UKRay

Gum Tragacanth - What it is and how to use it.

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Like many people on this forum I like trying new ideas and products but I sometimes feel that I haven't got the best from some of the older older stuff. Gum Trag is a good example. In recent years I have started to use it for slicking veg tan belt edges, just like many other people but, frankly, it doesn't seem appreciably better than plain old water.

Before I get the lecture about hard work being the only way to burnish an edge, I ought to say I worked as a harness maker for years and firmly believe that a well-burnished edge should involve sweat - if not blood and tears. So why am I using this stuff? - Because the guy in the shop said I should - that's why!

Has anyone got a better reason? Can you please share your ways of using Gum Trag so I can be sure I'm doing it right? Hey, we might find some new ways to use it and I can stop feeling like I'm wasting my money every time I buy another bottle.

To start the ball rolling here is a link to the Wikipedia definition just so we are all on the same page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gum_tragacanth

Are they serious? Cake decorating? Medicine? Artist's materials? There may be more to this than you think...

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i use it for slicking edges and smoothing wrough backs on straps ect.

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i think the stuff comes from a plant only found in Afghanistan.

I use to use spit/water to slick the edge, but i think the gum stuff works a tad better. to me if you cant get it, then water will probably do fine. im have a gallon jug of the stuff and so i dont mind using it.

i think that if water works for you, then go for it. who says there is only one way to solve a problem?

i use the gum by applying with a wool dauber, making sure i dont over do it and get it dripping over the edge. i then use a (clean) old sock to buff it. i think it takes less sweat then those plastic buffing tools (which i also have and used).

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I am not particularly crazy about gum trag. It does ok, but for me was always a mess to apply and get it slicked before it was too dry. I kind of like it for edges with a veg-tan and chrome tan mixed.

I hit a decent way to apply it a couple years ago. I got one of those Weaver dye box things meant for holding dye for edges, one of the trades where niether one of us got anything really great. In my hands a total messy, ill-designed, too deep in the well, piece of fecal material (* credit to Greg G for the term) for dyeing edges. However when filled with Gum T it lays down the right amount, easily, evenly, and quickly. Cleanup is a breeze because I don't. I snap the cover back on, and add more as needed to keep it up to the roller level. I like the dye Box and Gun T a little better now, but still not my go-to first choice for most things.

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Seems like I read something about saliva working well because of enzymes in it. My thinking is that gum trag. might just be thinned down, plant based, artificial spit. The reason to use it instead of water is that it gums up a little better, giving more friction, which leads to better burnishing.

Somebody else (Art S?...rdb, maybe) mentioned using beeswax. I used that last night on a toolpouch. I'm impressed by it, and will be using it again.

Edited by TwinOaks

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LOL, here's a lovely vision, a plant somewhere in Afghanistan where a bunch of old men with runny noses are filling all those little bottles for shipment throughout the world. Seriously though, gum trag is one of many things that can be used to slick the edges of a leather item. I have had pretty good results with plain H20 and a drill mounted wooden spool, beezwax, saliva, edge-kote etc. comes to mind. It's up to the artist as to what works the best for them I guess. Finished edges definetly give an item that finished look.

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Roger made a good point when he said it can be used to smooth the rough backs on straps - I guess that means you can stick the fibres down with it. I couple of weeks ago I was working on a really 'hairy' chunk of belly leather and would have found that tip very useful (I wish I'd thought to try it!). Does anyone else use it on the back of leather? Do you just paint the stuff on with a wool dauber or use a brush or what?

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Roger made a good point when he said it can be used to smooth the rough backs on straps - I guess that means you can stick the fibres down with it. I couple of weeks ago I was working on a really 'hairy' chunk of belly leather and would have found that tip very useful (I wish I'd thought to try it!). Does anyone else use it on the back of leather? Do you just paint the stuff on with a wool dauber or use a brush or what?

i just use my fingers to apply it and lay the fibers over.

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Hi Jordan,

I don't think it is Gum Trag they are extracting from those plants.

I've used it to smooth the insides of holsters and sheaths that aren't doubled. It is also a natural top coat. I don't know if they use Gum Trag, but you can get leather "Moss Back" from HO and "Gum Back" from W/C. Seems like they always do a better job than I do.

Art

LOL, here's a lovely vision, a plant somewhere in Afghanistan where a bunch of old men with runny noses are filling all those little bottles for shipment throughout the world.

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With respect - if you're using Gum Trag like water for burnishing the edges there is a better way - it took me a while to figure that out..

Gum trag is a naturally occurring mucilage aka vegetable glue which comes from a plant grown in several places in the mideast not just Afghanistan.

The way I found best to use it is to apply a coat or two and LET IT DRY between coats. Smooth the edges with 600-800 grit wet or dry sandpaper while dry (finer grit papers such as 800+ are available at most auto parts stores). Apply another coat or two (how many coats depends on how "porous" the edge is), again letting them dry in between. Sand again and this time use a bit of the gum trag on the paper. Once dry burnish with a rub stick or coarse cloth. Repeat as needed. Maybe sounds like a lot of work but it isn't really.

The advantage is the gum rag will "glue" the fibers together unlike water and with the often looser fibered leathers we often get today this can be a great aid.

Once dry I apply a seal coat and or wax.

If dying the leather do this all after dying - hope this helps........

Edited by ChuckBurrows

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yup, took me a couple years to figure it out, but you don't slick the edges while the gum trag is wet. It works best right after it dries.

