as with all materials will perish with time, it is inevitable. But with proper treatment & care this can be extended, I have seen 70 year old cases that had perished beyond repair & others that looked & felt little different to when they were made. Leather needs feeding with some form of fat or grease, with Saddlers this takes the form of 'Saddle Soap' or 'Neets Foot Oil' both leave a residue on the leather as well as penetrating it. They do a very good job of preserving it but Tack is kept in a stable & not in a house, the mixed smell of the above treatments plus the stale sweaty smell of a horse probably smells as bad as the treatment on your sling. Shoes are cleaned with shoe polish containing fats & 'Bees Wax' & provide a better option regarding odour, Most of them contain a colorant & will build a surface on an article that may not be wanted. To clean off the residue of any previous treatment a wash over with detergent should remove most oily types of treatment this needs to be done carefully with regard to the amount of soak in & the strength of the detergent used.
It is advisable to try out the operation on an obscure corner of the item. once it is clean the residue of the detergent should be removed as well. If this does not work there are stronger grease removers available but there is no guarantee on their lasting effect on the leather. Most of them do carry info on what you can use them on as well as what you cant. Petrol is a great grease remover but should be used with care & if resorted to then use it on a rag wiping the surface once or twice to remove the upper layer of polish. In fact use a rag with any treatment rather than soak it in. Allow to dry thoroughly fresh air is best, (that should take away any remaining smell as well) Replacing the oil & fat is best done with A Bees Wax formula of some kind which is what we in the industry normally use. We used to make our own concoction using bees wax, Russian Tallow & a few other ingredients that are no longer available due to wild life preservation. The best treatment on offer commercially comes from your side of the pond I have tried it out & it beats everything else. It is made by Obenauf's Leather Preservatives.
The main ingredients are Bees Wax & Propolis (also from bees). My recommendations are to coat the sling when clean with their 'Leather Oil' (This is thin & runny) & will penetrate the fibres Allow each application to dry before the next one. It is not possible to say how many applications will be needed & you will need to test it for suppleness. When satisfied polish the surface with their 'Heavy Duty LP' to provide surface protection & don't forget to give regular treatment to the sling to ward of further deterioration. It would not be a bad idea to treat all other leather items the same way people never think to treat their leathergoods with preservatives. One note of caution though Leather Furniture & Skivers (the type of leather on books etc). should not be treated. With furniture the surface has a sort of moisture & stain treatment which will not allow the grease to enter the fibres (You would not want it transferred to your clothes either). Skivers are not colour fast so treatment of the kind recommended would darken or make the surface streaky. Both are best left to the ravages of central heating. I hope the above is of some help & please let me know the results.
Regards Francis (David provided the answers to my questions above which matched my assessment).
Ref No.1: Reply D.J. PPfaltzgaff.
Rather than wait for normal photo processing, I borrowed my son's digital camera and took a few shots. This is the better one. I have also been able to discuss it with my parents. Mom said that this is rather unique and that if I went back to my birthplace and asked about it very few would know what I was talking about! Dave
Ref No.1: Observation FB-M.
I have reproduced David's Picture opposite. It is obviously Native Arts & Crafts, Does anyone out there have any suggestions? Can anyone Identify this Baby Sling? Is it connected to a specific culture or race?
Ref No.2: 3/1/03. Question From Ron Ross (One of the team of experts dealing with Saddlery & Harness subjects)
I am attaching a picture of what appears to possibly be a cart saddle. It does not appear to be of American make, but, possibly, something as used in the UK, at some time in the past. A fellow on another list that I am on, apparently has it, but, does not know its purpose, thus, has been asking various saddlemakers, including me as to its purpose. With the large 'D ring' on the front, I would imagine that there would be a strap to then connect it to the top hame strap. Then, with what appear to be brass side plates, I would guess that girth fenders would have been attached there. Then , the buckle strap over the length of, what appears much like a riding seat, apparently would hold down the strap or device that is fastened over the horse's back, reaching from one shaft to the other. Not being able to see this from the rear, I can only speculate as to whether there is a 'D ring' that you would fasten a dock strap and crupper or a breeching spider to.
Ref No.2: Answer FB-M
Thanks for that picture. It is very old but I have not seen anything like it before.
I know that some ceremonial carriages with 4 & 6 horses used to have a mounted rider on the inside of the leading pair. But I cant see it fitting that role The strap across the top gap also puzzles me as well as the gap or space in the middle which also has a metal plate. Very strange most cart saddles are smaller & don't have that Gap. It is raised at the rear much like a normal saddle, but no one would sit over that gap unless of cause it was filled with something? That strap may well be a clue, if the gap was filled that strap would go over what filled it. What about horse of mule trains? they were often linked together, could the lead animal have saddle bags across that gap with a section that brought it level so that it could also be ridden? If not is it part of a special army saddle for transporting field gun equipment Teams of horses were used to pull field guns & some of their lead pairs were ridden & may also have carried essential equipment. I may be well of the mark but it might start other chains of thought.
Ref No.2: Question From FB-M
We don't know what the saddle was made for & it could be that it was made to one individuals specification but for what? Is there anyone out there who knows or has any other ideas or suggestions?
Ref: No.2. 16/8/03. An answer from L.D Mundy: Comments: re the query on you Q&A page. Although I cant make out the size of the item, it looks very much like an artillery mule saddle. This were adaptable to carry wheels, either side as well as the axle or barrel and breach for light guns or could carry heavy machine guns across the saddle. I have seen photos of similar used in Palestine 1914-18 and jugoslavia 39-45 but can't give you sources off hand. They could also carry two stretchers.
Comment from Francis: Thank you for that L.D Mundy. It is what I suspected army equipment. Are there any old soldiers out there with any further info on this? Any pictures of it in use? I will post them on this page if you send them in.
More info from Leslie.
Ref: No.2. Hello Francis. Please print as you wish. If it is of American origin, it could be that it originates from the second world war. It could possibly be a battlefield adaptation rather than an issued item. These were used a lot in the Philippines, they mimicked the Japanese who used a lightweight wooden frame with minimal padding or protection for the beast. The principle simplified is that more weight can be placed balanced centrally than can be carried by the more usual method of a pannier. The troops in the Philippines only had access to existing cavalry saddles, some of the pattern with a slot in the middle of the seat, that had been in use for many years. It could be one of these that has been adapted. leaving as much of the original work on for the sake of integrity as well as to save time. However without actually seeing the item in life so to speak, I can only surmise. But I will ask a friend who is lot more genned up that me.I did enjoy your site; in fact I have found it really useful for finding materials. I must thank you for this. I have just got back to the craft after an absence of a number of years. If the pension runs to it next month, I intend to start on your manuals. I must thank you for this. Lester.