Everything you wanted to know about leather but
were afraid to ask
reprinted with permission from Weaver Leather
"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.
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
Take humidity control measures such as removing wet
saddle pads from your saddle and running a dehumidifier or fan in your
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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