[Originally published August 2008]
This is probably the aspect of leathercraft where there are as many opinions as there are crafters, and most of them will swear by their own methods as gospel truth.
So, I want to give you my opinion as well, but with the hope that it will clarify some of the confusion that exist around dyes, stains, finishes, dressings, conditioners and oils.
This whole discussion will center around vegetable-tan (treebark tanned) leather. This is the only leather to be treated with the products I will discuss.
The basic sequence in any project will more than likely be as follows:
- The project is cut out and tooling / stamping is done.
- The leather is dyed - either completely or selectively. This step can be left out if you want the natural color to remain.
- A optional choice is made between
- a) not using an antique stain,
- b) lightly using an antique stain just to highlight tooling or
- c) making heavy use of an antique stain in such a way as to drastically add to the color of the leather.
- A finish, sealer or conditioner is added to the leather to waterproof and lubricate the leather fibers. This step can NEVER EVER be left out!!!
- The project is assembled.
Putting a dressing on leather will bring out the color of the dyes (make it glow), "waterproof" the leather (your best defense against stains) and make the leather softer (if you have not treated it for the making of armor).