As for how I slick it, I've used a lot of things, and learned from it. Material-wise, you need some friction to heat up the trag so it melts a little. Plastic slickers are the worst. Currently I'm using one of the wood cylindrical slickers, chucked in a bench-top drill press with the speed set to an intermediate rate. Works very well, and pretty fast.

I've used it for slicking down the backs of loose pieces too. I like to burnish it just a little afterward with a bone folder.

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I just tried letting the gum trag dry out before edge burnishing and I have to agree, it seems to work. It is a really messy substance though - (other than the Weaver Dye Box - thanks for that Bruce) is there a clean way of applying the stuff? Can it be thinned effectively? What would you thin it with?

Has anyone used one of those Weaver edge slicking/sanding machines with gum trag?

Another question: Has anyone ever used gum trag as a dye resist - in other words to block dye from reaching certain areas? I have read that it can block certain types/colours of dye - is this true?

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I'm pretty sure Weaver's machine would work well, but it's darned expensive. They sell the wood cylindrical slicker, and small bench-top drill presses are cheap.

As for thinning it, water would probably work. But, It also thins out when warm. Here in AZ, I can't afford to keep the shop really cool in the summer, so I found out pretty quickly that when the inside temp is mid-80's, my gum trag is like water, which works quite well. In the winter, it's pretty much a thick gel unless I warm it.

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Another question: Has anyone ever used gum trag as a dye resist - in other words to block dye from reaching certain areas? I have read that it can block certain types/colours of dye - is this true?

Gum trag won't resist dye at all. I slicked the back of a belt for a guy. Then he said he wanted the back of the belt black (go figure, hey, he was paying for it). So, I just got out the black and spread it on and there you go! Black back.

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For applying I use my fingers or the smallest of the cheap foam brushes - load the brush and then squeeze most out...

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For a good many years I've been using gum arabic for polishing the edges of veg-tanned leather. It's most often used by printers to coat their aluminium litho plates to prevent them from oxidising. It comes as a liquid, and most local printers are happy to part with a small bottle free of charge, and it's very economical to use. I sometimes dilute the gum 50/50 with Fiebing's water-based black edging dye, which does two jobs for the price of one!

I apply the gum with a small piece of sponge or a dauber and burnish immediately with a bone folder or a piece of antler, followed by a quick polish with a piece of saddle cloth. If it dries out too much, it can be reactivated by wiping over with a damp sponge.

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Gum Arabic.... now thats funny.... when i was working at wrigley, and they moved the Altoids line here, powered gum arabic was the main ingredient.....

I use Gun T allot when I am making coasters.... I will coat the entire back using a dobber. It starts to dry as I am applying it and I just add more until i get a thickish even coverage over the rough side of the leather. Then I take a cloth and scrub it real good until it is nice and smooth and even all over. I might then use black edge coat to cover it or leave it plain. Either way it provides a nice water resistant and skid resistant surface for the coasters when I take them to a Bar. The bar it gets set on is usually wet, or stands a good chance to get wet durring the night, and if someone tries to slide it is doesnt move easily....

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Finally I dare post a reply in this thread!

I have used gum-trag a bit and gotten decent results with it but it's very easy to overdo it with the slicker I think. Get's like a cracked effect wich I have had problems foreseeing. Anyways I have now turned to slicking with the Tandy bonefolder when the beveled edge is still cased. After dying and the edge is dry I re-wet it with water on a brush and slick it to gloss. I've also gotten some very good results with Tandys mahogany antique on edges in rich amounts but will continue to experiment with this to verify if it's the mahogany or some other factor playing a role in those cases.

Tom

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Hmm . . . so I guess I've been polishing my edges with chewing gum for all these years??!

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Hmm . . . so I guess I've been polishing my edges with chewing gum for all these years??!

Well... I am not sure if they use it in the Altoids gum or not, but it is the main ingredient in the mints....

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I have another Gum Trag question:

I always just assumed the gum would be water soluble after it was dry, so I always sealed it with supersheen when using it on the back of a belt to slick down the belt.

Then I spoke to a friend and he said he had just assumed the oposite: that Gum Trag was a final finish for the edge or the back of a belt and he had never sealed it and never heard of it softening if it got wet again.

Any thoughts?

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On another forum, I've discovered that Gum Tragacanth is sold in a powdered form for Cake Decorating. It's mixed together to form a paste that they somehow use? Not sure what that means for leather applications, but it was a weird enough bit of trivia that I thought I should pass it on.

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On another forum, I've discovered that Gum Tragacanth is sold in a powdered form for Cake Decorating. It's mixed together to form a paste that they somehow use? Not sure what that means for leather applications, but it was a weird enough bit of trivia that I thought I should pass it on.

It's used for very delicate sugar flowers. (My mom does wedding cakes.)

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I have used water...not bad...but I also use the Gum Tragacanth by applying to the edge with a dauber, letting it sink in a little, then hitting it with my Cocobolo wood dremel burnisher until I reach the look I'm shooting for. I ordered the cocobolo burnishers (2 with varying channel widths to accomodate the leather's thicknesses.) My dremel running at 1000 RPM, don't push too hard because it slows down the motor. I attach the dremel to a stand, but this can be done with dremel in hand. So, in conclusion, run some test samples and see what work best. I use it for 6/7 oz weight leather used to make Guitar Straps.

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I have used water...not bad...but I also use the Gum Tragacanth by applying to the edge with a dauber, letting it sink in a little, then hitting it with my Cocobolo wood dremel burnisher until I reach the look I'm shooting for. I ordered the cocobolo burnishers

Get rid of the Gum Trag man - it's just a glue. Glycerin Saddle Soap is all you need and you'll have a hard edge that's actually smooth and not just glued down to look like it.

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