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Neillo

Making Leather Totally Waterproof

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Hey boys and girls,

I've been messing around with a few different finishes lately and not been having all that much luck.

I know finishing is a very big topic for discussion and also a very personal one; but I wanted to pose a question..

Is there any way to treat veg tan OR chrome tan leather to make it so waterproof that even after submersion in say,

salt water, it'd be able to be dried and restored without much difficulty? I've heard of Obenauf's, mink oil and

various others but have only had a bit of time and money to test these. I'm looking at making some VERY tough

leather products that can withstand survival situations and other such abuse.

The question comes from when i was beach fishing and seemed to have ruined my leather sandals,

got me thinking!

-Neillo

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The simple answer is no. That's why people who are fording rivers or diving or whatever, are using Kydex for sheaths these days. You can make leather water resistant so if you spill something or it gets rained on, it will come back, but making leather submersion proof isn't too realistic. I suppose if you just covered it in acrylic, but it wouldn't really be leather at that point.

Edited by Glendon

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It could be done by using a finish like Mirror Coat or Clear Coat that is sold in woodworking stores but the properties of the finish itself would render the piece with a hard, shell like finish and wouldn't be familiar as leather in feel or performance any more. I've used it on wood vases before to make them 100% waterproof but again, it ends up looking like Glendon said, a piece sealed in a hard acrylic shell. On the plus side, that stuff is also chemical & fire resistant once completely cured! How's that for survival gear?! ;)

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Ok, it seems that immersion is a no go. What would be the closest, perhaps giving the leather

some sort of warm oil bath or similar? I guess in theory, you could replace all of the air in between

the fibres with oil or a pliable wax and lose some of the flexibility and suppleness to gain

water resistance, that's about all I've thought of.

Might get some scraps and "infuse" them in some warm, thin oil overnight and see what happens.

I know that purposeful immersion of leather goods will destroy them without a doubt, so for holsters

for diving and other watersports, leather is out of the question, my idea is to make something where

you could get caught in a rainstorm or accidentally drop the item in a pool etc and be able to salvage

the item with air drying and oil or wax treatment.

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Hi Neillo. Some of the topics I read here seem to be of the opinion that over-oiling anything that starts out as veg tan is as bad as not oiling at all, and maybe worse, degrading or rotting out the leather, or simply stinking when the excess oils go rancid. If you want weather resistance, it might be better to start with something that has oils and waxes as part of its tanning/finishing process, like latigo leather. Drum stuffed or hot stuffed leather might also be a possibility? You'll trade off the ability to carve or do much molding, but gain water resistance. Can I also suggest talking to the folks in the saddle and motorcycle subforms? Their products get exposed to a lot of weather, and they will probably have some suggestions.

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Winterbear,

I'm not sure latigo is in good supply in australia, at least i've never seen it at any of the merchants

i visit. I have seen some oil tan kangaroo, ox and cow leather that a friend makes mocs from; that

stuff seems to hold up well but as you mentioned, it sacrifices tooling ability to use something

pre tanned using oil.

I guess also, finding good care products for veg tan seems to be difficult around these parts, i've

been looking for a rich oil and wax product like Obenaufs etc but had no luck!

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Hello:

On Youtube there is a video where a dude dips his leather sheath into melted wax then bakes the thing on low in the oven for a while. The result is hard and he says, it's water proof.

here's one that uses beeswax

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That's an interesting idea. I'll have to try that melted wax trick at some point and see what the results are.

Neillo, oil tan leather would be my first choice for water resistance. I just ordered an oil tanned side I plan to use for wheelchair packs. However, as you said it can not be tooled. The best compromise probobly would be a latigo re-tan like this if you can find a supplier that can get it for your. http://springfieldle...ornado%2C8-9oz/

Edited by Glendon

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Winterbear,

I'm not sure latigo is in good supply in australia, at least i've never seen it at any of the merchants

i visit. I have seen some oil tan kangaroo, ox and cow leather that a friend makes mocs from; that

stuff seems to hold up well but as you mentioned, it sacrifices tooling ability to use something

pre tanned using oil.

I guess also, finding good care products for veg tan seems to be difficult around these parts, i've

been looking for a rich oil and wax product like Obenaufs etc but had no luck!

