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Everything you wanted to know about leather but were afraid to ask
by Weaver Leather

reprinted with permission from Weaver Leather

Leather Structure

"Leather is a natural material made from the hides of any animal. No two animals are the same and neither are their hides. Natural marks add 'character' and appeal to the leather. As leather goods are worn and exposed to the elements, many of the essential oils the leather tanners put in to the leather wear away.  When the oils are not replaced several things occur: drying, cracking, and hardening of the leather are three of the most common results of improper care."
--Bickmore's How to Care for Your Leather Pamphlet.

The outside of the leather is known as the grain. It is covered with pores that helped maintain the living animal's fluid balance. After the hide is tanned the pores are passage ways that allow moisture to escape from the leather due to environmental conditions but also allow us to replace this moisture through the applications of oils & conditioners.

The middle layer is called the corium which is made of protein fiber and is the strength of the leather. Dirt and grime that enter through the pores into the corium break down the protein fibers and weaken the leather.

The bottom side is the rough. this little-finished side readily absorbs liquids and grime. Leather's worst enemy's are water, heat, dirt and salt from sweat.

Leather Storage

Keep your light leather out of fluorescent lights & environmental elements as much as possible to help prevent darkening. All leather changes color as it ages but this will help to slow the process.

Always remember to store your saddles and tack in a dry, ventilated area and do not leave your tack in direct sunlight.

Barns, trailers or any other location that is continually subjected to temperature extremes may not be the ideal location for the storage of your tack.

For basic tack protection make sure you store it out of direct sunlight. Cover it up to keep dust off or other accidental scratches from occurring.  Try to hang your tack or get it up off the ground.

Take humidity control measures such as removing wet saddle pads from your saddle and running a dehumidifier or fan in your tack room.

Leather Cleaning

Leather tack should have a thorough cleaning every half dozen times it is used.   For optimal results, tack should be wiped down with a damp cloth or sponge (or WEAVER WIPE) after each use to battle dirt and grime build up.

Also use the cleaning sessions to inspect your tack for wear and tear. (See "Think Safety" sheet.) Billets and cinch straps are the most critical checkpoints.  As you are cleaning your tack look for thinning or creased leather, loosened stitches or stretched holes.

Even unused tack can deteriorate so make sure you examine all equipment before use.

Tack maintenance involves two essential processes and possibly a third: cleaning, conditioning, and sealing.

Use a vacuum cleaner with a soft brush attachment on tack with deep tooling to remove dust.  Dust collects in cracks and crevasses in the leather and clogs the pores. Make sure all dirt and dust is removed before oiling your tack to prevent the dirt from caking up. 

To effectively clean your bridles and other strap goods it is best to take them completely apart.  Cracks and closely fitting components are areas where filth collects most easily and weakness develop most readily.

Start by wiping down all equipment with a damp sponge or rag (or WEAVER WIPES) to remove all surface dirt.

Next apply a cleaner (Bick 1) with a damp sponge.  Make sure you use a cleaner that is formulated to remove dirt and grime without drying out the leather.

To avoid darkening your leather, use wax-free formulas that remove stains caused by ink, food, soil, grease, and spur marks.

Make sure that you clean both sides of the leather.  A toothbrush may be used to get into the cracks and crevices of the leather.

Wipe off all soft residues which will stiffen the leather if they are left to dry.

Allow the tack to air dry for about 10 minutes.  Do not use any heat to dry the leather.  Allow it to dry slowly and naturally.

Next apply a conditioner such as Bick4. Apply the conditioner to slightly damp tack using a soft cloth or sponge. Put a light coat on all surfaces and repeat with a second coat if it seems to absorb very quickly.

Different types of tack require different types of conditioning.  Oil may be used on items constructed of thick leathers that are subjected to severe conditions such as western saddles or work harnesses.  For other tack a conditioner such as Bick 4 may be all that is required.

Use 100 percent pure neatsfoot oil to oil your tack.  Leather can only absorb a certain amount of oil before it is saturated.  Using too much oil can cause leather to deteriorate. Simply wipe a small amount of oil on both sides of the leather with a clean rag.

The frequency of oiling your saddle depends on the condition of your leather.  You do not need to oil your tack every time you clean it.

Clean your bit using a soft scrubbing brush. Pay attention to any broken or sharp areas.

Also remember to clean your girth to help keep your horse comfortable and to help prevent chafing and saddle sores.

Wet Tack

When leather gets wet the oils that lubricate the leather form bonds with the water and they are washed away.  This weakens the strength of the leather.

If your tack gets wet fairly often you may chose to waterproof it. This protects your tack from water damage with a moisture barrier that can't be penetrated in either direction.

Make sure your tack is well conditioned before waterproofing because conditioner cannot be added unless the waterproofing is removed with leather cleaner.

Glycerin soap is a commonly used leather sealer that is often mistakenly used as a cleaner. When applied before the conditioner it prevents any moisture from being absorbed into the pores. If using glycerin make sure it is applied after cleaning and conditioning.  It leaves a waxy, protective coating that blocks moisture and makes for easy wipeoffs after riding.

If you tack does get soaked with water make sure you treat it before it dries completely. If let dry the leather will become stiff as a board.

Clean the leather thoroughly and then apply a few light coats of conditioner into the damp leather while the  pores are still open.  Allow to dry slowly and naturally.

Mold

Molds are green, fuzzy spores that evade the core of the leather and weaken the fibers.

Molds can be cleaned off using a leather cleaner but once they have invaded the leather will likely return on humid days.

Clean, dry storage can help prevent molds.  If molds have already gone into your leather's core you can treat it with white distilled vinegar. Simply go over your leather with a cloth dampened with vinegar and give four to six hours to work then clean and condition your tack as usual.

Leather Quality

When purchasing tack make sure to chose products made of quality leather. Poor quality leather eventually stiffens and cracks no matter how much effort you put into maintaining it.  Quality leather is well worth the higher price and is a one time investment that only improves with age and good care.

The origin of the leather should be stamped on the item or tag. Look for English, Canadian, German and American made leathers.  These are the best quality materials used in tack on the market.  I t should have a good clean "tack shop" smell as contrasted to the chemical or acid smell of the lower quality leathers.  Good quality leathers should also be smooth, uniform thickness, and free of flaws.  Cut edges will be smooth and evenly spaced.

 

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