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April 25, 2001

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Norman J. Finkelshteyn

Hardening Leather
By Norman J. Finkelshteyn
DISCLAIMER: This is a brief overview that assumes a set of skills on the part of the reader. There is no guarantee of results. Heat, hot water, and cutting instruments are dangerous. Proceed at your own risk and don't blame others.

Startup Notes –
  • It is my understanding that only Vegetable (also called “Oak”) Tanned Leather can be hardened.
  • While slight touch-ups may be needed after the leather is hardened, it should be cut and, if possible, punched prior to hardening, so that the touch ups are either very minor or unnecessary. I have found that "Aviation Snips" work well in cutting Hardened Leather and a "Roper Whitney Junior" (or no-brand copy) makes a good punch for the same.
  • Leather shrinks as a result of hardening – take that into account as you perform the process.
  • Leather is an organic (previously living) material, therefore, every “sheet” of leather is somewhat different (and even within a single “sheet” differences will exist). It is thus advisable to experiment with a piece from each sheet.
The basic process –
  • Heat a pot of water. It should be hot but still touchable.
  • Dip the leather into the pot to soak (this will be approximately five to ten seconds).
    Be sure to immerse the leather evenly – if some parts soak more than others, the leather will warp.
  • Shape or flatten the soaked leather as required for your application.
    To flatten, you can press between smooth flat blocks. To shape use a form appropriate for what you are trying to achieve.
  • Once the leather is of the desired shape, dry the leather.
    If the day is bright and sunny with no humidity, set it out to dry, otherwise use some form of drying process.
The warmer the water and the longer the leather soaks, the more hard it will get. If the leather is too hard, it will be brittle and prone to breakage.
Use a thermometer to keep track of the water temperature and keep count to track dipping time. Experiment with these variables until you get just the result you want, after that, be sure to keep the temperature and dipping time constant.

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