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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Sometimes we have to be innovative and experiment. For dried up stiff leather I have taken a new route to soften it. I "inherited" my grandfather's silver (and gold?) mounted spurs. These had been stored away since he died in 1956. The leathers were flat and as hard as a pine board! These straps needed to be removed in order to clean some light rust and grime from the spurs.

One set of spur straps was also on backwards, and I wanted to re-install them correctly. But these straps would surely be broken if I tried to remove them.

So I used the "famous" Pecard, and later the famous" Black Rock. Putting the spurs in the hot sun still would not soften the leather. In fact, the spur straps were now just a sticky mess! And hard as a board after 2 years.

So I left them sitting on a newspaper for many more years (see image attached) -- waiting for a Revelation, a brainstorm, some low-risk method.

I often clean rusty guns by soaking in kerosene, and noticed how within 24 hours the kerosene evaporates 100%. So I submerged these spurs with straps in kerosene, and left them for 2 days. Now the damned leather was soft!! I mean really soft. Amazing! I was able to remove the straps, clean the spurs, and re-install the straps. I was even able to make up the tongues within the buckles.

Maybe it had something to do with the heavy initial presence of Black Rock, but after a 48 hour soak in Kerosene, the straps remained soft for over one year! Also the leather went from almost black to a tan color. In the last 3 pics, the leather has been treated with neatsfoot oil, and is now darker again. I had to do this last treatment, because the straps were beginning to lose their pliability (they were drying out).

So maybe the age-old product, Kerosene, is the best leather softener.
 

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Good work Sir. Had an old saddle maker tell me one time he soaked dried leather in water of all things. Never tried it but now I think it might work. He had a complete saddle soaking in a barrel of water at the time.
 

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Interesting, I would have never thought of that. I use Lexol and noticed that if you start with their Cleaner, then follow with the Conditioner (per their instructions), it can soften leather better. But really bad pieces I do like you - over and over retreat and hope!
 

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It's always good to learn how others deal with things.
I have had satisfactory results fixing a crusty old holster by going after it with Ballistol.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 · (Edited)
Good work Sir. Had an old saddle maker tell me one time he soaked dried leather in water of all things. Never tried it but now I think it might work. He had a complete saddle soaking in a barrel of water at the time.
Leo918, Water may work fine on some leather items, but I had one really bad experience many years ago. For years I had wetted holsters with water and shoved a gun inside for final molding and fitting. Then I would place them in the sun for drying. Well known holster makers do the same thing every day, so what could go wrong?

Then along came this old holster that was heavily embossed with a Cowboy on a Horse. I think that these were mass produced with an embossing roll, which left the leather thinner, stretched out, and larger than before embossing. When I dampened that holster, it shrunk up like a prune! A total loss.

Attached is a (poor) picture of another holster like the above as purchased later. I will never wet that one down!

I am posting this experience only as a caution to all that like old holsters. I can only hope that they may learn from my past screw-ups.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 · (Edited)
Good work Sir. Had an old saddle maker tell me one time he soaked dried leather in water of all things. Never tried it but now I think it might work. He had a complete saddle soaking in a barrel of water at the time.
Wet new leather won't crack when bent, while dry new leather surely can. So there has always been some merit to working wet leather. Of course, the hand tooling of new leather is done after it is lightly moistened with water.
 

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For years I had wetted holsters with water and shoved a gun inside for final molding and fitting. Then I would place them in the sun for drying.
Don't EVER put one in a microwave oven to dry it out faster . . . or so I've been told!
 
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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Good tip and nice work...shows a lot of patience solving the problem.
My use of neatsfoot oil was done with some degree of reluctance, knowing that it would greatly darken my spur straps (while adding moisture). But this act is reversible! I can soak these straps in Kerosene again, and the oil will mix with the Kerosene and come out. I have done that procedure on one old holster, and it removed the oil and left the leather surface a lighter color.
 

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In “Modern Gunsmithing” by Clyde Baker I believe (CRS) he mentions how to soften dried out leather by brain tanning. I skimmed through quickly but could not find the passage. If anyone
needs I will do an in-depth search.
 

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Good work Sir. Had an old saddle maker tell me one time he soaked dried leather in water of all things. Never tried it but now I think it might work. He had a complete saddle soaking in a barrel of water at the time.
yes; just water will revive boots !
 
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