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Why hello all!

As you can see, I am brand new here as well as to leather.  I’ve only made a pair of breast collar tugs and girth guards so far - no tooling, just dye.  I’m starting to envision all sorts of projects (particularly a headstall to match my saddle and an archery bracer for my mother) and my artsy background is getting me excited about COLOR.

My question for you is this - are saddles sealed? And if so, with what? How do they absorb conditioner once sealed?

At first I was turned away from paints (for the bracer) because my impression was that after sealing the leather can’t absorb anything else.  I feel like I have been conditioned to, well, “condition” my saddle, and it seems wrong to not have to do that with leather? Then I was also finding information where saddles are sealed and I just grew more confused. So, what’s the lowdown?

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By "seal" do you mean a finish that locks in the dye? It locks in the dye to prevent it rubbing off and also resists/prevents further application of dye. There are many different ypes of finishes (I have personally used Resolene, Super Shene, and Neat-Lac). I don't think those would prevent the application of conditioner, though perhaps heavy coats of laquer or acrylic (such as a wood finish) might (I am not sure of this, I don't have experience with it). Leather conditioners include oils with or without a mixture of waxes (such as beeswax). Oils (such as Neatsfoot oil) will absorb into leather that has been finished. I think the oils will also penetrate through waxes, though I don't personally have experience with that. I mean, first thing that comes to my mind are my leather dress shoes - they are finished leather that readily drink up conditioners. I don't have any experience with saddles, but I am nearly certain that they are indeed finished leather - either straight from the tannery (think chrome-tan leather) or by the craftsman/woman. 

Depending on the type of finish (e.g acrylic-based or not), you can further add a paint on top - paints generally don't absorb into leather like dyes. If you have an acrylic-based finish (such as Fiebing's Resolene or Super Shene) you can add on top of that some acrylic-based paints (such as Angelus or Cova-Colors). You'd probably then want to add a finish on top of the paints for a little extra protection. You can also thin paints, such as Cova-Colors, with water to create a stain with which you can apply to the whole leather, as you would a dye. You can apply paints directly on to unfinished leather, you don't need to finish the leather before adding paints. 

Here is a process I have used: add the paints -> add a finish to the painted area -> dye the rest of the leather (the finish will help resist dye getting on the paint - and so will a quick wipe with a paper towel if I accidentally get dye on the painted area) -> apply a finish to everything. I use paintbrushes to apply paint. I use wool daubers to apply dye (the dye likes to wick up into the ferrule of paint brushes and, for my flat brushes, is impossible to get out; I have better success with my round brushes). You can use a similar process with dyes: dye one area -> apply a finish to that area -> dye the other area -> apply a finish to that area. Applying the finish to the first area will reduce/minimize any accidental color spread when dyeing and finishing the other area. Some finishes work as better "resists" than other finishes, depending on the type of dye you use. I find that a few coats of Neat-Lac make for an excellent resist.

Please note that my experience is limited to water-based dyes such as Tandy's Eco-Flo line of dyes. Alcohol-based dyes will behave a bit differently (more dye penetration of the leather, faster drying time). I'd recommend searching/browsing thesse forums for past threads that deal with the products (dyes, paints, finishes) that you use. If you have some scrap leather, you can also set up some experiments. I've done this with my scrap leather to test the effect of dye penetration on different finishes. In general, more coats of finish = more resistant to further dyeing. Do note that multiple coats will also typically increase the glossiness of the finish.

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Thanks for the reply!

When I say seal, yes I’m referring to something that helps to keep the dye/paint from transferring/getting damaged.  In the back of my mind, though, it seems like varnish over an oil painting once it’s dried - you know, the kind of thing that’s the last and final step where little to nothing is going to penetrate beyond that film. I think that thought is what’s scaring me haha.

I definitely appreciate you listing some brands as that’ll help me narrow down my research. Also, super thanks for sharing some of your processes.  I have a lot of practice and play ahead of me and it’ll be interesting to test out different approaches and see all the effects.  Hopefully I’ll have good things to share ;)

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