FYI, Latigo is what you all call white hide or red hide down-under.

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The wax dip trick does work, apologies, I thought you were going for "purposeful submersion" versus temp scenarios. Only drawback is that extreme temps can remelt the wax making the piece soft until it cools down. There are a number of folks here that make recreation wine & water skins and leather mugs using the wax technique.

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Hello:

On Youtube there is a video where a dude dips his leather sheath into melted wax then

bakes the thing on low in the oven for a while. The result is hard and he says, it's water proof.

Sylvia to the rescue!

This is kinda what i had in mind, but didn't know if the leather would survive hot oil or wax!

Will give this a go and see how it turns out, would be fun experimenting with what temperatures

are needed for the liquid to penetrate the leather.

I've seen some luthier tour vids where they submerge the pickups in 140 degree wax for 24 hrs

to get the beeswax into the pickup windings, so i'm sure that leather would be even harder to

get the same penetration!

How's those pick holders coming along anyway?

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Sylvia to the rescue!

How's those pick holders coming along anyway?

LOL Just make sure you don't get the wax too hot. I microwaved some water once to do do wet molding and my leather shrank to about 1/3 it's original size not to mention the "leather tea" I made. lol

Pick holders are coming right along. I learn something new every time I make one.

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"Leather Tea" sounds tasty, maybe something to prepare for your guests someday!

I was thinking of using a light oil and starting off cold with the item in, then bringing it

to temperature and holding it there, much like you'd make a stock in cooking; the theory

is that the leather would get a chance to open up as the oil heats up so it could wick it

up over time.

I might try this with my really thin camellia oil for starters, got plenty of it left over!

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LOL Don't serve leather tea to guests!

Well, the process is osmosis, that might just work. Just I would test first of course to see the results. The oil might make the piece too soft to hold a shape though. I would probably try the oil, then try the wax... then try a few with various ratios of the two mixed, to see which one works the best for you.

Hmmm.... I wonder if deglazing the leather first would help the process by removing any factory finishes.

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Hmmm.... I wonder if deglazing the leather first would help the process by removing any factory finishes.

Depends on what the finishes are made of i guess. I, for one, have no clue!

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Picture leather as a sponge. Now picture what it would take to make a sponge waterproof.

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Randall Knives used to use an oil/wax ( bee's + Paraffin ) hot melted dip, it worked . I'v used similar preps , you need to add drain holes , you also need to warm the project prior to dipping , dip it , then hit it with a heat gun to suck up any excess . Try on a few test pieces first . Done properly , this witch's brew will work , and resist rain , dunking , even diving .

Exact proportions are done by eye , and by experiment .

Chris

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I make waterproof straps for all kinds of purposes and find that a total immersion in neatsfoot oil works very well as a waterproofing agent.

The trick is to leave it submerged in the oil until the leather is absolutely saturated. The downside is that the leather always feels greasy to the touch afterwards. For survival kit that may not be a problem - I wouldn't use it for belts or anything that will touch absorbent fabric as the oil will almost certainly 'wick' out. and could spoil the fabric. I have straps that are thirty years old that were treated in this way. They have not rotted and still seem water resistant (and feel slightly greasy!).

Heating beeswax is also a winner for me as I use it to dip seal leather bottles. I use a commercial deep fat fryer to melt the wax - it has a thermostat so the temperature can be controlled easily. I find three submersions necessary to get a good seal. It is possible to re-waterproof old beeswaxed leather bottles by re-dipping them.

Never tried dipping knife sheaths but I'm keen to give it a go.

Ray

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On 4/12/2012 at 3:50 PM, Spinner said:

I've used it on wood vases before to make them 100% waterproof but again, it ends up looking like Glendon said, a piece sealed in a hard acrylic shell.

But surely that could be a desired effect? Like if it lasts longer then hooray? 

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After 45 years of construction in the PNW, I can say with 100% certainty that you will NEVER make leather waterproof.

I have used every product out there on my boots and the BEST will keep them reasonably dry for 2-3 days. And then you are

reapplying for the next 2-3 days. That is why Gore-Tex is so popular.

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Funny how they have used Horses for centuries out in all weather, fittings made with simple tools and some no doubt looked after poorly.

Maybe not waterproof but wear well when often soaked with water every day

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