Protecting edges on leather (vegtan)

I’ve been playing around with making good edges for vegtan leather aka bark tan leather.

Note:  There's many variations on these techniques & they aren't even the only ones I've used.  Simply what I'm learning lately.  Head over to Reddit's Leathercraft for more information on all of these styles - www

Techniques to protect your leather edges

  • Burnishing – rubbing it vigorously with a hand tool or machine in order to solidify the edges and keep their strength for years.  General steps …
    • Beveling the edges to round them helps prevent the leather overflowing the edges during the burnishing.  The over flow is called “burrs” I believe in metal work.
    • It has been suggested that before burnishing, you clean the leather with saddle soap.
    • Case the leather (wet) & let the surface dry slightly (under the surface the leather fibers will be holding water still.  This is the same technique you use for tooling / carving leather.
    • By hand tool or machine rub the leather vigorously to generate friction.  I use the multi sized slicker – Link.
    • Sanding – Use one of various grades of sandpaper(400, 800, 1200, 1600, 3000, 4000 grit).  It allows the fibers to lay together tighter than just burnishing alone.
    • Burnish again.  Then sand again with a more fine grit sandpaper.  If you are using edge paint, apply it here.
    • Burnish & sand again with an even more fine sandpaper before edge painting again & leaving to dry for hours or a day.  3 times total will generally produce excellent results.  I use 600, 1200, 4000 grit sandpaper.
    • Dye the leather with standard dye if you are not using edge paint.  Skip if you are using edge paint.
    • Gum of Traganath along the edge now.  Let it dry.
    • I warm wax in the sun and apply it at this step.
    • Burnish a final time.
    • If you’re going to use heat, apply it now.
    • At some point you’ll want to recondition the leather as you used water and saddle soap on it.  Kneatsfoot oil, mink oil, leather branded conditioners like lexol are all fine for that purpose.
  • Burning – done with a special flat heating iron or temperature controlled soldering iron after the burnishing to help seal the edges.  Increasing the temperature helps the wax bond or dissolve in to the leather.
  • Waxing – waxing is a great finishing layer to help keep things in place.  People often use the wax before & after burning.  Paraffin wax is often used for it’s low melting point & beeswax is another vary common but higher melting point wax used.  The wax will sit at the surface or sink to the leather based on how warm it gets.  Periodically the leather will need to have it’s wax coat freshened like shoes get polished or leather gets conditioned.
  • Mixtures – some people use glues, composites, e-poxy to hold the edges.  Gum of Tragacanth is a light weight alcohol base that many people use with vegtan & other leathers to help hold them down, but not interfere with dying or other layers & processes like waxing or edge paints.
  • Piping / sewing edges – mainly used on other types of edges than vegtan, but still works well.  One simply takes a nylon or any other desired material including leather & sews the material along the edge from the top and the bottom of the edge.

At the bottom of this photo is latigo.  You can see the rough edges near my thumb as I hold the latigo.  Left like this the leather will begin to fray as weeks & months go by.  With heavy use the leather will begin to loosen up & fall apart.

Observe the rough looking edges of the three pieces of Latigo.

Various photos as the leather approaches being finished  … painting the edges the first time.  More burnishing will follow & more dying after that before.


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